This is my personal blog site where I write about a variety of topics that interest me, mostly gaming (online, video and boardgames) and anime. I try to post every Tuesday. What this is, is some placeholder text for Google+. This is more placeholder text. I'm not sure how much I need to put here. This sure is boring. I wish I knew why this worked. It shouldn't. It sure is CONFUSING!
[::.WISH LIST.::]
If you are not on Google+, I strongly reccomend it. Most of my future updates will be there as Eric Penn.
You are a fucking cunt
What ever happened to integrity?
I don't see it on MTV.
All I see is choreography
and I'll never be a dancer!
--"Spokesman", Goldfinger
Life just sucks, I lost the one
I'm giving up, she found someone
There's plenty more
Girls are such a drag
Fuck this place, I lost the war
I hate you all, your mom's a whore
Where's my dog?
'Cause girls are such a drag
--"Dysentary Gary", Blink 182
This island is big enough
for every cast away,
But most of us are looking
for someone else to blame.
--"Scapegoat", Chumbawamba
Sometimes we get what we deserve, and sometimes we don't get what we deserve. Somehow, we always get what we need.
Frodo: I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
--"The Lord of the Rings", J.R.R. Tolkien
Have you nothing of your own?
Nothing that is not:
by others?
"Comes The Inquisitor", Babylon 5
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear
Old Race Reports
[::.ABOUT ME.::]
More than you wanted to know
People that are not me
My Resume
Training log
Weight tracking
   (with trending, updated daily)
[::.BLOGS I READ.::]
Broken Toys (Scott)
Eating Bees (Sanya)
Karen's Training blog
Logo creation
Official HTML
Official CSS2
O'Reilly (semi-commercial)
Windows scripting help
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Pd world.jpg
The Secret World Legends (first impressions)
I should point out that I’m approaching this as a player who never played The Secret World, so the story, environment and game mechanics are all completely new to me. I'm also playing this as part of a duo, not solo.

I had a bit of a stumbling block before I even got to character creation. The game said something about needing to be in a different dimension (which I assume is game-speak for “server”) to create another character, and yet I had not yet created my first character! After a few minutes of clicking around, I realized that the fullscreen window had additional buttons on the bottom of the screen that were obscured by the Windows toolbar. Changing the resolution fixed that and I was able to start the character creation process. Not an auspicious start.

Character creation is nice. It is not as full-featured as I’ve seen in other games, but it still allows for some pretty good character customization. I chose a Punisher (shotgun/hammer tank) and my partner chose a Mercenary (rifles/fists healer). Like many gamer couples, we have a long long history of playing as a tank healer duo and those seemed like a good choice for both of us.

The intro cinematic doesn’t do a very good job of explaining what is going on, or making the player feel like there is any kind of epic battle between the forces of good and evil. It does feature some pretty particle effects. Overall I was mostly confused.

The very first gameplay segment is not much better. The audio mixing is less than perfect - the male voice is completely dominated by the female voice. I was automatically awarded my first weapon (a shotgun) which put two skills on my hotbar. Unfortunately, the UI doesn’t seem to have any way to examine these skills, so I have no idea what the effects are, or how those skills differ. From the images, it appears that one of the skills is a single-barrel shot and the other is a double-barrel shot. I would think that the double-barrel shot would do more damage but be slower to reload, but a little experimentation showed that both skills use a single shell, casting doubt on my initial assumptions. At some point I ended up getting a third skill that makes a red fist appear above my character (which quickly fades away), but again, I have no idea what this ability does.

Speaking of the hotbar, I don’t see any way to move skills from one hotbar slot to another. The three abilities I have are slotted into the Q (one barrel), 1 (fist), and E (double barrel) keyslots. While that’s not horrible, it isn’t intuitive at all. Plus as I gain additional abilities, I’m absolutely certain that I’m going to want to move things around at some point.

I can also trigger a weapon ability using the left mouse button, but I’m not sure which ability it is. The hotbar slot shows a blank slot with the LMB icon under it, so I’m mystified what is actually happening. I’d really like to be able to put my two weapon skills on the left/right mouse buttons – for example, it would be great to put the single barrel shot on left and the double barrel on right mouse buttons, but I have no idea how to do this. There doesn’t seem to be a RMB hotbar slot and I have no idea how to make one. It doesn’t seem like the mouse buttons are mappable on then options screen(s).

Dodging is introduced fairly quickly, but it felt really janky until I realized there is a dodge/stamina bar – this isn’t explained at all in the tutorial. I know that dodging is a resource that is supposed to be limited, but one dodge every 10 seconds feels REALLY slow! Also, only “active” dodging (using the shift key) is introduced. I actually prefer the double-click method of dodging, and it wasn’t until about my third fight after dodging was introduced (and some clicky experimentation) that I discovered this works. It’s not a great tutorial when half of the mechanics/options are left out!

The next hurdle occurred at the very first “quest” interaction. The on-screen hint said something to the effect that I needed to explore and discover a clue. The actual “clue” I needed to discover was the big giant green “ACCEPT” button that defaulted to displaying _under_ other UI elements, making it difficult to see. Not impossible, but difficult. Now that I know where to look, I can find it, but it wasn’t obvious and it was easily missed in the screen clutter. That was about 10 minutes of frustration.

Doing the first graveyard/dream area mini-quests, both of us were unsuccessful in the one single-jump "puzzle". I really hope that jumping is not a Thing in this game. We almost always avoid jumping puzzle areas whenever possible because neither of us are good at them and they end up being frustrating game-stoppers for us. Jumping in this game feels even less precise, which could make jumping puzzles not just annoying but frustrating. Time will tell.

Eventually, I made it through to the London area. I immediately set about exploring the area and completely ignored the sole active quest. I gathered up about a dozen golden honeycomb collectible things that appear to add text-based backstory/lore to the UI. It looks like I am unlocking different “chapters” in a mini-novella. The problem is that the sections don’t unlock in consecutive order. As soon as I discovered that I could only read specific sections of a larger narrative (which is confusing as all hell for a new player) I stopped reading them. I may go back and see if there is any semblance of coherency later, but the way the information is presented at first is not very good.

I was a bit disappointed that we weren’t able to play together in London. Clearly this was a"public" area - both of us could see other players running around - but we were in different instances. Will this change if we formed a party? Is there an in-game friends-list that encourages us to be in the same instance? Hopefully, this will be less of a problem as we get further into the game.

My partner logged out so I spent about 30 minutes running around London. Many of the locales are closed to me, with a glowing red wall blocking progress. I was bemused to find that there is actually a “sprint” button in-game, but I had already remapped it to something else, so I was denied that ability. I like to put sprint on the shift key, and kept tapping that out of habit so I was doing the active dodge roll constantly. (I’ll remap this before I do much else.)

I did find several interesting interior locations and I gotta say that the artwork and background design is pretty impressive. In particular there was one building that was full of a glowing field of stars that was simply mesmerizing! I did not have the needed key to do anything in there, though. I also found several vendors that sell various potions and foods but I did not have any of the required currency to buy anything and my only possessions were a belt, a necklace and my freebie shotgun, none of which I was willing to part with in order to experiment with consumables.

I managed to get my character stuck between two background elements. I could spin but not jump nor move at all. The /stuck command returned a helpful message that I wasn’t actually stuck and I should try something else. After a bit of online searching I found the /reset command. That seemed to instakill my character and I respawned in a similar area in the same London instance and continued exploring. Just for giggles I tried getting stuck in the same place again, but was unsuccessful in hitting the proper pixel of mesh. Hopefully, it won’t manifest again elsewhere in the game.

Eventually, I triggered the London quest. The quest “text” was spoken dialog that was not easy to follow. (Are there subtitles? I normally don't use these but accented dialogue can be difficult to follow.) Apparently, my character found it difficult to follow as well, and passed out from the effort. I was transported to some other locale, and logged out for the day before I advance beyond my partner's progress.

Overall, not a great first impression (mostly due to a clunky user interface) but I’ve played far worse F2P games in the past. It certainly didn't suck and I'd really like to give it another go. The action combat felt “okay” but I haven’t gotten the cadence of the dodging and attacking down yet, and not really knowing what my abilities are or what they do is a major liability. I found that I was just spamming the LMB ability and circle strafing through everything. Hopefully some of this will be better explained as we continue along.

Second Session

After talking offline with some experienced TSW players, we were able to add each other to our respective “friends” lists and were finally able to join each other’s instances. This made a huge difference as were able to play together for the first time. This made the game feel like a MMO and not like a we were just playing two instances of the same game in the same room.

Another thing I had learned was that where we had left off was basically the START of the in-game tutorial! Playing through the actual tutorial made a lot more sense. Some things I knew already, other things I discovered for the first time. Many of the interface things that annoyed me were actually covered in the tutorial. I did NOT like the fact that the game forced you into the initial skill and passive choices. I mean, yes, it needs to show how those systems work, but let me choose which skill I want!

We finished the tutorial and started into the first actual game area, Innsmouth.

We ran a few dozen quests together. I was disappointed that the majority of the quests were basically “go to the area marked on the mini-map, find the macguffin and return to the quest giver.” I had heard that the game had some pretty involved, complex and non-obvious quests. Still, it was a fun shared experience and the story presented by the game and quests was interesting at least. It’s a nice break from the pointy eared high-fantasy that we normally play.

There are a LOT of cinematics in the game. Pretty much every quest (even a good number of the throwaway side-quests) have a little cinematic introduction. This led to my first major quibble with the game: the character models. Specifically the clothing on the models. Maybe I’ve gotten accustomed to having capes and cloaks in the fantasy-based stuff we normally play. This game is based in the “real” world, and you have things like old grannies wearing cardigans and biker dudes with leather jackets. Problem is, the clothing is “pasted on” to the character models. So when a character leans over a table, rather than their clothing hanging forward, it is “stuck” to the character’s body. It looks weird and it distracts me every time it happens. Maybe that’s just me though.

I really am enjoying the amount of lore in the game and how it is presented. Rather than being pages and pages of text-based lore that the player has to slog through, most NPCs have a dialog option. Choosing that will lead to a prompt of the two or three (or five or six) things they know about. Usually the first option is “Yourself” as in “Tell me about… yourself.” (Pretty much if you mentally prefix everything with “Tell me about…” it works pretty well. When you choose anything, it triggers a voice acted lore explanation. Again, maybe it’s just me, but voice acted lore is a lot easier to digest than printed lore. With printed stuff, I’m just skimming for the important bits. With spoken dialog, even though it is slower, I assume everything is important and pay more attention. And if I don’t want to spend a few minutes listening to lore, I just don’t select that option. (But you should; it’s actually pretty interesting stuff!)

We ended the evening after playing for nearly six hours straight with a pretty solid understanding of the game mechanics and locales.

Third Session

When we started our third session and picked up the main story quest where we had left off, another problematic thing occurred. We got to a step that required us to be a specific character level to proceed. The next quest step quite literally said “Achieve level XX”. This to me is a HUGE issue. For me, personally, one of the most fun aspects to playing these sorts of games is being able to see how far I can go with my current level/gear. In Dark Age of Camelot, I was the guy out in the Frontier at level 35 (and doing moderately decently). I was proud to have solo traversed the entire Guild Wars map (the original game, not GW2) at level 12 – none of this have someone “run” you through, I did it solo and by myself.

Having a game’s main questline literally stop me from progressing because of my level is very much an annoyance. I mean, I understand if the quest is going to be harder than normal, and I would even be okay with a giant red warning that says: “If you try this, you’re very likely to die horribly!” But to simply stop my advancement because of some arbitrary level limitation feels artificial and contrived. It feels like “forced grinding” and if anything will get me stop playing a game, this is the main thing that will do it. Hell, that’s the primary reason I stopped playing more than a few MMOs in the recent past. (Skyforge and BDO, I’m looking at you!)

So we set out and started doing silly side quests just for the sake of XP.

One thing I notice right away doing these side quests was that when the quest said “go to the gas station” or “enter the hardware store” (these are actual locations in the game, by the way) I instinctively knew where I was meant to go. The map design here is TIGHT and even after only a few scant hours, I had internalized many of the main locations. This may not seem impressive, but considering that the starting area is a confusing grid of streets and same-looking buildings, it’s actually a testament to how well the map is designed!

Another thing that I really like about the game is the Sprint system. I finally remapped my Sprint button to Shift where I prefer it – I only have access to double-tap dodging now, no “active” dodge button is mapped – and I really like the way it is implemented. It only works when you are out of combat, so Sprint cannot be used as an offensive or defensive tool and it takes a couple of seconds to activate, so you can’t just pop it as a “get out of jail” card. It’s a great way to traverse the map a bit faster than normal running, but little else. It ends up feeling like a free mount that you don’t have to stop to get on!

After plinking around a bit on the map, we started the very first “dungeon” of the game, called “The Polaris”. This was the first time the game actually challenged us and was a great change of pace. I have to admit it took us a few hours (and at least two complete wipes) to get through. I’m sure any experienced TSW player will tell you how these are simple and solo-able, but when you hit them for the first time and don’t know any of the mechanics, it’s a different story. Plus, we were hitting this level 18 dungeon at level 13.

It was a shock going from normal world MOBs that had 100 to 125 hitpoints and could be killed in a hit or two, to dungeon “bosses” that had tens of thousands of hit points and took several minutes of combat to kill. Add in “tricky” dungeon mechanics and you’ve got a recipe for overwhelming frustration. And indeed, on at least two of the bosses we wiped out and had to re-approach the fight with an eye for “what are we doing wrong here… what’s the trick?” a couple of times. Once we were able to figure out the mechanics (during the fight) it became a matter of just playing the game again, albeit at a level that required at least some minimal attention, rather than just facerolling through things.

Two encounters in this dungeon stand out to me.

The third boss that protects it’s den with lighting/electricial effects was extremely difficult for us to figure out. Maybe it has to do with our computers, but the little tiny lightning bolts/sparks effects that are supposed to tell you which areas are safe and which ones aren’t played on EVERY surface. There was absolutely zero indication that any area was safe to stand. We finally figured out (by trial and error) where to stand and when to move – mostly by watching for the red lightning bolt icon that appeared next to our health bars when we were being shocked. Some better visual feedback here would have helped immensely.

The final “guardian” boss gave us a ton of trouble until we figured out that there was one repeating phase of the fight where you simply couldn’t fight and needed to hide (or be instakilled). We died at least three times to that until we realized it wasn’t a tricky fight mechanic, it is a tricky don’t-fight mechanic! And then in the fight’s final phase, when that same effect played we both instinctively scurried away , but we actually needed to kill the big bad.

Overall, despite bordering on frustratingly difficult (at least at our level and gear) with new situational mechanics it was rewarding and fun. When we completed it, I felt exhausted as if I had been (mentally) working on a difficult puzzle for the whole time. Which in a way… I was.

We ended the night at another “hard” level-block: “Obtain level 14 to continue.” If this becomes a continual stopping point, I may abandon the game completely. Aside from that, I’m really enjoying the setting, the story, the loot system, and the way the game plays.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, July 11, 2017 3:19 PM PT [+]

Seafall (boardgame campaign) - session ten
While our prior session broke all records for the longest Seafall game (yet), clocking in at over four and half hours, this session was our shortest ever, both in time elapsed and in turns played. The entire session was a bit over 90 minutes and we were done before we hit our first Winter (technically the second, since the game officially starts with Winter).

This is a continuation of our 5-player playthrough of the "legacy" campaign boardgame Seafall. If you are planning on ever playing Seafall, I STRONGLY urge you to skip reading these postings - there will be spoilers that will affect your enjoyment of the game when you play it. I will make no attempt to shield you from any hidden game mechanics or surprises that are revealed during gameplay. At this point, we had unlocked up to the fifth (out of six) Secret chest.

While it’s easy for me to keep track of who is who, for that sake of the reader, I think the colors will help track who is winning and who is falling behind. Our players, in order from lowest to highest scores at the outset of the game:
At the start of this game, there were so many milestones on the board that we actually had to sort them and stack them by achievement type. Only one of these is an unlock (for the sixth and final box) and it isn’t clear (yet) how to accomplish this, so it went mostly ignored. Some of us (sneaky players) are taking notes about how to get there. Someone will eventually solve this puzzle, and I’m hopeful that it will be me.

Because it was such a short game, it was difficult to track the timeline of major events. So, I’ll try to recapture what I recall, as sparse as it is. My first few turns were basically setup for my plans, which never came to fruition.

On turn one, I sailed to the closest island (affectionately referred to as “Spice Island”, as it is completely filled with Spice producing sites) and bought two Spice cubes. My intent was to sail home, build a +2 Explore upgrade on one of my ships and start hitting the more difficult exploration sites that were still within range of my colony’s bonus area.

On my next turn, the Spice Merchant advisor (appropriately named “Ginger”) was available, and the Lord Merchant built a Marketplace structure on his colony at the island of “Booty Bay”. He was advertising a nice gold bonus for goods sold there. Seeing this, my plans changed. Even though I knew it would add one more turn of setup, I thought the long term benefit would make it worthwhile. I hired the spice merchant (but did not activate her), bought another two spice cubes and sailed towards “Booty Bay”.

On my third turn I activated Ginger (the Spice Merchant) and sold all my Spice cubes. Between the Marketplace bonus (which cost me one Reputation token) and the Advisor bonus for selling only Spice, I managed to pull in 44 gold in that one sale! This is not as much as the Lord merchant moves in an average turn, but it was the largest amount of money I had ever had in all of our prior sessions. I was going to save one cube and use it to help pay for an upgrade, but the native 8-Gold discount was dwarfed by the 11-Gold sale price, so I sold out completely. At the end of my turn, I split my ships up, with one heading out to my colony at “Danger Isle” and the other heading to the Spice Port at a nearby island.

I should point out that up to this point, I had only gained points from activating my colony at the start of the game, and interrogating Advisors (and learning nothing). However, some interesting information had been revealed from other player’s interrogations, and I had noted it privately.

It was on this turn that a fatal mistake was made which would cut the game session very short. The Event Card that had been pulled at the start of this round was one of the new “secret society” cards, where players compare society values for all Advisors of a specific guild. There was some discussion about how to resolve it, but no clear consensus. So while the turn order went around the table, the Lord Merchant did a web search and found a comment from the designer that instructed us what to do. That this explanation is not in the rule book is yet another strike against the poor quality of the rules of the game.

As it turned out, we were supposed to place all advisors of the specific guild from all player’s council chambers (even if they had been used already or had not yet activated!) out on the middle of the table and shine the “Light of Truth” on all of them collectively. The player who had hired the highest ranked society member of that guild would take the effect of the card. Again, there was discussion about whether the revealed ranking should be written on those cards since it was “publicly” revealed, but since it was not an actual interrogation, we opted not to. However, several people did note the relative values. For myself, I jotted down the values for all the members that were exposed for later reference.

The result of this particular test was that the Lord Merchant was forced to give away one-half of his amassed fortune to other players in any way he saw fit. He gifted 10 gold each to the BLUE Duke and GREEN Count (me), and the RED Prince received 20 gold. (Yes, the Lord Merchant had 80 gold on the third turn of the game. Making gold is kinda his “thing”.) The Lord Merchant was led to believe that the RED Prince was an “ally” and would use the money wisely. Suffice it to say, he got played.

On the next turn, the BLUE player claimed his first ever milestone for having five Advisors with his own enmity in his council chambers. I note this because, nine sessions in, it was his first milestone of the entire campaign. Despite being a small one, it was still a victory and should be acknowledged.

On my fourth turn, I bought the +2 Explore upgrade for my flagship and started sailing out to sea. On the next turn, I managed to regroup my ships, and did some research. On the final turn I believe I was able to explore one site, and positioned myself for the next few turns. Pretty much all the other players were setting themselves up for major point gains on the next few turns as well, but it was not to happen.

The game ended abruptly on turn six, just before Winter, when the RED player interrogated some random throwaway Advisor (for one point), leveraged the 20 Gold he had been gifted on Turn 3, plus one good, and bought the Museum (for a second point), and was immediately rewarded four additional points for his two tablets. And since he was (and will remain) the Prince player, the game ended on his turn before we could enter the Winter phase.

This is the second time that the same player has used this strategy to close out a game suddenly. Last time it was a relief to finish a much-too-long game session. This time it was a shock to be shut-down before much of anything happened. The takeaway from this experience is that we cannot continue to let the RED player make these 6-point jumps at the end of each game! The museum is an “expensive” structure (at 24 Gold) but with a discount for the right kind of material, it is only 16 Gold to build, and at this point in the game, 16 Gold is about one turn’s worth of financial effort for most players.

One other thing that came up mid-game is that we need to watch when players move ships together, because not everyone has the same Sail value on both of their ships. My ships both have a sail of four (4), so this will not affect me at all. But the RED player still has one ship with a Sail value of three (3)! (This might be sour grapes from the group after seeing two sessions end the same way, but it’s still an important thing that should be enforced.)

The final scores were disappointing. No one changed ranks, and the RED Prince widened his lead with no sign of stopping. His sudden six-point gain left everyone else in the dust. After this session, the Lord Merchant said (multiple times) “I would have doubled my score if the game had lasted two more turns!” I think he was a bit dismayed that his gift of 20 Gold (given in good faith) was used to shut down the game so quickly. We’ll see if he learned the lesson. I fell a bit farther behind both the leading RED player and the second place BLUE player. The fourth place PURPLE player was able to close in on me mostly because he now has four colonies and is able to easily leverage his starting gold for easy activation points.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, May 2, 2017 9:27 AM PT [+]

Seafall (boardgame campaign) - session nine
This session was our longest yet. Despite being only nine turns total, this session went on for nearly four hours! I am trying to remember all of the events, but this one may be light on detail due to my fatigue at the end of the game. Note this is a continuation of our 5-player playthrough. If you are planning on ever playing Seafall, I STRONGLY urge you to skip reading these postings - there will be spoilers that will affect your enjoyment of the game when you play it. I will make no attempt to shield you from any hidden game mechanics or surprises that are revealed during gameplay. At this point, we had unlocked up to the fourth Secret chest during our prior game.

I’m going to continue to refer to players by their province color rather than Rank. It’s pretty easy for me to keep track of who is who, but for the sake of the reader, I think the colors will help track who is winning and who is falling behind.

Our players, in order from lowest to highest scores at the outset of the game:
- The Merchant, who will be known by this title. He was playing as the Lord in this game, and seems to be happy to be the “first” player.
- The PURPLE Baron, who is starting to catch his style of play.
- The BLUE Count, who not only seems to the worst luck possible, but also appears to be the favored punching bag of the RED player.
- The GREEN Duke (me) – and the majority of my commentary will focus on my personal strategies and experiences.
- The RED Prince, who seems to be solidifying his military presence (which could be a problem moving forward).

Going into this game session, there was only one “unlock” milestone on the board: ”Whispers Made Real”, which required the “Ornate Chart” to accomplish. While I owned the exploration colony in the far seas and it was still within reach of one of unexplored open sea, I felt like there were too many research cards in the deck to make that a priority this game. And to make matters worse, the BLUE player (to my right), with the help of several Advisors, was focused almost entirely on exploration and research. I was only three (3) points behind the RED leader and my goal was to widen that gap to exactly 5 points. As such I planned on completely soft-pedaling this game. (Un)fortunately, my ambition didn’t allow me to completely throw the game, and there was a late-game surprise upset.

At the start of the game, the large amount of enmity on Patmos made it impossible for most players to buy or raid. This affected everyone to varying degrees.

Our Lord Merchant only had one enmity sticker on the entire map (and it isn't on Patmos!) so he was almost completely unaffected. He set out to start his financial empire, using his startup bonus cash as a bootstap but ill-timed demands for gold and goods from the Pirate King slowed his progress immensely. Despite this, he quickly amassed a pretty significant amount of gold. Rather than cashing it all in for glory, he started doing calculations based on the projected winner’s score and his “goal” of having a specific number of starting bonuses in the next session. He only purchased treasures that would put him exactly where he wanted to be and no further ahead. Every time someone other than his predicted winner would score a point, he would re-calculate his “allowable” score. And if he had already exceeded that amount he would wheedle and cajole other players into scoring more to put him back on track. Aside from this questionable “alternate” gameplay strategy, he continued buying and selling goods as per his normal strategy.

The PURPLE Baron was also almost completely unaffected as he already had up to four enmity on almost every island already (from prior “adventures” – mostly from over-use of the Thug advisor) and the enmity on Patmos was dwarfed by various island's native’s hatred of him. Still, he was able to maintain his normal gameplay strategy of buying (albeit at a slower rate than the Lord Merchant) and translating this into buildings and colonies. He quickly built the building that allowed him to hire Patmos advisors from afar.

As mentioned above, the BLUE Count seemed to be entirely focused on research and exploration, specifically exploring Tombs. Alas, the curse of Bad Luck™ still weighed heavy on him and his three Tomb forays resulted in: sinking his flagship in the attempt; gaining some (small) amount of gold and nothing else; and then on his third and final try, he actually found the game’s first Relic! Of course, almost immediately afterwards he received damage to his hold and the Relic was “lost” to the sea. In the meantime, he was hiring every Explorer’s Guild advisor that appeared in the forum! This was exceedingly frustrating to me, as I was seated to his left and he was taking all of the advisors that I was looking at. By the end of the game, he had both Archaeologists, plus the Explorer’s Patron and the Renowned Explorer! (So, maybe his luck was not so bad after all.) As a result, on any turn where he could not explore, he was researching. He probably performed the research action at least four times during the course of the game. Due to his continual actions using beneficial advisors, BLUE found, not one, but two of the special two-part maps! He was able to use both of them in this game, resulting in him gaining a 7-box upgrade to his raiding; a 7-box upgrade to his exploration; and the destruction of an iron market on an island owned by the RED player. Of course, he applied both upgrades to the same ship. Due to all of these shenanigans, BLUE was holding a healthy Glory lead in this session.

GREEN (me) went into the game with the strategy of exploring the few still available spaces on far-flung islands, and do some minor research on the side. But since my BLUE opponent was stopping me from doing any of that (by taking all of the advisors), my options become much more limited. I did have one decent advisor (The Captain), who had been upgraded to an overall explore bonus of +5, which is not shabby! But she was only one advisor. Luckily, I was able to pick up “throwaway” advisor that allowed me to refresh any advisor in my council chambers, so I was able to leverage her twice in one year. Between those successes and investing in a couple of structures and upgrades, I stayed in competition. I was still far behind everyone else, which was fine. Until…

Around the sixth turn, I realized that BLUE had almost completely cycled the research deck. On a whim, I used my appellation to perform all three Explorer’s guild actions and did some research (in addition to sailing and exploring). And, ironically, I pulled the Ornate chart! (Interestingly, I also pulled the second half of the specific “two-part” chart that the RED player was hunting for. I think he was far more upset that I dumped it rather than putting it in my Treasure Vault where it could later be raided away than he was that I’d basically completed a milestone. On my next turn, I went to the last column where my colony had +Exploration influence and used the chart, and unlocked Box 5.

The ensuing chaos was worth it. It catapulted me from dead-last (in terms of Glory) to second in the session, and only behind BLUE by one point. If the game had ended right then, that would have been ideal for me. But it didn’t. And it wasn’t.

The RED Prince was soft-pedaling on his usual hit-and-run strategy. Instead, he was mustering forces for a dedicated run at Ker. After some maneuvering, upgrades, advisor selection and travel time (his slowest ship only has a sail value of three) he mounted an all-out assault on the colony. Armed with a stunning 21 dice, minus the defensive values, he still had an almost certain victory. And indeed, he was victorious! This may have been why he was so non-plussed when I discovered the Ornate chart – he was already eyeing Ker. In fact, if memory serves, I believe he captured Ker on the same turn that I discovered Arados. This pushed him up to the same score as me. So our top three players RED, GREEN and BLUE were far ahead of everyone else and any of us could win in a turn or two. This game our Lord Merchant fits as he was trying to reconcile how many points to gain based on a nearly 10 point campaign spread.

As it turned out, BLUE got there first… but not last. With Arados out of the bag, all players began interrogating their advisors, with all of them coming up blank. We actually began to wonder if the “Light of Truth” was a gag gimmick that had no real effect. The game was winding down, I’d done as much as I had hoped (and far more), and there was a Patmos Advisor in the forum that would allow me to reclaim two enmity form the table. I sailed to Patmos and hired him (at great cost – 12 gold after the penalty for my 4 Patmos enmity). On my next turn, I interrogated him with ill effect: he was immediately dismissed and I was unable to use his "end of turn" ability to reclaim enmity. I paid 12 gold for him and got nothing for it! Still, this did confirm that sometimes the “Light of Truth” had some effect.

The PURPLE Baron had also hired a Patmos Advisor, and upon interrogating him, was forced to DESTROY the card. Apparently Arados infiltrators are skittish and/or suicidal!

Immediately following that fiasco, BLUE gained the victory points needed to win the game. With one final turn remaining, I launched a suicidal raid against the Lord Merchant’s colony. This was not “suicidal” in that it was a Hail Mary last-ditch effort. No, instead it was suicidal in that I had literally ZERO chance to succeed. My flagship has a native raid value of two, and was suffering from a damage card that gave it -2 to Raid. Taking into account the emnity stickers on his province, I would need to deduct 5 more dice from that. And then the defensive values of the colony would take effect, reducing the number even further. So in essence, I was rolling zero dice, was guaranteed to take at least eight damage. We didn’t even pull the cards and just sank the ship. Which had an upgrade. So, I dropped two points. (I did this on purpose to maintain an appropriate deficit.)

But the RED Prince was sneaky and used his final turn in a completely different way. Not only was what he did amazing (for him) but it was also devastating (for me). He interrogated a throwaway advisor (for one point), bought a final structure (for a second point), but the structure immediately awarded him two points for each of his Tablets (he has two) for an additional four points -a total of six points in a single turn!! This did several things: it moved him AHEAD of the “winning” BLUE player and gave him the session victory (which he used to upgrade the farm on the always active Ker); it not only invalidated my prior point “dumping”, but since he was already in the lead it pushed me even further behind (I was going to be finishing the game slightly ahead of him, before his six point finale); and it annoyed the Lord Merchant, who could have gotten far more points based on the already leading player winning (again).

This session was our longest one yet and I sincerely hope we do not have a repeat of this length. For me, the game dragged on and on and never seemed to go anywhere. The first few hours were pretty unexciting and while there was a mid-game pickup with Arados and Ker the final turn was personally distressing. Seeing my well-crafted plan fall apart unexpectedly was not a fun time. I can only hope to make it up next session.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, April 25, 2017 8:54 AM PT [+]

Seafall (boardgame campaign) - session eight
This is a continuation of our ongoing playthrough of this campaign-style "legacy" boardgame. If you are planning on ever playing Seafall, I STRONGLY urge you to skip reading these postings - there will be spoilers that will affect your enjoyment of the game when you play it. I will make no attempt to shield you from any hidden game mechanics or surprises that are revealed during gameplay. At this point, we had unlocked up to the third Secret chest during our prior game.

Our players, in order from lowest to highest scores at the beginning of this game session:Going into this game session, there was only one “unlock” milestone on the board: 'A Fable Reborn', which required the “Strange Chart” to accomplish. As I had just built the exploration colony in the far seas, my primary strategy was to camp out on my colony and research until I found the Chart and accomplish the unlock. With luck I would be able to accomplish the explore easily in a single turn and insulate myself from the risk of having the Strange Chart plundered before I could use it. Aside from that, it was my fervent hope to finish the game exactly five points behind the RED player. (At the start of this session, I was only a single point behind.) As a result, I did as little as possible to score points. As a tertiary goal, I was hoping to reclaim the enmity that I was forced to hand out to other players as part of the “catch up” mechanism. I have been remiss on this in the past, and due to my consistent placing in the top one or two ranks – I only fell as low as 3rd place for a single game – I have been handing out enmity stickers to other players quite a bit.

At the start of the game, there was the usual maneuvering and jostling for goods on the various islands. The Merchant seemed to be taking an interest in actually playing the game for a change and not just scooping up every good possible, reselling them and amassing a huge pile of gold that counted for nothing. Interestingly enough, The PURPLE player set out doing this instead, gathering goods for something (but we didn’t know what yet). The BLUE player split his fleet, sending one ship to Paradise Island and one to the unexplored island in the far seas. I sailed my fleet to a nearby island and scooped up two specific goods – spice and iron – intended to buy upgrades that would aid with my goals.

Within two turns, the Merchant had built a Trading Post, allowing him to sell goods at a much higher profit. He wasted no time in telling everyone that he was willing to share this benefit with anyone that could provide him with Reputation. (I’m still not sure what his goal was with that strategy – I suspect I will learn more in later sessions.) The BLUE player was positioned to take advantage of the offer, but as luck would have it the Pirate King was demanding Gold this turn, making arbitrage very unattractive. (As it turned out, the BLUE player was the wealthiest at the end of the turn anyway, and the Pirate King raided his coffers for one-half his vast fortune - a single gold!) The RED player continued his reign of terror from the prior game and declared that “none shall enter” at Paradise Island, where he had established his raiding colony; as warning to everyone, he sank the ship of the BLUE player who was anchored there. (Personally, I felt the time could have been better spent working on expansion, rather than protectionism.)

I quickly sailed home, turned my spice into an exploration upgrade, and then set out for Danger Island where I had my exploration colony. With no other potential actions available, I spent a turn taxing my province. I arrived at my destination on Turn Four, and spent my tax income on building a new Gun Tower at my home province (using the iron I had previously purchased on Turn One). The Merchant felt that this was a stupid move, as I could have sold the iron for ten gold, and then used that to purchase the same upgrade later, saving two gold. But that tactic would have cost me a turn and a reputation. I was jealously guarding my reputation as mentioned above, so it would have been an extremely poor trade (for me!).

I began to explore the virgin lands of Danger Island. I should note that it was named “Danger Island” because all “minor success” rolls (the single dot face on the dice) count as failures, making it more difficult to accomplish any endeavor there. Plus, every single site on the island is a “dangerous” site, meaning that Fortune tokens could not be used to make it easier! But by taking advantage of my colony bonus, ship upgrades and Advisor bonuses, I was easily able to explore two new sites on the island. Unfortunately, I chose entries in the Captain’s Booke poorly. I found a 6-gold mine, and iron dock upgrade locations. At least the mine will produce three gold per Winter, making the colony activation cost effectively only half as much (6 gold out-of-pocket, 3 gold return on investment form the mine.)

I should note that I was exploring rather than researching because I was out of gold. The Gun Tower purchase used my last two gold (with the 8 gold discount from the single iron in my warehouse.) I had hoped to uncover additional resources to move the supply further out to sea, and removing resources from the islands closest to shore, but was not successful. (Un)Fortunately, due to my exploration success (?) I had gained six Glory and was within a few points of the lead.

Meanwhile, the BLUE and RED players were busy exploring the furthest island sites. This concerned me a bit since my colony at Danger Isle was only two spaces away, and could impact my overall plan, should it come to fruition. But they seemed to be worried about the “danger” at Danger Isle and stayed away, only exploring a nearby island. A new Tomb was discovered, and both BLUE and RED seemed determined to explore it. Both made a pass at it, but neither found anything of note, and the Tomb remained open. Normally, this would be an important factor for me as well, but since I was focused on a different goal, I let them fight over it. This would be a very important factor in the later game. The PURPLE player was quietly building structures, without anyone noticing. Or, rather, if anyone did notice, we weren’t really concerned. There was a milestone available for building five structures, but the PURPLE player was the only one with more than one colony, so there was no contest for it.

The turn before our first Winter, the Merchant player did something amazing: utilizing the Advisor bonuses of Mr. F. Mason The Surveyor (“You may substitute 8 gold for a good when building a Colony. You may use this ability to substitute for multiple goods.”) He plunked down the full 48 gold and built a colony on the island of Booty Bay, using no goods at all!! (He did try to argue that he could use that Advisor’s build cost reduction bonus as well, but after several minutes of FAQ checking, we disallowed that. It would have saved ten gold overall, so it might have made a small end-game difference, but not a large one.) Of course he chose the colony that allowed him to sell goods from the colony warehouse. Without a doubt, this will profit him as we move forward.

With a fresh infusion of gold from the Winter Harvest, I was well positioned to move forward on my overarching strategy. As it turned out, the very first Event of our second year was The Explorer’s Guild Festival (“This round the Research action is free.”). Accordingly, on my turn I explored another site on Danger Island, discovering another do-nothing site (a Spice Market) and then, taking advantage of the Event, performed a Research action. Imagine my joy when the Strange Chart appeared in front of me! I was going to accomplish the unlock on my very next turn!!

The flaw in my plan was the RED Player. As the Prince, he had yet to take his turn. On the prior turn he had sailed home, intending to raid a player Province! The Strange Chart was sitting in my Treasure Room and it was clear that I was positioned to use it. The BLUE player still held the Advisor who had touched off our first “war” (in session 4) and the +7 Exploration benefit would undoubtedly help with the still-open Tomb on the furthest island. But, I had used two prior “win” bonuses from previous sessions to upgrade my home Garrison, plus I’d built a Gun Tower in this game, giving me a home defense of 4. Adding the enmity that had already developed in past game sessions, getting to my Treasure Room was going to be extremely difficult. On the other hand, by leveraging Advisor bonuses and upgrades, it was not out of the question. Running the numbers, I made it to be slightly less than a 50-50 chance of success and would definitely cost three enmity. On the other hand, attacking the BLUE player’s Advisor Room was an almost certainty, and would only cost a single enmity. (RED's Advisor in play was “The Pirate” which allowed two fewer enmity to be “paid” for attacking other players.) Luckily for me, the cost-benefit was pretty clear and RED stole the famed explorer from BLUE, ignoring my research.

As expected, on my next turn, I unlocked box 4. We took a short intermission establishing the new rules and effects. Two major points of contention with what we found:

First, when adding starting enmity to Patmos, the rules state that players add starting with the player to the left of whomever discovered the island. As spaces fill up, subsequent players will cover previously applied stickers. This means that the player who discovered the island is going to have no opportunity to ask others to cover his stickers! In our game, the player to left of me was the RED player who ended up placing nine stickers on Patmos. The Merchant only needed to add two, PURPLE added six and BLUE added another five. When it came back to me, I literally had no choice but to make the game easier on my opponents by covering their stickers. This seems to unfairly punish the exploring player who unlocks the island! I would like to hear the justification for this rule and why it was done this way.

Also, the text on the Colony of Ker with respect to the “new” global enmity rules is extremely poorly written and subject to interpretation! (There are plenty of threads on BGG that bear witness to this.)

Thirdly, one of the sticker packs in box 4 includes what seems to be additional slots for ship upgrades. However, none of the new rules explain how or when these additional slots may be used. All players in our current game have maxed out one or more categories on the current ships. How do we get a seven-slot ship? Once again, the rules seem to have missed an editing step!

Finally (and not a concern, but of note), the new “unlock” milestone also seems to be tied to Research, which, given my appellation and strategy, means that I am more likely to accomplish it than other players. Having said that, this game session was bereft of explorer Advisors, which hampered me slightly. If the situation continues, it might be difficult to unlock. We shall see how this unfolds over the next few sessions.

With that out of the way, the game continued for only one more turn. As expected, the PURPLE player built his fifth (and final) structure earning a new milestone and winning the game. However, he was still at the Baron rank, giving the BLUE Count, GREEN Duke (me), and RED prince one final turn. The BLUE Count used his final turn to make a second attempt at the only open Tomb but did not succeed. Unfortunately for me, my success had granted me so much Glory in a single turn that I was now tied with the RED player for second place. I followed the BLUE player, and sailed my fleet to the Tomb. Even though I had nearly no chance of success, the outcome would be good for me; if I succeeded, I could potentially explore a Tomb, if not, my ship would sink and I would lower my session Glory. (I was hoping for a second starting bonus – ideally I would finish five points behind the Prince.) As it turned out, I sank, costing me two points from destroying ship upgrades. (Personally, I consider it to be a pretty significant game design flaw when losing points is the best course of action!!)

I also took advantage of my Appellation bonus in this final round and performed all three of the Explorer’s Guild actions. Leveraging my Advisor’s abilities to draw three and keep two Research cards, I was hoping to make some headway on the newly discovered unlock milestone, but instead I found and kept two +1 exploration maps, each with +2 exploration bonus on “skull” sites. The RED Prince was in position to sink the PURPLE Baron and prolong the game, but I suspect fatigue was in play and instead he performed Research and was able to claim one-half of one of the new two-part Research cards.

Once again, for me this was a nearly completely successful session. I met my primary goal. As for my secondary goal, once again, I was somewhat less successful. Despite targeting a 5-point deficit, by gaining the big unlock milestone I scored too many easy points. Even though I was mostly not looking for scoring opportunities, I still managed to only finish two points behind the leader. Since I had started only a single point in arrears, I'm now only three points back from the Prince. I have been specifically targeting milestones for the entire game – without any contest, I have unlocked far more than any other player – and at this point I’m not sure whether the best strategy is to stay within striking distance of the lead an hope for a last minute surge, or to simply blast ahead and close out games quickly and gain a large lead. Either strategy may lead to me wining the Throne at the end. Even trying to "soft pedal" my score, I'm easily staying in the top two ranks.

It was very enjoyable seeing the Merchant take time out from simply building an economic engine and actually take part in other aspects of the game. The PURPLE player was awarded his first ever win and moved closer to being in contention for the overall win! Having said that, his deficit from the early portion of the campaign was so great that he did not make any ground in terms of rank, only narrowing his tail. PURPLE may actually be in the best position to hit milestones in our next session. He is probably the second best raider, plus one of the lowest enmity counts on Patmos. BLUE is still focusing on exploration, but with his prized explorer Advisor now gone, he may need to change strategies. I think the next session will be make-or-break for him. The RED player has been painted into a corner now and will need to work very hard to change direction. With six enmity on Patmos, and being the Prince, capturing Ker is almost certainly not possible for him. (Even though I did not know what was going to happen, I was very careful to make sure that Patmos was discovered outside of his raiding colony’s sphere of influence, while keeping it within my exploration colony’s range. Net result: neither of us get any benefit.) Past raids against other players have left him at a deficit there as well; now that the actual Pirate King is in play, he likely won’t be able to continue on his past path.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, April 18, 2017 8:59 AM PT [+]

Seafall (boardgame campaign) - session seven
This is a continuation of our ongoing playthrough of this campaign-style "legacy" boardgame.

I’m going to refer to players by their COLOR rather than Rank. While it’s mostly easy for me to keep track of who is who, for that sake of the reader, I think the colors will help track who is winning and who is falling behind.

Our players, in order from lowest to highest scores at the outset of the game:

At this point, we had unlocked up to the third Secret chest during our prior game. If you are planning on ever playing Seafall, I STRONGLY urge you to skip reading these postings - there will be spoilers that will affect your enjoyment of the game when you play it. I will make no attempt to shield you from any hidden game mechanics or surprises that are revealed during gameplay.

Going into this game, my strategy was to quickly purchase wood, return home and build a Hold upgrade on one of my ships and then scavenge the six goods required to build a colony. I had tried this in the previous session without success. By making it my #1 goal and staying focused on that, I assumed I would have better luck. The overall goal was to plant the “exploration” colony on Danger Isle, which would hopefully allow me to attempt exploring more Tombs as the game progressed. I went into the game assuming that I would be building the colony right around Turn 6 or 7. I was really hoping to get out of the Prince position. Ideally, I would end up 6 points in arrears for two starting bonuses in the next game.

For the first “year” (six turns), each player seemed to be committed to following their own specific strategy.

The PURPLE (Lord) player seemed to be in the best position to get at least two milestones (three colonies, and five structures) and he continued gathering materials. It looked like he was focusing on the former milestone first, and was successful in achieving his very first milestone around the fourth or fifth turn into the game! The Glory and Honor gained along the way put him at 10/16 points, nearly 2/3 of the way to finishing out the game. (It’s worth noting that at that point, two players – me and the Merchant – still only had ONE point on the board!) It’s also worth noting that all three of these colonies are on the islands closest to our Province ports. Without any spoiler-knowledge of the future events, I have a suspicion that this is not a good strategic location for colonies. My feeling is that as goods move further afield, he will have fewer “production” from those colonies and it may end up biting him in the long-game. We’ll see.

The BLUE (Baron) player seemed to be continuing his strategy of exploration. He made a quick rush out to a couple of unexplored locations on remote islands. He managed to quickly score a handful of points by opening a new Tomb exploring a “Turtle” symbol something that we didn’t know was possible. The very next turn the Pirate King demanded Gold. Everyone at the table started plotting ways to reduce their gold supply to not be the target – with the exception of the RED player. He was the strongest “raider” of us all and would have had about a pretty good shot at gaining Glory from the defense. Amusingly, the BLUE Baron ended up discovering a treasure trove of 45 Gold on that same turn, making him the wealthiest player by far and subjecting him to the Pirate King’s ravages.

The Merchant started out slower than normal this game, mostly due to a bookkeeping error. During setup, three of the wood upgrades were left in the box and not put onto the sideboard. One of these three was the Merchant’s “normal” setup buildings. The error was discovered on the third turn, but by then the damage had been done and it set back building his arbitrage-engine by at least two full turns.

The RED (Duke) player also was continuing his established strategy of hit-and-run tactics, attacking other players whenever they seemed to have an advantage, and utilizing his Advisors and Appellation to remove enmity whenever possible. In this case, he had “adopted” an island (St. Rebecca aka "Paradise Island") as “his” property. When the BLUE player discovered a Tomb there, he quickly followed with his entire fleet and sank the BLUE ship, declaring that no-one was allowed to visit that island again! Of course, on the next turn he explored the Tomb that had just been opened, discovering the game’s second Tablet (we have yet to find a single “Relic”, unfortunately!) and closed the tomb. It’s still a valuable island, but it is tucked away in a corner of the map (for now) and I suspect the other players will likely just stay away from it. (I’m planning on avoiding it in any case!)

I stuck to my original plan. As we approached our first Winter, I was stocked with the required goods and was within striking distance of two different islands. Along the way I had upgraded one of my ships, succeeded at two raids, and used the Advisor “Stabby” to gain two more goods along the way, giving me four points. Sensing that I was about to do something, the RED player attacked my home Province. I don’t think he actually knew what I was planning, just that I was about to accomplish a goal. He easily stole the Tablet that I was storing in my Treasure Room, which didn’t affect my plans at all, and gave me three enmity towards him.

On the very first turn after Winter, the Pirate King once again demanded gold. I was well positioned to accomplish my initial game-goal, but as a developed Province, I was once again in the running for Pirate Raids. I considered dumping gold into a Treasure, but instead I purchased an expensive Advisor that would have helped the BLUE player. Unfortunately, I had miscalculated how much gold I was left with and it looked like I was going to be the target.

Amazingly enough, the BLUE player (who was now last in the rotation, due to the reassignment of the Astrolabe during Winter) explored a site and discovered an ominous “Tower of Bones”! The options he had to select from were
  1. Leave it alone,
  2. Share with his province, or
  3. Become a God.
It seemed like an easy choice to me, but he made a different selection that I would have. I won’t say which one he chose (it would spoil the fun for others) but I will say that the result was that he gained 50 Gold. As the final player in the round. When the Pirate King was raiding the wealthiest player. So, our poor BLUE player was attacked by the Pirate King for the second time in this game, costing him over 55 Gold total in this session! The only good that came of it was that he ended up gaining Glory for most of his actions that led up to those calamities and was close to closing out the game as the victor.

On the next turn the Merchant was making his first arbitrage “withdrawal”, selling a boatload of stored goods and gaining 72 gold. On the next turn he was going to buy new buildings that would increase his sale prices even further and within two more turns would have become an unstoppable economic force. I accomplished my goal on turn eight (second turn after Winter). Immediately after that, the BLUE player gained the points needed to end the game, winning his first session ever.

For me, this was a nearly completely successful session. I met my primary goal. As for my secondary goal, I was somewhat less successful, but certainly did not "fail". I had targeted a 6-point deficit, but there were too many easy scoring opportunities for me to ignore, and I only slid back by a mere three points! Since I had started two points in the lead, this only put my one point back from our new Prince. Still, that's better than staying in the lead. I suspect that my weakness in the meta-game is that I tend to gain points steadily as we play, not in bursts. This means that my only path to victory will be to stay at or near the top of the scoring charts; that may allow other players to burst past me in later games and cost me the Throne at the end. We’ll see.

Both the BLUE and the PURPLE players accomplished firsts for them: The BLUE player was awarded his first ever game victory, and the PURPLE player was awarded his first ever milestone! Both of them moved up one rank in the campaign hierarchy. The Merchant, having gotten off to a slow start, was the big loser of the day. He wasn’t able to start his economic engine as quickly as normal (although, personally, I think he was really only delayed by one turn) and slipped from the Count position all the way back to Lord. My fear is that he will use his low rank to quickly swoop in and abscond goods from the map before anyone else can make use of them, setting up his economic empire and then winning by “buying” enough points (in the form of treasure) to win the game. Barring any changes to prevent this strategy that come with the next unlock, I suspect our games will be no more than 9-turns long as we move forward.

The RED player has established himself as the de facto Scourge of the Sea, and I will definitely be watching where he goes as the game progresses. Even though his strategy is not in conflict with my goals, I feel like he will be the biggest (and least predictable) threat to my ambitions.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, April 11, 2017 4:57 PM PT [+]

Seafall (boardgame campaign) - session six
Our group played through Pandemic Legacy with five players - we had our normal group of four, but whenever one player couldn't make a session, we had a dedicated "filler" player who would rotate in and out. It was with this dedicated group of five that we are playing Seafall. This is a continuation of our ongoing playthrough of this campaign-style "legacy" boardgame.

We had unlocked up to the third Secret chest during our prior game. If you are planning on ever playing Seafall, I STRONGLY urge you to skip reading these postings - there will be spoilers that will affect your enjoyment of the game when you play it. I will make no attempt to shield you from any hidden game mechanics or surprises that are revealed during gameplay.

Our players, in order from lowest to highest scores at the outset of the game:

- Stupid @ Thursday, April 6, 2017 11:52 AM PT [+]

Seafall (boardgame campaign) - session five
This is a continuation of our playthrough of this campaign-style "legacy" boardgame. If you are planning on ever playing Seafall, I STRONGLY urge you to skip reading these postings - there will be spoilers that will affect your enjoyment of the game when you play it. I will make no attempt to shield you from any hidden game mechanics or surprises that are revealed during gameplay.

We unlocked the second Secret chest at the end of our third game, and the third Secret chest during this session, so we are about half-way through revealing all of thew game rules at the end of this session.

Our players, in order from lowest to highest scores at the outset of the game:
Going into this game, it was pretty well understood that the Merchant was going to win, and win big. Two of the milestones that were unlocked in Secret box 2 related directly to gold and arbitrage, and our Merchant was uniquely equipped to play that role. As expected, during the session, he ended up claiming the first milestone ('sell 30+ gold of items in a single turn') on turn 3. Only a mere three turns later he had his second milestone for the day ('60+ gold in the vault'). After that it was a simple matter of buying a couple of treasures (which he could easily afford) and the game was ended.

More interestingly though, was the leftover “unlock” milestone from Secret box 1 to explore a Tomb. Prior to the start of the game, I had looked at the numbers and did not see any way for this to happen. We assumed that the “skull” symbols were tombs, and the lowest value “skull” was an 11 exploration. With an exploration value of 4 on our best ships, plus one more from a supporting ship, that was still less than half of the requirement, so it seemed unlikely to happen. What I did not know at the start was that the Baron had an Advisor that granted a massive +7 to exploration endeavors. 4 plus 7, plus support, plus a couple of fortune tokens and it was certainly within reach!

This led to our first “war”.

The Prince, Baron and Duke (me) all had vessels fast enough and skilled enough to make the attempt. The only island that had a valid site was Buttseam Island (so named due to its location on the gameboard fold), located six spaces out of harbor. The Baron took advantage of a +2 Sail event on the first turn to park his fastest ship on that locale. I did not make a play for the milestone, still (erroneously) thinking it was unobtainable. The Prince launched an all-out attack on the Baron’s homeland. The attack was eminently successful, and Gordon (the Renowned Explorer) was captured by the Prince. The Prince used his Advisor to lower the enmity granted, but the damage was still done. The Baron was not going to accomplish that goal this turn.

On the next turn, the Baron retaliated. Since his fastest ship was far at sea and he was ill equipped for a strong attack, he made his best attempt, and was successful in rescuing Gordon from the Evil Prince’s castle. Still, this had cost him a turn. Mere moments later, having recalculated the odds, the Duke (me) turned an equally malignant eye towards the Baron and kidnapped poor Gordon. (It's worth noting that this was a rules error on our part - since the Prince had already raided the Baron's council chambers, it would not have been possible for a second raid on that site to occur. This is one of the many mechanics that prevent players from teaming up to eliminate a single underdog opponent.) I thought it was pretty much a 50/50 ploy that I would keep him since I had already upgraded by home garrison a bit. As luck would have it the Baron’s warship sailed into port and raided my Council Chambers, returning Gordon to his original home.

We had to re-review the enmity rules several times over the course of this adventure, making sure that the proper tokens were handed out and placed correctly. In retrospect, aside from the aforementioned gaffe, I believe we neglected to account for the pre-existing enmity stickers on our home ports – something we will need to watch for as we move forward.

Amusingly enough, the Prince took advantage of the lag time to send his fastest ship to Buttseam Island and used no fewer than three Research cards he had been hoarding. Between the bonuses on those cards and potential triggered effects, I estimated he had about a 65% chance of success. Not as good as having Gordon, but certainly within the realm of possibility. He had two +2 successes from research cards, plus at least one “reroll” card, and a small stack of fortune tokens to use. I’m not 100% sure exactly how it worked out (going from memory here) but he basically needed to roll five dice and get all five with some flavor of success. Amazingly, despite all of the angst and worry, the very first throw of the dice showed five straight successes!

This led to the unlocking of Secret box 3. This was a bit confusing to us as both of the prior boxes did not unlock until the end of the game. We reviewed the Captain’s Booke entries for the prior unlocks and saw that they had text to imply that those boxes were to be opened at the end of the game. This one did not. After several minutes of searching FAQs and online research, we decided to open the box immediately. Once again, this should have been caught in playtesting and/or proofreading of the rules! If the intent was to open the box immediately, it should say so in the Captain’s Booke entry!!!

In the end, we opened it, and added the materials to our ongoing game, shuffling all of the affected decks. This led to another question: Do the “curses” card get mixed into the “damage” card deck, or are they treated separately? We mixed them in and shuffled, but it would be easy to create a separate stack for curses if that is the way it intended. Once again, the rules are unclear about this!!

While the “Gordon War” was underway, the Merchant was quietly winning the game. We essentially only had two more turns before the game ended. The Lord player ended up founding our first (and so far ONLY) colony taking him from a very distant fifth place to only one point in arrears of the pack. In fact, if not for a couple of clever uses of goods and Advisors by the Duke (netting him 4 Honor in only two turns) that single colony would have propelled the Lord out of the trailing position!

When the final tally was made, the Merchant had a significant lead over every other player, and will be our new Prince (next game). Despite already being in the lowest position, the Lord fell a bit further behind (but not much!). The Baron, played well but was not able to pass the Duke (me), and kept his same overall position. The Prince and I started this session tied for the overall lead; we were both pushed down one seat by the rise of the Merchant, and the Prince pulled ahead of me by two points.

I don’t see the Merchant player as being able to hold on to his lead for much longer. He was artificially handed this game due to having a total of 8 Glory (out of 14) handed to him from milestones. The remaining milestones on the board are not eminently achievable – although I said the same thing about the unlock that happened this game too, so maybe they are! – I expect that the next game or two will be much like our second game meeting: a “development” game that allows each player’s strategies to develop. I expect that as heaps of gold and treasures start to accumulate in our Merchant’s vault, he will find himself a more and more juicy target. Particularly for players who have been focusing on raiding!

- Stupid @ Tuesday, April 4, 2017 12:19 PM PT [+]

Seafall (boardgame campaign) - sessions three and four
This is a continuation of our playthrough.

We played our first "real" game (following the prologue) without achieving the only “unlock” milestone, so this report will cover our third meeting - with events that typically occur during the first game for most people - and our fourth session, which ended with one of the two "Box 1" unlock milestones being achieved. This report will be pretty spoilerific, and if you are planning on ever playing Seafall, I STRONGLY urge you to skip reading this post. There will be spoilers that will affect your enjoyment of the game if/when you play it. I will make no attempt to shield you from any later game hidden mechanics or surprises.

We (erroneously) started our game with two milestones available. Even though it had been claimed in the first game, after a VERY careful review of the rule book and Captain’s Booke, we left the “An Island Revealed” milestone on the board. We were already a bit iffy on this, but the other milestones had clear instructions to record the achievement in the Historical Record and this one specifically did not; we (mistakenly) assumed this was a conscious decision on the part of the game designer and left it in. Of course, on the first turn, one player quickly sailed to the closest island (only two spaces from the harbors) and explored there. During the re-reading of the indicated entry, we quickly came to the conclusion that this might have been an error. Searching on BGG, we confirmed that this was an "oversight" and the “An Island Revealed” milestone was supposed to have been destroyed when it was achieved in our prior game; this meant that the exploring player in THIS game would not get any additional Glory, or any other rewards, benefits, or disadvantages for the milestone. Since it had already been claimed, it couldn’t be claimed again. This was a huge mistake and completely changed the outcome of the game, because the “highest site” that had just been explored was (of course) a 6. And since it was only 2 spaces from everyone’s home harbor, the very next player sailed out and immediately raided that spot (on their first turn!), claiming the “Darkness Stirs” milestone. Had the “An Island Revealed” milestone not been mistakenly placed on the board, it would have forced us to move a little slower and the scores would have been very different!

In any case, after our only milestone had been claimed, we went along playing the game. I went into the game with a healthy 5-point lead, and I had heard that the catchup mechanics were pretty brutal, so I had planned on soft-pedaling this game, shooting for a second or third place finish.

I should point out that the players are given ranks in the game based on their overall campaign score. The rankings determine turn order as well as starting bonuses, and they change after each session. From lowest to highest, the rankings are: Lord, Baron, Count, Duke, and Prince.

For the most part, our strategies pretty much carried over from the first game. Our Lord player (who was all about raiding) continued to raid the entire map and spread enmity around. The Baron (who was simply buying goods and then reselling them) continued his strategy. The Count (who really didn’t have a coherent strategy in the first game) went all-in on exploring. Our Duke (who was pretty much “gifted” the only milestone for this session game) took on a fairly aggressive stance and started raiding quite a bit. I was playing as Prince and (as mentioned above) was not really doing anything coherent – I was planning on playing the merchantile game, but as I found out, being ranked so high made that pretty much impossible.

I had set my eyes on a few remote goods, hoping to snatch them up, quickly return home, and then use them to buy a few upgrades, selling off the leftovers for a second trip. Unfortunately, as the Prince, I went last in the turn order and every time I went to buy a good, it was gone before my turn. Or the upgrade that I was planning on buying with a good that I did have would sell out before I could buy it.

After our third session game, the scores moved around a bit, mostly driven by our milestone error. The Count (who was hoping to claim the erroneous milestone) ended in third, not changing his standings at all. The Duke (who was the lucky recipient the error - pretty much handing him 3 Glory on the first turn) became our new Prince. My initial lead from the prior game was so much that, despite a pretty dismal final score (I think I only had 5 Glory in this 12 Glory game), I managed to only slip down one rank, to Duke. The raiding Lord moved up one slot, and the merchant Baron moved down, effectively trading places.

We ended our third meeting by opening the first Secret Box, revealing a whole lot of new stuff: new rules were introduced allowing players to raid each other’s ships, new research cards that would convey lasting bonuses to players, and new rules for exploring the unexplored oceans. Up until this point, we had been limited to only four islands to explore, and this opened up the wide seas for exploration (and exploitation)!

At the start of our fourth session, my biggest goal was to go exploring. At the end of every game session, we were allowed to upgrade one "stat" on one of our two ships, and in order to (hopefully)
get ahead of my competition, at the end of our prior game, I had selected to increase one of my ship's speed. Not being in the Prince’s seat, coupled with that (speed) stat increase, left me in a good position to buy hard goods from a remote island and try to get a quick upgrade or two in my province on turn two before turning my eyes west.

However, my plans changed instantly when the Count (immediately to my right) performed a devastatingly bad raid on the nearest island and took two damage to his flagship. There was a one-time only bonus milestone called ”The Sea Embraces” on the table, which had a very simple requirement to sink an opponent's ship. This was just too juicy of a target to pass up, so I quickly ran out and sank his ship for an instant 5 points. The resulting special event was kind of cool to read, too. It basically created a shipwreck that would occasionally send out a ghost ship to attack whomever was closest to the sunken shop site! Another case of the rules changing and the game morphing as we played it. Unfortunately it ended up being placed right next to the Coastal Waters mega-space which is going to pretty much screw whomever is in port when the Event activates.

I immediately set my eye on a second milestone called ”Trade Flourishes” that required selling four of any goods in a single turn. Unfortunately (for me) I didn’t notice that it could only be achieved with bonuses from Advisors - the game specifically limits players to selling TWO goods in a single turn. Selling more than that requires a +sell bonus from an Advisor. I was thinking that all I had to do was to gather the good and then sell them. A huge mistake on my part, and probably cost me the game.

Our new Lord Merchant player continued his buying and selling spree. Due to his place in the turn order he immediately grabbed one of the new Advisors, allowing him to instantly “teleport” home from anywhere. Coupled with two prior upgrades to his ship’s holds, he was able to accumulate a nice stack of hard goods in his warehouse before our second Winter. At one point he had over 40 gold, plus another four five goods warehoused. Solid CONSISTENT choices of Advisors and upgrades seemed to really work well for him!

Our new Baron Raider player continued his raiding ways and his score reflected it. He slowly gained points from raiding and built a couple of defensive structures in his province. I suspect that might be a valid tactic later, but for now, it did not serve him well, as no one was attacking.

The new Count and I (the new Duke) started exploring to the west and discovered no less than three atolls, two islands, and several dangerous waters. The new islands have some site marked with new symbols, which are likely tied to the “Ancient Secrets Unearthed” milestone. Sadly, the lowest exploration value on any of these is a 7, which, at this point in the game, is going to be a risky proposition for anyone. Our two new islands were and “Island A” and “Island G”.

Sadly, we immediately discovered that Island A has a typo on the island sticker: it has a Dangerous Waters value of 4, instead of the 3 value that is called for on the island card. I'm really disappointed by the number of typos, "oversights" and out-and-out rules errors. If anything, this will be the thing that drives our group to stop playing the game. We are enjoying the pace, the theme and the weight of the game. We are not enjoying plans that go awry due to rules errors and needing to keep mental track of stickers that have incorrect values! Island G will hencforth be known as "Paradise Island", because player enmity doesn’t affect prices. (This means that no matter how much you abuse the natives, they will never raise prices for their goods.) I expect this will become a popular stop for most players, particularly as we move further west. The Glory from these discoveries really helped us stay afloat .

The Prince kept up the pace by exploring the (very few) locations left on the initial four islands and raiding here and there, but kind of lost inertia as the game progressed. I suspect he was feeling a bit unhappy about his position in the turn order (as I had been in the prior game) and was playing a bit softer to move down a rank or two.

I started with a massive 5 Glory lead, and one of the Pirate King Event cards came up, leading to some minor damage to one of my ships, and costing me one action/turn.

Amusingly enough, when the "The Sea Embraces" Event card popped up (this is the Event that triggers the Ghost Ship that I had created in prior turns), I was headed back to my Province. All the other players ships were scattered far and wide and it was unavoidable that I would be targeted. It felt thematically correct, but it cost me another turn/action.

As luck would have it, the only Advisor in the game with a Sell Goods +2 did not pop up until the very last turn before our second Winter. He only came up at that point because of the “Whispers” Event card that causes all Advisors with a Reputation value of one to be dismissed and replaced with new Advisors. And then Winter came and all the advisors were dismissed and replaced. At that point both the Lord Merchant and I had four goods ready to be sold. (The Lord merchant actually had no less than 8 Lumber cubes in his warehouse! This actually led to a lumber shortage in the world and several wood spaces went un-refreshed during Winter.)

After our second winter, the Lord Merchant built an upgrade that allowed him to rotate through all of the active Advisors for one gold. After selling off half of his stock (and using another Advisor bonus), he had enough gold on hand to simply “find” the Advisor he wanted and hire him. Claiming the selling milestone that I was tracking, he started buying treasures and went from dead last to winning the session. In fact, just by leveraging his massive amounts of wealth, he gained 10 points in three turns, ending the game with 15 overall and exceeding the amount needed to win by two entire points! Again, a solidly CONSISTENT choice of Advisors and upgrades meshed to make his strategy really come together!

For myself, I was playing a “jack of all trades master of none” strategy. Between my initial 5 point lead, exploring several new sites in the far ocean, and judicious use of my funds and hard goods, I managed to stay in the lead up until the final turn - albeit at times I was only one or two points ahead. Had it not been for that early gift of Glory, I would have fallen far behind the curve. I don’t think this strategy will serve me moving forward. Still, I was able to use my final turn to take advantage of one of my ”Renowned” Advisors, and launched an easy 3-point raid on a nearby island, awarding me two final points right at the end of the game. Overall, I finished in second with 14 points (out of the 13 required to end the game).

When the totals were added up, we have two players each with 30 points. Since I was the lowest rank player tied for the lead, and as much as I don’t want the role, it looks like I’m back in the Prince’s seat for the next game. Our Lord Merchant slingshotted himself from dead-last to third place overall, with only a 3 point deficit off the lead! I can see how this is going to go for at least the next few games. The old Duke kept pace, but the Lord’s meteoric rise left him in the dust, bumping him down one rank. The ex-Baron, who seems to be mostly treating the game like a military conquest, is now firmly in last place, with less than 2/3rds the point total of the leader(s). At least he’s going to have plenty of enmity against the other players due to the title bonuses. Maybe he’ll start raiding other players!

- Stupid @ Thursday, March 30, 2017 10:00 AM PT [+]

Seafall (boardgame campaign) - sessions one and two
Our group played through Pandemic Legacy with five players - we had our normal group of four, but whenever one player couldn't make a session, we had a dedicated "filler" player who would rotate in and out. It was with this dedicated group of five that we started playing Seafall.

Seafall is a "legacy" boardgame. That is, each session of this boardgame has a clear winner, decided by points, but the rules change (sometimes) based on actions that occurred during the game. Then for the next session, the game is slightly different, based on the rules that were added or changed, and the scores from the prior session carry over. Over time, the game changes in dramatic ways that were almost unimaginable when it first started. In essence it is a "campaign-style" game, but rather than being a Role Playing game where everything is imagined or described, it takes place on a tangible map, with chits and markers and effects cards.

If you are planning on ever playing Seafall, I STRONGLY urge you to skip reading this posting. There will be spoilers! Spoilers will affect your enjoyment of the game when you play it. I will make no attempt to shield you from any later game hidden mechanics or surprises.

The first sessions of the game is called the Prologue.

Before playing the prologue, I put the How to Play video on our TV and we all watched. (I won't recap the game rules here. If you want to know how the game plays, go watch the video.) When we sat down, the gameplay went quickly and we finished the prologue in two and a half turns. All players (expect for one) named one island each and the game was quickly over. It was a nice intro to the mechanics, but since it was a short game there really wasn't time for any kind of real strategy to develop. It actually felt kind of rushed.

We were all disappointed to "kill" our leaders at the end of the prologue. As a full five players, that meant that our second pick was going to be chosen from the five (subjectively) worst leaders. Even though it is just artwork, it is our characters in-game, and we wanted to choose someone that "felt" right. This was a major black mark against the game right away.

At the start of the fist real game, we were looking forward to a longer game, and one that actually had some kind of strategy develop. One of our players decided to be the "nice" guy and started buying goods from uncovered locales, sailing home and using the goods to buy single-point treasures. Another player chose to be the raiding master and started pillaging every island he could find; his goal was to use the goods to build structures. My strategy was to explore as much as I could and uncover new goods that way. The last two players, because of their position at the table, had limited options, and they did their best but never really got much of anywhere.

After four turns, our intrepid treasure hunter had managed to buy his third treasure, netting him the first achievement of the game ("The Finest Treasures") and putting him in a tenuous lead. My strategy of exploration had earned me enough hard goods to buy two structures - but at the cost of spending both of my luck tokens. On the fifth turn, I made a gamble and attempted an exploration of the highest numbered site on a remote island and managed to complete the endeavor, taking only one damage in the process, and gaining me the second milestone of the game ("An Island Explored") and putting me solidly in the lead. Plus that final exploration granted me enough goods to buy my third and final structure, which would award me the third milestone and win the game. I just had to make it home to port and manage to keep at least two gold in my treasury.

Alas, on the sixth turn, one of the last two players sabotaged my efforts and purchased the last 10-gold structure on the sideboard. That left only 18-gold structures available. Even with the hard-good discount, I was going to need 10+ gold to buy that last building. I positioned myself for the goods refresh in Winter. My plan was to use the first turn to buy some goods (ANYTHING!) and then tax my populace until I could buy that expensive structure. But I had forgotten that our fields produced in Winter! Suddenly I was awash in gold, and I could win on my next turn! But the astrolabe passed to the player on my left, putting me last in the play order, and giving everyone else one more guaranteed turn.

After some conversation (and smack-talk) at the table, our raiding player decided that his job was to destroy one of my cheap and easy-to-pillage structures. He brought his entire fleet (of two ships) and after accounting for my Gun Tower, rolled four dice. He was surely going to sink his flagship, but he was determined to stop me from winning. Three successes would give him enough. Fortunately for me (but unfortunately for him) he rolled three blanks and one dot. He only had one luck token left, so rather than waste it on raiding a field (which wouldn't have stopped me) he took his lumps and left me unharmed.

On my seventh turn I bought my third structure and won the game. Final score was 12-7-6-6-5, a runaway victory. No one achieved the "unlock" milestone, but all three of the others were claimed and destroyed, as per the directions and we added two new event cards to the event deck. (See, the game is already changing!)

I'm not sure where the game will go from here. Our next game seems to be a bit rudderless in that there are far fewer milestones left on the table. With only the unlock and the treasure goals, getting to 12 points may take a very VERY long time.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, March 28, 2017 5:54 PM PT [+]

PSVR - Hyper Void+ VR

The video games industry was just getting started in the late 1970 and early 1980s. The first video game, Pong, quickly gave rise to more advanced games like Spacewar and Astreriods. The vector graphics style of games quickly fell by the wayside and sprite-oriented games started to appear, like Willams’ Defender, and Space Invaders. Some of these newer games saw iterative improvements. For example, Space Invaders begat Centipede And Galaxian.

All of these games had several things in common. Since each play cost 25 cents, the game was designed to get extremely difficult in a short period of time in order to get more money out of the player’s pockets and into the game’s coin hopper. There as usually very little in the way of expository story. And there was (usually) no way to “beat” of “finish” the game. The vast majority of games ended with the player’s character or sprite dying, getting blown up, running out of gas, or some other untimely demise.

Hyper Void+ VR is basically a remake of the classic coin-op Galaxian in VR. While it's kinda neat to see a video game from my youth (and one that I absolutely LOVED at that!) be remade into VR, outside of the nostalgia factor, there really isn't much of a game here. I mean, there really wasn’t much of a game when Galaxian was originally released in 1979. It was basically endless waves of enemies dropping down from the top of the screen, sometimes making a few swirling patterns on the way, and trying to get past the guardian player who could move around in the bottom 1/3 of the screen.

Rather than having a screen where action goes top to bottom, this VR version features a "field" where the action goes from afar to near. The "hook" (as it were) is that the playing field is not always "flat"; instead it warps around with wrinkles and folds and occasionally closes completely to form a tube. The problem is that while a joystick worked fine as a input device for a flat-screen game of this type, it quickly becomes confusing in three-dimensional VR-space. For example, when your ship is situated on the upper portion of a tubular field, pushing the stick to the left makes the ship go right (its left, since its upside down to the player).

There is some semblance of a story that was added to make the game feel like the player is actually doing something, but to be honest, it is completely ignorable and doesn't change the experience at all. It's basically a game about shooting bad guys and not dying for as long as possible.

The game is not VR-specific. It can be played both “flat” and in VR. I’m not sure why a VR version was produced, unless it was trivially easy for the developer to port to PSVR. Even allowing for the confusing controls scheme, it’s just not that compelling of a game. At the end of the day it’s still just a buffed up version of Space Invaders. It’s available on both PSN and Xbox Live (for the Xbox in non-VR).

- Stupid @ Tuesday, February 14, 2017 3:56 PM PT [+]

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