Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor

The Batam Arkham series of games are, in my humble opinion, some of the best games ever made. They really bring a lot of good ideas together and the brawling system in particular stands out. There’s a lot of things to rave about, even in the latest addition which fell slightly short of the lofty standards set by its predecessors.

Recently I came across a video about Warner Bros.’ upcoming action game Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor and along with it comparisons to Arkham’s systems.

Some of my favourite WB-styled Middle Earth games was the action games that rode on the back of the 3 movies. They were reasonably simple hack and slash affairs, but damn if I didn’t have a lot of fun playing co-op with them anyway.

It’s funny was nostalgia does. I remember these games being quite pretty.

So now we’re looking like a game with a similar visual style, the Tolkien world, but “borrowing” ideas from the undisputed king of action games? That all sounds pretty good to me and it doesn’t hurt that, visually, it’s crack cocaine for the eyes.

Who knows when it will be released? 2014 is the only hint we have so far. Who knows if it will be as good as the Arkham games? Probably not; The Amazing Spider-man ripped large portions of the Arkham games and, while OK, it was nowhere near the quality of the original material – despite the fact Spider-man is in many ways better suited to the mechanics.

So, for me, it will come down to price. I expect this game will be worth about $30. Unfortunately, I also expect it to will ship as a full-retail product. The LOTR license would not come cheap.

Steam sales to the rescue, I guess.

Crusader Kings II: The Quest for the English Throne part deuce

I am Emperor Morgan the Wise of Alba. King of Scotland, Ireland, and England. The last heir to the Kingdom of Aquitaine and de jure liege of Wales and Brittany. Duke of Albany and the Dunbar ancestral lands Lothian, and Count of all associated holdings.

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You may remember my great, great, great grandmother: AElfeda who married matrilineally to Patrick which her brother put on the throne.

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King Patrick only lived for another decade or so and when he died the realm passed to the first Dunbar king: King Dietrich.

AElfeda lived to a ripe old age of 69. In those years as Queen Mother and Duchess of Lothian, the Dunbar ancestral lands, King Dietrich broke away from the generational plan to start moving into the English nobility and instead pushed into Ireland. His second-cousin was a Countess by the name of Godgifu, a formidable woman who would come to be known as “the Lion” and had many claims in Ireland.

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Dietrich pushed those claims and by the time Queen AElfeda died and the ancestral lands passed to him, Northern Ireland was within Scottish borders.

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This of course made the Countess quite powerful. In fact, by doing this she was probably one of the most powerful people in Scotland. She was the Countess of Galloway, Ulster, Oriel, and Tyrone. More worryingly, though, she was sworn to the Duke of Moray. Duke Lachlan. An ambitious a Muirebe.

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Uprisings, both from nobility and peasantry, happened from time to time but it was a wise King that kept enough territory in his demense and enough allies to be able to handle any opposition. Between the Duke of Moray and the Countess they could perhaps match the King’s personal levies – and that was a problem.

Transferring the vassalage of the Countess directly to the King would be out of the question – the Duke would surely rise up in arms and the Countess would be obligated to join him. So Dietrich simply promoted the Countess to the Duchess of Ulster. A newly created Duchy for the new Irish holdings. By making her a peer of Moray she could no longer be his vassal and, like all dukes, swore fealty directly to the king.

Dietrich was known as the Careless because he was often wounded in battle. Ultimately he took a blow to the head answering a call to arms to a distant ally – the King of Aquitaine (some sort of marriage alliance no doubt) – and was rendered incapable. A regent ruled for a few years and then Scotland, and the ancestral Lothian lands, passed to Dugald in the year of our Lord, 1175.

Each successive King achieved more than the last. Dietrich was known for bringing northern Ireland into the fold. Dugald would all-but complete his father’s quest.

On succession Dugald began claiming Irish territory on behalf of his vassals. You see, Ireland was not a united Kingdom but broken up into smaller Petty Kingdoms – sometimes only one county in size. This made them grossly outnumbered as they rarely banded together. By picking the Irish apart, Dugald incorporated just under half of Irish land. More importantly though, the once loyal Countess turned on the new King. She loved his father, of course, but held no special love for Dugald and, as previously stated, she was one of the most powerful individuals in Scotland.

The inevitable eventually occurred and she rose up in rebellion demanding independence. It was a tough war, but the King was rich and hired mercenaries to defeat her armies and imprison the Countess. She was stripped of her Ducal title and Dugald passed it to a more loyal vassal. She never saw the light of day again and eventually died in the King’s dungeons around 1185. She would serve her King one last time though, just before her death.

After some investigation it was discovered she had one more claim that could be pressed: Dublin.

Dugald pushed the claim – dungeon’s were not known for keeping their guests healthy and Dublin needed to be claimed before she, unfortunately, expired.

It was swiftly done, and within 12 months the Countess passed on.

Now with over half of the Irish counties under Scottish rule, Dugald declared himself King of Ireland. This gave him an all-too-important casus belli on any remaining Irish counts and Petty Kings – your lands are now rightfully within the realm of the King.

Due to the intricacies of peace treaties the entirety of Ireland was not quite incorporated before Dugald’s death in 1199 – the County of Desmond remained, the last refuge of King Mael-Sechlann of Munster – protected by a 10-year truce.

King Dugald, aged 64,  was known as “the Old” when he passed the ancestral lands of Lothian on to his son Waldeve. My Grandfather.

Waldeve’s reign was inconceivably long. But also very successful.

With Dugald’s death, so did die his truce with King Mael-Sechlann, and Waldeve incorporated the last Irish hold-out into his realm.

Next he moved on the Petty Kings of Wales. The idea was with the Irish and Welsh combined with Scottish levies, he should have enough men to place anyone he needed on the English throne. Or, perhaps, to claim counties one-by-one should opportunities arise.

He didn’t have to wait long. England was regularly breaking down into civil war, and in 1208 a succession crisis lead to England splitting in two. As it happens, Waldeve had a woman in his court by the name of Valdrade who had a weak claim on the throne. In fact there was also a woman by the name of Herrmessent who also had a claim.  Valdrade was Countess of Ross, and Herrmessent was Duchess of The Isles. Waldeve carefully weighed up both options – most importantly where their children lay in the line of succession, and their ages in comparison to Waldeve’s – and determined Valdrade the better claimant. This would be quite a different story for me, if he had chosen otherwise.

Valdrade, supported by Waldeve, threw her hat into the conflict over the English throne (at that time seated by the child-Queen Constance.) The war ended in 1213 with Valdrade on the throne.

Waldeve’s work was not quite done, however. You see, at this stage he’d had 4 daughters and no sons. Eleanor was, in fact, already married to the Duke of Moray and had even had a daughter – my step-sister Malmure. Unsure of the best way to proceed, destiny seemed to show the way:

The Duke died young to some disease. This freed up Eleanor to marry again and Valdrade’s son was not quite of age, but Eleanor was only in her mid-twenties and still of a child-bearing age. No doubt a virile 16-year-old would be able to get her to bear a son.

And so it came to be. Waldeve married his brightest and youngest daughter, Eleanor, to Valdrade’s son and heir, Guirand – my mother and my father.

Still, the laws in Scotland meant that Waldeve’s rightful heir was his nephew, as he had no sons of his own. The succession laws were changed to elective. This allowed all of Waldeve’s dukes to vote on the next king, but they rarely stray from the King’s suggestion and so when I was born in 1221 he immediately nominated me, his grandson.

Perhaps to cover his bases, when Waldeve’s wife died in 1211 he married a very young Mael-Muire. She then went on to bear him another daughter… followed by 3 sons.

Naturally they were livid, once old enough to understand, at the law change that robbed them of the Kingdom, but Waldeve’s manoeuvring meant that on his death I would inherit Scotland, Ireland, and the ancestral Dunbar lands and on Valdrade’s death: The Kingdom of England.

Waldeve should have settled in then, and lived out the rest of his days as a comfortable king. Any chance of that fled in 1235.

A noble in the Kingdom of Aquitaine send King Waldeve a letter which, in other words, read: “We plan to petition our King to abdicate to you, as we want you to be our King.”

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As you can see, Aquitaine was no small Kingdom. In fact, the Kings of Aquitaine and France had regularly been at war over territory for the last 200 years – and it would seem the Aquitaine Kings had been winning.

It’s true Waldeve had picked up a claim on that Kingdom from one of his ancestors somewhere, but expected this demand to lead to war. A war he hadn’t planned on, but it seemed like a good opportunity. Scotland was stable, and it could be a simple way to add an entire Kingdom to her borders.

As it turned out, he needn’t have worried. The King abdicated and just like that, Waldeve was the King of Scotland, Ireland, and now Aquitaine.

Of course the nobles that had pushed Waldeve’s claim liked him, but the rest of the French (technically Aquitaine, but I’m going to call them French) Dukes did not like this King with his Scottish mannerisms and they also considered him a foreign conqueror.

A few wars were required, but this allowed Waldeve to stripped a couple titles to weaken the more rebellious Dukes, and rearrange the Kingdom somewhat. It wasn’t perfect – short of expelling all the French Dukes and replacing them with Scottish nobles, Aquitaine would always be a struggle to contain. It was hoped eventually they will get used to a Scottish King and come around.

He changed the Aquitaine succession laws to elective, and nominated me as his heir. The hope was that I would then inherit the Kingdoms of Scotland, Ireland, and Aquitaine, but the French nobles wouldn’t come to the table. It was looking like on Waldeve’s death Aquitaine would fall to one of their own Dukes.

Unable to change the laws a second time, Waldeve simply dissolved the title and Kingdom altogether. What was once the Kingdom of Aquitaine, was now simply more Scotland. The nobles weren’t exactly happy about the development, but Waldeve couldn’t live for much longer, surely.

Waldeve, like his father, became known as “the Old”, and eventually passed away on 30 October, 1247, aged 85. Not even from old age, but it was severe stress that got him in the end.

My Grandmother (on the other side) also lived to a ripe old age of 87 – so it was some time until I finally inherited England.

The succession actually went quite smoothly. The nobles still weren’t thrilled with having to deal with a Scottish King, but they did not bear a grudge against me, like they had with my Grandfather, for “conquering” them.

No, my biggest problem came from my neighbour – the Holy Roman Empire (HRE). A mighty empire, nearly as powerful as Scotland will be – once I inherit England. In the meantime we seem to be well matched.

We had terrible trouble trying to stamp out the Lollard heresy here in Scotland. The HRE, meanwhile, had embraced it. This meant that either Kingdom could declare a holy war on the other. So far we have had 4 – twice a holy war for the Duchy of Toulouse, and twice for the Duchy of Provence.

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Provence

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All wars have ended with the defender victorious, so I count us evenly matched. I hope with the English behind me I will finally be able to break this stalemate.

In 1264 the Queen of England passed away, and so, finally, a Dunbar sits on the English throne. It also united the Welsh territories, previously split evenly between England and Scotland, under the one banner.

And so, I declared myself Emperor, and my Empire was called Alba.

I have a number of duties to attend to with my new Empire. Now all the Kingdoms follow the same laws, I think I should change the succession laws back to primogeniture (oldest son inherits.) My vassals like the current law, but I can’t risk the Empire or Kingdoms passing into the wrong hands. I don’t expect I’ll need to skip a generation, like my Grandfather. This will please my eldest son, naturally, and as a traditional succession law vassals and other children won’t mind (much.)

To my east is my great foe: the HRE. I have essentially unlimited casus belli’s to call on them, and could incorporate great swathes of their territory to my own – if only I can beat their armies. The last time we fought, I did so handily and would have pressed my advantage, but with the English crown passing to me I thought I had better deal with the petty in-fighting that the English dukes brought with them first. If I’m lucky I might be able to get the Pope to declare a full invasion of heretic lands, which will allow me to simply invade and keep whatever I occupy. Invasion or no, I can also call on the Knights Templar, the Teutonic Order, and the Knights Hospitaller who can be counted on to fight heretics and non-Christians.

Speaking of non-Christians, to my south and west is the Iberian peninsular. This area has been almost entirely conquerored by the Abbidad Sultantate. Muslim, of course, so again – I can call a Holy War on them at any time. We have no need for “claims” when Europe is in the clutches of non-Christians. Once again, if I’m lucky, I might be able to convince the Pope to declare a crusade on either of these powerful foes.

The Dunbar goal has finally been achieved – but perhaps Morgan can push it further than any of my ancestors had ever dreamed.

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Splinter Cell: Blacklist. It’s Conviction, But With Chaff Added Back In

I’d heard plenty of belly-aching about how different Splinter Cell: Conviction was from the previous games. It was. And it’s always a risky endeavour to do something like that, but they nailed it. The series had become so bogged down in pointless chaff that while the core gameplay was a solid stealthier I had to wonder why I bothered since everything they added to the series did nothing to improve it (the exception being spy vs merc, of course.) Enter, Conviction.

Conviction’s crowning achievement was to strip about all the crap. I mean, in previous titles, Double Agent and Chaos Theory, you had a silenced assault rifle, and a silenced pistol. Which meant you had fully 2 different ways to simply head-shot everyone on the level without raising an alarm. Oh? You wanted to do it non-lethally? Perhaps to make it a bit more of a challenge? No problem, you could literally shoot compressed air with enough force to knock guards out. Naturally, you could take everyone down with hand-to-hand (and I think this is what most people did) but that meant: pistol, air-ring, main gun, basically every single gadget… all useless. They even gave you the option of using a lethal knife or just non-lethal takedowns… which of course was a pointless decision.

Double Agent and the knife. Does it actually have a point?

So, Conviction cut through all of that like a laser. You could tear through the level like a thing of nightmares, disappearing dudes packs at a time. If someone stopped to ask, “Huh?” You’d use that as an opening to drop down from above and dispatch him too. Even Conviction struggled to truly make everything count, though. They gave you a wide variety of weapons and each of them could be upgraded with various mods… and the whole exercise was completely and utterly pointless. There was next to no point in ever upgrading your main gun, and all you were interested in was getting more “marks” for your pistol so you could use the awesome “Mark and Execute” better.

So take that minor flaw of Conviction, and amplify it ten-fold. That’s Blacklist. I know why it’s happened: whingers. Those who were turned off Conviction’s focused gameplay because they were long time fans and who knew how to take a middling series and squeeze fun out of it. They didn’t like the idea of tight controls and clean gameplay. Now anyone can have fun! What’s that about?

Case-in-point is the return of the knife. Like most things people whined about, it was an odd thing to request a return. The decision between lethal and non-lethal was always pointless, so Conviction simply took it away. Why not just combine the lethality of the knife into the default hand-to-hand strikes? It was gravy that Sam would throw in brutal point-blank-range pistol shots in his take-downs. Now, in Blacklist, the knife is back, and you can choose lethal or non-lethal. To their credit, they’ve tried to add a reason to use it. There are three ways get through a level: Ghost (non-lethal), Panther (lethal), Assault (You might as well play Gears of War.) There is a little bit of subtlety to each of the modes – for example Panther gives you bonus points for using Mark and Execute on as many people at a time as possible, whereas Ghost gives you bonus points for each guard that was completely undisturbed in a zone. It doesn’t quite work, though, because as a Panther I like killing guys, but if I have no need to kill them, shouldn’t I get a little bit of a kick-back for that? No? I guess our ideas of sneaking into an area (lethally) are different.

Blacklist is for the most part still Conviction, it’s just a shame they didn’t improve on what made it so good, and instead opted to add as much chaff back in as possible (except, of course, spy vs merc which was never chaff.) Now you have tens of gadgets, which alternate between utterly useless (tear gas) and the completely game-breaking (tri-rotor.) The whole game has some real balance issues, actually. Now you can Mark and Execute just as well with any weapon as your pistol. Say hello to Mark and Execute from across the map with a silenced sniper rifle.

To slow down your marks and executions “special” guards have been added in. Guys with helmets, for example. They can present an interesting challenge since a Mark and Execute that includes them will only make them angry – but include a co-op ally and now you can double tap him. Oh, except, the best sniper rifle (which you can get in the first 25% of the game) can just shoot through their helmet. Yay.

You can still have a lot of fun by exercising a bit of self-control, though. (Similarly to Double Agent, I guess.) The co-op is just as much fun as it was in Conviction (although the story only gets interesting when it references Conviction) and it is worked into the single-player campaign quite cleverly. They also present 4 different co-op pseudo-campaigns: once again, Ghost, Panther, Assault, and this time also a story campaign that you’re not obligated to do in any particular style. Poor balance rears its head again, though: I usually complete the Ghost missions by just killing everyone. Since it’s supposed to be done “ghostly” there are less obstacles in your way and so it’s incredibly easy. Furthermore, you’re usually supposed to be sneaking in and bugging somewhere without them knowing… you’d think leaving a trail of bodies would be a giveaway,  but nope. If you restrict your weapons, play the missions as they’re probably designed (rather than what is most effective) it works OK. It’s silly you have to self-censor yourself though.

A lot could be said about Sam’s changed voice, too, but ultimately it’s not why you play so I won’t go on about it. The story-line is about on par with previous entries, but Sam’s voice is so bland it carries absolutely no weight. I cannot remember much of what happened in the previous entries – except Sam’s personal developments; I attribute this to Michael Ironsides superb voice acting. Compared to any other game voice actor out there, the new Sam does fine. Compared to Michael Ironsides it’s barely tolerable. If they were to change the actor for the next Splinter Cell, I doubt anyone would even notice, he is so bland.

From everything I have heard, the new Spies vs Mercenaries mode is excellent. I know that played with and against friends I had a ball with the original games’ versus offering. I’m a little afraid to dip into this one though because experience counts for so much – knowing the map layout and map tricks, for example. I should try it out, but at the moment all I can tell you is that I’ve heard it’s pretty good.

If you’re hankering for more Conviction action, like I was, I’d recommend grabbing Blacklist now. It’s fun, and still has much of what made Conviction great. If you’re pining for the good old Double Agent days, and hated Conviction, I’d steer clear (and therein is the irony, since Conviction’s style has been comprised to appease the haters, and it will not help to bring any in.) If you liked Conviction, but aren’t willing to put up with objectively worse gameplay, then wait until it’s on special. It’s worth checking it out, but few of us are used to paying full $70-$90 for a game nowadays, and it’s hard to recommend Blacklist at that price.

Thoughts on the Leap Motion

Well my Leap Motion finally arrived today, and my girlfriend and I had a bit of fun with it.

When I ordered the Leap Motion, I thought it looked unbelievable. Possibly a revolutionary new way to interact with our computers. As the waiting stretched out, however, I watched more videos – tech demos and the like – to keep myself occupied while I waited. That’s when I first started to see the cracks. Fingers couldn’t be registered unless close to parallel to the device, slight delay on movements, and “misses” when using the interface.

So by the time it arrived, I had a pretty good idea what to expect. It delivered on that. I know quite a few people are very disappointed: https://forums.leapmotion.com/showthread.php?2703-Unimpressed-is-an-understatement, but I’m not. My hopes just weren’t as high as they originally were.

Don’t get me wrong. The Leap is miles ahead of the Kinect or Move. The originals, certainly, but I’d also wager the new ones coming with the PS4 and XBone will be nearly as useless as the originals. The apps that are designed to use the Leap (basically the little games and things in the Airspace store) all work quite well. It takes a little getting used to.

So – although the hardware of Leap is a smidge less than I’d hoped for, I think with the right software it could do a lot of really interesting things. We might be looking at a over-hype backlash, which would hurt the chances of seeing that software, though. If the Leap Motion can struggle through the initial, rocky, days we might get some talented developers churning out some really useful apps. On the ideas forums, for example, I see an idea for “a boxing game” and gestures for a media controller (i.e. circle forward for fast-forward.)

My ideas basically revolve around cleaning up the interactions. At the moment they seem too wielded to an “invisible touch screen” floating between you and your monitor. It’s pretty annoying and inaccurate to try and break this plane with just the tip of your finger to get the “click” to work. I’d much prefer to see more intuitive ideas implemented. A whole new interface is one common suggestion (i.e. something more like Windows Metro interface) but I think you could, with clever programming, get the Leap working in Windows 7 too. For example a pinching or fist gesture to “grab” a window, so you can move it around. Some ray-casting so you can point at what you want to click, rather than having to “hover” your finger over it. A real “click” gesture, rather than the crude “jab”. Or at least, base the “click” off the acceleration of the finger, not whether it is breaking an invisible plane. And don’t give me any of this malarky about the Leap being unable to recognise a fist. Natively, perhaps. It seems to look for “sticks” and a “thicker stick” for fingers and a hand. But if the fingers curl up and disappear, and you’re left with just your original, shorter, stick — surely the user just made a fist? Besides. It’s just an infrared camera. Unless some of the latency trickery is built directly into the Leap hardware, can’t we have it recognise a fist along with fingers and arm?

My point is – these problems are fixable with clever software. Whether that is Leap Motion improving their Leap drivers, or 3rd party devs making customised recognizing algorithms, I think it’s doable. It will take a few months or maybe even a year or two, to really iron out.

Of course, the main reason to get a Leap, is so you have an interface for the Oculus Rift.

The Battlestar Galactica Board Game and its Expansions

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The Battlestar Galactica board game is probably my favourite of all time. Not only does it have exceedingly clever mechanics and nearly endless replayability, but it also captures the theme (one that I didn’t even like that much before the board game) perfectly in nearly every way.

So let’s pretend that my two sentences convinces you of this fact. Or, perhaps, you are already part of the choir. I’d like to talk a little about the expansions.

There are 3 (well 2, with a 3rd coming later this year):

1. Pegasus, covering events in the second season and the season opener of the third.
2. Exodus, covering events of the rest of the third season.
3. Daybreak, which looks to cover the rest of the series (season 4, essentially.)

Pegasus

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The thing about Pegasus is that it was the first expansion and afterwards I believe the game designers decided to take a more modular approach. Pegasus, therefore, does not benefit from this. It is often considered a “rules patch.” For this reason I have heard many dismiss it as “not worth the money” but I personally think this is terribly unfair.

It is true that the Pegasus box is the same size as the base box, but far lighter. It is also true to say there are a lot more bits and pieces in Exodus. For my money, though, I think Pegasus is a far more important expansion.

It tries to achieve two main goals.

First it attempts to rebalance the “sympathiser” mechanic. It is a very unpopular mechanic and many people feel that it is both too “gamey” and also prone to wild balance swings between the two teams. The expansion provides several options for alternatives that generally centre around a enigmatic Cylon Leader. They’re almost a third faction that wins with one of the teams, but only after a series of criteria are met. They’re designed as a balancing factor hindering or helping both sides at different times, depending on their secret agenda.

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Secondly it tries to tidy up a few core game mechanics that didn’t work so well. It achieves this through a number of rule tweaks, but mostly through a new “Cylon Location Overlay.” This changes the way several of the cylon locations work fairly dramatically. For example, cylons can wait in the resurrection ship after revealing and draw more super crisis cards. They cannot, however, go back in to the resurrection after they leave it. It also introduces the Pegasus board. 4 new powerful locations for the humans to help fight raiders and basestars.

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The expansion does also add in some new content – new characters and a new skill deck, for example. These are nice, but don’t impact the play all that much and feel more like bonus material rather than important additions.

Our group found it incredibly difficult for the humans to win with the base game. Our human win to cylon win ratio was probably on the order of 1:10. However, since introducing Pegasus things have evened out considerably. Cylons still win more often than not, but we find the games go down to the wire far more often.

I had originally shied away from Pegasus because of the new Pegasus board taking some of the space-combat limelight away from the pilots. This is certainly true, but we have found it’s not really as bad as we expected. The pilots do still see a bit of action, and everyone is still needed to pull through. I was also deathly afraid of the addition of Admiral Cain. Her once-per-game ability to “blind jump” seemed so strong as to make her a “must pick” character. While she is certainly a powerful character, in practice I don’t find her quite as game breaking as I expected.

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Lastly, I’ll quickly mention the occupation on New Caprica. This is an alternative ending condition for the game where a mini-game is basically played that the humans need to try and survive. Things are very different to the rest of the game, so it was not received very well. We typically don’t play with it, as it is optional, but like other additions with the expansion it can add a bit of extra flavour.

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All-in-all, I think Pegasus is a “must-have” expansion.

Exodus

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I actually picked Exodus up as my first expansion on the recommendation of several people on BSG forums I frequent. They told me how it makes it so that those that pick pilots were not always so bored, and it balances the game better, and makes Cylon attacks less random.

I was a little surprised by some of the comments, since pilot roles were very popular picks in our groups and they were always extremely busy. I couldn’t imagine why they would be described as “boring.” Cylon attacks were certainly brutal, but I really enjoyed them nonetheless. If Exodus improved on that, then all the better.

Exodus went for a far more modular approach than Pegasus which I think most players appreciated. There was not much in Exodus that was absolutely required, instead it shipped rules broken into 3 totally independent sections that could be added to the game. So you could play with 1, 2, or 3 of the Exodus components, or even just add in the new Exodus cards and characters (and the couple rule clarifications) and play with none of the new components.

Although there was a little bit of tweaking to the rules (for example, some adjustments to Pegasus additions – such as execution – that had a few flaws) most of Exodus was designed to shake up well-established strategies and tactics the community had developed. It tried to provide more ways for people to behave seemingly contrary to the human’s goal, but in actual fact are keeping the toaster threat at bay. In this way cylons could more easily sabotage the fleet without being immediately outed. Suspicious, sure, but this whole game is about sowing suspicion.

By far and away the biggest addition in the Exodus expansion is the “Cylon Fleet Board.” It removes cylon attack cards from the crisis deck entirely relying instead on having a cylon fleet build up on a secondary board. When this fleet catches up to the human fleet, you transfer the accumulated pieces on to the main board. Thus the attacks are more like a gradual build-up, followed by a large attack, rather than a fairly random collection of small attacks that may add up to large ones.

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I didn’t realise that pilots were less utilised at the time because of the Pegasus expansion, and I’m not entirely convinced that Exodus fixes anything. We found our pilots spent all of their time “escorting civilians” off the board, rather than shooting at toasters.

I personally find the whole process very silly. The problem is in the details, which I won’t get in to, but here’s an example:

It is often times good for the humans to have a basestar attack. Due to the way the rules are written, if a basestar attacks there is almost no chance of the rest of the cylon fleet showing up. The idea is that the whole massive fleet shows up at once, but various conditions can make a lone basestar show up. A lone basestar is really not much threat, so it is definitely the humans preference to let it show up and they make no effort to kill it, knowing that it effectively gimps the rest of the cylon fleet.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of strategy involved with the board – on both the human and cylon side. There are a lot of choices to what might be the best action to take… but they often don’t make much sense, such as the above basestar tactic.

I also don’t like that removing the attack cards reduces the strength of abilities such as scouting, or Roslin’s Religious Visions since attacks can no longer be avoided through those abilities.

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The other additions brought by Exodus are interesting, but not necessary. They’re also simply problems for the humans to overcome – they bring very little positive power to the humans. As a result, they just make the game harder (and when you’re looking at 1:10 lose:win ratio, that’s a tough pill to swallow!) It doesn’t make it that much harder, but anything that sows suspicion – by making it dangerous to look at each other’s loyalty cards for example – makes it harder on the humans even if only by a little.

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Finally the ending condition is mixed up once again. It’s mostly fluff – as opposed to New Caprica which can be difficult and game changing – but that suits fine. It’s a fun way to mix up the game as it winds towards a close finish, without greatly changing things.

As far as I’m concerned, Exodus is good but not necessary. I think you’ll probably have the best time with both Pegasus and Exodus, but if you HAVE to pick one, go with Pegasus as it is better suited to improving the base game. Exodus is mostly fluff and loses some of its re-balance without Pegasus.

Daybreak

battlestar_galactica_daybreak_1

Daybreak is not out yet, but from what we’ve seen so far it looks quite good. They’ve had another go at rebalancing the sympathiser mechanic. Now it is replaced by a new title. Between the original “President”, “Admiral”, and Exodus’s “CAG” most players had a title already. Now there is an interesting new one called “Mutineer.” The idea here is that the everyone gets powers that are presidential-like but you can only hold one of these “mutiny” cards at a time. If something forces you to pick up a second, you are immediately brigged as a mutineer. Therefore, it is probably wise to play this card – unfortunately most cards are both good and bad at the same time. Usually helping in some significant way, but also hurting the human cause in another way. It is probable that sometimes you can afford to lose one resource to gain some benefit… but other times it is not a good idea at all. So – are people trying to stay out of the brig, trying to help, or actively harming the human cause? Who knows!

The mutineer, meanwhile, can hold more of these cards than normal. This means they hold a special role of being able to utilise these special cards more effectively… or to greater devastation. It all sounds very interesting and fun.

bsg04-cards_mutiny-fan BSG04_Card_Loyalty-YouAreTheMutineer

A further reveal of Daybreak shows the new destination and the new ship (The Demetrius.) This ship gives the humans even more decisions – they can now run “missions” from there which are like higher-stakes crisis cards. If the humans are feeling confident they can use The Demetrius to try and squeeze out some extra juice… or alternatively a hidden cylon player may drop an unrequested mission on the humans that they have no hope of passing. The effects of these missions cards tend to be really good or really bad. I’m not sure yet whether this addition will be nice to have, but not necessary; mostly ignored among all the other options the humans have (with so few turns!); or a great must-have addition to the game. One quite siginificant addition is a new Rebel Basestar board. Presumably this is somewhat like Pegasus in that it grants quite a lot of firepower – the catch is… it could join either the humans OR the cylons.

cylon-civil-war

All in all Daybreak sounds like it’ll be a lot of fun. I don’t know if it will be a “must have” but since I already have the other expansions I’m not about to stop now. I have a feeling that Pegasus will still be necessary, but after that Exodus or Daybreak will be either-or options.

A Final Note

I’m wondering if I can run 4 sessions in a row one long weekend. I’ll start one game with the base game, then work through each expansion with some rules to allow people to “carry over” to the next expansion. I have a few ideas floating around for that… but I don’t know if I’ll convince my friends to settle in for that much Battlestar Galactica!

Why the Game Of Thrones Board Game Disappointed Me.

My gaming group are all very pragmatic. I rather suspect this is the problem we face with the Game of Thrones board game.

I picked it up after many recommendations (such as the above one.)

The mechanics, I thought, would suit our group perfectly. We love to trick and fight each other, but it never hurts our friendship. We also like the nitty-gritty details and longer games are no problem. Lastly, we all love the Game of Thrones stories. All in all, the game sounded perfect.

So what went wrong?

Well, the first couple games were pretty fun. They took a lot longer than I expected, but they were our first games so I thought they’d pick up. They also contained a fair amount of wheeling and dealing but they all ended fairly flawed. In the first two we were all easily beaten by sneak attacks performed by a much more experienced player. Those sea attacks can be very hard to spot!

Ok. Fine. We’ll get better.

The first game where we all had equal experience saw one of the players(Baratheon) that were well on their way to victory with a game-long truce with a much weaker player (Tyrell.) So as the game wound down, Baratheon moved to the verge of victory. Everyone knew it, and all previous alliances were restructured into Us vs Baratheon… except… Tyrell didn’t break their truce. They ended the game by moving their pieces OUT of one of their strongholds to allow Baratheon to move in uncontested for the win. “Ha ha!” the Tyrell player crowed, “We win!” Um. No. The silver lining was that in hindsight it looked like we realised Baratheon had the game too late. We’re pretty sure we wouldn’t have been able to stop him any way. Well played, Baratheon.

Baratheon and Tyrell cementing their alliance

Baratheon and Tyrell cementing their alliance

Still, I started to suspect the game wasn’t what I was after. Even if Tyrell HAD switched sides (as logically he should have,) it wouldn’t have exactly been a Game of Thrones-esk betrayal, would it? It would just be a pragmatic attack to improve one’s odds (however slim) of ultimately winning.

Subseqent games pretty much played out the same way. Any discussion of non-aggression pacts, alliances, or truces were done on the understanding of: This is just to improve my chances of winning. That is, it may improve yours as well, but we all know I’m only suggesting we stop fighting because otherwise neither of us have a hope. Fine, fine. But if one of us turns this around and starts to win… it’s back on. Ok, that’s the point of the game, but the problem is that it’s not a betrayal, or surprise.

The above video reviewer mentions how not a game goes by where the Lannister player doesn’t get stabbed and, containing his rage the player will simply threaten: “A Lannister always repays their debts.”

Never have I seen a betrayal that would warrant this sort of fist-shaking. It’s just too risky. Occasionally I could see a chance to grab a “free” castle if I tell the guy sitting next to me, who I’ve had an unspoken agreement with since the start of the game, “Oh, that’s a power token. I have no intention of attacking your castle, I just don’t have the resources.” Then, “Surprise!” it’s a march order and I grab me a free castle. Occasionally. And then – is it worth it? Due to all the above issues, no-one is silly enough to leave a castle completely exposed to a so-called ally.

“Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”

The best scenario would be one where, in a series of cleverly orchestrated back-stabs you surprise everyone by suddenly getting 8 castles and instantly win the game. Never. That’s when that’ll happen. We can all count, you see. You have 6 castles? Well then, everyone is watching your armies like a hawk. Your allies, even if they decide it’s not time to go on the offensive surely aren’t going to leave a castle next your armies without sufficient defenses. Ser Loras is the only way such a move might be pulled off (“I can afford to lose this castle because there’s no way he can get a second.” Oops. That army that wasn’t adjacent to any castles has suddenly bounded up and taken 1 extra castle.)

So essentially, a Game of Thrones board game turns into a fairly lack-luster war game. One that hasn’t failed to take 8 hours, yet. Since betrayal on the board rarely amounts to anything, the vying for power becomes the most interesting part. Using the raven to look at the wildling deck, or the blind-auctioning for position on the influence tracks. Unfortunately, these make up a very small part of the game compared to moving armies around and my play-group has house-ruled a few small things that makes this part even less interesting.

I decided a while ago that it would be a good long while until I break out the Game of Thrones board game again. I broke that rule after a month or two, mostly because it was with an entirely different gaming group… and that 6-hour marathon convinced me that I will probably never break the game out again unless I get begged and begged. Things were no different. Everyone was practical and pragmatic. No alliances, no back stabbings, and the player with the best military strategy won. It was so. Freaking. Boring.