Friday, August 31, 2012

Day three of the Magic: The Gathering Players Championship is tomorrow!

We're right on the heels of the World Magic Cup, but now instead of national teams from more than seventy countries around the world, it's a tight competition between only sixteen of the best players in the world. It's intense! If your typical Grand Prix is a red giant, then the PC is a white dwarf: small, but densely-packed and blindingly bright. (White dwarf stars are bright, right? They have "white" in the name, so I just assume...well, I'll look it up on Wikipedia later.)

Day 1 began with sixteen. By the end of Day 2, only four remain: Shouta Yasooka and Yuuya Watanabe from Japan, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa from Brazil, and the Shadowmage Infiltrator himself, Jon Finkel.

Now, me, I'm rooting for Finkel. For one, he's the home team; let's win one for America, right? Plus, he's a big name in Magic--big enough that I know his name. And I tend to root for the guy whose name I know. On top of all that, he's also a pretty cool guy. So I'm pro-Finkel.

If not Finkel, I'd support PV. He's from Team ChannelFireball, so he's practically an honorary American. Or I guess since he's from Brazil, an actual (South) American, but whatever. If you can't root for the home team, root for the neighbor's team, that's my philosophy. Also, again, I know his name and I, like, read his articles on the CFB website, and stuff. And if I had to pick, I'd say that although neither accent is especially sexy, the Brazilian accent is definitely sexier than the Japanese accent. So he's got that, too.

But enough about the players, let's talk about the coverage team. Best commentator? Eh, probably Rich Hagon. I am a big fan of Zac Hill, but he's relatively new to the commentator booths and it does show. Rich, however, is a coverage veteran, and he knows what's what. It's a tough job and Rich Hagon is just more experienced at it.

That being said, Zac Hill and Marshall Sutcliffe had their share of...uh...what would you call it, um, like, good commentary, I guess? They certainly weren't 100%, but they shed a lot of light on what the players were probably thinking about. Nobody can get inside another person's head; there were many moments when they didn't understand what a player was thinking, and got confused as a result. That's where Zac's commentary was weakest, I think--he didn't quite know what to do with himself when the player's line disagreed with his analysis. On the flip side, however, if it wasn't a miss, it was a hit. Zac and Marshall are good players, and their insights were often illuminating.

As for the formats, Cube was an awesome choice. I'm glad they picked it. LSV drafting mono-red--good times, good times. (I was rooting for him too, but sadly he has fallen out of contention.) I think Cube is the quintessential format of the Timmy/Spike. It's highly skill-testing and complex, but it's also packed with awesome, epic things. It's the draft format where every card is awesome and the awesomest deck wins.

In other unrelated Magic news, the planeswalker points website now allows players to officially align themselves with one of Ravnica's ten guilds. There are guild leaderboards and guild achievements and everything. So I chose a guild.

I tend to identify, color-wise, with sort of the top of the color wheel, like, Bant-y. I used to be more blue, but since I started college I've been drifting more towards the green end. Occasionally I dip into black, but red's pretty rare. I think nowadays I identify most strongly with green and its "Shit happens, life goes on" attitude. Gruul is way too crazy, though, and the Golgari seem kind of harsh (and creepy). Simic is okay, but I feel like they overthink things.

On the other hand, the Selesnya Conclave has...tokens! And tokens are awesome! I love having lots of tokens out! So I am sold. Selesnya is the guild for me. I was one of the first visitors to the new website, so I am the 000006th member of the Conclave! I wonder if I get a pet wolf like the Ledev dudes in the books. I don't normally like dogs, but if it's a psychic mind-linked wolf familiar, that's different.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Indie Gala 8 and The Getaway Bundle

Ugh, so are these guys, like, running out of indie games? What's the deal with these weak bundles?

Okay, okay, maybe it's unfair of me to say these games are all crappy when I haven't played any of them. In's actually really unfair of me. Wow, listen to me, I sound like a real snob, don't I? I should post in my comment section and complain.

But honestly, there's nothing here that excited me. This new Indie Royale here. 
  • We've got a first-person shooter...IN SPACE! Yeah, it's zero-gravity, what a clever gimmick, blah blah blah, I don't want to play another first-person shooter. 
  • We've got yet another twin-stick shooter. How many Geometry Wars clones do we need? It's not exactly a deep well of gameplay innovation. And this is still just neon geometrical shapes, so I have a hard time taking it seriously.
  • We've got a point-and-click adventure. Uh...enough said.
  • We've got...a visual novel?! The hell? What's that doing there? I thought those were only played by Otaku-people and the Japanese. It's on Steam? There are visual novels on Steam? When did this happen? Well in any case, I'll pass.
  • We've got some dungeon crawler that's supposed to be charmingly retro while belonging to a genre that inspires approximately zero nostalgia.
  • We've got...whatever that wagon game is. Actually, it looks okay, but it's nothing I'd pay real money for.
 I can't fairly say these games are bad, but I will say that I am not excited in the least for any of them. I'd be willing to try them out at a more attractive price point, maybe, or, well, some of them anyway, I dunno, but they want $5-6 for this thing, which is not my idea of value.

And don't even get me started on the new Indie Gala, which is...ugh...

They don't even have Steam games. They didn't even bother to get games with Steam keys. I don't think they're even trying. In fact, I don't think they were ever really trying. Pretty much all of their bundles have been laden with chaff of some kind. They're like the anti-Humble Bundle.

I probably should just only ever buy the Humble Bundle. They've been consistently solid through their whole run.

Well, anyway, I am not sold on any of these.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rith vs. Hazezon

Rith, the Awakener
I had an interesting experience recently while helping a friend build, test, and tune a new commander deck.

We came up with a Rith the Awakener deck with lots of token-themed cards. Problem was, it just wasn't coming together. The deck would durdle a little, play Rith, durdle around trying to make tokens, and then die without accomplishing much of anything.

We played a lot of games, but there just wasn't a cohesive gameplan. It was just durdle, durdle, durdle, die. Rith the Awakener seemed like she'd be a lot of fun in theory, but when the cards were down, she was clunky, slow, unreliable, and generally underpowered. It was a struggle trying to connect with her, and even if she got a hit in, she might maybe make five or six 1/1s. Then next turn she might make another ten, and then next turn, they might be able to attack and maybe get in some damage. But all this time she's tapping mana at sorcery speed and spending a lot of tempo to accomplish something that a single board sweeper could easily wipe out, and every single turn you're crossing your fingers and praying to untap unmolested.

On top of this, Rith's deck lacked an identity. It was supposedly a token deck, but it felt more like a pile of random cards. In fairness, it was a pile of random cards, but it was a pile without any guiding synergies or anything like that, and neither of us could think of a way to make it come together.

So I floated the idea of swapping the commander out for Hazezon Tamar, and instantly the synergies became clear. Ramp into lots of lands! Play Hazezon! Get lots of tokens all at once! Profit! Cathars' Crusade? Yes please! In the Web of War? Absolutely! Boundless Realms? Of course! Predator Dragon? Don't mind if I do! Confusion in the Ranks? Okay, now that's just ridiculous! But in a good way! Maybe toss in some flicker effects like Cloudshift and Otherworldly Journey. Sarkhan Vol would be sweet. And so on.

Hazezon TamarSee, I've played a lot of Rhys the Redeemed, and since Rith doubles your tokens too, I expected them to have some similarities. But it turns out Rith coming down so much later and having to jump through so many more hoops for a weaker effect is, uh, kind of a big deal.

Part of why Rith is supposed to be good is her 6/6 flying body. The problem with this is that the token deck doesn't care about the 6/6 flying body. It cares about the tokens. Why are we mucking around with dragons? We've got all these, like, Overruns and stuff all waiting to fire! Give us our tokens already! Rith requires a lot of setup--protecting her so she can attack, making sure she gets a hit in, making sure there are enough permanents in play to get a decent amount of saprolings--to get the same effect that Hazezon Tamar gives you all by himself, no hoop-jumping necessary. With Hazezon, the deck isn't running out its commander with fingers crossed. It's running out its commander and knowing it's making 7+ tokens. The solid, reliable effect provides a sturdier core to build around than the awkward, clunky flyer.

We made the swap, added a handful of new cards to synergize, and played a couple more test games. Hazezon played much better than Rith. Every time he came down, he was advancing the deck's gameplan and impacting the board--where previously the commander might as well have been a Mahamoti Djinn.

Anyway, that's my story of the day. It's disappointing when a cool-looking creature like Rith turns out to be underwhelming, but on the other hand, it's always satisfying when a creature from eighteen years ago--back in the days where all the creatures were jank--still holds up as a powerful and fun card today!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Let's talk about SolForge.

So I'm scrolling through my Twitter feed earlier this month and I see a few people talking about this new game on Kickstarter called SolForge, made by Richard Garfield (creator of Magic: The Gathering), Brian Kibler (one of the top Magic players in the world), and the guys who made Ascension (another game that's pretty good). And it's a digital trading card game? Hmm...

Well, I don't know about you, but I like this idea.

The core mechanic is both very simple and very deep. Each time you play a card, it levels up. Periodically, your discard pile gets shuffled back into your deck, and the next time you draw that card, it'll be a higher level and have a different effect.

So at Level 1, you might have a bolt of lightning. At Level 2, it might be a more powerful chain lightning effect. And at Level 3, it could be a full-fledged thunderstorm. Or maybe you have a dragon egg that hatches into a baby dragon and then into a giant full-grown firebreathing terror. Or, on the flip side, you might have a giant zombie that starts out strong, but rots and decays over time to become less powerful in the lategame. Like I said, simple, but deep.

This mechanic would be difficult to execute in a traditional paper card game. I mean, imagine the logistics. How do you track what level the cards are when you shuffle them back into your deck? You'd need, like, multiple cards in one sleeve, or something? I don't even know. But for a digital game, it's all taken care of by the little man who lives inside the iPad and pushes buttons to make the lights change color.

There was a playable demo of the game at GenCon, so we got a look at how the actual games play out. By the look of this video (in which Richard Garfield takes on John Fiorillo of Gary Games), it'll be a blast to play. I'm excited.

You should be excited too. There's still time to back the project on Kickstarter. If you do, you'll get special Kickstarter bonuses, like special exclusive promo cards and access to the beta and, like, just extra cards and store credit once the game is live, and whatnot.

Monday, August 27, 2012

I'm currently on the sixth level of my latest Dungeons of Dredmor run. I got tired of random skillsets. This time, I wanted to play as a rogue. An honest-to-goodness rogue with traps and crossbows and stuff. So my skills are Daggers, Crossbows, Burglary, Archaeology, Tinkering, Big Game Hunter, and Piracy.

The first time I used Tinkering, I ended up with a million zillion crossbow bolts and I could plink away at all the enemies from a distance and it was pretty awesome. For this run, I wanted to do that. So I took Tinkering, to make crossbows and bolts, and Crossbows, to make my shots stronger and recover more ammo. Burglary helps a lot with this plan as well--it has a teleport, which lets me jump away from enemies to get in crossbow hits, and it has Lockup, which chains an enemy in place so they can't fight back when I attack from a distance.

I tried Daggers when the expansion first came out, and I thought it was a cool skill. It's got stances that give huge boosts to counterattacks or critical chance. I was hoping I could use those. Unfortunately, that plan hasn't been working out, since there just aren't any daggers! I can't find any good ones. So that's been an underwhelming skill so far.

I took Big Game Hunter cuz...I dunno. Butchery, pretty much. Free meat. I put a point into that early on and it was pretty helpful in the early levels--some bonus xp from collecting trophies, and some bonus food from butchering animals. By this point I've got a better handle on things and I don't need the food or the teeny xp boosts, but I've been turning the extra meat into Lutefisk For The Lutefisk God and using some of it to apply a tasty meat glaze to my armor for bonus HP.

I don't remember why I picked Piracy. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I went for most of the game not getting any use out of it at all. Then I found a crafting recipe for the Mace of Windu, which uses amethyst gems. Okay, that's a combo. Piracy gives you free gems whenever you kill enemies; normally, gems like amethysts are rare, but pirates can plunder them all over the place. So suddenly I had a neverending supply of Maces of Windu. Which, by the way, are all artifacts. So now I can use Archaeology to send them to the museum for about 4000 xp. (THAT'S A LOT.)

Anyway, so far so good.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

#GiselaFTW: The most recent tech

Well, okay, I've changed more than just a couple cards in the deck, but there are two big pieces of tech that I'm excited about.

First: Reckless Charge.

Reckless Charge

The way games have played out so far is I try to stall and ramp until I can drop Gisela and another huge whammy card at the same time to essentially win out of nowhere. End of turn White Sun's Zenith, untap, Gisela, you're dead. Lightning Greaves, next turn Gisela + Heartless Hidetsugu, give Hidetsugu haste, you're dead. Gisela, equip Fireshrieker, Slayers' Stronghold, you're dead. Gisela, equip Bonehoard, Armageddon, you're dead on board. You get the idea.

Reckless Charge does this really well and I'm embarrassed I didn't think of it sooner. Gisela, Reckless Charge, flashback Reckless Charge is a one-card one-shot combo.

I don't know if it's good in any other decks. I'm pretty sure it's a bomb here, though.

So now if you're reading this and you ever play against me, I guess the jig is up and you know to play around it now. Ah well. At some point I'm going to need to start playing ways to get rid of flying chump-blockers. I wonder if Whispersilk Cloak is any good.

Tech #2: Scout's Warning

Scout's Warning

A big problem with a high-impact commander is that she often dies before I can untap with her. Previously I've tried to deal with this by using Otherworldly Journey and Faith's Shield and such, protecting the creature after it's already in play. But another way is to use Winding Canyons and drop her at the end of their turn, giving them the teeniest tiniest possible window to respond.

I knew Winding Canyons was awesome, but I completely forgot that it was also an instant in Future Sight. (Incidentally, the art on Scout's Warning is not a reference to Winding Canyons; missed opportunity much?) At only one mana with a bonus cantrip, this card's hella sweet. It's also hella sweet for Mayael, too, which makes it, like, double the sweetness.

Scout's Warning is now up there with Otherworldly Journey as one of my favorite pieces of EDH Tech.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

...After I drew this I realized Charmander and Cyndaquil are in different breeding groups. Oh well.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Groupees Be Mine 4

I'm going to cut to the chase here. The new Groupees bundle looks like crap.

It's got five games, right? Zero Gear, Revelations 2012, Guns of Icarus, Metal Drift, and Laxius Force. So okay, let's start with Zero Gear. See this trailer?

The voiceover guy is doing the "Epic Voice" and they're smashing words like "Awesome" all over the screen, but I can see the gameplay right there, guys. It looks blander and duller than Wii Sports. There's no way I'm playing this. Sorry.

And this Revelations 2012 game? First impression, the whole "2012 Apocolypse" [sic] theme is idiotic, and I don't like FPS games, and the hell are those weapons supposed to be? But hoo boy, look what pops up on Metacritic.

That 15 there is the top score. Wow. Geez.

As if that weren't discouraging enough, even without looking at any reviews, in the best case it would just be a random Source-mod FPS, a wannabe Left 4 Dead. And I didn't even like Left 4 Dead, which, I am told, is an actual good game! Why would I ever want this?

And then there's this Laxius Force game...

Are you kidding me? Is this a joke? They want money for this cheap low-budget schlock? Bullshit. I can't possibly take this game seriously. Sorry.

Then we have Metal Drift, which...

...uh..., it's not doing anything for me. Some sort of vehicle-based arena combat game? I don't even know. This is not something I care about or am interested in at all. I got nothing.

Lastly, there's Guns of Icarus. And I actually like this game. I think it's a really fun concept. It has a lot of problems in its execution, but the big ones are that its learning curve is too steep and the replay value is plbbbbt. (That's the noise of a deflating balloon.) It takes significant practice to get into it, but the game is so short that there's no payoff once you do, and the missions are locked into a strict, overly-rigid chronological order.

See, you can replay a mission, but if you do, it resets all of your upgrades and forces you to use only the stuff you had back when you first played that mission. Worse, this is enforced even in the multiplayer mode, so there's no real point in playing multiplayer with any of the levels except the very last ones.

The difficulty is a problem too. It's extremely unforgiving. Enemies attack in preset waves. If you don't kill all the enemies in the first wave, they'll still be there shooting at you when the second wave comes. Can't kill all of them? Well that third wave is here now too, and the fourth wave is on its way. If you slip up, it compounds, and things spiral out of control quickly.

On the upside, the time-management aspect is actually really cool. Various bits of the airship get damaged and need to be repaired. Do you go fix the engines to try to get to the goal faster? Do you repair the cargo hold for better rewards? Should you prioritize the rigging and just keep yourself from blowing up? And can you afford to leave the gun turrets?

Also, nailing hits on those enemies is supremely satisfying. They start smoking when they take damage, and there's a lovely explosion when you deal the finishing blow. There's a strong sense of visceral thrill, and because of the skill involved in aiming, you really feel like you earned those kills. Hell yeah!

In general, it's just basically an appealing concept that's reasonably fun with some rather glaring flaws that dampen it somewhat. But for me, this is all moot since I already own Guns of Icarus.

So, bottom line, I'm really disappointed in this bundle.

On the upside, though, World of Goo added to the Humble Android Bundle! So that's nice!