PolyCast logo

Earlier today, I served as a guest host for the Civilization podcast Polycast, episode 295. I joined regular hosts DanQ, Makahlua, MadDjinn, and TheMeInTeam. The episode covered a handful of topics, ranging from the new religion mechanics introduced by the fall 2017 patch, to a proposal for athletes to be a type of great person, the new Civilization: A New Dawn board game, to the issue of micro-transactions (or "Recurrent Consumer Spending" as Take-Two Interactive CEO, Strauss Zelnick calls it), and more.

If you missed the live broadcast, then the edited archive version will be released on PolyCast's website next Saturday (December 2). I'll update this post with a link once the archive is updated.

"Recurrent Consumer Spending"

"Recurrent Consumer Spending" was one of the primary topics of the previous episode (PolyCast #294), and so we discussed it again as part of a discussion on feedback from last week's episode. Micro-transactions (and loot boxes in particular) are a hot topic in gaming of late, especially after the fiasco that was EA's launch of Star Wars: Battlefront II. Games pundit Jim Sterling has made micro-transactions an almost weekly issue in his Youtube podcast The Jimquisition. Sterling has been comparing loot boxes to gambling for months, and recently, some European regulatory agencies have started to evaluate whether loot boxes should legally be classified as a type of gambling. As someone who has previously worked for a gambling company, I am aware of how compulsive impulses are used to keep gamblers addicted to a particular game, and I definitely believe that the current implementation of loot boxes in games like Shadow of War, Call of Duty, and Star Wars: Battlefront does try to capitalize on those same addictive impulses, and so should probably be regulated similarly to gambling. I don't want micro-transactions in my games at all, but I don't necessarily think that such things should be illegal per se. But they should be regulated, and I do think that the game boxes should clearly indicate to parents that the game includes "gambling-like elements" (or some other warning).

Jim Sterling has been making a fuss about micro-transactions and loot boxes for months.
WARNING: May not be appropriate for younger or more sensitive viewers.

More importantly (for me), however, is the concerns for what micro-transactions do to the actual game. Just last night, I spent something like 4 hours in Shadow of War grinding my character and orc captains up to a point that I could siege the castle in Act II. I played every side mission available in the chapter, and then still had to do some Nemesis missions, in order to get Talion up to level 20 and unlock the ability to assign a third uruk captain to my siege assault. That third captain was essential to get my siege level up above the level of the defenders. I'm not sure if that was necessary, but I didn't want to risk having my captains killed during the attack. I actually happen to really like Brûz The Chopper, so I didn't want him dying because my siege was under-leveled. This is just Act II! I can't imagine how grindy the game might become during the later acts! And all this extra grind in the campaign is a direct result of the inclusion of the game's War Chest (i.e. loot boxes). You can spend real-life money to buy random orc captains to use in your sieges or to defend your captured forts. So the whole game is balanced such that it's just enough of a grind to encourage people to spend money to speed things along by buying the War Chest.

Well, Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick has said that he wants every game in 2K's library to include "recurrent consumer spending". That would include my beloved Civilization...


Star Wars: X-Wing - wave II expansions

I really enjoy the Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures game, and have been playing it on and off for a few years now. Unfortunately, the core set is very lacking in variety, and so the game really needs to be expanded in order to be fully enjoyed. There's a myriad of expansions available, and they can be pricey. A single fighter ship expansion retails for $15, large ship expansions retail for $30-50, and the huge (epic) ships can cost as much as $90 or $100! If you get into this game, be prepared to spend money.

I never got into much of the Star Wars extended universe, so my interest in expansion ships has been mostly limited to content from the classic trilogy. This allowed me to be at least somewhat frugal in my early expansion purchases, but I still tried to find as much variety as I could. At the time of this review, I own (and have played with) the following expansion: Millennium Falcon, Slave I, Lambda Shuttle, VT-49 Decimator, X-Wing, A-Wing, TIE Fighter, TIE Advance, TIE Interceptor.

I also recently purchased the Corellian Corvette expansion (the foot-long huge ship that stands on two bases), but I've yet to have a chance to play it. I'm also interested in trying out the Imperial Raider, which (as I understand) is a ship that was conceived for the X-Wing miniatures game and then also ported into Armada. I also haven't played the "Most Wanted" expansion, which adds a third faction and could hypothetically allow for three-player games. I don't think that there's an official ruleset for a three-player deathmatch though, so even with a third faction, you'd probably just be playing in teams.

Small ships (fighters)

There's really not much to be said about the small fighter expansions, as they play (mostly) the same as the X-Wings and TIE Fighters that come packaged with the core set. Each ship comes with its own special abilities that add some nuanced differences to how they play, but they still play similarly at fundamental levels.

Star Wars: X-Wing - multi-ship collisions
Be very aware of each ship's Pilot Skill, as the risk of collisions dramatically increases with more ships.

The biggest change (and most obvious ones) is that they allow for larger fleet sizes, which complicates the board and requires more careful management of your ships. With more ships in play, you have to be much more aware of what ships are where, what their respective pilot skills are (e.g. their turn order), and what kind of movements and abilities each possesses. Collisions become much more frequent and harder to avoid as more ships are added, and a careless player will probably also find themself running their own ships into each other -- especially if you're trying to fly tightly-packed formations. Of course, I've never run my own ships into each other ...

Perhaps the most obvious expansion is stand-alone X-Wings and TIE Fighters. These are a little bit more than a simple repackaging of the core game's components...


Star Wars X-Wing miniatures game

There's two versions of this game available now. The original one was released back in 2012 and was based on the original Star Wars trilogy. With the release of The Force Awakens in 2015, Fantasy Flight released a variant core set based on the new movie. The variant set includes miniatures based on the new Resistance X-Wings and First Order TIE Fighters, as well as some revised rules.

I haven't played the variant set with the revised rules, so this review will focus on the original release of the game. My understanding is that the rule changes in the updated version do not alter mechanics, but rather it makes some clarifications for some circumstantial edge cases. If I ever do get a chance to play the revised rules, and find that they substantially alter the game, then I'll either write a separate review of that, or I'll add to this review (depending on how extensive the changes are).

I've had this game for a few years, but didn't play much of it over that time period. Lately, however, my girlfriend and I have gotten really into it -- trying to play a game every weekend or two -- and have been buying lots of expansion ships. So I decided that it was time for me to finally get around to reviewing the game.

Miniature games are a dangerous thing to get into. The core set for X-Wing contains only three ships: a single X-Wing and two TIE Fighters. Without expansions, this leaves the game with relatively little replay value, as there's only so much you can do with such a small roster of ships. There's a handful of pre-made mission scenarios and character cards that can add a bit more variety. The ships themselves are very high quality models - nearly collectible-quality models. Screw having a box, when you're not playing the game, you can display these miniatures on a shelf or in a curio cabinet somewhere! Other components in the set have good production value, which is one of the trademarks of Fantasy Flight games.

Star Wars X-Wing - play area
The game has no board, but is played on any 3'x3' playing surface. Fantasy Flight does sell optional play mats.

Since this is a miniatures game, there is no actual game board. Instead, you'll need a 3 foot by 3 foot playing surface for the play area, plus some extra room for ship cards and components. Fantasy Flight sells play mats with various patterns, along with numerous other accessories. You can also get away with a solid black sheet of 3'x3' felt or cloth from your local craft store, or a bigger sheet if you want larger play areas (you can fold a sheet of cloth to any size you need). In lieu of such a play surface, the game box includes a set of 4 cardboard "corners" that you can use to delineate the borders of the play area. The play area can also be decorated with asteroids or other cardboard obstacles that come packaged in the game.

Plastic dogfights

The game itself is a four-phase process. In the first phase (Planning Phase), each player secretly selects a maneuver for each of their ships using a cardboard dial. This maneuver will determine the ship's movement during the following phase.

Star Wars X-Wing - maneuver
The maneuver templates make ship
movement simple and intuitive.

The second phase is the Activation Phase, in which each ship executes its planned movement. Each ship has a pilot assigned to it, which has a skill level on that pilot's card. Ships are moved ("activated") one at a time in ascending pilot order (lowest skill pilot goes first). The ship's chosen maneuver is revealed, and ship movement is handled by slotting a cardboard maneuver template into the front of the ship's base, picking up the ship, and finally slotting the back of its base at the far end of the maneuver template. In general, movement is a pretty easy mechanic to execute.

It gets a little more complicated if there's overlap between objects in the play area. In the event of a collision, the ship moves as far along its maneuver template as possible before it collides with the other ship or obstacle...


Bloodborne: the Card Game

I've written quite a few wishlist and feature proposals for video games on this blog. But today I'm going to do something that I don't think I've done before: suggest ideas for a board game expansion. In this case, I'm going to outline some ideas for my own user-made expansion ("mod"?) for Bloodborne: the Card Game. An official expansion may be due out later this year, so perhaps designer Eric Lang might come across this post and incorporate some of these ideas.

In my review of the card game, I mentioned that the card game adaptation is very simple, that a lot of stuff from the source material seemed strangely absent, and that it almost seemed as though the designers were leaving the door open for some easy expansion material. So I'm going to go ahead and try my hand at creating some of that material.

This isn't the first time I've ever tried my hand at modding a board game, but it is the first time that I've publicly posted my ideas. One of my better ideas (I think) was to try to write a series of national agendas for each of the factions in Axis & Allies, which would be drawn in secret at the start of the game. Only the faction(s) that fulfilled their agendas (and won the war) would be considered victorious. The idea was to make the game more interesting for more than just two players. Probably my most successful mod idea was for the Battlestar Galactica board game (specifically the Exodus expansion). Nobody in our BSG group ever liked playing as Laura Roslin, as we didn't feel that her benefits offset the handicap of having to sacrifice cards from her hand. In order to make her feel more viable, we all agreed that instead of having to discard two cards, Roslin could chose to take a trauma token. This introduced the risk that she might suddenly die (if a blood stain was drawn), but also allowed the player to keep her cards in her hand if they were going to be needed.

So let's see if I can come up with some workable expansion suggestions for Bloodborne...


Bloodborne - the Card Game

It seems like everything has a board game these days. I wouldn't think that a license like Dark Souls or Bloodborne would warrant a board / card game adaptation, but apparently, I'm just not creative enough. The kickstarted Dark Souls board game is shaping up to be something similar to Descent, and is slated for release later this year. Bloodborne, on the other hand, already has a card game sitting on the shelf of a hobby store near you since last year. A copy of the game showed up under my Christmas tree this year.

Bloodborne: the Card Game Is very easy to learn, and it plays very fast and smooth! This is good, since most of my games are epic-length, 4-plus-hour games that we rarely have time to play. So it's always good to find a new game that people like and which can be played in an hour or less. Our first learning game of Bloodborne (including reading the rules) took about an hour and a half. We had planned on playing a sample round to learn the rules and then doing a mulligan on the game, but we didn't even need to because the game process is so simple that we all grasped the basic mechanics pretty much immediately.

"Selfish Phlebotomy": A game of kill-stealing

The game is a competitive card drafting game in which players sort-of cooperate to defeat a series of monsters, but compete against each other to score the most points. It's basically a Bloodborne-themed reskin of Cutthroat Caverns. Thematically, each player takes on the role of a hunter, the group fights a series of monsters in a Chalice Dungeon, and the hunters acquire Blood Echoes (points) by fighting and killing the monsters. Blood Echoes are directly earned by damaging a monster with a weapon attack. Each player who deals damage to a monster in the round in which the monster is killed also gains one or more trophies (based on the strength of the monster), which are converted to Blood Echoes at the end of the game for scoring.

Bloodborne the Card Game - Hunter's Dream
You're playing for Blood Echoes, which are lost if you die - unless you bank them in the Hunter's Dream.

The major mechanical gimmick of this game (and the one that is most inspired by the source material, and which most separates it from Cutthroat Caverns) is that when a player's character dies, that character loses all of his or her collected Blood Echoes, and then resurrects to fight again the next round. However, a player can use an action during the round to return to the Hunter's Dream and bank their collected Blood Echoes so that they cannot be lost. While in the Hunter's Dream, a player can also select new cards to add to his or her hand, and going to the Hunter's Dream is the only way to cycle your previously-played cards back into your hand. The drawback, of course, is that you can't participate in the fight and gain more blood. It's a risk / reward mechanic, and it works very well.

Grid Clock Widget
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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

A gamer's life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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