12/21/2015

A Lifehack for Painters

Do you find yourself changing the water between paint colors too frequently? I may have just the tip for you. For a few months now, I've been using a KFC Go Cup as a water pot. Why? Let me explain.

First of all, the food inside when you initially buy one is probably going to be delicious. And second, they're less than $3 each - making the cups themselves relatively free.


They're about the size of a coffee mug, made of sturdy plastic, and perfectly split down the middle into two separate halves. It also comes with a snap-lid cover, just in case you have a cat that likes to either knock things over or drink dirty paint water. (My cat does both.)


Simply wash it out and fill up both sides with water, stopping at the top of the divider, and boom! You can now paint for twice as long before needing to change the water. You're welcome.

11/05/2015

Is First Edition the New Beta?


Recently I learned that, as much as I enjoy funding new tabletop games, I should not get involved with startup-level projects. Too often their rules are flawed and after only a year or two, a much-needed update or second edition is released that supersedes the original rules.

Rules are supposed to change over time. They're amended, reworded, tweaked, and errata'd and FAQ'd. But these days it feels like if you just buy into a game that's on its first edition, you're basically paying for an open beta test. Compared to other games, it's not rebalancing. It's a complete rewrite from the bottom up.


For example, 'Dropzone Commander' has had the smallest fixes with their v1.1, whereas 'Malifaux' and 'Mercs' have both received a complete overhaul of their mechanics and are now at v2. The worst culprit is 'Super Dungeon Explore' which very quickly after release had a v1.5 released (online only) and about a year later moved onto their current v2.

I realize that, eventually, these games will come out with a v3. But what makes their second editions so important is the fact that they seem to be the edition that all their supplements and expansions come out for. Aside from Malifaux, which had one or two expansions with its first edition, most of these games hit their second edition and feel far more comfortable there, and thus begin pumping out more products for it.

The only irritation, to me, is that I paid for first edition books, model sculpts, and accessories. Sure, they sometimes carry over, but what about the ones that don't? It was purely wasted money for me, and a cash grab for the companies putting them out.


I think what causes these "unstable" first editions is the fact that the developers simply don't playtest their games enough, or have any naysayers on the team. Most games are destroyed by rules as written (RAW) players, since they tend to exploit the wording as much as possible which damages the mechanics.

It would be nice if they'd release the rules online for public testing, much like Wizards of the Coast did with 'D&D Next', for player feedback. But instead, they're more concerned with making money and end up producing a careless, hurried product with potential for improvement. It's almost as if one of the devs says, "Hey, should we try to fix melee combat before release?" and the other responds, "Nah, if the game sells well enough we'll worry about it with the next edition."

I'm tired of being a guinea pig. I really am. No ruleset is perfect, and I know this. But gaming companies these days seem to have good ideas but tend to be completely ignorant as to how shaky their rules reflect them. And the devs are either too lazy or proud to fix the issues - which are sometimes right in front of them.

 In short: Procrastination is no way to run a company.

9/22/2015

Dumbfounded

According to a report posted last Friday, Games Workshop claims only 20% of its customers are gamers. To put it in a different perspective, that's only 20 out of 100 hobbyists - or simply one in five. I'm sincerely stunned at such a blatantly inaccurate statement.

Games Workshop's new logo?

How do they know what we do with our miniatures after purchasing them? They have absolutely no idea whether they're displayed on a shelf or used to game on a kitchen table - or both!

GW has admitted in its most recent financial statement: "We do no demographic research, we have no focus groups, we do not ask the market what it wants."

In fact, to further prove their lie on the matter, Games Workshop manufactures travel cases but not display cases. And what's the point in making rule books if you're pandering to such a minority?

GW is still profitable. They made around $12-million in profit last year. But their numbers are consistently going down. And they're going down because GW is in denial, overly concerned with investor returns, and hiring executives from outside the industry. If you want your stock to do better, don't bring in the CEO of Google or McDonald's - just listen to your customer base!

The very fact that GW refuses to admit that they're a gaming company is what's destroying them. Is this not common sense? They even have "Games" in their name!

I could go on and on, but it's best to just end this post by saying that they need to rectify this situation quickly. It's doing some serious damage to their already poor public relations.

8/20/2015

The Problem of System Hoppers


With the announcement today that Privateer Press is releasing the Warmachine/Hordes rules as free PDFs, they may have just gained my business. I say "may" because I still dislike the aesthetics of their models, but people have been raving like rabid fanboys over their rules systems for years.

I haven't played a game of Warhammer 40,000 in three months. I did, however, participate in a Malifaux league at the Battle Standard. And I've had a Dropzone Commander itch that I need to scratch soon.

My Arcanists vs Matt's Ten Thunders

But am I ready for another new system? I spent my first six years of tabletop gaming focused solely on 40K. I even stuck with one army. By doing so, I learned self-control, moderation, patience, and dedication.

In recent years, though, I'd begun to stray. It started with D&D. Then it expanded, rather quickly, to board games like Zombicide and Super Dungeon Explore. Then, metaphorically speaking, a floodgate opened and I bought BattleTech, Malifaux, Dropzone Commander, Mercs, and Kaosball.

I'm also a lot wealthier now. There's no denying that. I went from making $150/week to $600/week. Am I just impulse buying? I rarely play most of these games, and I haven't gotten around to playing a few of them. Yet they sit on my shelves, collecting dust.

I even built a bookshelf to house stuff!

They're hobby games. Meaning in your spare time. It's not a sport. It's not competitive. It's not something thuper theriouth [sic]. It's my little plastic dudes versus your little plastic dudes, and most of the outcome is decided by dice. You can win all the tournaments in the world, but there's still a chance - as minute as it is - that a lone Guardsman (or whatever GW calls them now) could single-handedly wipe out your entire Space Marines force.

I think the biggest issue I have is actually the gaming community itself. Most gamers these days have ADD/ADHD. And I'm not some quack doctor spouting false diagnoses for the sake of selling Ritalin. I've seen it first hand, the way people just jump ship and hop on a recently updated faction's bandwagon, or the newest gaming system. These are the same people who barely assemble their miniatures, never mind paint them, just to get them to the next tournament. There's no loyalty anymore. And it's really, really frustrating.

Because of this, once I buy into a system, there's already a new, shinier system that's caught these players' attentions, despite the fact there's nothing actually wrong with the gaming system they were just obsessed with.

Is there a perfect system? No. Will there ever be? No, because you can't please both RAW and RAI players.

I enjoy 40K, as stupid as the rules have gotten and as convoluted of a game it has become. Finding someone to play against, however, has become the biggest challenge. They're a multi-million dollar company, but good luck finding people interested in it. And those that have already bought in have moved on.

I'm starting to think, at this point in time, that the reason I collect these other games is to increase my chances of actually getting to play a game. Any game. "I don't care which, it's my day off, let's just play a friggin' game!"

But sadly, once I buy into a game, before I even get to build or paint my miniatures, the trendsters have moved on to something else to glorify. Think about that for a moment. Let it sink in how the "must have the newest" generation has affected the hobby. It's literally ruined the community. It also undermines store inventory.

If kids jump on X-Wing, for example, retailers will order tons of it to keep up with demand. But what happens when the bubble bursts only a few months later? That retailer is left with tons of overstock. That's not terrible for chain stores that can absorb the costs, but what about local mom-and-pop shops?

As an example, I distinctly remember Privateer Press's Monsterpocalypse releasing. It was touted as an amazingly fun game with awesome mechanics. It was the only game people would play. About six months later, the game flatlined. My local gaming store had several racks of overstock that they stuck "buy one, get two free" stickers on. And now the game has pretty much disappeared from stores. I haven't seen a box in years. Probably because retailers are afraid to take a chance on making an order.

Even the web site hasn't been updated since 2011!

But back to my original rant, I'm nervous about getting into yet another gaming system, investing money and time into it, only to have it be abandoned. The rules being free are a great start for people like me, or anyone really, but taking the plunge and buying miniatures... that's the toughest part. I guess only time will tell on what my decision is.

6/10/2015

Doing the Math Redux

OLD COST
DIFFERENCE
NEW COST
Chapter Master (205)
Captain (170)
Librarian (100)
Chaplain (115)
Terminator Librarian (125)
2x Troops x5♠ (175)
2x Troops x5♣ (180)
2x Troops x5♦ (190)
Scouts x5 (80)
Rhino (50)
Drop Pod x2 (70)
Dreadnought† (140)
Dreadnought‡ (145)
Terminators (220)
Assault (230)
Devastators (150)
Predator (155)
Land Raider (270)
Whirlwind (65)
Land Speeders (235)
=
=
=
=
=
=
=
=
=
=
=
-10
-10
-25
=
=
=
=
=
-35
Chapter Master (205)
Captain (170)
Librarian (100)
Chaplain (115)
Terminator Librarian (125)
2x Troops x5♠ (175)
2x Troops x5♣ (180)
2x Troops x5♦ (190)
Scouts x5 (80)
Rhino (50)
Drop Pod x2 (70)
Dreadnought† (130)
Dreadnought‡ (135)
Terminators (195)
Assault (230)
Devastators (150)
Predator (155)
Land Raider (270)
Whirlwind (65)
Land Speeders (200)
3,060
-80
2,980


♠ denotes one multi-melta and one flamer were taken.
♣ denotes one heavy bolter and one meltagun were taken.
♦ denotes one plasma cannon and one plasma gun were taken.
† denotes one assault cannon and one heavy flamer were taken.
‡ denotes one twin-linked lascannon and one missile launcher were taken.

Zombicide: Extraction or Extinction

Over the past three Tuesdays, I've been running a Zombicide mega-event. Originally it was supposed to be a one day game, but after the first five hours we realized it would take at least a weekend.

A massive 34-tile map!

The backstory came naturally to me: It's the zombie apocalypse. You have trained hard as a resistance fighter in an isolated survivors encampment; the denizens of which have come to realize that repairs and improved security are top priorities for the base. And, as luck would have it, an SOS was just received from a group of skilled survivors trapped within the nearest infected city. You and several of your comrades are being flown in to find and rescue these survivors... if they're still alive.

Humanity's last hope.

All zombie strains were in play: standard, toxic, berserker, skinner, and seeker. However, dogs and crows weren't included. Players could choose up to two characters from my collection of 66 survivors.

Heroes and villains.

Certain rules were tweaked to better fit the scenario: companions couldn't be killed and the helicopter had unlimited seating. Oh, and I concocted some additional rules...

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

AIR STRIKE
For each unique survivor permanently placed within the extraction helicopter, the team will receive a single-use air strike which can be one of the following:
    Strafing Run
A nearby military jet is called in to clear a path for the survivors. Along a straight street, each actor in a targeted square receives 2 damage on a 2+. Buildings end the path. This effect occurs before the first player starts his/her turn.
    Barrage
A nearby attack helicopter is called in to focus-fire a small area with missiles. All actors within the targeted street square are killed as if hit by a Molotov. This effect occurs after the last player's turn but before the zombies' phase.

PIT TRAPS
Two new tiles from Angry Neighbors feature pits. Although the rulebook doesn't state who gets the XP for zombies falling to their demise, I've ruled that since they're basically lemmings on their own turn that nobody gets it. The only exceptions are using the pits in combination with the Push or Taunt skills, which happen on a specific player's turn.

SNIPER TOWERS & HELIPAD
The two sniper towers and the helipad all grant vantage points. By climbing into them, you are removed from the zombies' line of sight. You do, of course, still count as a noise token.

PILOT & EMERGENCY EVAC
The helicopter is manned by a nameless pilot, who has both the Ninja and Medic skills. Because the pilot has no turns of his own, a player can freely interact with him to receive healing.

The helicopter remains stationary until a player enters the helicopter and acts as a co-pilot, helping direct the pilot to another location. This requires an action, unless you have the Pilot skill. (There are only two landing zones on the map - the helipad and the open street.)

CARS
If you jump into an abandoned car during the apocalypse, there's a good chance it doesn't have a full tank of gas. Or freshly changed oil. Or inflated tires. Whatever the case, cars can be unreliable. The first time a player enters the driver's seat of a car, they roll 2d6. The total number is the amount of movements a car can make before dying. All cars (except the Muscle Car) already have the 2 Zones Per Movement skill, so if you roll a 4 and a 6, the car can make 10 movements (up to 20 zones!).

TOO LATE?
There are eight face-down loot cards scattered across the board within buildings - four are survivors and four are Aaahh! skinner cards. To flip a card is a search action. When populating buildings, do not populate the rooms containing potential survivors.

STARTING ZONES
All players start within the helicopter on the helipad. If your character has the Fast Roping skill, you may start the game anywhere on the board so long as it's on a street square.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



As expected, we were outnumbered very quickly. Then we spawned three abominations in rapid succession. The use of air strikes, Molotovs, and pits soon became life-savers.


There were numerous cases of zombies getting +1 action, which didn't help either. Especially when you're not expecting zombies to literally sneak up on you!

Doc, Lea, Alyana Heska, Marvin, Elsa, Joe, Miss Trish, Phil, Leeroy, Dick, and Josh.

But we stuck to the shadows, planned our strategies accordingly, and after roughly 12 hours of gaming we finally won!

As a final note, I want to give a shout out to Raymond at CoolMiniOrNot for hooking me up with so much Zombicide stuff over the years. From additional survivors to zombie booster boxes, they were all used in this game! Thanks Ray!

5/26/2015

Review: Helldivers

What do you get when you take a top-down, twin-stick shooter like Kill Team, add the aesthetics of Destiny, the political backdrop of Starship Troopers, the "couch co-op" of Diablo III, and the increasing hopelessness of Zombicide?


Set in a dystopian future propagandized as a utopia, you take control of a Helldiver - a space marine specializing in rapid deployment, hit and run tactics. You'll be sent in to multiple planets, each with varying mission types and rewards, to battle against one of three enemy factions: the barbaric Cyborgs, the insectoid Bugs, or the high-tech Illuminates.

Most of the missions consist of fending off waves of enemies as you desperately try to disarm mines, activate missile silos, retrieve black boxes, or rescue trapped survivors. Even waiting for the evacuation shuttle to arrive feels like a heroic last stand.

Prior to a mission's launch, you can customize your loadout (primary weapon, ability, and four stratagems). There are a ton of combinations, and each weapon and stratagem can be upgraded to be more powerful using research points (obtained by finding 10 "samples" on planets, or by leveling up). My favorite part? No weapon or stratagem is any better or worse than another - it's purely based on playstyle. The default gun, the Liberator, is just as effective at max difficulty as it was on your first Helldive.

While the primary weapon variety is satisfying, the stratagems are the real icing on the cake. From walker mech suits and APCs to automated turrets and a plethora of different air strikes, everything is useful and awesome. It's hard to choose just four of the 40+ in the game.

After your first few missions, you'll quickly realize that in order to complete level 4 or higher missions (level 12 is the maximum difficulty), you'll probably need to take some allies with you to the fight. There's an excellent matchmaking system, or up to three of your friends can join in.


The leveling system isn't typical of most RPGs where you gain additional health or damage, but instead it's used to unlock new weapons, abilities, research points, and mission difficulties. So there is no imbalance being level 27 (the new cap) while adventuring with your level 1 friend.

This week, the PlayStation Network is giving 10% off Helldivers. Normally $19.99, it comes bundled with the Specialist DLC and new expansion 'Turning Up the Heat'. There are seven additional DLCs but with the Reinforcements Packs you only need to buy three to complete the set.

That means during this sale you can get the game, its expansion, and all eight DLCs for $32.96!

And last but not least - to sweeten the deal - Helldivers is cross-play and cross-buy. As an example, buying it on PS3 allows you to play with a friend who's on PS4, or once you upgrade your console you can play it on PS4 as well.

Score: 4.5/5

3/11/2015

My Hypocrisy is Embarrassing

I was wrong. Very wrong. And I now see the foolishness in my previous post.

This weekend was PAX East, and I reconvened with the Cool Mini or Not team in the tabletop section. There, they showed me the errors in my thinking of Kaosball. As it turns out, I oversimplified the concept of the game and thus my imagination derailed the fun it actually is.



For $210, we got the Kaosball core set (which comes with four teams and eight ringers), plus five additional teams and 13 bonus ringers. The thing I like about the game is it can be 1v1, 1v1v1, 1v1v1v1, and 2v2. And if you really want to make crazy combinations, you can do a two-player alliance match with each player controlling two allied teams. That right there gives the incentive to buy multiple teams - just to see how they mix together on the field.

Also at PAX, I ended up buying a physical copy of Mobile Frame Zero for $25. Since my childhood, I've always loved Lego. The only problem with it is once the building, vehicle, or diorama is built, there's really no use for it. There's nothing to actually do with Lego kits after completion. As such, my girlfriend and I have amassed quite a few kits that are now collecting dust on a closet shelf.


I just finished reading through the rules (which are available for free via PDF), and I must say these are probably the most oddly worded, complicated rules I've ever seen. Still, there's some saving grace foundations in there, like incorporating "systems" into your designs and utilizing differently colored dice (D6 and/or D8) for each.

After a few tests and trials, I'm sure the game will make more sense. But as it is, it's a convoluted mess. I don't regret buying it, though.

Well, that's about it for now. I'll update again once I finish painting a miniature or play a game of 40K. I've been pretty busy with conventions and work lately, so I haven't had time. Hopefully now that cons are over for the rest of the year for me, I can get back to gaming. Have fun!

2/12/2015

TempleCon X: It's a Wrap

Once again, I attended TempleCon in Warwick, Rhode Island. This year brought many new and exciting tabletop games.

Cool Mini Or Not showcased their massive line of products, which seemed like triple the amount of last year's. Some of their new games fell pretty flat, though. For example, I liked the concept of Kaosball, but my friends and I found two issues with the game: First that each team of 13 consisted of only two sculpts, and the second that the playing field was only... 6-8 squares across (I can't quite remember the exact amount). That's a pretty small field for a football-inspired game.

It also seemed like a flatline product for CMON, as once you have your team, there's really not much incentive to buy anything else. Sure, they could release new teams, but once you find the team you like, why would you buy another? They mentioned releasing new ringers - which are like free agent superstars - and "upgrades", but I'm willing to bet they'd be sold for $10-15. Not a huge moneymaker for CMON.

Unfortunately, Hawk Wargames wasn't exhibiting but there was a Dropzone Commander tournament. The models people brought were gorgeously painted. I was a bit intimidated by the sight, truth be told.


My friends got heavily hooked on a rebooted skirmish game called Pulp City. Originally released in 2007, last year they held a Kickstarter for a second edition of the rules plus a redesign of the model line. It didn't seem like a bad game in my opinion, as it shared quite a few traits with Malifaux: power points instead of soul stones, pregenerated characters, alternating activation, small maps and a handful of units.

I will note, however, that it was the only game my friends demo'd at the convention, and it was the first wargame they've ever played (unless you count D&D or Zombicide, which is like comparing apples and oranges). So they didn't really have a basis for comparison. Regardless, I'm glad they found something new to get into and enjoy.

Gabrielle and Xena, respectively.
The biggest gripe I have with myself at TempleCon is that I just can't remember to take enough pictures. At the hotel room, I'll tell my girlfriend that I need to take more pictures but when I get there I'm overwhelmed by so much to do, see, and experience that I completely forget. And let's be frank here, pretty much 60% of the attendees are in some sort of cosplay outfit so I end up wanting to take pictures of everyone!

Even PlanetSide was represented!
Chris "Jawaballs" Dubuque was nice enough to hook me up with a couple of his how-to-paint DVDs, 'Red & Yellow' and 'Hobby, Tools & Detailing'. I haven't watched them yet, but I will as soon as I get some time.

Lamenters by Jawaballs
A starship bridge simulator called Starship Horizons was also at the convention. We took part in it three or four times. From what the staff was telling us, we were the only group all weekend to take on and defeat a scenario pitting us against two Borg ships (from Star Trek: The Next Generation). The simulation is a good concept but the execution needs a lot more work. It felt very alpha phase.

The final frontier... conquered!
That's pretty much all I can remember, but I'll be at PAX East next month so I'll write a post for that - if not sooner. In the meantime, have fun!

2/05/2015

Unfair Advantage

Horus vs Kayle

1/17/2015

Welcome to the Hobby

In the many years I've been playing tabletop gaming, I've seen the same mistakes repeatedly made by beginners. In this article, I'm going to help get people started for the long haul. Here's some advice and tips on getting into the hobby.


Foremost, keep in mind that codex creep exists. That basically means that your army choice might not be very powerful right now, but it will get its turn eventually being a "top tier" faction. So, although it's said quite frequently, it really is true to just choose the army whose aesthetics fit your style best.

Do not - I repeat - do not buy more than the basics to begin with. A rulebook (preferably the mini/pocket edition), a codex, an HQ and two troops. Why? Because although Games Workshop insists you need every single product they sell, this game is not "ready to play". With anything more than a couple boxes, you will overwhelm yourself and become so discouraged that you'll shelve the entire game. I've seen it happen.

Although going over the rules and your codex studiously and designing your army to be a synergistic force of devastation, most players seem to forget that their opponent is making an equally powerful, if not more powerful, army list. Expect to lose your first few games, even if it's against friendly/casual players. This game is all about trial and error, and luck. What steamrolled one army list might fail miserably against another.

Often, I hear people suffer from the intimidation of painting. I consider myself a decent painter. I'm certainly not a "dipper", but I am absolutely nowhere near Golden Daemon status either. But I will confess, when I first started years ago, I was a shadow of what my skills are today. Practice makes perfect.

And probably my least favorite part, the cost of the hobby. Yes, this game is expensive. I'm not one to side with those who try to defend GW's greedy price raises, but there are a couple things they get right: This isn't just a game, it is a hobby. And technically, all that is required are the rules and codex, and an HQ and two troops. All together, you're looking at about $200 to start.


Sounds pricy? It is, but let's compare to another hobby: Magic. The game requires a minimum of 60 cards in a deck. $10 starters typically contain only 30 cards. The cards themselves cycle out of play within a couple years and decks will need to be re-bought and re-built. Randomized booster packs and card rarities add more levels of poor matchmaking: Whoever has the deepest pockets will be able to afford the best cards. In 40K, everything is a level playing field. Yes, kits cost more or less than others, but nothing is rare or limited.


Now compare it to the #1 MMORPG: World of Warcraft. The game at launch in 2004 was $60, each of the five expansions were $40, and with a $15 per month subscription fee (multiplied by 10 years), the game has actually cost long-term players $2,060 so far.

With 40K, I've probably spent about... $2,500 in models, rules, glue, paints, and brushes since I started the hobby in 2006. That's roughly $228 per year, or $19 a month. That figure would actually be smaller had I not bought expansions or terrain pieces.

That's pretty much all I've got to pass on to any beginners or potential players. So now I leave you with this beautifully accurate cartoon by CTRL+ALT+DEL.