Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Time out for some gaming...

I have been working like crazy on restructuring my Taipan formulas and spreadsheets.   Below, you can see the new Cargo Spread Sheet.  The main reason it became so complicated is due to the fact that I created a lot of automation using Formulas and Conditional Formatting.  I have it set up so I only need to change a small set of numbers on another page and the formulas do all the calculations and adjustments on this page.  Its like very light programing, its complex and time consuming but I am hopping it will spead things up in the future.  I also have all of the Cells set to change color based on the values in the Cell, this allows me to see at a glance the best and worst numbers giving me a good sence of the balance.  If the number is at its base level the Cell is White, if its lower that the base value its Yellow, and then if the number is above its base value it is Red.  This is all automated through conditional formatting and is a big hassle to set up.  The nice thing is that now that it is done, whenever I make a change, every affected Cell will automatically change and update its colors accordingly.
It has been a big pain in the ass and I needed a break.  To turn my brain off, I have been playing Saint's Row: The Third.  It's what is called an "Open Sandbox Game" where you have a large world and have almost no restrictions on what you can do or where you can go.  Just like in all the games like this (Grand Theft Auto, etc...), you race around car jacking people, killing your rivals, police, and anyone to slow to run out of your way when they see your coming.  But Saints Row is more about the outrageous and outlandish and goes more in the direction of a game just trying to let you have fun with a big box of toys.  Lots of mini games involving tanks and attack choppers.  The second game had mini games where you were driving a septic truck around spraying sewage over your enemies territories.  This game is aiming more for mindless fun rather than cerebral challenges.  Saints Row is fun, but ultimately forgettable.

And before you get up on your high horse and give me crap about violence in video games corrupting our youth: I am an adult of 41.  I have no kids.  And I have been watching horror movies and playing video games since I was 5.  For as long as there has been violence, do we really need a specific cultural event to blame?  Before video games it was Rap Music, before that it was Rock music.  Before that it was Comic Books, and then Pulp Novels, and on and on and on!  People need something to blame because its easier than blaming themselves for being bad parents.  OK, putting my soapbox away and getting back to games.

Thankfully, my friend TJ came by to play some board games and saved me from the mindless doldrums.  We broke out my unused copy of Ascension and still shrink-wrapped copy of Blood Bowl: Team Manager.  Let us first talk about Ascension: Chronicles of the God Slayer.  This is a Dominion style card game that has been artificially bumped up in price by the introduction of a useless board.  I am sure this was a marketing trick to increase the selling cost by $10 for something that most likely costs about $1-$2 for them to print.  The game has some good parts, but really falls flat because of the random nature of the available cards.  Imaging if the available cards to buy in Dominion were not set, instead a single deck all shuffled and 6 cards laid out for purchase.  Then when one is bought, you immediately replace it.  That is a very basic idea of how Ascension plays.
Why is there a board for this game? Why, to jack up the price of the box set of course!
There are two economies, Attack and Magic, and each is used to buy diferent cards laid out in the middle.  Attack Cards will eliminate creatures and Magic will let you buy cards that are added to your Deck.  The big problem with having two economies (and those of you who have played the Dominion: Alchemy expansion know what I am talking about), is that it creates barriers to make strategic choices.  It instead relies on luck to get you enough of what you need, and this game has a lot of luck.  Luck of what out there to buy.  Luck of what cards come into your hand allowing you to buy.  And Luck that the other player didn't take a card you needed.

But still, the biggest flaw in the game is the book keeping.  You have Cards that all largely look the same.  Some are removed from the board when you pick them and some go into your discard pile.  Some are played in front of you and give bonuses for the remainder of the game.  Some give bonuses only on the turn you play them and then they go back into your discard pile.  Some let you score points if you perform certain actions.  Its all very cumbersome and gets in the way of what initially appears to be a very smooth and quick playing game.
TJ's experience playing the iPad version
allowed him to crush me in Ascension.
TJ has played a ton of the iPad version of this game and based on our conversation afterwords, it is clear that that the iPad is the best way to play this game.  The book keeping is handled by the computer letting your focus on the game.  On top of that, it's only $4.99 as opposed to the $40 of the board game. 

Now lets talk about a fantastic game, Blood Bowl: Team Manager.  This is another deck building game with focus more on building up your bonuses and earning Fans which are the Score of the game.  Your Deck is important, but it doesn't grow in variance to the same degree that other similar types of games do.  Your deck is only Players and you only get 5 cards per turn to play.  There are some player types that let you draw more players but you always have to discard down so you never have more players in play than another player.  But this is a Team Manager Game and building up your franchise is just as building your Roster of Players.  You will need to do both to score enough Fans to win the game.
The first round of Matches are complete.
You will want to gain Manager Cards that give you some bonus fans at the end of the game, but also let you use special abilities during the matches.  The Team Cards are similar to the Manager Cards, but are designed specifically for each of the Teams.  They give bonus Fans based on certain criteria at the end of the game and in rare cases allow the player to tap the card to perform special actions.  This is the one aspect of the game that gets a bit cumbersome making it hard to remember all the special cases that you get your bonus fans or forgetting that you could have used an ability at a critical moment.
The end of the game, even tho the score board
 don't show it, I will go on to win this one.
I had an advantage over Tj with this game.  I have played twice and knew the importance of the Manager Cards and building up your Team Roster with Star Players.  I tried to show him the value but I don't think I did a very good job because he was surprised at the end of the game by how many points I gained though the final bonuses I had acquired.

In the end we both had a great time.  I would not recommend Ascension to anyone unless you have played the iPad version and absolutely loved it.  Blood Bowl on the other hand I can't recommend enough.  It plays well and scaled well.  TJ and I were just two players and I would say it played just as well as when I played with 4 players.  Maybe just a bit faster.

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