Friday, August 17, 2012

FFG Star Wars RPG

Update:  There's now information up on the FFG site.  My comments on that below the original post.

One of Fantasy Flight Game's Gencon announcements has been their new Star Wars RPG. I've been getting information from different sources, so I thought I'd try to compile it all into a single blog post. (picture is originally from the D6 Generation on twitter).

According to Tom Vassel, the game will feature custom dice and apps, and the first apps will be released tonight. Also, Jay Little is apparently the lead designer. He was also apparently the lead designer on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition.

Jason Marker and Sterling Hershey have both tweeted that they are involved in writing for the game.

As can be seen in the picture, the game is called Edge of the Empire and they have beta rules out for it which they are selling at Gencon.

That's pretty much all the information I can find right now. There doesn't appear to be any information up on FFG's site yet.

I'm heartened by the apparent setting being post-prequels. I'm disheartened by the inclusion of special dice and having the same lead designer as WHFRP3, not because I have anything against him, but because it would seem to hint that the game might be based on the WHFRP3 engine, and I'm not a big fan of that. Still, I'm cautiously optimistic that this might be a game I'll actually play at some point.

Update Continued:  The setting is definitely post-prequel for all three games planned.  The first is going to feature the outer rim and the smugglers, bounty hunters, and other scum that populate it.  The second is going to feature the rebellion, and the third is going to feature the handful of force users that have managed to survive the Empire's purges.  I love this.  I think the rebellion era is still the richest one available for roleplaying in.

On the other hand, they want me to pay $30 to playtest the game?  I didn't realize that FFG included smoking crack as part of their design process.  I'll wait for the finished product, thank you very much.  If you want me to playtest, I'd be happy to, just show me where I can download a free pdf.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Going By The Book

What happens when you take a cop that does everything by the book, even when it means that doing so gets him busted from detective down to traffic cop, and task him with doing his absolute best to play the robber in a training exercise? You get a movie with a plot that could have been a film noir tragedy and turn it into an excellent low key comedy.

That film is Going by the Book, a 2007 Korean remake of a 1991 Japanese film called Asobi-No-Jikan-Wa-Owara-Nai.

Warning:  minor spoilers ahead.  Skip the next two paragraphs if you want to avoid them.

Faced with a string of unsolved bank robberies, a newly arrived police chief decides to carry out a realistic training exercise to restore public confidence in the police force.  He chooses Officer Jeong Do-man to play the role of the robber.  Officer Do-man objects stating that the chief may regret his choice, but accepts the role when the chief insists.

Of course, the chief soon wishes he had listened to Officer Do-man's objections as what was supposed to be a quickly resolved training exercise turns into a lengthy standoff due to Do-man's extensive planning and improvisation.

To go into any further detail would risk spoiling the gags or other elements of the plot.  I'll just say that if you think you might enjoy a mix of comedy and a caper movie like Ocean's 11, and don't mind watching subtitled films, then you should look this one up.  It's currently on Netflix.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why D&D?

Dungeons & Dragons has never been my game of choice.  This goes all the way back to receiving my very first RPG, the D&D Basic Box with the Moldvay cover.  I liked the game a lot, but what I'd really been wanting was that boxed set of Traveller with the Free Trader Beowulf mayday signal written on the front.

It wasn't even my favorite fantasy RPG for long.  I was an early convert to both RuneQuest and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay as fantasy alternatives.  I even preferred the Rolemaster derived Middle-Earth Roleplay.  Yet, today I have somehow managed to accumulate nine different core rules sets for D&D and its direct descendants.

This got me to thinking as to why that's the case.  The original reason is that D&D is what people play.  Whatever other games may be going on in a given gaming scene, there's inevitably at least one game of D&D being run.  Today that game might go by the name of "Pathfinder," but it's still D&D at heart.

Going back to college, which was my first period of regular gaming, every other game we played was D&D.  We played some Shadowrun, TORG, DC Heroes, and Star Wars D6 among others, but we always came back to AD&D because it was the one game you could always get a majority of our group to go along with.

Of course, that doesn't explain why I still have so much D&D in my collection today.  Now that I play with groups that have far more interest in other games I could easily do without D&D.  I could claim that it was all leftover from my college days, but that would be a lie.  I actually got rid of most of that stuff during my great gaming "drought" in the years after college.

The main reason I have for having D&D today is that for all its flaws, it works.  The classic six stats with level based advancement, hit points, and Vancian magic is something that most gamers seem to instinctively grasp.  When stripped to these essential elements the game plays fast and fun in ways that many other systems ultimately fail to do.

I find this less true of more recent iterations of D&D (3.5, Pathfinder and 4th), where I find the emphasis is more on character "builds" than building characters, but that was a discovery I made only slowly and that eventually brought me around to the games of the Old School Renaissance (OSR), my favorite example of which is Swords & Wizardry.

I'm even planning on running a game of Stars Without Number soon, a sci-fi game that uses the OSR rules as a base.

So, while D&D might not be the best simulation, or have the most evocative setting, or the best set of rules to encourage roleplay, it's still a good game.  Something that only took me a couple of decades to fully acknowledge.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bourne Legacy

I enjoyed Bourne Legacy. I can understand why it's been getting mixed reviews, but I enjoyed the film and am looking forward to another Bourne installment starring Jeremy Renner. Proceed at your own risk from here on in as there may be some spoilers, although I will attempt to keep them minor.

I need to get that out of the way in the beginning because I'm going to go into some criticisms and I want to make it clear that I liked the movie in spite of them. There are two main criticisms that I think people have with the movie, one valid and one less so. The less valid criticism is that you're going to have a harder time following what's going on in the movie if you haven't seen the original trilogy. To me, that's a strength.  It lets them build off the previously established situations and events. If you come into the fourth movie of a series having never seen any of the prior movies that's your fault, not the movie's.

The bigger problem with the movie is that there is no third act. We go straight from the rising tension of the second act to the closing credits. There's leaving room for a sequel, and then there's not finishing your movie, and Legacy errs on the latter side of things.

One thing that helps excuse this for me is the truly awesome motorcycle chase that precedes those closing credits. The only thing that keeps me from calling it the best motorcycle chase on film is the often questionable camera work (shaky cam abuse). The chase through Manila is both interesting as a chase, and as an exotic locale. It also helped that it was a believable chase scene. There wasn't a single stunt that made me think special effects were involved. I don't know if it was, but it all looked like legitimate stunt-work, not magic performed in the editing room.

The rest of the movie isn't bad either, but I'm prejudiced towards the chase scene as both a fan of chase scenes and as someone who has actually been to Manila, so the scenes set there were even more engaging to me than they would have been otherwise.

It's not the best movie in the series, but if you liked those earlier films then it's still worth watching.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mobile Frame Zero First Play

Jonathan and I got in a game of Mobile Frame Zero using the draft rules I got from backing its Kickstarter. I'm really impressed with the game despite our match-up not really capturing all its strengths.

Normally the first step to a game of MFZ is force creation. Each side, and there can be up to five sides, creates its force in isolation. The limits on a force vary based on whether you are going to play a skirmish or a battle, and how many people are participating. We were playing a two player skirmish, so each side could have 4 to 6 mobile frames and 3 stations (objectives).  

Each frame can have from 0 to 4 attached systems, with each system being either defensive, movement, surveillance, or attack.

Since we were using the two forces I'd put together a while back, we skipped this step and moved on to calculating the asset value of the forces I'd constructed. This led to our first problem.  I'd created two forces that while not identical, were the same size in terms of number of mobile frames and total number of attached systems. This was a problem because we didn't get to see how the system handles asymmetrical situations, which is supposed to be one of its strengths.

There is a rule for dealing with this situation that forces asymmetry, but despite looking for it multiple times, I somehow kept skipping over it. The way we ended up resolving it worked, but I think it probably gave Jonathan a significant handicap in play.  We simply rolled off to see who started with the initiative. The fact that I kept it the entire game after winning the roll supports the idea that doing it that way gave me an advantage.

Carnage in the middle of the table near the end of the game.

Once we started playing we did most things right, and the actual play was a lot of fun. The action order was a little tricky to grasp at first due to an interrupt mechanic that can trigger the actions of a string of mobile frames that haven't gone yet whenever one is targeted that hasn't yet had an action that turn. Once that had happened a couple of times though, it was quite simple to deal with.

There were only two situations that I can find that we handled wrong in play. First, we were overly generous to the attacker when determining cover.  The rule of thumb in the game is to be overly generous to the attacker when determining line of sight, but to be generous to the defender when determining cover. So let the attacker take the shot if he can see any of the defender, but give the defender cover if any part of it is behind suitable cover.  

The other situation was one that I had to go onto the forums at the Mobile Frame Hanger to find the answer to. Whenever a mobile frame takes damage during the middle of its action (which happens a lot due to the interrupt mechanic I mentioned above), that damage doesn't take affect until after it is done taking its action.  We got that right. What we got wrong was that there's an exception in the case were a mobile frame is completely destroyed in the middle of its action. In that situation the mobile frame is destroyed immediately and does not get to complete its action.

I'm really looking forward to playing this more now, and to getting the final version of the rules. My only reservation is that due to the nature of LEGO, I probably won't be taking this off my property to play. Too easy to lose the pieces. For now I'll just have to host any games I play in.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Are the Origins Awards bad for the Industry?

This is a bit late, but I wrote most of it back when the awards were first announced.

I'll admit, it's a sensationalist headline, but I think it's a question worth asking.  As certain elements of gaming get more public exposure, people are going to be looking for ways to distinguish the good from the bad. One way they'll be doing that is to look for the most visible and established awards.

The Origins Awards have the unfortunate combination of being one of the longest running and visible sets of gaming awards while at the same time being an absolute joke when it comes to those categories most likely to be of interest to the larger public.  Specifically the awards dealing with board games.  For an example, let's look at this year's nominees and winners:

Best Board Game

Conquest of Nerath - Wizards of the Coast - Richard Baker, Mons Johnson, & Peter Lee
Automobile - Mayfair Games - Martin Wallace
Hibernia - Closet Nerd - Eric Vogel
High Noon Saloon - Slugfest Games - Cliff Bohm & Geoff Bottone
Pastiche - Gryphon Games - Sean D. MacDonald

Winner: Conquest of Nerath

Best Traditional Card Game

Cthulhu Gloom - Atlas Games - Keith Baker
NUTS! - Wildfire LLC - Matthew Grau
Red Dragon Inn 3 - Slugfest Games - Geoff Bottone, Jeff Morrow, and Cliff Bohm
Star Trek Deck Building Game - BANDAI - Alex Bykov
Struggle for Catan - Mayfair Games - Klaus Teuber

Winner: NUTS!

Best Family, Party or Children’s Game

BEARS! - Fireside Games - Anne-Marie De Witt
Faux∙Cabulary - Out of the Box Publishing - Matthew Nuccio
Get Bit! - Mayday Games - Dave Chalker
Scavengers - Zombie State Games - John Werner
Space Mission - Schmidt Spiele - Matthew Worden

Winner: Get Bit!

Best Board Game is Conquest of Nerath?  In a year where games like Eclipse, Ora et Labora, Mage Knight, and so many other better games came out?  In fact, at the time I write this, there are 67 games listed as coming out in 2011 that are ranked higher than Conquest of Nerath on BGG!

I'm not sure what their exact definition of traditional card game is, but the fact that Yomi isn't at least nominated pretty much negates the validity of the category.  The winner, NUTS!, has a 5.90 rating on BGG right now, where anything under a 6.0 is usually a poor game.

Best Family, Party or Children's Game... first, it's a terrible category that pits games of widely different suitability against each other.  Second, the winner here is the only game on the whole list I actually own, and I wouldn't have nominated it for anything!  It's just not that great a game.

So how does this potentially hurt the industry?  People who don't know any better pay attention to these things, go out and buy the games that win, and then come to the logical conclusion that if the piece of crap they just bought is the best there is, then board games must suck!

Honestly, if Origins isn't interested in improving the way they select awards, then I wish they'd just drop the board game categories and stick to the other areas where they still have some relevance.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Total Recall

Warning:  I try to avoid blatant spoilers in the first part of this review, but it's impossible to discuss the movie without giving something away, so proceed at your own risk.  I will give another warning when I get to anything that I consider to be a major spoiler.  Short version is that this movie has good and bad points, but I enjoyed it for the visuals.

I went to go see the new Total Recall with my wife and while it wasn't a great movie, it wasn't a terrible one either.  The biggest strength of the movie is its visuals.  I'm not sure I've seen better images of a cyberpunk dystopia since Blade Runner.  Quaid's apartment and the surrounding areas of the Colony have a classic cyberpunk feel, and the early scenes that take place in that area are worth the price of admission just for the virtual tourism.

The later scenes in the United Federation of Britain (UFB) are less dystopian and cyberpunk and more standard urban sci-fi.  The visuals aren't bad, but nothing really stands out, which I suppose may have been what they were going for in contrasting the dynamic Colony with the bland UFB.

Unfortunately, despite some excellent visuals, there are some real problems with the rest of the movie.  The biggest being major holes in both the plot and the science.  First, the science.  I realize that different people will have different thresholds for their suspension of disbelief, but the movie passed a couple of mine.  The world has been devastated by chemical warfare, but there's no explanation as to why certain areas of the globe have avoided that devastation.  It's understandable why Australia might have come through unscathed, but Britain and parts of Europe survived where Africa and South America didn't?  That requires some explanation that is never provided.  There's also no explanation as to why the UFB never becomes contaminated from the adjacent blighted zones.  There's no sign of a dome or energy field keeping the blight at bay.

The second hole in the science is the gravity train known in the film as "The Fall."  The idea of a transportation system passing through the center of the planet is an old one (going back to the 17th Century according to Wikipedia), but it has some significant problems that the movie does not address.  The two biggest being the molten core of Earth and the friction inherent in any system that isn't a vacuum.  Neither of these are addressed in the film.  There's also the problem that if such a system actually worked, it would take around 42 minutes to get from one side of the planet to the other, not the 17 mentioned in the film.

So much for the science.  The plot has similar holes.  

Warning:  OK, past this point I'll be discussing the plot of the movie, so major spoilers ahead.

There's never any explanation as to how Cohaagen originally planned to use Quaid to expose Matthias.  It's clearly stated that the Rekall incident was unexpected, yet that's the only thing that triggers Quaid to go looking for Matthias!  So why was Cohaagen keeping Quaid around?  It wasn't to turn him back into a loyal Houser, because he obviously could have done that at any time based on his ability to try to do it after Matthias is dealt with.  The whole thing makes no sense as presented in the film.

While we're on the subject of the plot, I want to touch on the point that some involved in the production of the film claim it was based on the short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," rather than the previous film. That's obviously false. It may have drawn some inspiration from the short story, but it's arguably further from the source than the original film, and it shares various elements from the first film that aren't present in the short story, including the protagonist's name of "Quaid."  It's "Quail" in the short story. This is a minor point for me, since I think the short story would actually make for a lousy film, but I find it annoying that some would claim it as an influence where it obviously wasn't.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. It wasn't perfect, but it had some good action scenes and the great visuals I mentioned before.  Still, the first film, with all it's Schwarzenegger cheesiness and dated special effects, is the better one.  Although I do think the new version has a better triple-breasted whore.