Shadows of Brimstone

The wife and I played some Shadows of Brimstone over the weekend.  I have the Swamps of Death starter pack.  I’m looking forward to getting some of the expansion stuff mind you, though I realize it’s also in the last steps of delivering on the Kickstarter pledge.

Brimstone is a cooperative RPG miniature boardgam.  The co-operative aspect is really important.  My wife is not a boardgamer, whereas I was practically raised on Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit.  While I can certainly get behind competitive boardgames, that requires more than 2 people.  If it’s just my wife and I, then co-op it is, otherwise it’s just not really that much fun for either of us.

The game is set in a wild-west horror theme, very Cthulhu in nature.  Most missions have you gradually exploring tiles, ever expanding a map to your target.  There’s exploration and events on every tile, often times more than one.  The map itself is completely random, based on a set of card and die rolls.  The setup is actually pretty quick, though by the time we ended our last game, the entire kitchen table was full of stuff.

There’s a core mechanic of holding back the darkness that gets progressively harder to achieve the further you progress.  Failure here is pretty bad.  You could end up drawing more cards or unlock darkness itself, which usually boosts enemies.  One card we pulled added an extra attack die to an enemy type.  One that spawned in groups of 4+.  Still, it’s a fairly neat mechanic that pushes the whole risk vs reward mentality.  That extra draw may be the final one.

And then there’s combat.  There’s nothing terribly fancy here.  To Hit, Attack, Damage, Armor, limited skill usage…all staples.  The differences are in the number of enemies and the duration of combat.

I’ve played my fair share of combat games.  In games where there are a lot of enemies, they typically aren’t very strong.  Few enemies (say, parity or less), then the enemies are tougher.  D&D 3.5 had fewer enemies but more strategy, while 4th had tons of enemies and everything was AE everywhere.  So if a board game should be completed in 2 hours, combat feels good around 1 hour total.  Maybe that’s just 3 fights the entire time, or it could be 10 times.  You just need more than combat and at least some light at the end of that tunnel.

Brimstone is an odd one.  The weaker enemy types usually start off by doubling/tripling the amount of players on the map.  Players are forced to “funnel” the enemies in tight tunnels to avoid getting swamped.  AE attacks are fairly limited, and difficult to pull off, so when it’s 2 players vs. 8 undead, it can be a grind.  Thankfully combat is quick in those scenarios.

The final fight of the run is different; it uses a much higher difficult pool for enemies and is compounded by a separate set of cards (related to holding back the darkness).  We decided to use a limited resource to eliminate those cards, but we cheated any took a peek anyways.  Had we flipped the card, we would have been ambushed by 2d3+4 undead – so, you know, lots.  On top of the 4 weak flyers and 3 strong tanks that were already on the board.

The flyers took a few rounds to drop, due to bad rolls.    My wife and I swapped rolling duties throughout, where we each played for the enemy.  She continually rolled 5/6 when playing as a bad guy and 1/2/3 when she was her PC.  For at least 30 minutes.  (Side note, she rolled so well, she killed my guy outright for more damage than he had base hit points).  We looked at the clock on the wall and realized at this pace it was another 15 minutes of combat, with our current luck streak.  So we invented some house rules to assist with rolling.  It worked out and we finished up the dungeon run.

I like boardgames that rely more on strategy than die rolls.  Pandemic is a good example.  Risk, to some degree.  Monopoly for sure.  The random element in gaming has its place but I’ve played enough snakes and ladders for my life.  Brimstone straddles that line something fierce.  The very limited resources in combat require you to think strategically, but a set of bad rolls can ruin your fun.  Having more players at the table certainly offsets that, and you gain more synergy between the various players.  I like Brimstone and certainly want to get an expansion.  I’ll just see if I can’t get another body at the table to help us out for the next round.


Inside Out

This weekend we babysat my wife’s cousin’s kid, so it’s a nephew that’s twice removed I think.  I’m not terribly good at family tree math.  I have 2 girls, so the added “Godzilla in the city” of a little boy was fun to watch.  Not that my girls are princesses mind you, but they certainly don’t have the same aggressive nature little boys have.

Easy enough of a day, Santa Clause parade, good weather, crafts, legos, food.  Then we sat down to watch a movie in the basement.  Kids love popcorn and the 8 foot screen helps too.  My wife suggested we watch Inside Out, that there Pixar movie.  It certainly had some positive reviews from critics.

Pre-amble before the ramble.  I’ve seen nearly all Pixar movies.  They strike a nice balance between kids movies about exploration and some adult jokes inset as well.  My kids generally like them, in particular the Toy Story series and Cars.  As a general rule, they follow the same plot arc in each movie.  Picturesque situation to start, disaster for the main character, lessons learned (and hijinks), 2-3 spots of ups and downs, revelations, back to beginning.  While it’s a simple formula, it’s the character’s strengths and weaknesses that make a film work.

Inside Out has a single lesson learned in the movie, it’s OK to be sad (or perhaps that you can feel more than joy and be happy).  And it’s the most depressing kids movie I have seen in years.  From the moment Riley steps out of the car to see her new house, until the moment she steps on the bus, it’s disaster after disaster.  The kids kept asking questions as to why everyone was crying all the time, why they kept falling and losing things.  When Bing Bong goes away…the hell man, is this ol’ Yeller?  This isn’t to say it’s not a good movie, it’s really quite a good one.  It’s more than the concepts are not ones that a kid can appreciate until they are quite a bit older.  It’s a psychoanalyst’s dream mind you, and I think that’s my issue.

Riley (and her parents) aren’t on screen enough.  They are complex people.  Riley’s emotions on the other hand are clearly one-dimensional – that’s the whole point.  Seeing Anger shoot flames is funny the first and second time, after time #6 you’ve had enough.

It’s a weird thing watching kids’ movies as an adult.  You’re not looking for the same thing anymore (well, maybe I am), so you sort of lose the ability to appreciate it on the same level.  I like to watch my kids watch a movie.  Their reactions and questions say a lot about what they are thinking and how they are absorbing the material.  I guess we’ll come back to Inside Out in a few more years.

Running Around in Fallout 4

I just seem to be wandering around lately in game.  There’s a whole lot of “oooh what’s in here” going on.  Mind you, I completed the Fort Hagen part of the main quest, so I’m seeing more synths and the Brotherhood of Steel’s vertibirds are showing up all over.  As I’m exploring further into the land, more difficult enemies are starting to show up.  The far north east corner had a neat little tower protected by raiders.  I made my way to the top and notices a fight between 2 deathclaws and some legendary raiders take place.  Deathclaws won, I sniped from afar and collected some nice loots.

I found a fish packing plant on the NE corner, completely surrounded by dead raiders.  So that’s a good sign right?  Anyways, I stepped in, searched around and nothing except a giant pit in the middle.  So of course I head down.  About 30 syths later I exit the pit and get ready to leave.  Opening the door has an ambush attack force of synths waiting for me too.  Every darn corner in that place had something waiting to kill me.  Even when I thought it was all over, more combat.

It’s these neat little adrenaline rushes that are a ton of fun in game.  You’re never really quite sure of what’s on the other side of that wall.  There’s a 50% chance there’s nothing there, but if there is something, odd are very high that it wants to kill you.  That the game is able to insert so many areas of silence and slowing of pace allows the firefights to mean more.  This isn’t a Michael Bay movie, that’s for sure.


Power is More than Numbers

Further to yesterday’s topic, there’s a whole lot of SMH going around.  All of a sudden the internet has turned into counter-terrorism expert central.  I’m not an expert, so I won’t even bother with it.  Suffice it to say, that if you have an opinion and it isn’t supported by facts, then you’re that crazy uncle everyone has.  We’re all crazy uncles about something.  Just need to pick which thing.

Also, I really feel bad for the US right now.  Like in that way you feel bad for your friend, whose parents are nutjobs, and then they don’t have a choice to live with them or head out on their own.  Apparently the 30,000 deaths per year from guns are not something worth talking about, or the 1,000 per year killed by police, but something that happened overseas is enough to have emergency action.  It feels like that ol’ Amy and Seth bit on SNL – Really!?!

Factions in Fallout

I haven’t focused much on leveling or questing, so I’m only level 21 and up until the last session, I had only unlocked the Minutemen and Brotherhood of Steel factions.  Well, now I’ve unlocked the Railroad, finally found Diamond City, Goodneighbour and the Institute.  I’ve only complete a single quest for the former mind you.

And that was a weird quest.  Maybe I just ran it incorrectly but there were master and expert terminals/locks everywhere, blocking my way forward.  I’m not sure if I was supposed to ask for help from Deacon or not but since I had already unlocked those skills I went ahead.  The alternative path was to run in guns blazing through a mine field.  I’d be curious as to the alternate path.

From the non-spoiler information I’ve read, 3 of those factions are exclusive past a certain point.  The nuances between each seem interesting.  One is focused on brute strength, another in subterfuge and the last one in moral ambiguity.  I’ll be honest and say that I’m rather interested in the benefits of a given faction, rather than their moral causes.  Too much gamification for me, granted, but it actually shows a poor level of balance.  Reminds me a bit of the Dark/Jedi/grey zone issues SWTOR had for a while.  I’m personally a fan of putting in non-power related rewards for these types of decisions, and instead focus on the story.  I seem to be more comfortable with losing access to content than to statistics – or in FO4’s case, losing both.

I also picked up a pretty crazy gun in Vault 81 I had missed the first time.  It’s sold by a vendor, and I typically skip those folks.  Well, this one is a semi-rifle that fires 2 bullets per scoped shot.  I’ve further modified it so that the base damage is 113.  I need to be level 24 I think to get to the next rank of mods.  Caps out at 233 from what I can see.  The difference in damage is just seems like a massive bug.  I took out a legendary enemy in a single snipe, where normally I’d take 5-8 shots.  I’m looking at the various perks and companion bonuses too, and from what I can tell I should be able to hit somewhere near 5x the sneak damage.  And that’s not counting the VATS bonuses to aiming for headshots from another perk.  It’s surreal, enough to the point where if I can see it, I should be able to take it down in a single shot.  That is a drastic change in play and one I’m thinking of just putting aside in order to restore some challenge.

Also, in a touching piece to the game, I found Edwin’s house and Annika’s locket at Chestnut Hill Reservoir.  There’s zero gameplay impact but the story on the terminal in the house and the nearby lake really makes you stop to think about the types of people in the story.  As much as there are ghouls, mutants, raiders and giant insects… there are people around too.  Just normal people, having normal lives, and then tragedy.  I just stopped for few minutes and let that sink in.  By not applying any game-related content, other than lore, it really applies a different focus and makes you think.  Pretty neat.

Stupid is Stupid – Ignore It

My wife asked me an interesting question the other day.  How to you manage to not feel something when people spout ignorance?  This was more in relation to stuff she’s been seeing on Facebook mind you, and everyone knows the weeks of research people put into their posts… but it’s a solid question as a concept.

I am Canadian.  It means something to us to be Canadian and not simply US-north.  There are unique socio-economic variables that are difficult to describe to most people that are not Canadian.  Mind you, I think the Nordic countries are probably the ones we have the most in common with.  Our country is relatively conservative in fiscal values (sort of have to, when it’s cold 11.5 months of the year) and liberal in social values (again, when it’s cold 11.5 months you need to have neighbors who like you).  As a general rule, we are willing to open our arms to help someone else out, even if it inconveniences us.

Oh there’s always going to be stupid.  That’s life. But of all the inflammatory stupid I’ve seen, most people just turn a shoulder and ignore it.  Because really, the only thing that stupid wants is attention.

So my personal technique was to just actively ignore stupid.  I’ve removed those contacts from my feeds, with a sole exception, a family relative.  This individual has a rather strong religious foundation, lives in the country and prefers simplicity and stability.  Change, nearly always, is a bad thing in both perception and reality.  Yet, in person they are one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  There’s no open judgment towards family.  Their kid was in an interracial marriage, adopted kids that weren’t his – the whole shebang.  But they also link to inflammatory comments about other cultures.  So in this case, it’s rather clearly just a lack of education and appreciation.  Once they get to know someone, all the prejudices go away.

I play hockey with people of other faiths and when you’re on the ice, it doesn’t matter.  In the room, no one is talking about it because they all know it’s a personal thing.  All the guys will come out to the pub and they’ll eat and drink according to their customs.  If I was to look at the various things posted on the interwebs, I should be instead calling the police because there are 50/50 odds one of the guys is going to blow up a rink.  But that’s stupid.  Saying all people of a given faith are dangerous is like saying all Catholics are Nazis or that all musicians should be blamed for Nickleback.  It’s just so profoundly idiotic, that there is no reasonable argument against it.  Reason just noped the heck out.

Don’t argue with an idiot.  They’ll bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.

So in answer to my wife, I just plainly ignore it.  Rather than focus on the argument, I’d like to focus on the people.  People fear the unknown, so let’s just make them known instead.  Have a chat, shake a hand, lend a smile.  If people feel like they belong, then it opens up a whole new world.

MMOs and the Myth of Persistence

Bhag has a post that got my fingers twitching on MMO persistence, or more accurately, why he won’t play Fallout 4.  Truth be told, when I hit the clickbait article title, I figured his PC was dead.  Or as Isey put it, he’s a hipster.  But we were both wrong.

There’s a chunk to digest in there but the core argument is as follows:

What matters is not that the worlds are still there, waiting, when I come back to them. No, what matters is that they won’t wait. With me or without me these worlds move on. Even my characters change in my absence. Those infuriating flurries of pop-ups and tool-tips that greet the prodigal player, informing him of the myriad changes to systems and processes and items and expectations that have happened behind his back are evidence of history, of existence, of a kind of ethereal solidity that mirrors life.

I am not quite sure what games Bhag is playing (other than GW2) but I can count on a single hand the MMORPGs (that distinction is important) that actually had stuff occur while I was away.  Or had stuff that I did in the game that actually mattered. I’d certainly like that to be the case!

I remember back in EQ, farming Nagafen (or heck, Plane of Fear).  For the first bit, it was a free for all since you had to wait a week for him to respawn.  Then rotations came into play.  Now EQ has instanced all these world bosses because they can’t manage expectations.

Aside from the e-peen of world first, what exactly did the Nagafen kill do to the world?  It was an empty hall for a week, then it restarted.  When I decided in BG2 that I wasn’t going to help Viconia… she was gone for the rest of the game.  All 100+ hours of it.  When I blew up Megaton in Fallout 3, it didn’t just magically respawn 2 weeks later.

You remember when Stormwind was attacked by Deathwing at the start of Cataclysm? Do you know when the walls were repaired? (answer: 4 years later).  It didn’t matter that for 3 years he had been dead. When you log in to WoW today, as long as you’re in the same expansion, 99% of the content is identical.  Mekgineer Thermaplug has been the end boss of Gnomeragan for 11 years.  He’s died thousands of deaths and Gnomes still don’t have a place to call home.  MMORPGs are meaningless skinner boxes, where your actions have no impact on the world.  The only people who have an impact are the devs.

Sure, the devs might come in with an expansion (or 20) but that’s no different than the modding community for single player games.  Oh wait, it is. You don’t wait 18 months between mods. What MMOs offer is the complete persistence to an old saved game.  It’s not much different than groundhog day (or a skinner box).  It’s like reloading a checkpoint, for months.  Or re-running that hard Super Mario level for the 100th time.

If you’re playing WoW, you could leave for a year and not see an iota of difference.  Most others are in the 6 month range of “new content” not necessarily “changed content”, which is typically reserved for expansions.

The true benefits, to me at least, as two-fold.  First, is the financial model allowing for a game’s life span to significantly stretch longer than a typical SPRG.  Mind you, that’s offset by sequel-itis (*cough* call of duty *cough*) where each iteration keeps enough of the core to be familiar but revamps other systems.  Sure, you get to keep your character name and acheivements, but they are by and large meaningless in the expansion (hence the sale of max-level characters).  Anyhoot, the finances make the game stable.  And to be quite honest, it’s rare to find a SRPG that passes the 100 hour mark (the same can be said of quite a few MMOs).

Second and most importantly, are the people, and the variable to the equation they become.  Meeting new people, engaging and having experiences with them, not seeing them online and then being happy when they do show up… that’s the benefit MMOs bring.  EQ was a glorified chat box where you spent half the time staring at a frigging spell book to get mana, might as well chat it up.

Would people play MMORPGS if everyone else was a bot or AI?  It’s the same game right?

NOTE: I am clearly generalizing.  Minecraft, EvE, ATitD, Istaria (Horizons), SWG (pre-NGE) are clear examples of how players impact the game – or more practically, are the game.

Playing as a Team

I take athletics for granted.  I was raised with sports all around me, though the majority was hockey.  I like to think I have an aptitude for nearly any sport, as long as I understand the rules.  I can certainly appreciate sport plays, more so the ones leading up to the great play on the highlight.  I’m mentioning this because I’ve gone to see my wife play some ball hockey lately.  She certainly has a solid understanding of the mechanics, but the nuances of team sports are not her bag.  Give her a golf club and she’s a maniac though.

Which I think is an interesting idea to explore.  Working in a team, it’s fairly easy to find the best and worst players within a group.  They usually stand out.  The folks in the middle, those are a bit harder to qualify and find their personal spot.  As good as Messi is, there are 10 other players on the pitch with him and their play allows him to shine.  Each one needs to understand their role in the team and what’s expected.  They need to meet that expectation.  And often times it’s about multiple split second decisions while trying to stick to a game plan.  If the team is focused on zone defense, then chasing the opponents is going to go poorly.  Possession-based teams shoot infrequently, in order to maintain game control.

So watching my wife play ball hockey, completely recreationally mind you, puts into sharp contrast individual skill and team skill.  The former you can certainly practice on by yourself, but the latter takes hundreds of hours of group practice.  And as an adult, when exactly are you supposed to find that time?

Vault 75

I’m slowly moving around the Commonwealth, stabbing out away from Sanctuary.  I’ve hit Vault 81, Hubris Comics (which was awesome) and last night headed east to Vault 75, which was in the basement of a high school.  The experiment here really relates to the previous topic of skill refinement.  They studied and found genetic samples of teens that showed high potential and got rid of the rest.  There’s a target practice spot within the map too, fully functional with timer and everything.  My guess is that it was like a mini-Hunger Games or Logan’s Run in there.

It was also the first time I’ve actually met enemies with the skull icon.  These are folk who are a higher level and pose an additional risk.  One even had a plasma gun, which I was smart enough to pick up.  So while my super trusty sniper rifle helped out to clear the stragglers, these 2 buggers really took me for a spin.  I mean, how many sniper shots to the eyeballs can a dude take and still not realize I’m hiding around some corner? (the answer is 5).

I’m certainly appreciating the challenge here.  I’m making more use of Dogmeat as a distraction for battles, to help flush out the enemies.  He’s great at poking Deathclaws from their burrows (you can hear them breathing, which is cool and disturbing) so that I can send a missile on their foreheads.  The game is slowly inching away from a lone survivor vibe to one of effective team play.  I have a better understanding of how the party AI works, how they can disable mines or collect some loot for you.

I rather like the discovery aspect of the small things that make the game tick.  Sure, there’s a crapton that’s the same as in Fallout 3 but the finer details are where the meat is at.  It makes the game seem fresh while being familiar.  That said if people want to play it just like F3/NV, then there’s certainly nothing stopping them.  They’d just be missing out.

Concentrate… concentrate… bah

It was a busy and slow weekend, so I guess that evens out.  Sunday I spent a fair amount in bed resting up from a long Saturday of making tourtières.  For the past 7 years now, 4 of the guys get together to make a bunch of meat pies.  This year we ended up with 43 total, which is a pretty solid run.  We had to tweak the pastry recipe a bit and 2 of the guys had to bow out from rolling.  I kept at it and once the grove was set, it wasn’t so bad.  It was long mind you, well over 4 hours straight of rolling, but the end result was great.

The day started just before 7 and I didn’t hit the sack until near 11.  The beer and wine throughout certainly didn’t help much.  Still, it was a good day.  The wife came over and helped babysit the squirts, we had a lot of laughs and the food was great.  Can’t really ask for more.


I’m not the world’s biggest IGN fan but Dan Stapleton is one of my go-to folks for RPGs.  In his Fallout 4 review, there’s one particular quote that rings – and I’m paraphrasing – “I feel like a kid at Easter, whose parents did a really bad job at hiding the chocolate”.

I am completely incapable of completing tasks in any reasonable sense of order.  I’ll get a quest for a given spot on my map.  I’ll quick travel to the nearest spot then start walking over.  In nearly all cases, I see a proverbial SQUIRREL!! and sure enough, I’ve been sidetracked.  It could be a dock and boat.  It could be a 3 storey building where I’m being sniped.  It could be a factory of robots.  It could be a new radio signal.  Maybe Dogmeat found me some more loot.  Next thing you know2 hours are gone, I’m waist deep in ghoul guts, have too much crap looted and need to run back to town to unload. Then I repeat the quick travel option and try again.

There’s clearly an end point here.  A time where I’ve explored it all; where I see that building, check my map and it says [complete] and I keep moving.  A time when I’m no longer wondering how many super mutants can actually fit into a closet, or how a Mireluk can fit into a puddle.  But that’s not today and likely not tomorrow.