Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Broken and Done

Ah, the sweet smell of success. Or is it the volcano?
So, I have beaten Sentinels of the Multiverse... for now. There will no doubt be new challenges when they start expanding the game, as well as new heroes to try out on the existing villains. In addition to beating all four villains, I have - with a little help from the internet  - unlocked the six variant cards: Mad Bomber Baron Blade, Cosmic Omnitron, America's Newest Legacy, GI Bunker, Super Scientist Tachyon and Rook City Wraith.

At this stage, therefore, it feels appropriate to give my more matured thoughts on the game.

First up, it is clear that not all villains are created equal. Baron Blade is pretty straightforward and his Mad Bomber variant is... Well, he's either a doddle or a nightmare depending on how fast he gets his bomb power charged. There is a chance that he could utterly demolish you in a few turns. With either version it pays to hit him fast, and a team of hitters - including Legacy for his Galvanize damage boost and Nemesis advantage - is useful.

Citizen Dawn calls for a specific approach, and is perhaps the only villain for whom it is worth just taking hitters - Fanatic, Ra, America's Newest Legacy and Haka all have straight-up damage powers, and that's what you want against Dawn. Sure, boosts are nice, but she has a tendency to wipe out your ongoing and equipment cards that makes buffers (Legacy) and gadgeteers (Wraith, Absolute Zero) problematic. Tempest also does damage, but he hits all non-heroes more often than not, which means that there is a risk of taking down more citizens than you mean to, and that's a problem as it causes Dawn to flip to her solar avatar side, which renders her invulnerable, and with Dawn it's basically a race until she gets one of her Return with the Dawn cards out with a trash full of enough citizens to properly fuck your shit right up.

Omnitron also regularly draws cards out of the trash, but in smallish numbers. It's worth keeping its force small, although keeping some components in play for Cosmic Omnitron can be helpful. Deck controllers are useful, especially if the Wraith can keep it from ever using the goddamn Sedative Flechettes*. Varied damage types are handy here, so taking Wraith and Tempest is a mistake and Wrait will rarely get to use two attacks per turn without one being blocked by Adaptive Plating Subroutine.

Finally, there's Grand Warlord Voss. Again, crowd control on his minions is key - you want to limit him to one so he doesn't flip - although GI Bunker's Panzerbuster power bypasses his vast damage resistance, making it worth a direct assault. The need to limit the numbers of minions, however, makes it worthwhile to go for spread damage and deck control; Tempest - also a nemesis - and Tachyon are useful here. Ra's ability to convert damage types can also be handy if you need to hit his spaceships, which are unpunchable.

Bring on the expansions (and the multiplayer.)

* There is a small sub-group of cards that I truly hate, like Sedative Flechettes, Return with the Dawn or fucking Technological Singularity, which might as well be called the Wraith-Killer.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Early Thoughts on Sentinels of the Multiverse

As part of my birthday present to myself, I picked up a copy of the computer version of Sentinels of the Multiverse, a co-op card game I've played a time or two with friends, in which each player takes on the role of a superhero who is part of a team battling a supervillain in a particular environment. Each hero has their own card deck, as does the villain and the environment.

The genius of the game is that the villain and environment phases are effectively automated. Aside from occasionally needing to agree who has to discard some cards or choose which of two or more equally apt targets will get hit, no-one has to make any calls for what the villain does or to whom. Nothing is personal.

Basic set heroes: The Visionary, Ra God of the Sun, Haka, Bunker, Fanatic,
Tachyon, Tempest, Absolute Zero, Legacy and Wraith
While a much less effective way to play at parties, the advantages of the computer game over the card game are 1) cost, 2) no worry about card damage and 3) you feel less of a fool playing solo.

The basic release gets you 10 heroes (who can be combined into teams of between 3 and 5), 4 villains and 4 environments, for a total of... well, a lot of potential games (they say over 9,000, but it might even be more if you consider the order of the hero team to be important, and it can be.)

The heroes are a four-colour grab bag of classic types, each with clearly identifiable antecedents in the classic heroes of the Silver Age (Wraith and Tachyon are gender-flipped versions of Batman and the Flash, Bunker is Iron Man and Legacy a cross between Superman and Captain America) but bags of their own personality. Their decks are tailored both to maintain game balance and to match and model those personalities. Wraith is a gadget monkey, for example*, while many of Tachyon's cards have the special 'burst' type, which enable her to make powerful attacks based on the number of burst cards in her trash pile. Legacy is a classic buffer.

The villains meanwhile are glorious. Grand Warlord Voss is a Darkseid wannabe with an army of minions, although the real minion swarm comes from superfolk demogogue Citizen Dawn. Omnitron is a mad robot/self-aware factory who throws robots and guns at you, and Baron Blade wants to crash the moon into the Earth, just to show them all**. Each has their own challenges: Blade is relatively fragile, but has a lot of direct attacks and sneaky defences, whereas Dawn can go from nothing to an army in a couple of turns, and also has an annoying habit of wiping out your carefully assembled combos of ongoing cards.

Add to this the effects of the environment (be it the ruins of Atlantis or downtown Megalopolis) and the strategy quickly becomes quite complex. Thus far, I've kept to the fairly straightforward approach, but for enemies like Citizen Dawn I suspect that correct use of deck controllers like Visionary and Tachyon may be key. And all this before the forthcoming DLC adds more heroes, more villains, more environments and even rule variations into the mix. It's easy to see why people find the card game so compelling, and the computer game does a pretty bang up job of modelling the original. I think the only facet of the original that is missed out is that the computer never forgets to apply modifiers in your favour or accidentally skips the draw phase while reaching for the crisps.

Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Video Game is not a replacement for the card game, but is an excellent supplement for solo play. It's biggest failing, to my mind, is the lack of a distributed multiplayer mode, allowing geographically disparate players to take on different heroes and battle villains together

* As a Batman analogue, she is also a detective, although this is played up not in her basic set but in her Rook City variant.

** No other villain in the main set is as cool as Baron Blade with his TerraLunar Impulsion Beam.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Murder on the Dancefloor

As an assassin, I probably ought to prefer unarmed targets, and yet...
My play through of Dishonoured has stumbled somewhat at 'Lady Boyle's Last Party'. My issues with this mission are multiple.

Firstly, my target is an unarmed woman. It's the former part that matters more to me than the latter, although I admit that I am culturally conditioned to feel that murdering a woman is somehow 'worse' than murdering a man, even though both acts are equally abhorrent. The men I get sent after in this thing, however, all fight back if given the chance. Sure, most of them I choke out or even leave for someone else to deal with, but in a pinch I know they'd come at me with a sword. If it all goes to stink with Lady Boyle however, this is a target who will run, not fight. In fact, she will flee to the same room as her two 'innocent' sisters and cower in the exact same way, offering no resistance if you walk over and rob or murder her*.

In addition, Lady Boyle's crimes are... vague. My previous targets have been serial murderers and sadists implicated in massive-scale corruption, death and non-consensual perversion. One was the paramilitary pope who kidnapped children to be brainwashed as priests and murdered whores for the shiggles; the other two were in charge of holding an abducted child captive in a brothel and ran mines worked by mutilated slaves. Lady Boyle... is sleeping with the Lord Regent. That's all I've been told. It's only implied that she even provides political support, I'm basically shanking the big bad's girlfriend to fuck with his head. I am, in fact, putting a woman in the fridge, and I find that I'm not okay with that.

Finally, and more trivially, I'm supposed to make small talk with other party goers in order to tease out information (and find my non-lethal, but no doubt tasteless, option,) and if one more of the snobby shits tells me to piss off and mind my own, I'm going to lock the doors and set the place on fire; only way to be sure. It's funny how that seems like a more reasonable response to me than the mission I've been set.

Maybe it's because the mission is so engineered that I come in with almost no information, but in order to complete I have to progressively uncover information on the Ladies Boyle, none of which so far is of the order of 'today I laid off a pregnant serving girl and had an innocent footman arrested for theft so I could watch him being tortured; it was a laff' and more 'I am so bored; think I'll have lots of sex at my party' or 'who do they think they are! I know when I've had enough!'

Is it just sleeping with the Lord Regent we're judging Lady Boyle for? Because it sounds as though there's a 2 in 3 chance she's doing it because she's hammered all the time or a raging nymphomaniac. That would be curious of course; men of power have historically been hypocritically possessive of their mistresses. Surely we could achieve our goals by exposing Lady Boyle to scandal?

* I know this thanks to a badly botched attempt in which I left an unconscious guard in the hallway while exploring that very room, with the result that all three sisters ran in, accused me of plotting to kill them and then lined up waiting for me to do so. My bad, although it also touches on another problem, which is that the level has a more than usual requirement for the peripheral vision I don't get to have in my first person view.

Friday, 9 January 2015

2014 in Games and Writing

2014 was a bit of an off year for me in terms of writing. I've not been as active as I like to be, and putting together a working collection of short stories is proving almost as difficult as editing up a finished novel. It doesn't help that Dropbox keeps screwing with my versions so I don't know which is the most recent and I end up having to do over, but there is an element of procrastination and another of creative exhaustion.

In part, I think I need to focus more on my writing, rather than running RPGs. I've got one on at the moment, but it's a fortnightly Fate Core game run via G+, which makes it pretty low maintenance. since quitting my STing duties with the IoD I've found the creative flow much easier and I have a number of things on the go, including that short story collection. I'll drop a note here (and probably there and everywhere) if and when I put anything up for sale.

I've been running Agents of CROSSBOW for a year now, although we had a longish break and I effectively rebooted halfway through the year, once I'd got a better handle on the system.  In playing terms I've drifted out of most of my regular LARPS, although I still play a fortnightly skype game and I have something new on the horizon in the form of No Rest for the Wicked.

I did RPG a day, which was pretty cool really, and helped me to think seriously and critically about a lot of my gaming habits. I've also been surprisingly active in writing game criticism (positive and negative) and I took part in Secret Santicore; not that I ever got my Secret Santicore 'present.'

In computer gaming, I have revisited a lot of old 40K games and also started Dishonoured, although I'm rather hung up on that at the moment. My current target is one of three sisters in different-coloured versions of the same masquerade ball suit, all of whom come and cower pitifully in a single room when alarmed. Consequently, I feel like a right git murdering them. I think I'm going to have to go for the non-lethal option and tell myself that it's fine; she'll be out of the way a few weeks while we sort out the country, then I can go and kill her stalker... if she hasn't already.

I don't think it's the right thing to do, but it's probably the least distasteful of the options which will move the game forward.