Tobold's Blog
Monday, September 26, 2022
Saltmarsh - Session 4

I think I might have forgotten to journal the events of session 3 of my D&D pirate campaign, which is using the Ghosts of Saltmarsh adventure as a starting point. Well, in session 3 the group finished The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, and gained a proper ship. Then unfortunately one of my players quit for family reasons, so there are only 3 players left. So I decided this was the right moment to quit the written adventure and custom-make an adventure for a smaller group.

I used homebrew rules for a small hex crawl for the adventure of session 4 (and presumably 5). One of the players is a dwarf who has spent years stranded on an island with only a faerie to keep him company. I decided to give that faerie a name, Friday, obviously, and use it as adventure hook: Friday is contacting the dwarf to tell him that the island he was stranded on has been taken over by goblin cannibals (using the Pathfinder goblins as image). And now another pirate ship has stranded, and the cannibals captured the pirate crew. As the group has a ship, but no crew, that is a great opportunity for them to rescue one.

The hex crawl worked pretty nicely. The group rolled high pretty often on the encounter tables, and so got into a lot of combat encounters: Once against a patrol of goblin cannibals, and three times against random monsters. They also had a few terrain encounters, once with quicksand on the beach, and once with a volcanic eruption in the volcanic region.

Besides their goal, the cannibal village, I had added two more major points of interest to the island: A temple of Umberlee, a sea goddess, and a cave with a salamander. The salamander wants to burn the island down, while the goddess wants that salamander dead. Now with those hex crawl rules and the encounter tables I created, I put in the possibility to get a "clue" result, to steer the group in the right direction. I had prepared a clue of encountering Cookie, the mad pirate cook, who had escaped from the cannibals. That was mainly to tell them that the cannibals are eating one crew member per day, to give them a bit of time pressure. But unfortunately they never rolled the "clue" result, so they first stumbled upon the water temple. There they got a promise of a boon from the sea goddess if they killed the salamander, and so they promptly set out to do so. They managed that, got a permanent water breathing spell on them, which will come in handy for future underwater adventures, but still hadn't rolled a clue result.

So I forced things and let Cookie appear at the water temple to which the group had returned. Cookie was horrified: The cannibals cooked the pirates in boiling water, with no spices, and far too much salt. Cookie thought that grilling them with a bit of rosemary would have been the way to do it. Well, he is a bit mad. So now the group knows that they should hurry to the cannibal village and got approximate directions where to go. We will play that in the next session.


Friday, September 23, 2022
Giving up on 3D printing?

I bought a new board game, Massive Darkness 2. It comes with flat cardboard tokens for doors, and the way they are printed makes it very hard to see whether the door is open or shut. A YouTuber I watched who was streaming gameplay of that game recommended getting 3D plastic doors, which are available on Amazon for a similar game, Zombicide. And so I ordered them from Amazon.

It felt a bit like a betrayal to the two unused 3D printers I still have. I could have 3D printed those doors. Figurines and terrain at 25-mm scale are typically what I used my printers for. And because these parts don't have to be especially flexible or resistant, they are a good application for 3D printing. Printing parts that undergo stress or have to hold loads is a lot more difficult. But the commercial doors are a bit prettier than I could have printed them, and come in parts of multiple colors. Which is not impossible with my 3D printers, but it would require changing the filament. And Amazon can deliver those doors nearly as fast as I can print them. So in the end I went for the commercial option with less hassle.

One reason I didn't want to reactivate my 3D printers was that after a time of not using them, they are likely to fail. This isn't plug & play technology. If you print every day, it works fine. If you let it stand for a while, the machine might fail, or you might simply forget steps in the relatively complex procedure of getting towards a good print. I had to disassemble my 3D printers several times, which is not something you experience with the type of printers that just put ink or toner on a piece of paper.

Printing something on paper is not a hobby, you do it for the utility. 3D printing is the opposite, the utility is relatively low, and there is a large hobby element. I am happy to have done that for a while, but I am not sure whether I will not just simply give up on this hobby now that I don't need so many figurines anymore.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

In Europe about a quarter of the CO2 emissions, around 1 Gigaton per year, come from heating. That doesn't mean that every house in Europe is well heated: Europe has a large "excess winter mortality" rate, which is linked to a number of factors; in the UK alone, over three thousand deaths have been directly linked to energy poverty in 2018. Which is really bad news for the winter 2022/23, because energy prices in Europe for heating have skyrocketed. There are going to be a lot more people this winter dying from being unable to afford to properly heat their houses.

While this is currently a big political theme in many countries, with many governments having implemented energy price caps or subsidies, the matter is a complicated one. While there are many different heating systems with different energy efficiency, on a macroscopic level all the heat you pump into your house is eventually lost by dissipation to the outside. A theoretical perfectly insulated house would need no heating at all (not recommended, as it would also suffocate you). But in more practical terms, you can today build a house in Europe under nearly Zero Energy Building standards, and drastically diminish the amount of energy needed (and thus CO2 emitted) to keep your family warm. Even just adding insulation to existing homes can reduce heating energy needed by a quarter.

Theoretically the way forward is simple: We "just" need to insulate every building in Europe to the best energy efficiency (EPC) class of "A". However, that would mean upgrading 97% of the buildings in Europe. Buildings on average are older in Europe, because they are more often built with brick and mortar rather than wood. Brick houses are naturally better insulated, but it is more difficult to insulate an existing house than building a new one to EPC A. Insulation progress will take ages, and there is no way that we can improve the situation much by insulation in time for this winter.

One other problem with insulation is the incentives to do so. If you own the house you live in, high energy prices mean that the return on investment on insulating your house is quite good. However, home ownership rates differ by country. Insulation is something typically paid by the home owner, while the people living in the house pay for the heating. So with rented property, the home owner isn't necessarily highly motivated to insulate, because it isn't him who is saving the money on heating. Understanding that, Europe is now slowly forcing everybody to increase the energy efficiency of their buildings, but that is a program spanning 3 decades until 2050.

While the current political discussion about heating is caused by an energy crisis mostly related to the Ukraine war, this isn't something that is going away. The reason that we mostly heat with fossil fuels is that this has for a long time been the cheapest method, because the "cost" of CO2 emissions simply wasn't accounted for. Fighting climate change is rather likely to increase the price of energy for consumers. And for poor people the percentage of their budget spent on energy for transport and heating is higher than for rich people. So the problem of high energy prices and energy poverty is likely to stay with us. We need to find a way to both save the planet *and* not have poor people freezing to death in their houses.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

When my wife and me play board games just between the two of us, we prefer cooperative adventure games. These games not only have gameplay elements, but also story element. That usually involves reading out a story aloud, and that is a lot easier for just 2 players than for larger groups. However, some games have a lot of story to read. So my favorite board game app is Forteller, which provides professional audio narration for a growing number of games.

With a lot of adventure games on crowdfunding platforms, it has gotten as far as me considering a Forteller narration available as one of the criteria to decide whether I want to back a game or not. I recently backed both Kinfire Chronicles and Forsaken, in part because of the inclusion of Forteller narration in these projects.

That doesn't absolve me of carefully choosing which board games to back on crowdfunding platforms. Bardsung does have Forteller narration, but I disliked the game so much, I sold it two weeks after receiving the game. Lands of Galzyr, although not having Forteller, is currently our favorite game, and we play it frequently. The Lands of Galzyr app has a robotic voice that can read the story to you, but that solution isn't great, so we are reading aloud ourselves.

Another adventure story game we love is Sleeping Gods, which has a bit more gameplay elements than Lands of Galzyr has (Lands of Galzyr is very light on gameplay). But that is currently on hold because next year a Forteller narration for that will come out, which I backed together with the Distant Skies expansion. We are willing to play something else first and wait for the professional narration.


Thursday, September 15, 2022
The death of nuance

I would like to point out that in the latest "woke vs. racist" battle, about the life version of the Little Mermaid, I am all for having a black mermaid. If that surprises you, it is probably because of the exhausting tendency of the culture wars to lose all nuance. I put "woke vs. racist" in quotation marks because that is the extreme version which the media often project. They pretend that there are only 2 camps, and you are either in the one or in the other. There is no middle ground. It isn't even possible for somebody to like or dislike a film with a black actor for other reasons than being either woke or racist. I find that extremely poor reasoning.

Note that I also am all for black hobbits. Having seen more of it, I still think that The Rings of Power is an extremely poor product given the $1 billion production cost. The character of Galadriel combines a bad script with bad acting to create one of the worst "heroes" I have ever seen in fiction. But I am obviously not upset that Galadriel is a woman. Nor does it upset me that the series has a woman as a main character. I just believe that somebody should have the right to say that this isn't very good television, without being directly put into the "racist" drawer of a "woke vs. racist" dispute. And I think there is some evidence that Amazon is using a variety of unfair tactics, from buying good reviews to suppressing bad reviews on websites they own to claiming that every bad review comes from a racist / sexist.

I am a strong believer in there being an objective truth. I am a fan of Akiro Kurosawa's Rashomon, so I am very aware that the same objective truth can be perceived very differently by different people involved. But the reason I am open for black mermaids and black hobbits is that mermaids and hobbits are fictional, so objective truth isn't an issue here. Much of human history does have objective truth to it, even if obviously some of that truth has been lost and is now unknown. If people want to argue whether Shakespeare was gay, they can do so, but the answer is probably that we will never know. We do know however what the skin color of nobility in England was during the Regency period; that makes a representation that directly contradicts that objective truth problematic, and at least requires some sort of warning label to tell people that this isn't historical truth that is being shown here. Human history *is* racist, humans have discriminated against other humans on the basis of their origin pretty much universally for as long as we have historic records of. That calls for the rather difficult approach of explaining not only how things were, but also why they were wrong; it would be wrong to take the easier way out and pretend that our past was one in which diversity was always universally welcomed.

But hey, that is far too much nuance for most of the people who are involved in the culture wars. It is so much easier to just classify every work of art as either woke or racist, and every critic of these works of art as respectively racist or woke. Because why would we need more than two opposing concepts to describe the totality of human history, human creativity, and human thought?

Wednesday, September 14, 2022
Dungeons & Dragons in 2024

Dungeons & Dragons was first published in 1974, so in 2024 it will celebrate its 50th anniversary. By that time it will also be renamed from 5th edition to "One D&D". While there is some serious doubt that the announced backward compatibility to 5th edition will actually be real, I don't think a change to what might be called 6th edition rules is actually changing all that much. Nor does all the added political correctness change Dungeons & Dragons fundamentally, even if I will miss the more interesting races. However, I do believe that Dungeons & Dragons in its second 50 years will be a very different game from the first 50 years because of the announced platform changes.

I play D&D mostly on Roll20 these days. The solution imposed itself because of Covid, and then stuck because of people moving away. It is nice to be able to play with friends that can't assemble around an actual table. But Roll20 isn't a unique platform. There are other virtual tabletop programs. And if you look at the public face of D&D, people playing D&D on YouTube or Twitch with a large following, you see a variety of different platforms: Some groups play around a table, other use virtual tabletops, and still other use what is basically a Zoom call to play D&D. Sitting around a real table and rolling real dice is still considered the core version, and virtual tabletops are mostly just providing a simulation of that.

The announced One D&D virtual tabletop will dramatically change that. It will not stop people who like pen & paper roleplaying games to actually involve real pens and real paper to sit around a table. But it is easy to see how the official One D&D VTT will replace existing VTT solutions. And if that One D&D VTT has video chat (which it definitively should for a program to be released in 2024), every game is just one click away from being streamed. It will become the new normal to see a D&D game on whatever is the hottest streaming platform in the future done on the official One D&D VTT, while you will see a lot less of other VTT solutions or people sitting around a table, unless that table is actually in a studio of a production like Critical Role.

Changing the public face of D&D will over time change the perception of what D&D is. The VTT will become the core version. And that will change how the game is ultimately played. Any platform imposes restrictions. Certain things will be easily possible on the One D&D VTT, while other things won't be. Some of those restrictions are technical, others are psychological: If you don't see a chandelier displayed, you won't ask your DM whether you can swing from the chandelier. In a theatre of the mind style of gameplay, and even if you play on battlemats with miniatures, you know that what you see isn't all there is. But videogames trained us to believe that the virtual environment we see on our screen is all we get to interact with in that game.

Everybody playing on the same virtual platform also changes the way people find others to play with. Dungeon Masters for hire will become more of a thing, because DMs are usually the limiting factor in playing a tabletop RPG. And the reality of playing with strangers at a distance instead of friends at home will dramatically change the way people behave and how the game feels. The "Matt Mercer effect", the realization that a game of D&D played by normal people differs from Critical Role in the same way that a school play differs from a play in a real theater with professional actors, will become more pronounced. Expectations change. Today different groups play D&D is very different ways, but that will become more difficult as the changing expectations impose more of a standard. And that will also be to the detriment of other pen & paper roleplaying systems, who will have a hard time keeping up with a sleek online platform. It won't be all bad, but it sure will make D&D feel a lot different in the future.


Tuesday, September 13, 2022
Reheat of the Lich King

Lately I have been seeing a lot of advertising for World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. It turns out that this is getting released on the WoW Classic servers in two weeks, on September 26th. And the response is overwhelming. Servers are overcrowded with long queue times. Blizzard is offering free server transfers. 14 years after the original, the reheated lich king is the new hotness!

September 18, 2008, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning was released. In my mind, the MMORPG industry has been going downhill from there. WAR was the last time people really believed that a new MMORPG could appear and surpass World of Warcraft. We never got over the disappointment with bears, bears, bears and other unmet promises. And even WoW declined after Wrath of the Lich King, reaching its peak in October 2010.

I find it kind of sad that the most popular MMORPG on offer in September 2022 is a second coming of World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King on "classic" servers. It somehow is admitting that all the MMORPG games that came after that and all the changes and expansions to WoW that came after WotLK weren't all that great. Sure, a number of games are still around, people play Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XIV, and The Elder Scrolls Online. But MMORPGs have become a niche that you rarely hear from anymore. There doesn't appear to be a future for the genre other than nostalgia.

Monday, September 12, 2022
+1 Short Sword of Self-Reflection

I am watching a lot of YouTube channels from content creators that talk about board games. That is not the only YouTube content I watch, but certainly about half. Board game YouTube channels are their own little ecosystem; there are obviously a lot less people making board game videos than computer game videos, and viewer numbers are a lot lower. But frequently the issues reflect the wider YouTube world to some extent. Only that, the ecosystem being smaller, a smaller event can look a lot bigger.

The small event that happened recently was that a game company, Chip Theory Games, selected a number of YouTube content creators and not only sent them their latest Kickstarter game Hoplomachus Victorum, but also a custom-made real short sword in a leather scabbard, engraved with the logo of the respective YouTube channel that received it. And a lot of board game creators on YouTube, whether they got one of those swords or not, were prompted by this to do videos with some self-reflection about what their role was. Are these YouTube content creators "journalists", or are they "influencers"? How much can they be trusted to give honest advice and reviews? How easily can they be bought?

These self-reflections of content creators aren't exactly new. I did one back in 2009, where I stated that I can be bought for $100,000; unfortunately there were no takers. I believe that everybody can be bought if the offer is high enough, and the thing that person has to do for the money is easy enough, like giving a fake good review. Also I believe that this, like pretty much everything in life, is not black and white: Maybe somebody can't be "bought" for $100 in free merchandise, but is his attitude towards the product and the company behind it exactly the same whether he received those $100 free merchandise or whether he had to pay $100 of his own money to buy the product to review it?

Writing a blog is a dying form of content creation, and I wouldn't recommend it. Having said that, I have a lot more respect for the content creators of the blogging age than I have for the content creators of the video stream age. It takes a lot more time per week to run a successful YouTube channel about anything than it takes to write a blog about that same thing. As a result I don't really know anybody from my blogging days who ever claimed that his blog was his full-time job, while being a full-time content creator on YouTube is a lot more common. And people who need to pay rent and get food on the table are easier tempted by money than those who just want to shout out their personal opinions for fun. That doesn't necessarily mean taking money from companies to do fake reviews, but I sure can see a lot more content creators on Twitch and YouTube doing attention-grabbing stuff to get viewer numbers and thus ad revenue up. I don't think any blogger ever wrote his content from a hot tub.

So, what about board game YouTube content creators? Are those influencers being influenced by free stuff? I definitively think so. And more so than YouTube content creators reviewing video games. That is not necessarily because the board game people are more easily bought than the video game people, but it has to do with the business model of crowdfunded board games. If you fund a board game on Kickstarter or Gamefound (the two biggest platforms right now), you pay money now, and hopefully get your board game a year or two later; sometimes you get it 3 or 4 years later, but cases where you don't get anything at all are few and far between in the board game category. As a result, board game companies don't need advertising when they deliver their game, they need advertising when they run their crowdfunding campaign. Only, at that point, the game isn't available anywhere yet. So they send free prototype games to YouTube channel creators. And that is close to 100% of their overall advertising budget, board game crowdfunding campaigns don't get advertised in print media or on TV very often.

The YouTube board game channels on the other side need those prototype games, because during the crowdfunding campaign their viewers are most interested in the new game and want to see how it is. If they waited for the game's release before playing it on their channel, they would miss out on a lot of views. Furthermore, board games are usually a lot more expensive than videogames. Especially the big box games with lots of miniatures easily cost several hundred dollars, depending on pledge level. That gladius short sword that caused so much commotion might actually be worth less than the game it came with, at least I saw one video of an unboxing of the content of the $255 pledge. So I would say that the board game content creators are a lot closer to their industry than the video game content creators on the same platform are.

Still, I don't think free board games with or without swords change the value of the videos for the viewer all that much. I tend to prefer videos with actual gameplay, and then I don't just listen to what the reviewer says. For example one of the big games in the board game sphere that is both currently delivering on the first crowdfunding campaign and preparing a second crowdfunding campaign is Oathsworn. Despite mostly positive reviews I could see from the actual gameplay that the game was a bit too complicated and fiddly for me and my wife. Especially since we don't paint miniatures, so games with a lots of miniatures are actually not that much of a draw for us, as they stay ugly grey on our table. Whether the reviewer was influenced by getting a free game and possibly other goodies was irrelevant to me.


Sunday, September 11, 2022
Small Hex Crawl Rules

Although not mentioned as explicitly in the name, exploring wilderness areas outside of dungeons is also a classic part of Dungeons & Dragons. Most D&D campaigns have some sort of map of the region, kingdom, or continent on which the game is playing. The Player's Handbook (p. 182 for 5E) has rules on how many miles a group of adventurers can travel in a day. Having said that, most of the D&D rules are for a much shorter timescale, of minutes or even 6-second rounds. So what happens during a week of travel? Sometimes nothing; the DM can just handwave the travel and say that the group arrives after a week of travel at their destination. But over the 4+ decades of D&D history, people have found ways to "gamify" overland travel, and developed rules that are usually referred to as "hex crawls", based on the tradition that overland maps are drawn on hex grids.

Now you can have whole hex crawl campaigns with huge maps. Or you can have a large part of your adventure being a hex crawl. For example the 5E module Tomb of Annihilation has a large hex crawl section in which the group explores the jungles of Chult. With some players and reviewers remarking that this hex crawl section can easily take too long, and become boringly repetitive. The hex map of Chult is about 50 x 60 hexes large, and the final destination isn't obvious to find. With an average travel speed of 2 hexes per day at the scale of that map, it can easily take a month or more of game time to play through this part, and many sessions of real time.

For my D&D pirate campaign, which I started with the Ghosts of Saltmarsh introductory adventure, but will now move to self-written adventures, I asked my players for things they would like to see in that adventure. And several suggestions involved exploring an island: One character had a background story where he was stranded on an island for some years, others wanted to go treasure hunting, or explore an island full of cannibals. So I decided to make an adventure with a hex crawl to explore an island. With the island being only 7 hexes broad and 12 hexes long at most, and there being just about 50 hexes to explore. And then I started thinking about what sort of hex crawl rules I will need for this. For example in Tomb of Annihilation the large hex crawl involves the probability to get lost, and the need to find food and water. For a small hex crawl, I can skip or simplify some of that, especially since inventory management isn't the most fun to play anyway.

So what rules does a hex crawl need? It basically needs two major parts: How to get from one hex to the next, and what happens in the hex you enter. For my adventure I decided that I would keep a 2 hex per day travel speed at normal pace through rough terrain. There is a small bit of road, where the group can advance at twice the speed. Every day the group needs to decide between normal and fast travel speed; fast speed adds another hex of travel that day, but increases the danger of encountering patrols of goblin cannibals. I decided that the group can only get "lost" if they want to travel in one direction and the hex 60° to the left or right of that direction is the same terrain type; in that case they need to do a DC12 survival check to not deviate from the path. This solves the situation where the group is following e.g. the coast line or the edge of a forest, in which case it wouldn't be logical for them to become lost.

And what happens in the hex they enter? The island has 4 different terrain types: Beach, Jungle, Hill, or Volcanic. In addition to the terrain type, some hexes also have special features, for example a road, a building, a cave, a lake, or a landmark. Despite every single hex covering several square miles, I decided that all special features should be immediately be obvious when entering a hex; the group shouldn't be able to "miss" a building while traveling through its hex. While the hex crawl doesn't have a "story" per se, the island has three main special features: A temple of a sea goddess, a volcanic cave with a salamander, and the central village of the goblin cannibals. The sea goddess wants the salamander gone, the salamander wants to burn down the island, and the goblin cannibals are holding a pirate crew captive for food, which the group wants to liberate to man their ship. A limited amount of such special features is necessary for the adventure to have a bit of structure, but it is up to the players how to interact with each of them. Minor special features are also sprinkled over the island, like caves that can contain various monster encounters.

When not interacting with a special feature, the content of each hex is determined when the group enters it by a random encounter roll. I decided to use d20 for that, with low rolls resulting in no encounter, medium rolls resulting in the group receiving a clue (e.g. footprints) to some special feature or a terrain encounter or a random combat encounter, while high rolls result in an encounter with a patrol of goblin cannibals. That linear scale allows for simple modifiers, e.g. +4 on the roll if traveling at fast speed, leading to a lower chance of nothing happening, and a higher chance of the specific combat encounter with the cannibals.

And that is all the rules I need here. The main work is to create terrain encounter tables and random combat encounter tables for each of the different terrain types. But once I have that, I can play probably at least 2 sessions with the group exploring the island sandbox style.


Monday, September 05, 2022
Lands of Galzyr

During 2020 and 2021 I have backed a number of board games on crowdfunding platforms, mostly on Kickstarter and Gamefound. Board game crowdfunding projects usually take 1 to 2 years, so I now start getting games I backed a while ago. Given the long timeframe, I kind of forget about the games I backed until I get a shipping notice, and then it’s a nice surprise. But there was one board game I was really looking forward to, and now it arrived: Lands of Galzyr. And me and my wife are having a blast playing it.

Now I will not try to tell you that this is the best board game ever. From a gameplay perspective, it is very much on the light side. You play an anthropomorphic animal going out on adventure. You have 4 skill points, divided over 6 possible skills in different colors, with a maximum of 2 points in one skill. The 6 skills are arranged on a wheel, and having a point somewhere also gives some benefit to the neighboring skills. Gameplay is very simple: You move up to 2 spaces, and then play through a scene. The scene could be from a quest card you have, from the location you are on, or if you have neither, from an event you’ll draw. Every scene has a bot of story, some decision points, and usually around 2 skill checks. In a skill check you roll 5 dice, with the default dice being black and having each skill once on it. But any skill points you have in the skill you are testing or neighboring skills allows you to replace those black dice with colored dice, which have a higher probability of giving you the result you want. You can reroll once, and your items, companions, and statuses might give you additional bonuses or rerolls. But otherwise, this is the whole gameplay: You roll the dice, count the successes, and read the outcome,

There are interesting choices: For example, you might have the choice of resolving a situation either with an easy combat check, or a medium persuasion check. So you not only need to consider what skills you have and how many successes you need, but also things like a failed outcome of a combat being potentially worse than a failed persuasion. But there is no deep tactical or strategic gameplay, and despite a bit of dice manipulation by rerolls, there is a large luck component. But that doesn’t really matter; even a failed outcome is usually interesting and moves the story forward. You are never stuck or forced to do a check again. It is more like a roleplaying game, where interesting stuff happens, based on your choices and some dice rolls.

Lands of Galzyr is basically an endless game. There are nearly 400 scenes, and with you only playing one scene per turn, this is going to take a while. But there are rules in which you play for a limited number of turns, and then either declare the player with the highest prestige score the winner of that session, or cooperatively add up all the prestige scores and let the game tell you whther that was a good result or not. All the scenes are on a website, so you need a computer, tablet, or phone to play. But the app only works like a “choose your own adventure” story book, it doesn’t play the opponent or anything. Still, there are people who won’t touch board games with apps, so you have been warned. :)

The very light gameplay with lots of story to read is ideal for me and my wife to play together. It is less ideal for larger groups. With two players, one player is always doing his turn, while the other is reading the story aloud, so everybody is always busy. With 4 players there would be a lot of downtime, and as you can’t spend that time for strategic planning, it might be a boring wait. On the other hand my wife and me found that more strategic games we prefer to play with 4 players rather than 2, because the actions of the players are usually what changes the situation in those games. Lands of Galzyr we clearly play as light entertainment, for the story and the adventure. It isn’t very hardcore, but it is a lot of fun for solo or 2 players. Recommended!


Saturday, September 03, 2022
The One Ring to bind them all

I am very much for diversity. I am very much against the concept of diversity being weaponized to silence critics. So Amazon spent $1 billion to make LOTR: The Rings of Power. And the result isn't great. The Metacritic critics score is 71, which is quite low on a scale that doesn't really dip below 60. The user score is a lot lower. So Amazon simply suspended the ability of users to give ratings on Rings of Power on Amazon Prime, and pulled out their wallet to start a media campaign vilifying any critics as being racist and sexist. The argument goes that because Amazon used a diverse cast with a female lead, any criticism of the result must automatically come from "trolls" and be unjustified. The product is diverse, and so it can't possibly be bad? I think we need to admit that there isn't really a link here, a bad film with bad actors isn't getting any better just because it is politically correct.

I don't think that will ultimately work, because even Amazon doesn't have enough power to silence all of their customers on all possible internet platforms. But I find the development somewhat worrying. Cancel culture is bad enough if it is done by activists believing in a cause. But it would be naive to think that big companies and governments aren't watching and learning. A lot of powerful people would very much like tools that can effectively be used to silence critics. Weaponizing political correctness might be just the ticket for them. And they are going to use that weapon to grab more money and power, not to create a better and more inclusive world.

I read through a number of 0 point reviews on Metacritic. And yes, if you look for them, you will find a few with a sexist remark strewn in. But the large majority of user reviews doesn't read like "review bombing" from "sexist and racist trolls". It reads like regular people having been promised a mix of Game of Thrones and Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy, and being very disappointed with the actual product that was delivered instead. There is little complaints about there being a female lead, but a lot more complaints that the female lead just isn't very good, and her role very different from the source material. I am not a film critic, and I don't know yet whether I will like Rings of Power or not. But I certainly dislike the idea of Bezos using his money and power to hide behind diversity when he failed yet again as a content creator.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022
Mobile games are getting "better"

I have been spending more time lately playing games on my iPad, and not on my PC or Switch. One reason for that is that I have the impression that mobile games have been getting "better". Why "better" in quotes? Because I think what has been getting better is production quality and gameplay. What hasn't improved at all is monetization.

Now there are hundreds of thousands of mobile games, so I am talking trends here, and there are always games that are outliers. There are still mobile games you buy once for $6.99 and that don't have any in-app purchases at all. And shoutout to Octopath Traveler: Champions of the Continent for inventing a gacha system for which it is pretty much useless to spend money.

But a more common example would be a game like Warhammer 40,000: Tacticus. On the one side, Tacticus is a much better game than let's say Raid Shadow Legends, because in Tacticus there are actual tactical battles with a hex grid and tactical decisions that matter. On the other side, Tacticus has the same underlying gacha system as Raid Shadow Legends: Unlike Octopath COTC, you don't get to choose where you want to go and what you want to fight. Instead there are linear campaigns. And regardless where exactly your skill level is, the difficulty of the campaign ramps up faster than the power of your characters does from normal play. So at one point you are too weak to beat the next chapter. And then you have the choice of either a very slow grind of repeating old content, or paying money for lootboxes which might or might not contain the new character or added resource you need to overcome the challenge. Only that if you overcome this challenge, you'll be stuck again some chapters down the road.

Having said that, obviously I prefer gacha games with good gameplay to gacha games with auto-battles. And then it becomes a question of self-control: Most of these games have a few options where a limited amount of spending money is opening up a relatively large part of the game for you, compared to a completely free player. I have a rough "dollar per hour" rule, where I really don't mind to spend about a dollar for each hour that a game is keeping me well entertained. If I play Tacticus for 20 or so hours and have spent around $20 for it, that is fine with me. But I am aware that this is a curve with strongly diminishing returns, the next $20 wouldn't buy me as much more game as the first $20 did. And yes, it happens that for a game like that I impulse-buy some offer for $50 and then regret that decision later. 

What doesn't happen to me is getting anywhere close to whale territory. And that is where I think these games can get really problematic: The upper limit to what you could spend on a game is often in the thousands of dollars, and no video game should cost that much. I would go as far as to say that even if the person who spent those thousands of dollars can easily afford the expense, he is getting scammed. Technically, especially on the iOS system, in which Apple controls everything, it would be perfectly feasible to implement a spending limit of let's say $100 per month for any given game. A similar system already exists for parents who want to set a monthly allowance for their kids on the app store. For me that sounds like a much better solution than a blanket ban on loot boxes like Belgium has.


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