Kickstarter: Sunless Sea

Have you heard of the browser game, Fallen London? It is a story game that gives players freedom to interact and explore a weird Victorian universe. Uncover its mysteries at fallenlondon.storynexus.com

The creators of Fallen London has launched Sunless Sea, which is a game of exploration, survival and loneliness. It is a game where the choices you make determines what happens in the game. Unlike games such as Mass Effect or Dragon Age, Sunless Sea gives you real choices and real consequences. It is a ‘sandbox’ style story video game if there ever was one.

As of the time of writing, only 25 hours remain before the Kickstarter ends. However, the creators have said they will open it up to PayPal after the campaign. Check it out, and if you think such a game should be made, back it and become a patron of the arts. Or at least, know that efforts are being made to move away from the generic space marine/soldier/mercenary/thug/gangsta/special agent/zombiekop kill/death/murder games that are out there.

Wooden Bits: Pandemic

While this game has been reviewed to death (pun intended), I hope my review will help you decide if the game is for you or not.

The world needs you!

The Setting

In Pandemic, you play as a member of the disease control team tasked with finding the cures to four new and deadly diseases while preventing an all-out global pandemic. You will cooperate with other players to suppress the diseases, and travel throughout the world in search of the cure. Will your team save humanity? Only you can answer that question, in Pandemic.

The Goods

The game comes with the following components:

  • One game board
  • 96 disease cubes in 4 colours
  • 59 player cards (blue back with white borders)
  • 48 infection cards (green back with black borders)
  • 5 role cards – 6 research stations
  • 5 player pawns
  • 4 reference cards
  • 6 markers
  • 4 cure markers
  • 1 infection rate marker
  • 1 outbreak marker
  • 1 rulebook

The Destination

Your team wins when the cures to all four diseases have been found. On the other hand, there are three ways to lose the game:

  1. Eight outbreaks happen during the game. (Out of control)
  2. The disease cubes of a single colour runs out. (Out of population)
  3. A player cannot draw a player card when required. (Out of time)

The Move

The game is played with each player taking turns spending up to four actions from the following:

  1. Drive/Ferry
  2. Direct Flight
  3. Charter Flight
  4. Shuttle Flight
  5. Build A Research Station
  6. Discover A Cure
  7. Treat Disease
  8. Share Knowledge

Players end their turn by drawing two cards from the player deck and resolving any Epidemics. Then, players infect cities based on the infection rate using cards from the Infection deck.

The Journey

Pandemic is a sometimes thrilling cooperative game with a healthy dose of luck and skill. The game encourages discussion around the table as players plan and coordinate their movements in search of the cures. You will constantly analyse the board and try to find the most efficient moves during the game. While the game may begin slow, the intensity of the game ramps up each time an epidemic card is drawn. This results in panic and a sense of dread as outbreaks spread throughout the world, all while the number of cubes dwindle and the player deck thins.

One criticism I have of Pandemic is the “Alpha Player Syndrome” (APS – not to be confused with A.P.S.: Analysis Paralysis Syndrome). A dominant player will dominate discussion, instructing players to “do this” and “do that”. On the other hand, players who cannot make decisions for themselves (The “Uninitiated”) will constantly ask for advice and will blindly follow any instruction given to them. That said, a game of Pandemic makes an exciting case study for social interactions when played with either all APS players, or all “Uninitiated” players. The game can also be played solo, due to its “me against the world” inclination.

A quirk of Pandemic is that the game is more fun when you are losing (not lose the game, but losing the game). The desperate situations that the game can place you in make for some of the most suspenseful games I have played (Seven outbreaks on turn 1, anyone?). Yet, there is always that faint glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, the next card I draw will let me cure the final disease and win the game. The sweet taste of victory and the bitter taste of defeat leaves you wanting more (and more and more).

The expansion, Pandemic: On the Brink adds new roles and variants to the game. Vanilla Pandemic kept me entertained for a long while, but the expansion raised the game to its deserved position on my shelf and I find myself going back to the game more frequently.

All in all, I find vanilla Pandemic to be a fun, if slightly repetitive, game that can be enjoyed alone, or with friends and family. Get the expansion to add variety and uncertainty to the game. I give Pandemic 3 out of 4 infections.

The new (2nd) edition of Pandemic could be obtained from your friendly local/online game store.

Pretend Play: System Failure

Dungeons & Dragons, Apocalypse World, Pathfinder, GUMSHOE, Fate, BASIC, GURPS, Savage Worlds, Cortex, Shadowrun, The Burning Wheel.

These are just some of the RPG systems that someone could find if s/he knew where to look (Google. Seriously.). Each system differs from the others primarily through mechanisms and settings. You may roll a 20-sided die (d20) in D&D and Pathfinder to see whether you hit the kobold, while in GUMSHOE you only roll one d6 for everything (and you do not need to make checks to obtain key clues). Also, there may be no kobolds in GUMSHOE.

You may be wondering, where am I going with this? Why babble about RPG systems when I have not even established an RPG group? Well, if you are new to the hobby, coming as I am, from video games and board games, the RPG is an intimidating beast. This beast looks to tear you and your friends up into shreds, lick the flesh off your bones and threaten to embarrass you on the internet. Such a beast, however, discriminates among its victims, preferring the supple and tender flesh of a young game master (GM, or Dungeon Master, or Master of Ceremonies, or Director, or Keeper, or whatever the fuck you want to call it).

Being the one who had the ‘brilliant’ idea to start playing RPGs, I was naturally ‘selected’ to be the GM. Being the ‘chosen one’, the first responsibility handed to me was to pick a system. Any system. Come on, just do it. Stop delaying and decide. Oi. You. Hurry up.

How do I pick a system? How do I pick anything? First, I’ll check out some reviews and look up the ratings that other players may have given. Then I scour the forums for some comments and ‘actual play’ reports. Some time later, I decide to purchase the electronic version of the text and give it a quick read. After that, I may want to watch some (admittedly, boring) videos to see how others play the game (though I’m pretty sure they’re having loads of fun. RPGs are like that). Subsequently, I may do a solo ‘playtest’ to see if the rules are easy to grasp by clueless players (roleplaying as a clueless player is a challenge in itself). Finally, I decide to repeat the process for a totally different system.

Hence the title.

On one hand, having to read multiple RPG rulebooks and absorb any and every bit of information about it is quite overwhelming. On the other hand, I begin to see the common threads that weave through the different systems. Threads that are of the same colour or material. Threads that interweave with other threads to create a unique cloth of Role Playing which helps me understand the ‘big picture’.

Role Playing Games are conversations. The rules are there to guide the GM and the players so that the conversations have foci. The settings help fire the imagination and supply ideas for what I think is most important in any RPG ever: Cool shit must happen.

Ultimately, regardless of the system you (and I) prefer, players should be given the opportunity and the freedom to make cool stuff happen to their characters/make their characters do cool shit. The rules and setting must encourage such iciness to emerge, whether its pre-planned or not (which is a topic for another day).

This post has gone on long enough and I have no idea what my point was in the beginning. All I know is I wrote some cool shit up there. So there you go. Read. Enjoy. And play to find out.

Duke Archibald Saves France

Dear Duke, tell us about the time when you saved the court of France by doing your laundry.

Well, *ahem*, a most exquisite tale, that is. As you may know the French are most famous for being across the English Channel. The English Channel, as you may also know, is **called** the English Channel because the French are across it.

One day, as I was celebrating my annual laundry day (4th Sept), I heard that the court of France was convening to discuss about Frenchy things that the French do while Francing about. Little did I know that the French were in fact, plotting and scheming (as the French are wont to do) to rename the English Channel to the French Underground Channel Krossing System!

Being oblivious to the true purpose of the FUCKS meeting, I loaded all of my laundry into my swimming pool. I turned on the tap, and lo and behold! Water flowed through. But this water was of a most peculiar quality! It smelled of garlic, which naturally led me to think that it smelled of the French! I felt in my gut that there was trouble brewing in the FUCKS committee meeting and sent my homing pigeon to investigate.

30 seconds later, my pigeon informed me that the FUCKS court was drowning in their own water! Oh, the sympathy that I felt at that time was overwhelming! The pigeon told me that there was no way to save the FUCKS court and that I should leave them to die. No way! I told the pigeon. Then I remembered that my swimming pool was directly connected to the French Court! (after all, that’s where I source the finest Evian water for my swimming, laundering and pissing.

I turned on my tap to the utmost MAXIMUM and let the water rush out. My pigeon flew back to France that very second and later informed me that I had saved the FUCKS court of France by draining the water they were drowning in through the English Channel and filled my swimming pool with the finest French fluids. Naturally, the FUCKS committee were ignorant that I was their saviour, those bastards. No matter, my wastewater now travels to France, being the very source of water of Mount Evian, which I have stopped drinking since the incident.

Duke Archibald the II, Warden of the Privy, Guardian of the Reservoir, and Protector of the National Flush

2012-08-19 21.48.27

So many questions: Social disconnection

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In recent weeks, I read a significant number of articles (on the internet, no less) that discuss the social disconnections that our so-called developed world is facing today. The common reason for these disconnections is attributed to personal handheld mobile internet-connected assistance devices that are demanding for our attention much, much more than the person sitting next/opposite/below/above us. The scenarios used to describe these disconnections could be a story about a couple on a date who are focusing on their phones more than at each other, or a group of ‘friends’ hanging out online, never having and never wishing to meet in real life.

The social disconnections are now an everyday sight. The hunk staring at his smartphone in a cafĂ©, checking out instagram photos of a hot girl, ignoring another hot girl sitting nearby, who is reading a Grey novel on her tablet, wishing she could meet a hunk of her own and do all the stuff described in excruciating detail in the book to— wait, that’s a little off topic.

Families sit around the dinner table, each staring at their own mobile device, chatting it up with some distant relative in some faraway land (i.e. Canada. Modern Family joke, anyone? Anyone?) or shopping on Amazon, or catching up on the news, or watching the latest YouTube sensation, or writing the draft to their blog, or reading the latest tweets from the Biebs and the Kards. The point is, nobody seems interested in the person physically closest to them.

Could it be that people who are near us are boring and dull and lame and uninteresting? Or does this pattern simply emerge from our endless thirst for knowledge, novelty, information and gossip? Are we all suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Could ADHD be cause by the mobile internet? Are wi-fi signals affecting our emotions? Is it all a plot by the *insert conspiracy here*? Does the person on the other end even exist? What if everything is a big lie? Why are there two pills in front of me? What does the red one do? Should I take the blue one? How did I stray so far from the topic to distract readers from the point? Why so serious?