Shmee Enjoyed Watching The Skies!


Over the weekend The Swashbuckling Samurai, The Paladin, Black Raven, and I took part in the MegaGame known as Watch the Skies.  If you have never heard of a MegaGame before, just think of the Model UN as a kid, or a Mystery Dinner at a friend’s house, but crazier.  I can’t really talk about what happened in this game without spoiling a few things about Watch the Skies, but that is part of the fun because people’s goals change every time, in theory the game changes every time (I say in theory since I have only played once).  None the less I will give an overview before spoiling anything.

The game starts with the countries (teams) going over their given goals, or if you are the Aliens getting sequestered away.  For now think of the Aliens like another country that no one gets to interact with.  The goal for Japan, be a tech leader and right the flagging economy.  Then inside your team you have different jobs.  We played a four player team game, so the roles were, Head of State, Foreign Minister, Military Commander, and Chief Scientist.  These roles come in to play during the rounds.  There are twelve rounds each thirty minutes long.  For the first fifteen you meet with the other countries’ team members with the same roles and then for the next fifteen you meet with your team and discuss what you want to do.

The Head of State has a board where they assign the country’s resources (i.e. money), he also wanders to other tables and talks to other Heads of State to try and figure out what they are up too.  The Foreign Minister heads to the UN Council room to try and keep the country liked while trying not to get his team tangled up in all the nonsense the game makers throw at you.  The Military Commander goes to the world map and moves his troops and fights skirmishes with the Aliens and maybe other Commanders, and from those skirmishes gain loot and tech which he gives to the Chief Scientist.  The Chief Scientist in turn tries to make cool stuff with all the loot with the help of his fellow Scientists through trading and deal making.  In board game terms it is like Settlers of Catan with more lying.

Now that you kind of know what is going on I am going to share my experience so you know: SPOILERS (maybe) !  I was the Chief Scientist for our group and we decided early on that we were going to try and make Gundams (giant Anime robots).  Since we figured that this was a great way to gain a tech advantage and it would give us something to sell.  Now giant robots with teenagers in them is not part of the game proper, but that is were Watch the Skies really comes in to its own.  The Controllers (game runners) got together and came up with new rules that let us try and figure out how to get this done.  If you have an idea in Watch the Skies, the Controllers will do their best to try and let you do it.

So for me I was begging Black Raven our Military Commander to get me the parts so I could try and make these robots, but at the same time I was trying to play it cool in the Science area, so that people wouldn’t catch on.  That all changed half way through the game when the USA announced the existence of Aliens to the world, so all the resources started to get snatched up for other projects. I had to come clean with my project stating that it would be a great anti-alien weapon hoping to snatch needed tech.  While that was happening a Controller pulled me aside and informed me that I was an Alien, but not the kind that was hovering above Earth.

So while I was trying to build robots, now to help the Earthborn Aliens escape, I was also giving away my country’s unneeded tech to the underground Alien cause.  Lucky for my team, I didn’t have too much unneeded tech, so I didn’t give much away.  Towards the end of the game I came clean with the rest of my team, fearing death, but I needed their help.  It turns out that The Paladin, our Head of State, was also an Alien, and he had been giving our money to the cause.  The Black Raven and The Swashbuckling Samurai our Foreign Minister instead of assassinating us did their best to try and helps us.

We completed our Gundams at the last moment, but it turns out the USA sent a secret agent to disable them, so they weren’t able to help us out.  During the last military round China put a huge spaceship on the board since it turns out they also had Aliens living among them, and they built it for all of us to escape on.  Though The Paladin and I decided to stay behind because we had done a good job making Japan great.  The Swashbuckling Samurai on the other hand was on it just because he wanted to be.  Sadly the large Alien group and the other countries shot it down.  We were close, but it didn’t quite happen. An exciting end!

You will notice that I didn’t motion what the Foreign Mister was up too, that is because I was never able to go and visit the UN and see how that worked.  I am sure the Swashbuckling Samurai did a great job.  Also it turns out during this game that Brazil became a full blown superpower, uniting all of South America.  We (Japan) had no idea!  So they played a great game.

If you ever have the chance to play Watch the Skies, go for it.  It an amazing amount of fun, and you will get to meet a lot of new people.  Thanks to Bellingham MegaGames for putting this on!

PAX Prime 2015 Wrap-Up!


Oh man another PAX Prime has come and gone, and I can barely keep my head straight.  Things just never stop at PAX, but it is a lot of fun.  Well if you find waiting in line and learning about upcoming games fun that is.  I know I do!  Let’s get this out of the way up front, I lost in the first round of the Omegathon.  Turns out I am terrible Monkey Ball.  Well I knew that going in, but I was worse than I remember.  It was a fun experience though, so I whole heartedly recommend it if you get the chance.

This was an odd PAX in that I didn’t really play that many games, I mostly went to panels, but of the ones I did play I think Gearbox’s Battleborn was my favorite.  My favorite one I can talk about anyway.  The game features a large cast of characters that must team up to save the last star in the universe from being destroyed.  It played very much like a refinement of Borderlands, but that is not a bad thing.

The other game of note that I got to play was Ubisoft’s The Division.  It is a team based third person shooter.  It is all online, so it is sort of an MMO.  I think they are going for something like Destiny, but with more story, and a completely different control scheme.  We will see how it turns out.  What I played of it was pretty good.  I could see this becoming quite the addiction for a certain type of player.

I did get to try out HTC and Valve’s VIVE at the Asus both.  I played a VR version of Fruit Ninja.  It did look cool, but it wasn’t the greatest game to sell me on the need to spend a ton of money on VR equipment.  The experience has gotten much better than what I tried last year.  The high resolution makes a world of difference.  Now I can vomit looking at great visuals!

I played a couple of new (to me) board games, but the only one that I would consider buying is Samurai.  It plays like a streamlined version of Settlers of Catan.  Where you place tiles around resources to control them.  You need to collect as many as you can of one resource while stopping others from doing the same, so you can be the top Samurai in feudal Japan.

As far as the panels go, Gearbox and Telltale Games know what they are all about: free stuff.  Gearbox gave away the HD version of Homeworld and Telltale gave away all their games, yes you read that right.  All their games.  Plus they both put on fun shows.  Gearbox had a wedding and a magic show, while Telltale did a group play of Tales from the Borderlands episode four.  Both were tons of fun.  Other developers need to find some people with more charisma.  Though kudos to IO Interactive (a Square Enix company) on the free red Hitman ties and at least a gameplay video with developer commentary.

Non-PAX developer events continued to be the places to play games without lines and get free food.  Warner Brothers, Boss Key’s LawBreakers, Gamespot, and Square Enix/IGN all held events.  Warner Brothers scored in the food department,; LawBreakers, well I can’t say anything due to a NDA though here is my best kill from that event, but you should keep your eyes on that game; Gamespot had a very nice venue, and IGN tried to kill us with a giant never ending food line.  I am sure there were more, but either I didn’t know about them, or I just didn’t have time to go.

All in All it was another great year.  Every year after the show I am not sure I can handle going again, but I am sure by around May 2016 I will be chomping at the bit to get tickets for next year.  Maybe I will see you there!  Also keep a look out on this Friday, I will be doing a PAX based Free Code Friday on twitter!  I have quite a few Rainbow Six Beta Keys to give out so follow @Shmee_Is_Me and wait for the announcement!

So About That New D&D Movie…


Warner Brothers after much legal wrangling has gotten the rights to make a new D&D Movie.  I am less than excited.  I love that another big budget fantasy movie being made, but not one based off the Dungeons & Dragons franchise.  Sure there have been a couple of good D&D books written to base the movie off of, people swear by The Legend of Drizzt for instance, but most of the books are more like The Dragonlord of Mystara.   Which is to say terrible.  I may get in trouble for saying this (some people love their D&D lore), but you don’t play D&D for the great stories that were written about the D&D universe, you play D&D for the stories you and your friends make in the D&D universe.

D&D is about having a good time with your friends and trying to brake the GM’s will.  To see if you can take the story he is building somewhere completely different, and to try random stupid things with your character’s skillset.  Now there is a good movie you can make about that, and the movie The Gamers: Dorkness Rising comes close, but that is not a movie Warner Brothers is going to throw a bunch of money behind.  The number of people who want to watch a bunch of nerds play D&D and then zoom in to the action in their minds is limited.  Like pretty much me, and the guys making the “The Gamers” movies.  They could even try and make a Jumanji style movie where the players were sucked in to their story and they had to complete the campaign to return home, but that would still will not sell to the masses.

So instead we are going to get another attempt to try and turn the D&D universe in to some giant sweeping epic with people quoting their dialog like Shakespeare, and other people Wayansing it up to try and add life to the picture.  (As an aside I don’t blame Marlon Wayans for the D&D movie, he was doing what could with what he had.  Which was nothing.  Maybe less than that even.)  I will no doubt watch the production of the D&D movie with interest, but Warner Bros is going to have to role an 18 or better to make a decent film, and after the last two outings their dice seem to be producing a lot of natural 1s.

The Paladin’s PAX Wrap-up

paxLike Shmee and Daniel, I too have returned from PAX Prime 2014 and lived to tell the tell. You can read their excellent wrap-ups here and here. My own experience was a little more wandering this year and like Shmee, I found the Expo Hall feeling a little less inviting than in years past. In fact it wasn’t until Sunday that I even saw the smaller hall where, Sega, and The Behemoth were setup. Throughout the expo hall the crowds were heavy, the lines long, the atmosphere a confusing mix of sights and sounds, and the ever present pressure of the crowd giving you little time to take it all in. The exception was the 6th floor where more indie games could be found, the booths were less flashy, and the crowds were manageable – additionally the games were often unique and innovative beyond the AAA franchises and sequels of the main hall.

The diamond in the rough here was Fortified!, a pulpy ’50 Science Fiction co-op shooter/defense game that had a fantastic art direction and vibe in addition to enjoyable gameplay that ramped up in difficulty so smoothly you hardly noticed the fly saucer destroying your base atop all the other madness.

Also on the 6th floor I found something for my Christmas list, the ergonomic pillow from Glomtom. I just walked up to the booth, sat down, they told me to relax and just play after setting the pillow on my lap. Now I don’t power game like I use to, but this pillow made even the ten minutes I played Diablo III very comfortable. Plus the built in storage would be a great place for me to hide my controller from grubby children fingers.

Three exceptions to the otherwise avoidable Expo Hall were Massive Chalice, Screen Cheat, and Dreadnought. Shmee is a big fan of the studio Double Fine, so he made sure he played Massive Chalice on the show floor. I’m glad I tagged along because the game has great potential. It’s a turn based strategy game like XCOM, but then you can retire your heroes, marry them to another hero, and wait nine months for their combined genetics to make your next fighter. It’s a cool concept. Screen Cheat was in the indie booths on the main floor and brought me back to the good old days of multiplayer when you sat right next to your opponent and cheated by looking at their screen like the good Lord intended. Screen Cheat adds the wrinkle that your opponents are invisible on your screen so you have to look at their screens to know where they actually are in the world so you can hunt them down – again as the good Lord intended. The last one I didn’t actually get to play, but that was Dreadnought a multiplayer game where instead of fleet soldiers or maneuverable star fighters you command ungainly capital ships. The line grew for this game each day, so it obviously captured a lot of people’s attention (or they had good swag?).

Finally, if you are going to play one card-based action-adventure RPG make sure it’s Thornwatch. Developed by Penny Arcade’s very own Mike Krahulik you and your fellows play members of the Thornwatch deep in the Eyrewood, a vast magical forest. People call forth the Thornwatch by tying specific knots to birch trees asking for aid or protection. I was able to playtest the game on Saturday and found the experience to be super fun. The way the cards are designed it really plays into teamwork or synergy as the game calls it, meaning you’re part of the action the whole round not just your turn. The artwork and theme are fabulous as well. There’s no firm date on what it will reach the masses but you too can sign up for chances to play or stay up-to-date on the website.

Of course with a show like this there is so much to actually talk about that this post could go on forever. Instead I’ll just give you the list of honorable mentions in no particular order with links you can explore yourself: Pathfinder, Fortnite, the Valiant RPG, XCOM: The Board Game, Fantasia: Music Evolved, Slap .45, Shadow of Morder, Shadowrealm, World of Planes, Towerfall, Hero Forge, and Evolution.


PAX Prime 2014 Wrap-Up!


So another PAX Prime has come and gone, so I thought I would share my impressions of this year’s show!

The Year Of The Off-Site Party: This year there were a lot of off-site events.  I went to two of these events, Bioware’s Shadow Realms party, and Epic’s Fortnite event.  At these events the developers wined and dined attendees, and also let the attendees play their games, which was very nice of them.

The Expo Hall Has Became More Pointless: The Expo Hall is a main selling point for PAX, and it is worth walking through, but it has lost a lot relevance.  All the games, including some lower tier games, have long lines, and they are showing less and less.  Your time is better spent playing board games, chatting with indie developers, going to talks and panels, or checking out the aforementioned outside events.

PAX Needs More Space: The show is more spread out than ever.  To go see something at the main theater, you had to walk six blocks.  What to play board games? Three blocks.  Go get something signed? Off you go to the Paramount Theater.  I love that PAX Prime is in Seattle, but they need to find a bigger venue.

Oculus Rift Is Everywhere, But Still Not Compelling: There were a lot of games featuring the Oculus Rift, but they were mostly small indies, and the games themselves were not that interesting.  It was fun to get the gear on this year, but if Facebook wants to sell a lot of these things they are going to need to find a must have game to move units.

Board/Card Game Of The Year: I didn’t play a lot of board games this year, but of the few I did play, I am going with Hot Tin Roof.  It is a game were you play as cats trying to navigate city roof tops, but other cats will build cat walks and shelters and make you pay to pass through.  It is like they mixed Monopoly and Ticket To Ride and made both simpler and more streamlined.  It will be a great new game for the family.

Table-Top RPG Of The Year: This one took me by surprise, but Valiant by Catalyst took the title this year.  It takes place in the little known Valiant comic book universe, which you have probably never heard of outside of maybe X-O Manowar.  It is a simple system with fun rules, and fast gameplay.  The little known universe works in its favor since you can bend the NPC superheroes to fit your needs, and no-one cares that much.  This would be a great starter RPG for anyone wanting to dip their toe in to the Table-Top world.

Video Game Of The Year: FortniteYou might argue that they bribed me by giving me free food and drinks, but I don’t care!  I have no journalistic integrality to uphold.  This Minecraft/Shooter hybrid is a lot of fun, and from what the devs told us there are a lot of new modes coming.  It is in closed Alpha right now, but you can sign up and try to get in, and you should, so you can help me build forts and try to stem the zombie tide!  Here is the link.

That was a brief review of my PAX Prime.  I had a lot of fun.  I may go more in depth with the games I played in the days to come, but we will see.  Thanks for reading, and maybe I will see you at next year’s PAX.