Friday, July 12, 2013

Lovin' Blood Bowl for All the Right Reasons

Blood Bowl 3rd Edition was my introduction to this illustrious game. For a short time, my friends and I played this game constantly. All told, 3 complete copies of the game were purchased and pitched games were played at all hours of the night across kitchens, dining rooms and finished basement entertainment areas.

That said, I think the current video game format you can enjoy on steam might be a little better. Worse in some areas too…but overall a really enjoyable experience I've been sucked into for multiple seasons now.

Here are the three great benefits I see to the video game.

1. Acquiring the miniatures.

If you are a Warhammer/Warhammer 40k player you probably have a basement full of miniatures. But for the entry-level non-GM-addicted human being, finding enough models for your team was originally a pretty annoying endeavor. The old Games Workshop starter boxes usually gave you a good selection of minis to START your team, but certainly not enough for a full roster, or to account for every weird combination of players a person could come up with. So you had to use ugly proxies.

A typical Skaven team can field WAY more rats than this. And there's only 1 thrower.

Plus you had to paint. My painting skills around this period were immensely bad. It took a lot of time, and my miniatures looked bad after investing that time. It was a lot of time…and I felt BAD afterwards! My painting did get better. But not in time for Blood Bowl!

In the video game, you get all the players you want pre-painted and ready to rock.

It's also pretty easy to switch teams. There's no physical element pushing you to play the same type of team season after season. Back in the kitchen, I originally played Skaven every season because I had forked out $40.00 for the pewter team and by God I was going to use them! Eventually I spend another $40.00 on a Chaos Team…and then I had two choices.

The video game lets you play any crazy thing you want. Goblins, halflings, ogres, no problem.

2. The Timer

There are a lot of variables in Blood Bowl. When calculating your block, you have to take into account all the players in the 4 squares surrounding the action, adding or subtracting assists. When calculating a dodge, you have to consider all the controlled squares you are attempting to enter or depart.

In the real dice rollin' version you are going to spend a lot of time watching your opponent scratching his head and considering all his options. Get an egg timer! Waiting for your opponent to "optimize" every potential move for each of his players can easily turn what should be a 1 hour game into a 3 hour game.

The video game is great because all the timing is taken over by the computer. After 2 minutes is up, your turn is automatically over. You don't even have to be the bad guy! It's that rotten computer's fault, I wish I could have given you the extra 15 seconds or 20 minutes or so you needed to optimize your turn to perfection.

3. Illegal Procedure!

1st and 2nd edition Blood Bowl evidently had a major problem with people forgetting to advance their turn marker. In 3rd Edition most-enlightened designer Jervis Johnson saw the perfect solution. Players would receive a penalty…if you didn't more your turn marker as the very first action of your turn, you lost your turn! "Illegal Procedure!" being yelled at the top of someone's lungs was something you could expect to hear at least once during any Blood Bowl match.

With such a draconian penalty you would think people would learn fast. But they did not.

Now to the negatives:

1. The Unforgiving Computer

I love the unforgiving computer when it makes my opponent take his turns fast. I hate the unforgiving computer when I misclick on my player and force him to dodge into 6 tackle zones instead of blocking like I wanted to.

Many of the shortcuts that speed up the game versus the tabletop version can also hurt you, real bad. No take-backs!

The computer likes to "auto path" player movement using the shortest path possible, even when it takes you through a gauntlet of tackle zones and enemy players eager to pound your runner into the ground. You can manage this by choosing each space individually, but sometimes the human mind is weak. And sometimes the click-y finger attached to your mouse is TOO STRONG!

Blood Bowl: The Video Game also has the annoying habit of dropping the network connection. When this happens, it almost never returns. So far, each season my group has seen at least one game become completely irrecoverable due to some lame network error. In which case, get ready to play the whole game over again!

2. A Name for My Pain

Back in the pencil and paper days, it was a simple matter to give your different players cool nicknames if they turned into a real star after a couple of games. For some reason, the video game doesn't let you change the names of your players. Ever. You can give them goofy names right at the beginning, but never again afterward. So its good to be feeling creative on the day you build your team.

This Year

If you read my blog regularly, you should know I really suck at Blood Bowl. I've started doing goofy teams, and I think its really helped out so far with my enjoyment of the game.

I made a human team for what is turning into Season 6 of our blood bowl league. Humans were never a big draw during all the years I've played up until last season when I played my first human team.

Here is why Humans are awesome:

1) They are cheap. Much like the Skaven, you can get a pretty healthy roster early on into the game.

2) They are tougher. Not very much tougher, but an armor value of 8 is much better than 7.

3) They have cool throwers and catchers. Catchers can run fast, with a movement of 8. They have the catch skill. The throwers have the pass skill.

4) They have cool blockers. The Blitzer has a decent movement of 7, and comes with the block skill. If one of my Blitzers ever die, I can buy a new one and he will be ready to fend off blocks with his starting block skill, game one.

5) Relaxed attitude. Because humans are a "second tier" team, there really is no pressure to win with them. I don't struggle with the most optimal choices in skills when my team members advance. I don't have to stress out when someone breaks a collarbone and loses a permanent strength point.

Here's an example: I gave one of my catchers Guard. He rolled doubles and could get a strength skill. Why would a catcher want a strength skill? I decided to try Guard because its one of the few strength skills that doesn't really benefit from having a good strength. Instead I can offer up assists to my other players trying to block. And because he's a catcher, he's probably going to be up in the action, anyway.

here's another example: I had a blitzer roll doubles for his skill, and I gave him the unusual agility skill Sneaky Git. This is a terrible skill, especially for a blitzer to have. I'm not sure what I was thinking, other than it was late at night and I must not have been. If I had a time machine, that skill would be Dodge, no contest. But instead of gnashing my teeth, I just played it out. My blitzer is usually standing next to a downed player at least a few times during each game, and he usually tries to foul. He has never been caught by the ref, yet!

So far this year I have tied, 1-1; and won, 3-0.

I spend a lot of time fouling the opposing team. I run my guys around. And I just try to capitalize on any opportunities I see as the game progresses. And I have fun doing it! My team really doesn't have much to prove, and they probably won't as the season goes on.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Table Talk Back 2: How Do You Store Your Game Pieces?

Here comes round 2 in catching up with Rodney Smith's Table Talk!

Storing Games is a pretty simple answer. Time to talk back!

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for keeping your games organized. Just like you've got different size boxes, so also exists solutions.

I have a selection of games tastefully arranged on a bookshelf in my living room, for easy access.

These are not all my games, but they do represent the games I see the potential for playing. Multiple drawers, shelves and nooks within my illustrious manor contain games elsewhere…but these here are the condensed "best of" that either me, my wife, my friends or my children have requested. For instance, the kids occasionally like Cootie. It is not a pleasing game to play. By comparison, however, they have never once asked for Hi Ho Cheerio which is also in my collection. In the case of Hi Ho, it sits wrapped in chains at the bottom of a hole. Cootie, on the other hand, receives a honored position next to the Play-Doh.

By forcing myself to stick to this one corner book case, It helps limit my board game acquisition to a reasonable rate as well as concentrate my thoughts on which games my family values the most.

Board Games:

Very few board games have good inserts, and for the most part everything is going to be going into bags. I try to group together counters and playing pieces that will be used together.

Mission: Red Planet is a pretty well organized game. A few pieces float around the board, but most of the components start in the hands of the individual players. In this case, I put a single bag together for each player…this "player bag" contains both the cards and the astronaut tokens each player will need for the game. Ticket to Ride and similar follow the same procedure.

Galaxy Trucker I took a completely different tactic with. With Trucker, everything starts mostly in the middle of the board except for the individual player boards. I put the pile of ship tiles in the big bag. I put all the misc components like the die and the sand timer in the little bag. Then I put all the little tokens and money in a plano (tackle-style) box so people can "fish" (ha-ha!) out exactly what they need as the game progresses. Otherwise, dumping out all these components and then picking them back up again is a huge pain.

I would probably do this with games like Puerto Rico as well. However, I bought Puerto Rico in the dark days before I really thought about game storage. So instead everything is in about a thousand bags,  which I am always reminded of when someone actually wants to play it and I open the box up. Prêt-à-Porter is the same way.

Card Games:

A lot of people use sleeves. Other than my Magic Cards, none of my card games have been sleeved. Both Citadels and Race for the Galaxy see a lot of play, and the cards are still looking good enough I don't consider the wear a problem. The sleeves on my Magic cards are mostly there to cover up the wear from the decade or so before sleeves were even in my vocabulary.

I do have one board game I've sleeved the cards in, and that is Dungeon Twister: Prision. And these cards are never shuffled! But they do get picked up and tossed down on the table pretty frequently. And my son, who went through a big Dungeon Twister kick does sometimes (always) have sticky hands. So into the sleeves the cards went!

So not terribly exciting. Getting more into the board game hobby has got me more interested in all the other aspects aside from playing. But usually, when I'm considering the other aspects too heavily its probably time to start thinking about playing instead.

Lately, the most played game in my collection is Tsuro. And the organization of Tsuro involves dumping everything back into the box at the end of the night. Believe it! Both playing pieces and tiles are super heavy-duty for days of playtime even at the hands of toddlers. And the insert keeps everything rattling together in a central channel, surrounded on 5 sides by cardboard and the thick playing board laying across the top to keep anything from jangling out. So some games get it right by design or by luck!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

If I ever design a board game…

It's not going to have any victory points!

I am so sick of victory points, right this very moment. Maybe it's because I've been playing a lot of Castles of Burgundy.

Every stupid thing gets you victory points. Playing a sheep gets you victory points. Filling in the colored areas gets you victory points. Building all the boats on your board gets you victory points. Selling goods gets you victory points. Too much!

My theoretical game is going to have a trophy. You will know you won the game, because you will be holding a trophy at the end.

Or maybe it will be a T-shirt.

Woooah…a T-shirt is even better!

At the end of the game, if you are wearing the T-shirt that says "Winner," guess what buddy you have WON.

No math. No scoring pad. No ipod app. No thinking. The final result of the game is quickly recognized and utterly indisputable.

Now, how do you get the T-shirt on?

There are few reasons this game doesn't exist yet. And one of them is getting the T-shirt on the winner. But all in good time.