Monday, May 20, 2013

Cangames 2013

I usually don't get a chance to attend the Cangames convention in Ottawa, primarily because of double booking with other activities on the May 2x4 holiday.   That's a shame because whenever I look over the schedule, Cangames is the local Ottawa convention with the most diversity.  Well, OK, I can't speak about miniature wargaming, but if you are interested in older boardgames or RPGs other than Pathfinder/D&D, you will find more options at Cangames than the larger Gamesummit.

I looked over the schedule for this year and noticed that there were some pretty good things running, unfortunately a lot of it was running on Friday and I wasn't going to be able to play them.  I was especially aggrieved about having to pass up a session of Dune themed Diaspora.  I would have loved to be able to see Diaspora getting played and figure out how it compared to the kind of iffy results we had with the system.  I just realized that I haven't written up a review of Diaspora yet, either - poop.  There were some other cool things going on too.  Jason Pitre was running Durance again.  Someone was running a lot of Junta and  Shogun sessions.  There was an Axis and Allies session scheduled.  There are a number of games that are hard to find time or players for, Avalon Hill Civilization, Twilight Imperium, Diplomacy/Machiavelli, Axis and Allies or any other Game Master series game - like Fortress America or Shogun.  I had some success running a session of Twilight Imperium at Hammercon a couple years ago, but not so much running Civilization last fall.  This year I noticed that there was a game of Machiavelli scheduled so I knew I needed to show up for that. Someone really needs to do a 'long form' game convention where all the games are 8 hour monsters and the schedule is set up to accommodate that style of marathon. 

Ashen Stars
A steal for 20 bucks!
I had a bit of trouble parking because they are tearing up all the streets in Ottawa as is usual in the summer, and so I got to the con a bit late and missed registering for Durance or any of the other afternoon games.  I wandered around a bit and picked up a copy of Ashen Stars in the marketplace swap which was great.  Someone had a really clean copy of Advanced Civilization for sale for $150 and I was tempted to grab it for a minute or so.  I ran into a couple of guys from work and they were having a good time playing the Monster Mash which is as I understand a perennial Cangames favorite.  Moster Mash is a D&D monster arena for 24 players who get assigned a monster each and have to slug it out till there is one left.  It ran every 2 hours and it looked rowdy and fun - the guy running it calling out which monster was up and everyone making deals and hosing each other.  I never found where they were playing Durance however, so that's twice I've missed out seeing it played.
I had a little issue with the Cangames schedule being so orientated around those 4 hour slots.  Showing up just after 2 as I did, I found there wasn't a lot going on until 7pm.  There didn't seem to be a game library sort of thing going on either, or if it was there the convention folks had no clue and there was no advertising for it.  The convention could also have really benefited from an hourly game 'sprint' sort of event and like they had at Hammercon and Gamesummit,  the kind of thing where you can just drop by and try out a number of games in a short time period.   Also, I really think that any convention will benefit from a simple chalkboard to co-ordinate pickup games looking for players.

In any case, I ran into Trevor and we found a couple of guys who wanted to play Clash of Cultures.  I enjoyed it and think it's a pretty decent game.  I don't think Trevor liked it as much.  One of the players was pretty intense and although I wasn't too phased by it, having played with his sort before, I know Trevor was a little put off by him.  I think Clash of Cultures is a really great game, but I also think it's a little narrow as a four player game and would be better as a five player game.  I think with five or even six you would get a much more epic feel although I understand that the game would be a lot longer, but then again Civilization is one of my favorites and it's not short.

Machiavelli Board
Machiavelli: come for the famines but stay for the plagues...
I managed to talk Trevor into playing Machiavelli.  It's not a complicated game, being based on the Diplomacy rules, but like Diplomacy it does take a while to play, mostly because there is a large amount of planning and negotiation going on.  There isn't a lot of downtime like you'd get with a turn based game because you are always either writing orders or negotiating with other players, and all the turns are executed at once.  I haven't played the game in something like 25 years and I was reminded how much this game is like Game of Thrones board game by Christian Petersen.  I can't believe that's an accident, and I can imagine that Machiavelli had a influence on GoT, although they are very different in some ways too.  We only had four players which isn't the best way to play the game, but I though it was still an enjoyable session, the other players having the right mix of serious and easy going to make a game like this fun and not a chore.  I managed to get totally boxed in the middle of the board and probably didn't play aggressively enough, but it sure was fun to be playing this old gem again.  I think that Machiavelli manages to take the excellent but rigid formula of Diplomacy but throw in enough grease to make the game a little more tasty.  There is more chance involved with famines and plagues, and there are a lot more ways to mess up people with the inclusion of money and bribery.  It is not as tactical as Diplomacy, but it is still very strategic dealing with the increased randomness, and it also means that even a runaway leader can be brought low by an unplanned event and a player with few armies can have more of an impact on the game than in the more streamlined Diplomacy.  I think Trevor liked it and I certainly enjoyed myself.  I'll have to break it out more often.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hey what about Mecha?

I realize that I owe you a PDF for the Mecha campaign I posted way back in the olden time and no, you are not going to get it soon.  I have been thinking about a return to that game however, another one shot or even a short campaign based on the Jeanne d'Arc and those young space pilots (not so much) in love.  I thought about running the campaign in another system like Traveller or Fate or even Atomic Highway's V6 engine.  I've kind of dismissed those ideas as problematic for various reasons, especially after playing Diaspora and not quite getting the hang of it.  I would however like to take some concepts from Fate and bolt them onto Mecha.  I do like the concept of Aspects and I do like the Fate stress tracks and I've thought about how to use those ideas in both a Mecha game (and in some alternate universe version of Beacon for that matter).  Mecha already has Traits, a something that is a lot like Fate aspects already.  Mecha also has stress track type hitpoint system for mechs and pilots.  It would seem like the systems are not too different after all.  The big difference here however is that Mecha Scenes are quite a different way to do action resolution and if you jigger with he scenes you also jigger with stuff like Overdrive and Tactical points which would be a pretty big gutting of the system.

I also had a few issues with the scenes and players with different visions of the setting and partial knowledge of each other's visions trying to keep a cohesive narrative, something that can obviously work (see Fiasco, of other people playing Mecha...) but wasn't working for me and my group for this game.  I don't think the answer to these problems is to revert back to a more traditional action-resolution system.  There is something I like about this scene mechanic and my inclination is to make it work for me rather than looking to a different system.  So it's probably a good time to try to figure out what it is that I like about it before tinkering with it.  I know you are now waiting expectantly for a good old bullet list or perhaps even a Venn diagram, but I think I'm going to do this in a rambling and inefficient way instead.

  • Littler Scenes

Ha, that was a fake out, I am using bullets.  But I think more narrow or smaller scenes is part the solution I'm looking for.  Instead of big scenes where a player takes narrative control and drives everyone on their rail, I see breaking player turns into smaller scenes where something happens but it's more within the context of the larger act in the story.  I think that I need to keep the established scene types so that player can get overdrive and Tactical points and all that but I think that they also need to be able to have more 'filler' scenes that don't give those rewards and thus don't make combat into a point cashing out cake walk.   Also to keep things rolling along the proscribed narrative path I think that there needs to be more GM scenes to introduce or reintroduce those narrative themes - perhaps between each player scene or perhaps as the cap for a round of scenes in-lieu of a combat.  I do still think it's pretty important that each player only gets one of the standard 'reward scenes' e.g. a repair or a field ops scene, between each combat or they will be walking pretty tall.

I'm not entirely sure how this would play out without becoming "you see a box", "my scene will be checking for traps on the box" which is just regular old action resolution.  It's pretty obvious to me that a scene requires a die roll, but if there is a chance of failure, what is the penalty or reward for success one of these 'filler' scenes?  Do they need any reward beyond success itself?  Adding RP to scenes traditionally gives you Advancement Points - is this the reward?  How do you stop accelerated advancement then?   I think that maybe disentangling the Role Playing Objective from the standard scenes and attributing it to these 'Role Playing Scenes' might be an answer.  It is sensible that these role play scenes drive the narrative and the other scenes give a mechanical bonus for the upcoming combat, but I'm not comfortable with them automatically paying out AP since that is the mechanic that encourages trait use to make all scenes more complex .  I'm still trying to figure out how this would look in execution.
  • Players messing with each other
This is one of my thoughts from my session write up.  I think that what makes Fiasco work is that a player gets to select the scene or the resolution but not both.  I think there needs to be some sort of opposition to player scenes or they will tend to drive the narrative in the direction of immediate reward.  If you know there is a big fight coming up and you need Tactical points you will try to do the easiest field ops scenes you can get away with, you won't describe a risky scene because that lowers your chance of needed resources.  Even drama players will tend to play it safe when the bigger picture is on the line, but in a good narrative  those moments are the ones that would benefit most from a crazy scheme.  My thought on this is to have the other players insert an element into the scene.  This allows them to include their narrative desires as well as give the GM something else to assign difficulty to.  I think this approach might work because it gives the table some input instead of imposing some kind of automatic counter to the problem or having the GM try to deal with it.  I think the table will do the cool thing where the player might be tempted to do the safe thing.
  • More gear but not too much gear - or something
It stands to reason that if there are more kinds of scenes there will be more things going on then the base fighting skills cover.  Some of this will get offloaded onto Traits perhaps, making them more like aspects.  I especially like the idea that your mech (or ship in this case) passes on some Traits to your character.  I can see this being somewhat like Fate where the negative side of traits get 'tagged' by the GM or other players in scenes.  However since the stats are orientated to compliment the standard scenes, there needs to be something else to interact with in these new role playing only scenes.  I also have the idea that the more complicated nature of the game might require more than just pistol+flak vest or las rifle as inventory.  I don't want the game to get bogged down in any sort of  inventory though. You get assigned what you need for the mission.  Perhaps allowing a couple extra slots on the sheet for items or ideas that act something like traits that can give bonuses to resolving RP scenes.  It would be interesting if a character found a 'precision hacking kit' or 'teddy bear concealed dagger' or something that they could use for a bonus modifier.
  • Penalties for failure
Last point for now, but I was also thinking that there should be more penalty for failing than just not getting the scene reward.  I don't think that it's right to take reward points away from players, but I have been thinking it would be interesting to award points to their opposition if they fail, or fail over a particular margin.  This idea comes from the combat session where the players used a couple tactical points in one shot to move the Tatical Waypoint right to themselves and ace the combat encounter.  As a GM I really would have liked to have a point to spend there too.  I think that might be a thematic as well as interesting consequence to have the badguys benefit from particular failures.

I'm sure I'll be back to the well on this.  Work is long and I'm so far behind on my one pet projects that I have just resigned myself to enjoying the games I have been playing and mulling over these ideas in my head. I can see trying to actually solidify these ideas into a playable mess for a summer one shot however.