Game Night Blog Carnival (Gen Con 2012 Edition): Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer

Welcome once again to the Game Night Blog Carnival hosted by Roving Band of Misfits. It has been some time since my last review. For those of you new to the site you can visit their site for more information about the blog carnival initiative.

I have mentioned on numerous occasions that I primarily play Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. While I thoroughly enjoy 4th Edition, I know I am missing out on many great gaming experiences in various formats. One of the formats I have not experienced often enough is tabletop games. In the past month or two, I have enjoyed playing Ticket To Ride on my iPhone, which is a port of the tabletop game of the same name. It is a fun game that features competition between 2-5 players. It made me realize there are wonderful gaming experiences to be had away from roleplaying games like D&D. During Gen Con, I was able to take advantage of several great game demonstrations that were available to test and consume.

While at Gen Con, I played the following games for the first time, Dominion (and later Dominion: Prosperity), Settlers of Catan, Kingdom Builder and Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer. I saw how similar Dominion is to Ascension (and vice versa) and it reminded me of when I played and reviewed Thunderstone. All three games – and I’m sure many others I have not played – work off similar principles and mechanics. Of the three, I found Ascension to be the game I thought about most after I finished playing it. My friend and I came close to buying Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer but decided neither of us would be able to travel home with it. Besides, I had already reached my limit for buying merchandise at Gen Con!

Enter the slick Ascension application for the iPhone, which allows you to play the first edition of Ascension for a $4.99. The app also allows you to purchase the two expansions (Return of the Fallen; Storm of Souls) and additional Promo Cards for a few extra dollars each. The app has a solid tutorial that teaches the basics of the game, and there are routinely open games online to join 24 hours a day. Two-player games last approximately 10 minutes (when both players are actively playing back and forth) but games can also be played asynchronously over the course of days or weeks. It is addictive.

Let me repeat.

Addictive.

Below, I write about why I find Ascension so engaging and discuss my initial foray into playing against random people online – and the beatings I suffered as a result.

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Game Night Blog Carnival: Kingdom Rush

In the past, my entries in Roving Band of Misfits’ Game Night Blog Carnival series have featured multiplayer games. However, this month I wanted to focus on a single-play experience that recently rocked my world. During my trip to New Zealand last month, I had a 13-hour plan ride to fill with various activities. I received several suggestions to download Kingdom Rush for my iPad. I decided to give the game a try for a mere 99 cents, and it was a fantastic decision!

Since I could not sleep well on the plane, I played the game on and off for the better portion of eight hours. The game is incredibly addictive, and I cannot recommend it enough for those looking for a fun game to eat up minutes and hours of their time. Below, I describe the allure and charm of Kingdom Rush.

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Game Night Blog Carnival: Thunderstone

Welcome to the Game Night Blog Carnival! This is a recurring feature Roving Band of Misfits is running once each month with numerous roleplaying game blogs. Visit their site for more information about the blog carnival initiative.

This month, we had the unique opportunity to play and review the same game, Thunderstone. I was provided with a copy of the game by AEG at no cost to play and review. I want to extend my thanks to the organizers of the Game Night Blog Carnival and the developers of Thunderstone for making this happen.

Thunderstone is a card game with multiple RPG elements as each player builds up their deck of cards to take on various threats in a dungeon filled with monsters. The goal is find the famed Thunderstone, which lies buried deep in the dungeon under many layers of monsters. The winner is declared by the number of victory points accumulated throughout the game, which takes approximately 45 to 60 minutes to resolve. Below, I talk about my initial impressions of the game and my experiences playing it several times in recent weeks.

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Discussing Optimizers With Misfits

I recently had the pleasure of being invited on the Level Up podcast hosted by the fine folks at Roving Band of Misfits. I cannot thank them enough for asking me onto the show. The focus of the episode is Character Optimization, and how to deal with players that may go “too far” or “not far enough” with optimizing their character.

It is an interesting topic because it relates to many group dynamics I have discussed previously on this site. My primary piece of advice is to evaluate the attitude of all players in the group regarding optimization, and figure out if there is a disconnect that creates tension. We discuss a variety of potential problems that can arise if one or two players are “optimizers” while the rest of the players are more “casual.” And we attempt to provide solutions for how to get everyone on the same page so all players can enjoy the game at their own pace. The conversation was enlightening to me, and makes me feel fortunate that my groups have not experienced much in terms of optimizer/non-optimizer squabbles!

(It also allowed me to receive feedback on my Rogue’s one-round 2 Encounter, 1 Daily, Action Point, 1 Daily combination that another player [frequent Commentor on the blog, Wayne] helped me plan for at Level 15. Do the hosts find it to be ridiculous? Find out!)

One point of clarification I’d like to add before you listen is that I responded to a question with an answer that – in retrospect – may seem harsh. I was asked, “What is the opposite of a character that is optimized?”

My first response was, “Ineffective.”

I believe I said this because Dungeons & Dragons is a game that requires the players to have some mastery over rules and the abilities/nuances of their characters. While often referred to as a cooperative game, the players are still facing challenges both in and out of combat. A character with woeful statistics can be a drag on party resources. It reminds me of a saying from the sporting world, “The team is only as good as its worse player.”

But one thing that optimization takes is time. It takes more time to understand the rules and options thoroughly enough to build a character that can take advantage of (some might say exploit) the system. And many people do not have the time – or motivation – to explore the many options to build such a finely-tuned character. I would guess that most players fall into this category; their characters are built casually with one eye toward creating an effective character and the other eye on the million other things going on in his or her life. I certainly fall into this category.

If we were to conceptualize Character Optimization as a single variable, the lowest scores would place characters in the “Ineffective” range while the highest scores would place characters in the “Effective” range. The problems likely arise when players in the same group are at different ends of this spectrum or – perhaps more accurately – perceive they are at different ends of the spectrum. Changing the language from “optimized” to “effective” may help to understand the conflict that could arise between a player and DM, and two or more players.

The players play to win the game, and some of them may have different ideas of how to win the game – or even what winning the game means. It is a worthwhile topic to explore with your gaming group, and one way to approach the optimization “Cheese Weasel” issue.

Now go listen to the podcast for more discussion on the topic!

Game Night Blog Carnival: Table Topics

It is once again time to present an alternative game for your adventuring group as part of Roving Band of Misfits’ Game Night Blog Carvinal. For this entry, I am branching out to a product that does not fit into the traditional “game” category. However, I’m going to refer to it as a game anyway. This month’s entry is Table Topics.

Table Topics has a very simple tagline – Questions to Start Great Conversations. The game includes 135 cards; each card features a single question that can be asked. There is no right or wrong answer. The questions are engaging and aim to get people talking about interesting things in their life. For example, questions from the Original Edition include:

  • What did you get into trouble for the most when you were young?
  • Which historical sporting event would you like to witness?
  • Which is more important – intelligence or common sense?
  • If you could do something dangerous just once with no risk what would you do?
  • Where would you choose to live if you had to leave this country?

Table Topics now features 135-card sets with a variety of themes, including sets titled Family, Girls Night Out, Road Trip, College, Couples, Decades and Travel. Below, I present some ideas on how to use Table Topics to create a different atmosphere for an intriguing session with your gaming group.

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Game Night Blog Carnival: Jenga

Welcome to the new Game Night Blog Carnival!  This is a recurring feature Roving Band of Misfits is running once each month with numerous roleplaying game blogs.  Visit their site for more information about the blog carnival initiative. The previous entry into the series can be found here discussing Wise and Otherwise.

This month, I present some additional mechanics to spice up a game that is enjoyable enough already – Jenga. Jenga is played with 54 wooden blocks. Each block is three times as long as it is wide. To set up the game, the included loading tray in the Jenga box is used to stack the initial tower which has 18 levels of three blocks placed adjacent to each other along their long side and perpendicular to the previous level (so, for example, if the blocks in the first level lie lengthwise north-south, the second level blocks will lie east-west).

Create houserules to enhance Jenga experience.

Once the tower is built, the person who built the tower moves first. Moving in Jenga consists of taking one and only one block from any level (except the one below the incomplete top level) of the tower, and placing it on the topmost level in order to complete it. Only one hand at a time may be used to remove a block; either hand can be used, but only one hand may be in contact with the tower at a time. Blocks may be bumped to find a loose block that will not disturb the rest of the tower. Any block that is moved out of place may be left out of place if it is determined that it will knock the tower over if it is removed. The turn ends when the next person to move touches the tower or after ten seconds, whichever occurs first.

The game ends when the tower falls in even a minor way—in other words, any piece falls from the tower, other than the piece being knocked out to move to the top. The loser is the person who made the tower fall (i.e., whose turn it was when the tower fell).

So far, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But below I will present alternative rules and mechanics to take an ordinary session of Jenga and make it a game-night extravaganza!

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