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Thoughts on SeaFall, Day 1

May 22, 2017 Leave a comment

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[Some spoiler-free musings about SeaFall after the first session]

As owner/organizer of the SeaFall game for our group, I felt responsible for going into the game with as good a handle on the rules as possible, so I took some time to read through the rulebook a couple times before we gathered to make sure I understood the intricacies of the system that Rob Daviau of (Risk: Legacy and Pandemic: Legacy fame) had built for us.   It’s a pretty beefy rulebook even before you start to unlock the unfolding “legacy” portion of the game — Daviau himself calls it a “medium-to-heavy” game system.  One side effect of investing in the rules early on was that the tease of narrative and future revelations left me with a deep curiosity and enthusiasm to get the group together and kick off the game, if for no other reason than to begin unlocking the mysteries behind it.

As a legacy game, part of the fun of the core mechanics is knowing that you don’t know all the rules at the beginning of the campaign; you expect things to go sideways halfway through. (In fact, having come to this game from midway through a Pandemic: Legacy campaign, I’m starting to learn just how much things can go sideways, but that’s another post.)  What’s different about SeaFall is that this is the first legacy game that is built off of a fundamentally original core game system, rather than taking an existing game and layering a legacy campaign on top of it.

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Board setup – the main board, side board, and province boards for four players.

Taking the time to read through the rules a couple times and watch a tutorial video was well worth it, otherwise we probably would have been pretty lost when we first sat down to play.  Since we came to the table forearmed, however, setup went fairly smoothly, especially considering all the components to prepare.  The boards themselves provided good guidance on where the pieces needed to be placed.  Little boxes called “province chests” used to store individual players’ chits that carry over from game to game are genius. All in all, there were only two elements that could have been improved in my opinion: the way the “milestones” (a mechanic for progressing the game narrative) are provided to the players to set up for the first two game sessions, and the placement of the event cards that describes the state of the world for a portion of the year–unlike most other cards, this deck doesn’t have a dedicated place on the main or side board, leading to confusion about where it should be set up. The choice to use an enmity sticker from your side, typically reserved to track when you’ve wronged another player or island, to tag your portrait for your side is also a little weird.  A dedicated sticker for this would have been a less incongruous choice.

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Preparing to set sail

After setup came the actual gameplay.  And here is where I am starting to grow concerned. The primary issue I’m facing is that the core mechanic of a game turn is…well…cumbersome to put politely.  The game design forces the players to choose one of four “guilds” to employ each round, which enables them to buy/sell goods, build enhancements to their province or ships, explore a site on an island, or conduct a violent raid.  On its face, this seems reasonable, but the mechanic results in all players struggling to get ships where the they need to be to execute their plan leading to a very choppy and sluggish feeling experience. Forward momentum is hard to come by.

One thing that is clear is that each game is going to be very different.  The first two games we’ve played unlocked enough of the board that we won’t be able to do much more unlocking for a while — the low hanging fruit is taken on our board — and instead we’ll need to change our strategy to leverage the fruits of our exploration from previous games.  While on one level that’s fine, and in fact part of the point of a legacy game, the flip side of this particular coin means that  I’m concerned that we may never get to the point that the rounds in the game can proceed smoothly, because we will forever be trying to evaluate how to try to get our guilds to do what we want in an ever-changing environment.

Finally, for me personally, coming from a cooperative game like Pandemic: Legacy where the deck drove the uncertainty mechanic with some constraints, moving to a competitive game where there is unbounded uncertainty based on dice is fundamentally a less fun game to play.  Also, dice hate me.  These two statements may be related.

I’m still curious to see how the game evolves as we “reset the board” each session in a semi-dynamic world, and of course there are strong hints that the whole game is going to go sideways sometime in the future. Fundamentally, though, I must admit I’m a lot less excited about the whole experience than I was before we had started play. Hopefully as we get more practiced in the game the rounds will smooth out, but I’m not optimistic. We will see how things unfold.  My people will struggle through.  It is my destiny to become Emperor of the sea, after all.

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Categories: Analysis, Games, Miscellany Tags: ,

Hey howdy hey

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Merlin is the best mage

Hello there and welcome to my shiny new blog.  You’ve discovered the obligatory first post where I tell you a bit about myself and what I’m planning to write.  There are, as it should happen, a few different purposes for the blog, and I’m afraid they serve a few different audiences.  Wiser people than I would say this is a terrible idea and that if I have multiple audiences I should write multiple blogs that cater to each audience.  To which I say, bugger that, we’re going to be lucky if we get through a single blog together, you and I, let alone several.  Moreover, this is not the first terrible idea I’ve ever had and certainly won’t be the last.  Perhaps things will work out all the same.  I, for one, am excited to find out.

However, my heart is not entirely closed to those who may come to this blog for one purpose and find some of the entries in here completely uninteresting to them.  For you, dear friends, I will provide tags and/or categories that I will be strict about using with every post. (Not least of which because I love breaking things down into little categories.  A lot.  Quite possibly too much. But mostly for you!)  And if I am clever enough and have time enough at some point in the future, I hope to introduce a schmancy color scheme that will allow folks to be able to tell at a glance which category any particular post may fall in.  I can’t say the categories will be neat and perfect, as I am living evidence that one category of stuff can bleed into another, but it seems like a decent enough starting point.

Get to the point

But enough of that. (Really. Yikes.  The fingers, they just keep going, don’t they?)  What, exactly, was going to be the point (or points, not unlike a shuriken) of this blog again?  Threefold, my friends!  You may know I’m a regular user of Twitter.  Sometimes, especially right now, I have a few thoughts in my head that may take a little more than 140 characters to communicate.  This will become the repository of those big thoughts.  Said grand thoughts tend to come in three basic flavors:
1) work thoughts – Usually programming, possibly sometimes other thoughts about being the cofounder of a very small game development company.
2) game thoughts – I play games. I like to talk about things. I probably want to talk about games.
3) life thoughts – As the parent of two young boys, there are likely going to be stories to tell from the family arena.

I bet you can see the problem here.  Some friends and family are going to (I hope!) stop by from time to time to see how we’re getting on and what trouble the kidlets are getting into these days.  The chances of these folks being interested in the latest HTML5 discovery I made is probably pretty slim (though non-zero), and vice versa.  Well, hence the tags and categories and eventually the colors and hopefully all will be well.  We’ll find out together.

So!  Now that all that is out of the way, I can start posting about all the HTML5 stuff I’ve been uncovering, which was the catalyst for me finally taking the time to kick off the happy fun times.  Let’s begin!

Categories: Miscellany Tags: , , ,