Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Women vs Cosplay Kickstarter

    A friend of mine is involved in the inaugural Kickstarter for the Women vs Cosplay calendar.  As a general geek myself I want to give them a shout-out and encourage any readers of mine to check out their site:


    I think that Kickstarter is awesome for how it allows smaller projects like this to get started.  Best of luck to them on meeting their funding goals.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Playing the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Again

    Last year my friend Aaron got the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, and for the last few months since the next boxed set, Skulls and Shackles, came out I have been bugging him about buying the new ACG set (it has pirates, and I'll take any excuse to bug him).  Last weekend we played the original and I realized something - the more I play the Pathfinder card game the less I like it.
    I think I can actually trace the source of my dislike, something I don't think I did a great job of explaining in my last -post a year ago, so let me revisit the topic again (just for the heck of it).

    First off, last year I played two games of the ACG with my friend.  We were living in different cities at the time, so that was all we managed to play.  Since then he has played a few games with his wife and other friends, but I have not played the game at all.  Last weekend there were 5 of us, two of our friends came out to visit.  They had not played the game either, so there were three new players and two who mostly knew the rules.  We played one of the introductory adventures (Brigadoon) and then the first two parts (Attack on Sandpoint and Local Heroes) of the first Rise of the Runelords adventures (Burnt Offerings).  So while I more than doubled my previous play-time, I will admit up front that I have not played the game enough to feel like I have mastered it - which is something I'll come back to later.  While it was a very long session, I think at least 4 hours but it ended a very long day and weekend so I'm not sure, and I was getting tired and grouchy (which go hand in hand with me), overall we had fun.  Mostly.  More than not at least. (though it did fail to be sufficiently engaging to pull one friend away from her tumblr posting)  The last time I played I was the Bard, and I stuck with that choice this time, since it seemed to work out and I was gun shy after my favorite class, Wizard, seemed to suck badly in our playtesting last year.  I still think the Bard is an okay class.  I kind of described how the game played in a previous post, see there if you want an overview, in this post I'm just going to highlight a few parts of the rules and gameplay.

    So after playing it again, what can I add to my last post?  Well, just that I know exactly why I don't like this game, and I like it less every time I play it.  I touched on it (in a way) in my last post, but playing again drove it home.  And it is simply that I hate disassociated mechanics.  Sadly then, the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is pretty much a giant collection of disassociated mechanics.
    What do I mean by disassociated mechanics?  Well, the term is not mine, I'm using it from an excellent post over at The Alexandrian that you can find here.  The article is great, read it, but I'll summarize.  In a nutshell, if a decision that the player has to make is also one that the character has to make, then a mechanic (or rule) is associated.  If the player and character are thinking in different ways about a mechanic/rule, then it is disassociated.  For example, a wizard is facing a horde of goblins and has to decide weather or not to cast a fireball spell.  This is associated, in that both the player and the character are weighing the same factors into this decision.  Both the player and character know that a spell can only be cast once per day, and that while it may get rid of this challenge, there may be other challenges to come before the new day.  Contrast this with 1/day abilities, like a Paladin's "Smite Evil."  Like a spell, the paladin's ability can only be used once per day (at first level, or a limited number of times per day in general), but the two abilities are not the same.  A spell, by its definition, and as it exists and works in the game world, is magic that is committed to memory, and that burns itself out of memory when used - this process is so fatiguing that the caster then has to get a full night's sleep to be ready to memorize spells again.  Smite evil however, has a totally arbitrary usage restriction.  Nowhere does the game ever explain why a god devoted to smiting evil would only allow its followers to do so once (or however many times) per day.  The paladin as a character has no reason to have to choose to use a limited power, while the wizard has had his restrictions defined and explained.  In both cases the player is making the exact same decisions, about the risk of using a finite resource, but the characters have very different outlooks on the same actions.
    This is one of the things that I do not like about Pathfinder in general, the proliferation of disassociated mechanics like the #/day abilities.  There is no concept of cost, that you only do things a limited number of times because they use up resources of some kind, or of preparation, that some things can only be done after you have laid sufficient groundwork - instead we get a hand-wave, most likely in the name of that chimera "game balance."  Most people don't care, they like the game side of their role-playing game, but I happen to like the role-playing side more (or, even better, the elusive character-playing side, but that's another rant).  This inclination of mine is what makes playing the ACG like listening to hours of non-stop nails on blackboard.  The ACS is full of disassociated things like:

  • You might not be able to start with a weapon, but you can find one in the game.  If you do, you can use it at will.  But when the game is over, you have to throw it away or give it to someone else.  Why?  Because.
  • After casting a spell, if you are an arcane or divine caster, you have to make a recharge roll.  Normally after casting a spell you discard it, but if you make the recharge roll then you can instead put it on the bottom of your character deck, and maybe use it again.  So not all spells are lost and not all spells are recharged.  Why?  Because.
  • Speaking of your character deck, it is considered to be your hit points.  That means that every spell you know, piece of armor and weapons you use, equipment you are carrying and henchmen you have hired all make you more healthy.  And conversely, every spell you cast (and have to discard) or item you lose or henchman you send off on an errand brings you closer to death.  Why?  Because.
  • Staying together is a staple of adventuring, and a good general concept.  When different people work together they can accomplish wonders - just look at society itself for proof of this concept.  But in the ACG only a few classes have an ability that can be used to help another player.  And challenges have to be fought by only one person.  Thus, having an ally who is not a specific class is not helpful at all.  Why?  Because.
  • Speaking of helping each other, each character has some number of "blessing" cards, which represent the favor of the gods.  You spend a blessing to double your base die roll, making it possible to succeed at normally impossible tasks.  You can also spend one on another character's roll, even if that character is at a different location and thus your character would logically have no idea that they even needed any sort of aid.  Why?  Because.  And why can't any character at the same location as another add a die into a conflict to represent teamwork?  Because.
  • The goal of a session is to explore locations to find the main villain and defeat said villain.  However, even if you defeat the villain in combat, the villain instead automatically runs away to another location that has not been "closed" in advance.  Why?  This one I really have a hard time with - if our fighter just slid 3 feet of steel between the ribs of the bandit leader how exactly does he manage to walk away, whistling jaunty tune, and not suffer any penalties at all?
  • While you have a 15 card character deck that represents your life, you have a hand (of usually 5 or 6 cards) that represent the equipment/allies/blessings/spells that you can use.  Why?  Do I have so many pairs of pants that I can't remember which one I left my heavy crossbow in?  Do all my allies play a constant game of hide and go seek with me while we are fighting for our lives?  Since I am watched by the gods, as evidenced by my blessing cards, do they have a hard time keeping track of all us adventurers and so only glance any single individual's way intermittently?  Why?  Because.

    I could go on for pages and pages, but for the sake of your boredom and my blood pressure I won't.  Instead I want to make another point.  Some will not doubt, and have been for the entirety of this post, comment that the title of the game is the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, not Role-Playing Game, and thus one should expect all mechanics to only be those that pertain to cards in general.  Which is a perfectly valid point.  And that's also the part of this game that just annoys the hell out of me and makes me hate Paizo (creators of Pathfinder).  While the title may say "cards" all the art and terminology and some of the mechanics are taken from the "role-playing" game - which makes the ACG confusing as hell.  It looks like an RPG, it walks kinda like an RPG, and then quacks like a CCG (collectable card game); making it a rather duckbill platypus Frankenstein abomination with the worst aspects of both.  Descent and Runebound have both shown and proven that RPG mechanics can be adapted to board games, which also use cards (and converting the board pieces to cards is fairly trivial).  Hell, even the old Call of Cuthulu CCG ("Mythos" I think it was called) had very definite RPG-like mechanics with its quest cards that required the player to play a certain order of cards in locations and challenges to follow a storyline. (though I admit that example is dating myself, and a lot of my readers may not be familiar with that now sadly out-of-print CCG from the early 90s)  My point is that if you are going to create a card game in a role-playing game universe I would think that you would borrow more from the RPG side, while the ACG takes most of its lead from the CCG industry.

    The design principles behind the ACG just do not work for me.  I think Pathfinder itself needs some overhaul to be a better RPG and embrace the character side more, but the ACG does not care about any of that, it is just a game about pushing around cards and rolling dice.  "Character," quite rightly, appears nowhere in the title.  Which makes it a game that I just cannot enjoy.  I am an RPG guy, I can play a CCG but they are not what make me happy to play.  And despite the RPG trappings, the ACG is a totally different animal.  This is not to say that there is anything wrong with the game, it is exactly what its designers intended it to be - but I do wish they had created it in its own universe instead of using the RPG trappings in a, frankly, misleading way.  I am disappointed that this will be one of Paizo's products I can't have fun with (and I'll stop bothering my friend about pirates, I'll just have to bother him about something else).  And for those of you who are considering playing it but have not done so yet I say this: which side means the most to you?  Do you really want a game with character and role-playing elements or are you just happy with some rules, some good artwork, and a few dice?  If you are not as crazy as I am, then I'm sure you will have a good time with this game.  Personally, I'd rather play Munchkin or the previously mentioned Runebound and Descent.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Some new posts coming soon

    This year has been horrible.  Just horrible.  Thus, there have not been many posts from me in a long time.  I am not gone however (in the off chance anybody out there cares).  I do have a few more posts I should be writing soon.  My friends and I have almost finished the Rise of the Runelords campaign for Pathfinder, and I have some thoughts on it, as well as on the state of Pathfinder in general.  Also we are going to try a new game, maybe 13th Age or D&D 5th ed, or both, which I'll talk about after we get around to them.  Not many new movies coming out, but I may review a few old ones I am catching up on.  So there will be some more activity in the future days and weeks, though nothing on any kind of fixed schedule.

Long-Overdue Movie Review- Transformers: Age of Extinction

At a glance- this is Michael Bay, thus it is full of eye-candy and brain-dead, with giant robots

What is it? Well, here we go with another Transformers movie, number 4.  I liked the original Transformers movie, it had its flaws (plenty) but it was watchable.  I loved the toys and cartoons as a kid.  But I have to say that Transformers 2 and 3 really were disappointing.  Revenge of the Fallen (#2) seemed like it was written by drunk and stoned frat boys while Dark of the Moon (#3) was just stupid, actually annoying and stupid.  So when I saw that Age of Extinction (#4) was coming out a few months ago, I was in no hurry to see it.  And in fact, it was just last night that I finally watched it on DVD with a friend.  It was as bad as I had figured.

The acting- Our hero is Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg, a Texas robot engineer who can't build a working robot, a family man who lost his wife and neglects his daughter, and all-around blue collar American who's full of some catchy one-liners and dumb as a post.  It is a hard, thankless role, and Mr. Wahlberg seems to try his best with it, but there is no meat there to work from.  He spends the whole movie off and on talking about how important it is to not make a mistake and how mistakes can bring wonderful surprises and the whole damn movie is about as clear as whatever he's trying to talk about.  He has a daughter, Nicola Peltz, and of course there is the boyfriend he doesn't know about, Jack Reynor, and both could have been cut from the movie with nothing important missing.  So far there is yet to be a decent female character in Transformers except for the blonde computer lady in the first - I don't think Michael Bay, or any of the writers he works with, actually knows how to make a three-dimensional and engaging female character.  The formula appears to be female = eye candy and that's about all we get, except for this girl being 17 years old and in a relationship, hinted at a sexual one, with her 20 year old boyfriend which is okay because a Texas law protects them since they met years earlier and what the hell does any of this crap have to do with a giant robot movie ?!?!?  Like I said, could cut them and not notice.  There are two females with very small roles, blonde scientist lady and Chinese businesswoman, played by Sophia Myles and Bingbing Li, who are watchable because they don't have enough screen time to be turned into anything stupid.  Otherwise there is Stanley Tucci as a misguided scientist/inventor who goes from sorta-evil to a good guy, and he is actually the best role in the film.  And there's Kelsey Grammer as the totally-evil black ops CIA chairman who might as well have his evil white cat to pet, since his character is about as well-defined as a Bond villain.
    But that's just the human roles, there are also the Transformers.  Optimus' voice actor, Peter Cullen, still has a great voice, but his character is a little confused between "I'm here to save you" and "I'm here to kill you," marking a change from the previously Mr. Goody Two-Shoes of the series.  I hate it when filmmakers feel like they have to make good guys 'dark and broody' myself, your mileage may vary.  Bumblebee still doesn't know how to talk in a running gag that really needs to stop already.  There is a samurai transformer and a green car transformer, and I'm not even going to bother finding out who voiced them because they are forgettable.  John Goodman does do a good job as Hound though, the tough military-type transformer who just wants to shoot everything in sight.  Sadly Megatron is back, and still has no worthwhile or intelligent dialogue - another running gag of the series that should be put to bed.  Amazingly, I almost missed Starscream.

The story- The first five minutes of the movie shows some alien ship with alien bombs that turns a bunch of plants and dinosaurs into metal.  You might think that was the story or plot for this movie, and you would be mostly wrong.  The super-bomb that makes Transformer metal is in the story, and it does kind of have something to do with it, but since we never really get a detailed explanation for this, or for why it has not been mentioned until now, it is actually just some cheap window-dressing for all the explosions we know and love from Michael Bay.  Flashing to the present, it has been 5 years since the last movie's climatic battle of Chicago, and a group of evil CIA agents are hunting down all Transformers, Autobot and Decepticon alike, and murdering them, in the name of safety for human-kind.  It is kind of nice to see that humans have finally developed a way to hurt Transformers, I was wondering over the last movies when they would figure that out, but the tone here feels off.  In all of our previous movies there have been some military soldiers working with the Autobots - what the hell happened to them?  Were they all killed along with some of the missing Autobots? (should have shown that, it would have added some depth)  Have they turned to the dark side and are now killing their former friends? (should have shown that, would have added some depth)  Are they helping hide the Autobots, at risk to themselves and their families? (should have shown that- oh hell)  You get the picture, instead of using some intelligence and making something deep and meaningful all we get is a caricature of a bad guy; reducing a legitimately complex problem (good aliens bringing along bad aliens and the balance of power between them and humans) into a line of empty dialogue like "my sister was killed in Chicago" and "there are no good or bad aliens."  So if the one guy's sister had been killed by a drunk driver would he be out murdering alcoholics? (would have been a better movie actually)  And there are obviously good and bad aliens, the good ones have been trying to keep the human race alive while the bad ones have been killing everybody - that's a fairly obvious distinction to anyone with a brain.
    And that is the crux of the story, instead of something logical and compelling we get a flat cardboard cutout of a plot.  Instead of having Yaeger's little girl and worthless boyfriend die at the beginning, thus showing the seriousness of the situation, we have the comic relief guy die at the beginning, who I personally did not mind seeing killed - I wish more of the humans in the story had been killed.  The is not a story, it is a series of special effects set pieces.  Turn your brain off and just enjoy the ride.
    Which almost works.  The movie is a rather long 2 hours and 40 minutes.  The first hour-and-half goes by at a good pace, but by then you haven't seen the dinobots (which were on almost every poster) and it starts to drag.  The last 30 minutes, which should be the most compelling, instead feel the longest after all the special effects have been burning out your retinas.  And then later, when the spectacle is over and you are left to actually think about the movie, you realize just how many inconsistencies and illogical moments there are - that, in fact, it makes only the most tenuous sense.  I don't think the writers of this movie actually knew what their story was about.
    In short (too late, I know) it's really stupid, but it looks pretty.  You can make some great wallpapers for your computer out of the screenshots.  And the CinemaSins count for this movie should be off the chart.

My recommendation- catch it for free on TV, if you are extremely bored and have nothing whatsoever worthwhile to do with your life ; or just tune in for the last 30 minutes when the dinobots show up