Valiant RPG for Beginners

4552989-01Catalyst Games Labs has released an RPG system based on the popular Valiant Comics universe.

Valiant Comics are most well know for their realistic and gritty interpretation of the superhero genre.
Called Valiant RPG, it is designed to be as friendly to new players of RPGs as possible. It utilises the Cue System, making it very rules-light and allowing a great deal of flexibility between the Gamemaster and players.
The main rulebook, which is currently available, provides an overview of the Valiant universe, as well as pre-generated characters for iconic Valiant heroes. And of course, rules to create your own heroes and villains.  Currently the main rulebook is only available as a PDF, via Drive Through RPG !

That said, you can read through the Book Play Guide and the Quick Start Rules to get an idea of the theme, setting and mechanics.

Linnaeus’s Four Principles of Dice Game Design

My Play

Like most people in my generation of gamers, I love rolling dice; big handfuls of them when possible. Unfortunately, this clashes with a lot of other elements of my taste in games, and there are very few dice games that I love as much as I love rolling dice. While I don’t think I have all the answers for what makes a brilliant dice game, I do have some thoughts; principles, if you will.

I choose the word principles advisedly. Principles should be followed but, unlike laws or rules, they are provided with the expectation that they will be broken *when there is sufficient justification*. I’m not sure how much the designers of the recent spate of dice games (To Court the King, Kingsburg, Pickomino, Roll Through the Ages, &c.) considered these problems, but all of them, as far as I know, break one or more of these principles, and…

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Monthly Game Talks: August 2015 !

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I played a game of Reiner Knizia’s Palazzo for the first time a week or two ago. One of the things that struck me about the game was the use of color-coded currency cards that are used to buy the palazzo pieces that create victory points. A player may only use cards of one color currency when bidding at auction. A player may have a substantial amount of money in his cards, but if they are evenly divided between the two colors, only half of his cash will be useful in making a single purchase.

One of the reasons I took note of this mechanism is because Alhambra uses almost the exact same mechanism. The biggest difference is that Alhambra has four colors of currency. Having the perfect tile come up for purchase can be a frustrating experience if you have money in every color except the one you need.

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Many game uses assorted currencies as part of their game mechanisms. I am going to use the term currency to mean any resource that can be accumulated, that is portable (land doesn’t count as currency although it can sometimes function as one), and that can be converted into something else of value in a game. Games like Caylus and Silk Road have both cash and little wooden cubes in their games, but the resource cubes are just another form of currency. The trick in these games is to produce or acquire the currencies that are most useful to you, and convert them into something that can get you closer to victory.

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One of the pleasures of having multiple currencies in a game is that different players can be in the lead in different areas of the game. In a game of Caylus or Silk Road, one player may have more cash than anyone else, but other players may have more cubes of one color or another than the other players. This can make these games seem more balanced and competitive than a game in which cash is the only currency, and it is clear who has the most of it.

Currencies seem to come in two types:

1) Currencies which are equal in value. In Alhambra each color currency has no more value than any other. One color currency might be more valuable to you in a particular situation, but that difference in value is temporary, and not part of the structure of the game. In Silk Road, each coin and each resource cube is worth one victory point at the end of the game. It doesn’t matter what form you wealth takes—it only matters that you have more of it than the other players.

2) Currencies which not equal in value. In Caylus gold cubes are worth victory points at the end of the game, but all other colors of cubes are worthless. Therefore gold is a more valuable currency than all the other colors of resource cubes. There may be situations in the game when what you really need is a pink cube, or a brown cube, or a gray cube. But at the end of the game what you really want is gold. Caylus players should keep this consideration in mind when using gold to create buildings; is the payoff going to be worth the payout? In addition, cash is needed every turn just to place a player’s workers on the game board. Because a certain amount of cash is needed every turn, it is an essential currency. The in-equivalence of currencies makes calculations in Caylus fascinating and difficult.

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It’s always a risk using a game I haven’t played as an example of a point I want to make, but from reviews of Through the Ages, the civ-building game from Czech Board Games, it seems that the game has a number of currencies. Food units feed population, rocks are used for construction, light bulbs are used to purchase civilization advances. I don’t know if these resources can be converted so I may be fudging my definition here. But it’s easy to see how multiple currencies could function in a civ-building game if you’ve played Sid Meier’s computer game Civilization. In that game, scientific research converts into farming or industrial production indirectly through tech advances that allow growth in various aspects of your nation. Farm surpluses can be indirectly converted into other currencies by freeing up farm workers to do something other than produce food.

Games with multiple currencies usually make a point of restricting the ways that players can convert one currency into another. If a player could convert one currency into another at any time at a one-for-one exchange rate, then for practical purposes you don’t have two currencies, you have one.

When games limit currency-conversion mechanisms, then access to these mechanisms usually becomes part of the strategy of the game. In Silk Road, converting one currency into another at a favorable rate of exchange is what the game is all about. Players in Silk Road bid for the right to choose the next city that the caravan visits and thus control the trading opportunities at that city. If you have a large amount of red cubes, and you see that one of the next cities has a trading opportunity to convert red cubes into blue cubes at a rate of one for two, then you will probably try to win the auction. If there are no opportunities to trade red cubes immediately ahead, then winning the auction will be of lesser importance, and you may want to save your cash for a later auction.

In Caylus players compete to produce currencies (resource cubes), to convert currencies from one form to another by placing workers in the appropriate buildings, and to spend these currencies in a way that generates victory points. Every step of the process is competitive, and players must learn to change their plans when their abilities to produce or convert currencies are thwarted.

Although the use of multiple currencies and the mechanisms used to convert them can be used to create a game, I think in the future games will be more interesting if the multiple currency mechanism is used in games which have more going on than just currency conversion. As I mentioned, civ-building games may be one mini-genre that could use this mechanism well. Euro-wargame hybrids could use this mechanism for the non-military part of the game (the currencies might represent cash, technology growth, or political or religious power).

Multiple currencies and resource conversion—like the area majority mechanism—is a simple mechanism that can take so many forms that it can appear again and again in games without wearing out its welcome. I expect gamers will be spending real world dollars for multiple currency games for years to come.

Monthly Game Talks: July 2015 !

For this Monthly Game Talks I will focus on playing with your spouce/girlfriend. It is often hard to gather together a large group of friends to play a boardgame on a weeknight. However, my wife and I do find time to get together to play two player games from time to time. She prefers spatial-reasoning games like RoboRally, while I savor games where there is a large development effect (as in planting and tending a garden or what some call “snowball” games.

Unfortunately, our favorite games (RoboRally and Puerto Rico as examples) do not play very well with only two players.

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Thus, I am always on the lookout for more games that can fit the two-player bill. Two player games are often in a class of their own. One problem that immediately jumps out is the problem of a runaway leader. In a multiplayer (3 or more) game, the other players outnumber the leader and can gang up. But in a two-player game, there’s only the losing player.

Unless the game has some sort of artificial catch-up mechanism, it can be a very hard row to hoe in order to catch back up to the leader. If a two player game is sufficiently complex to allow me to enjoy developing my own little empire, the game tends to take two or more hours to play. If one player gains a distinct lead, then the losing player could find themselves sitting through a losing battle for upwards of an hour.

This is not a tantalizing proposition for a fair-weather fan of boardgames (such as my wife), and even though I just love games I don’t find it all that enjoyable either.

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A second problem with many two player games is a lack of options. Many of the “best” two player games are lightweight fillers that only give a few options for the players and do not provide a diverse set of ways to win. One of the things I enjoy most in a game is exploring various paths to victory. In a two-player game against my less competitive wife, I often find enjoyment in trying more obscure strategies, just to see how they pan out. In many 2-player games, there just aren’t that many options.

Currently, I own just a few games that have the variety, depth, and playability that I enjoy and can also be played with only two players.

The first is the Settlers of Catan Card Game. This game is great as players can develop their country in different ways, there are a reasonable number of strategies that can be tried, and it plays in just over an hour or so. Its main drawback lies in the “catch-up” problem. Since it is a resource production based game, a player who falls behind early in resource production will often remain behind the whole game with no hope of catching up.

In fact, I have a friend who feels the determining factor for the win will always go to the player who gets the most towns built. (There are an odd number of additional settlements so if they are all built, one player will always have and extra compared to their opponent.)

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A second, less frequently played, game is San Juan. As a fan of Puerto Rico, San Juan hits the right spot for me, giving me lots of options and a few ways to win, while remaining a two player game. San Juan can also have disproportionate production issues, but I find it to be less frequent than in the Settlers of Catan Card Game. The newest game to add to my two-player lineup is Caylus. I was very pleasantly surprised at how well Caylus holds up to a two player situation. There are still many paths to victory points, and lots of fun little combinations to consider, but the game plays just fine with only two players. Sure, some things become a bit more predictable, but there are even some strategies that can be implemented in a two-player game that just don’t work well in a multiplayer game. In one game I decided to try to build buildings as much as possible, just to see what would happen. I managed to win, but only because I pushed the provost out ahead as fast as I could and my glut of buildings precluded my wife from being able to build (and use) the necessary buildings to build any of the blue mega-point buildings. While this is not an uncommon strategy in a multiplayer game, in a two-player game it can become slightly more extreme, since I had to build much harder in order to prevent my wife from getting the buildings she wanted.

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In all, I’m pleased with the games I’ve found so far that match my favorite style. (I admit I now need to work on more spatial logic games to appeal to my wife’s sensibilities, I have a few possibilities that I plan to look into – Ricochet Robot for one…) I’m curious what other people have found for middleweight to heavyweight games that work well with two players. Twilight Struggle, Memior ’44, and other Euro-wargames are all possibilities, but while there are many good two-player wargames; I think the entire genre is one that has less possibilities for playing with my spouse.