Studio711.com – Ben Martens

Gaming

Polytopia

Thanks to NickS for pointing me to The Battle of Polytopia. It’s a turn based strategy game similar to Civilization but MUCH simpler. It’s available for free for both iOS and Android, but there are optional in game purchases if you want to get more tribes and support the author.

You can either play to get the highest score in 30 turns or to conquer every other civilization on the map. After choosing your tribe, you’ll get one person in your tiny little village and then you set off exploring the land, gathering resources to expand your city and investing in technology. Along the way you’ll probably encounter other tribes to battle and conquer.

The game walks the perfect line of complex strategy and easy to understand game mechanics. The technology tree is pretty diverse but it’s simple enough that you can easily memorize it. It’s also the same for every civilization which helps dramatically. The differences between civilizations are their starting technologies and the type of terrain that they normally start on.

A multiplayer feature was recently added so you can play against your friends. It’s fun but it takes a lot longer than playing against the computer.

If you’re at all interested in strategy games, this one is worth a look! It has totally sucked me in. My high score in points mode is 63,730 and in domination mode, I’ve gotten 3 stars with 6 of the tribes so far. Can you beat those marks? (Judging by the high score tables, lots of people can.) If you want to join me in a multiplayer game, send me a note! So far I’ve gotten Logan hooked but the more the merrier.

Forza Motorsport 7 Review

I don’t spend much time playing video games anymore, but I always make time for Forza games when they come out. Racing simulators are my favorite and this is one of the best. I also know a couple people who work on the game so it’s fun to see what they’ve been up to.

Forza 7 is gorgeous and the driving experience is wonderful. This version adds night racing and dynamic weather conditions. You might start in the day time or dry weather but you could end in night time or rain. Other than that, though, it’s another series of races to enjoy. If you liked the previous ones, you’ll like this, but if you’re hoping that this version adds an epic story line, look elsewhere.

One thing that I’m unhappy with in this version is the lack of incentive to make the game more realistic. For example, there’s no incentive to turn on realistic car damage. You don’t pay for any of the damage after the race or suffer ill effects during the race. Just smash your way up to the front. Sure, you can change this setting, but it doesn’t give you any more money or lead to faster lap times so how many people will really do this? I’d like to see a cash bonus if you run with damage enabled or maybe a penalty after the race for how much damage you did to your car.

In general, I’m still waiting for two things in a racing simulator:

  1. Let me play Forza with virtual reality goggles on. I’d probably puke after 20-30 minutes of it, but I still want it.
  2. We have all this great real world map data available. Let me plug in an address and drop my car there. I don’t even care how real the graphics are. Just get the turns and the elevation changes to match the real world and I’d be thrilled. How fast could I make it to work on empty streets with a Ferrari? I want to know!

Sushi Go

“Ben, you’re a nerd. All these board games you’ve been writing about are too confusing and weird.” Never fear! I have a game for you too: Sushi Go.

The rules of Sushi Go can be explained in one minute. All the players are dealt cards. You look at your cards, play one card and then everyone passes their cards to the player next to them. You’re trying to build sets and matches but so is everyone else.

The game goes extremely quickly, but it’s a good introduction to “hand passing” games. This one is great for large groups that contain people who don’t play a lot of these games and/or include younger players. We often use this one as a filler when we only have a few minutes to play a game.

Pandemic

If you look at a game of Pandemic, it feels a bit like Risk. There’s a map of the world and a bunch of little pieces on it. In Pandemic, however, all the players are working together to stop the outbreak of four different diseases. You can do a little bit of disease cleanup by visiting the various cities, but you’ll rapidly fall behind. To cure the disease, you need to collect cards that match the colors of the various diseases.

Each player has different skills that are represented by cards dealt at the beginning of the game. You might have special abilities to heal infected cities, cure diseases with fewer cards, or move players around the board. That mix of skills changes with each game.

This game is one of the hardest ones I’ve played. It’s a team game and it requires everyone to be playing with the same strategy. You can talk freely but still, it’s hard to keep it all in your head. I love it though! There’s a version for Android where you get to play all the characters and using that, I’ve been able to win a few times on the easy settings.

Munchkin

Monday and Tuesday started with board game posts so let’s just go for a whole week of board games. Up today is “Munchkin“. This game starts off easy and gets more complicated as you play. Everyone starts off at Level 1 and is trying to become a Level 10 munchkin. You gain levels by defeating monsters that you encounter, and you defeat monsters by using items you have acquired and deals made with other players.

Every card you play has the ability to dramatically change the game and even change the rules of the game to some extent. The game is intentionally comical and open to definition. You’ll run into situations where the various rules conflict or are vague and you just get to argue it out. The instructions make this very clear from the start by explaining how to start the game. It says: “Decide who goes first by rolling the dice and arguing about the results and the meaning of this sentence and whether the fact that a word seems to be missing any effect.”

During the game you might find yourself as an elf carrying a flask of glue wearing pantyhose of giant strength, but if that all helps you defeat a maul rat then you just gained a level. Let’s just hope someone doesn’t curse you with a sex change.

There’s plenty of strategy and it takes a lot of concentration to figure out how to apply all the wild cards in your hand to win the game. I love this game but it’s on the complicated side and can take a while. If you somehow get bored of the base game, there are endless numbers of expansion packs available.

Oldies But Goodies

After writing about Fluxx yesterday, I thought I’d do a few more posts on my favorite board games. (And yes, I probably use “board games” incorrectly since some of these are tile games and others are card games.)

To get started, I’ll rip through some of the “classics” that I’ve already written about in the past:

  • Settlers of Catan – This was one of the first games that opened the general US population (myself included) up to modern board games. I’ve played this hundreds of times and will happily play it again at any time. The rules are pretty simple but the board changes every game so you need to be able to employ different strategies depending on the situation. Once you get a few games under your belt, you can read my strategy guide.
  • Ticket To Ride – This is probably the next game that most people played after they discovered Settlers. I like this but it’s not one of my favorites. There is a LOT of luck involved in getting the right cards, but if you play enough times, the better players will eventually win more games.
  • Carcassonne – This is a tile based game. You build up a shared board with the other players and carefully place your followers to gain ownership of a road, field, city, or cloister. I actually enjoy this one a bit more on a computer/phone/Xbox because scoring can get a little tricky in person.
  • Dominion – We were looking to branch out a bit from the classics listed above and this was recommended by a lot of other gamers. It’s a card game where the rules and strategy change with every game (this is a common theme in modern board games.) I enjoy this but for some reason it doesn’t get picked as often lately. I think part of the reason is because we have so many new games to try out.

All of these are solid choices. Prices range between $30 and $50 depending on the game. That might seem like a lot of money, but think about how much a group of 4 people would spend for one evening together if they went out. Even if you only play the game a couple times, you probably got your money’s worth.

Fluxx Review

When we get together with Tyla’s family, we like to play board games and we’re regularly trying out new ones. I figured I would start sharing my thoughts about them as we try them. It’s probably silly because there are much better board game review sites out there, but this is the only one that contains my opinions.

The most recent game we played is Fluxx 5.0. The game is extremely simple. The rules are that you draw one card and play one card. At the beginning, there isn’t even a defined way to win! The catch is that many of the cards you play modify the rules of the game. Maybe you’ll play three cards at a time, or maybe the first card you play will be picked by someone else, or maybe you can’t keep any cards in your hand after your turn is done.

Eventually someone will play a “goal” card. That lists out two items that you need to collect to win the game. You collect items by playing “keeper” cards that have various items on them. If you play the two keeper cards that match the goal card, you win. But inevitably, as soon as you get close to winning, someone will replace the goal card with a different one and then you have to start over.

The game is fun for it’s simplicity and maddening for its ability to foil any plan you try to make. I’ve only played three games of this, but I don’t see a strong strategy component yet. There’s probably some strategy in there somewhere, but for now it’s just hilarious to watch the game progress.

Kingdom Builder Strategy Guide

Logan got Kingdom Builder for Christmas and a few days later I discovered it was available on my phone. I’ve been playing it since then. A lot.

Whenever we head to Wil Wheaton’s Table Top Games videos on YouTube to see a video of them playing it. They have an episode for Kingdom Builder and it’s a good way to understand what the game is about. It’s a deep strategy game with very simple rules. There’s some luck based on what type of resource you draw each turn, but the game is mostly skill.

I couldn’t find a nice strategy guide for the game so I thought I’d make an attempt. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve played through a few hundred matches so I figure I can at least get one started.

  1. Before you put down any pieces, come up with a strategy for your game.
    1. What kinds of scoring cards are out? Which ones will give you the most points? Some cards like Knights are worth a lot of points and others like Citizens are worth less. If, for example, there aren’t any high scoring cards out, then you might want to focus more on building next to castles. If the game involves Farmers, you need to figure out how to get your pieces into all four quadrants.
    2. What special tiles are in play? If there is a Hermit card turned up and you don’t play on the Horse tile, you’re probably not going to win. There are other good matches too. If Merchants are in play, try to grab the Boat tile if it is available. The Watchtower tile is a great one if you’re using either Discoverer or Knight cards.
    3. Usually it’s hard to focus on all three scoring cards at once, so pick the two highest value ones and focus on those first. Get points with the third card when you’re stuck with the first two toward the end of the game.
  2. Be careful where you place your tile. That sounds obvious, but those first two or three turns can make or break your game. For example, let’s say that you have a Farmers card and you need to get a piece in all four quadrants. If your first place touches all of the different land types, then it’s going to be very hard to get to all four quadrants. But if you can play those first pieces, get a tile, and only touch one resource type, you have a good chance of being able to play somewhere else on your next turn. On the flip side, if you’re trying to get points with Lords or Citizens, then you might want to spread out and touch lots of different resources so that you can keep growing those settlements.
  3. The special location tiles come in two main categories. A winning game will probably make use of some from each category.
    1. Relocation: These let you move pieces to other locations after they have been played. This is useful for breaking up settlements in a Hermits game but has other value too.
    2. Additional pieces: These let you play more than 3 pieces in a game. It’s really hard to win a game if you still have 10 pieces left when someone else goes out.
  4. The value of the Horse tile cannot be understated. You can make up for a lot of mistakes with this tile and also grab a lot of extra points. If you have both tiles it’s pretty easy to travel around the board and get most/all of the castle points. The horse tile is a great first play too because if you happen to be touching the next resource card, you could play your horse tile first and hop away leaving you free to play elsewhere on the board.
  5. With every play, think about how many points you’re getting. Sometimes you can get 4 or 5 points with a single piece (play next to a castle next to water and/or mountains with Fisherman and/or MIners in play.) The total points in a game will vary widely by the type of cards in play (I’ve seen winning scores below 40 and above 115), but in general, you need to get at least one point for every piece. If you have to put down a piece with 0 points (or even 0.5 points), think about how you can move it somewhere else on the board with one of your relocation tiles.
  6. Get your own house in order first, but as you’re playing out your strategy, consider opportunities to block your opponents. For example, if they don’t have a Horse and they’re building a long row for Knights, a single piece in their way might keep them away from a lot of points. Also, in a game of Hermits, don’t leave an isolated single resource open. That’s a surefire point for someone else who draws that resource card.
  7. The randomness in the game stems from having to draw a terrain card at the start of every turn. You can decrease the risk by know what you’ll do with every different terrain card. They might not all be equally awesome, but hopefully you can do something with every card to get you some points.

This is one of my favorite board games. You can explain the rules to a new player in a couple minutes but it will take a lifetime to master it.

Cribbage Trivia And Stats

cribbageboardCribbage and euchre are two evening staples when I go back to the Midwest to visit family. At Christmas we generally had three people playing games so cribbage was the choice. We kept coming up with questions about the game that we looked up on our phones while we played. Here are some of the things we found…

Why is it called “nobs”?
If you hold the Jack of the suit that got turned up on the pile, you get 1 point for “nobs.” The short answer is that nobody really knows why it’s called that. Some ideas are that nob is British slang for an important person or for a person who thinks they are important. You can read more than you probably care to on this page.

What is the average pegging score for a round?
Most of the stats I found were for two player games. In those games, the dealer outpegs the other player on average. This is because they play second and because the dealer will always score at least one point. If the other player matches every card then the dealer gets one for the last card. Otherwise they’ll get one for a go. Back to the original question, on average, the dealer pegs 3.5 points while the other player pegs 2.1 points.

What is the average score in your hand?
Mathematically, it’s 4.55, but in reality, it’s higher because you strategically discard. The dealer generally scores a little less than the other player(s) because the dealer may defer some points ot the crib. For a 2 player game, mean for the non-dealer is 7.8580 (std dev 3.7996) and the mean for the dealer is 7.7981 (std dev 3.9082). For 5-card play the mean for both players is about 5.4.

How likely is it to get a 28 or 29?
The odds of getting a 28 hand in a two-player game are 1 in 15,028.
The odds of getting a perfect 29 hand in a two-player game are 1 in 216,580.
The odds of getting a perfect 29 hand in a three- or four-player game are 1 in 649,740.

 

Forza 6 Review

forza6My gaming time has dwindled to almost zero, but the Forza series is still going strong in my house. Forza 6 launched in September and I jumped in. I was unimpressed with the changes in Forza 5, but 6 really is a great step forward. Here are my bulleted impressions:

  • The visuals are incredible, but you need to hit pause to notice all the details. You should be focusing on your driving, not watching blades of grass whiz by.
  • The addition of nighttime and rain modes adds a lot of challenge. My only complaint is that rain mode is REALLY wet. There are huge puddles of standing water around the track and they realistically change from lap to lap so it can be a bit of a crap shoot.
  • The game has always been very light on story/guidance but I felt like 5 was pretty bad and 6 regains some ground.
  • The AI is fantastically good. One of the frustrations of racing up through the pack has always been that AI cars will be super aggressive (or just dumb.) Unless you’re being ridiculous, the AI does an excellent job of staying out of your way in this version of the game. (DrJeffS, is that your code? If so, thank you!)

And of course, if you had anybody a piece of software, they’ll enjoy it for 5 seconds before spouting off a list of feature requests.

  • I can’t find any way to get updates on how many seconds ahead or behind my nearest competitors are. All I get is a display about how many feet ahead or behind they are. Really? Who cares about feet. I need time. The only situation where distance is useful is when I’m very close to another car. It helps me know if someone is right beside me without looking over.
  • Forza 6 makes it easier to see the leaderboards after a race, but it’s still not as good as it used to be. As soon as I finish a race, I want to see the top time for the track, my time for the track, what rank that is and what percentile I’m in. I love the thrill of posting a top 50 or top 100 time!
  • You start every race mid-pack. Why not use my Drivatar data to pre-qualify me and give me a better starting spot? I’d probably crank the difficulty up to max if I didn’t have to pass a dozen cars just to get to the front. It’s fine if you don’t want to put me in the #1 spot, but at least let me get in the top 2 or 3.
  • When I was doing go kart racing around the turn of the century (how’s that for making me feel old?), we had a system on the kart that would map out the track based on gyros and overlay a bunch of stats like when you were on the gas or brake, etc. You could compare your lap times and look at characteristics that might have led to those lap times. Forza has all that data and more! Give me a screen where I can see something like that and maybe even have an AI coach that will point out where you could gain time.

And then there are some ridiculous/futuristic dreams:

  • Imagine this game in virtual reality. I don’t care too much about VR, but I would buy a VR setup just to play Forza. I already play on a 110″ screen, but it would be incredible to be able to look around by turning your head while having a full field of view. Couple that with a full driving rig (seat, steering wheel, pedals, etc) and you’re closer than ever to the real thing.
  • The tracks in the game are great, but we have all this real-world map data available. What if you could pick a car and tear off on streets that you drive every day?! Obviously the scenery would be difficult to match exactly, but if you just got the curves and elevation changes right, I’d have a blast. Yes, I know that Forza Horizon is an open world game, but I want to drive on streets that I know. There are some roads that where I’ve always dreamed about setting up a road course. This would be the way to make it happen legally and safely with unlimited budget. Maybe one of the PC racing games has some sort of feature/hack to make this work. I should look into it…

If you love racing simulators, you probably already own this so I don’t have to tell you that it’s worth your money. In Forza 6, I finally feel like the graphics, physics and audio are so perfectly tuned, that any improvements will probably not be noticeable. I’m happy to be proven wrong, but I’ll also be happy to see how the series can branch out into other areas (like the driving coach or VR?) to keep us buying the next versions.

Thank you Forza team!