“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” -- Carl Sagan

Tag: gaming (page 5 of 5)

[Game Review] Diaspora

It’s not too often I sit down and read a new RPG.  Okay, it’s never that I sit down and read a new RPG these days.  I’m always like, yeah, sure I’ll read stuff but…  I was sufficiently intrigued and I actually purchased an RPG and read it, and that RPG was the excellent Diaspora.

Diaspora is a hard science fiction game based on FATE 3.0, a snazzy storytelling system that does many things well and other things perfectly and smooths out many lumps in the gaming experience.  It’s also a toolkit and it can be used for anything.  Once it was used for Pulp, it’s quite popular right now in the urban supernatural genre, but me, I come from an old Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov and Robots and Empire background so I was mighty interested in hard sci-fi and see where it could go.

This is not a book about other people’s fancy characters. The guys who wrote this game are not interested in telling you about their campaign.  (Yes, the campaigns are used as examples but it is not the crux of the book in any way.)  This book is a toolkit with a minimal hard science fiction gimme — the faster than light drive for space travel between worlds and some very excellent background on technology — and then hands everything else over to the gaming group.

Diaspora is essentially an RPG wrapped around six internal mini-games, all powered with FATE and using FATE dice: cluster creation, character creation, personal combat, starship combat, platoon combat (!) and social combat.   The first two only come into play when starting a new game while the other four are set pieces for different parts of the game.  These are optional, but Diaspora would not be Diaspora without them.

Cluster creation I could play all day long and never get bored.  Using FATE dice, one rolls up sets of words and defines them with three attributes (Technology, Environment, Resources).  Each of the three attributes has a -4 to +4 sliding scale.  One can have a string of low tech garden worlds full of rich bounty for the harvesting, or a vastly technological world raping its system to the core to make a ringworld, or a system just starting to explore space.  Or all of these.  Then dice define how the cluster is put together.  This is the local Diaspora universe and each game is different.  Simply talking through planet and cluster creation brings up tons of ideas for scenes and games and entire campaigns.  None of them feature Cthulhu.

Character creation is very much standard FATE character creation with a heavy emphasis on weaving the PCs into each other’s background.  This is standard for every FATE game.  Diaspora has a nice list of skills and stunts.

Where Diaspora shines for me are the mini-games.  Diaspora takes what could be very crunchy, mini-requiring wargames and turns them into fast, furious and fun games baked into the juicy FATE shell.  The best part of the mini-games is that they stand alone; one only needs to either make some characters or take some pre-genned ships or platoons and go to town.  They do need a whiteboard and markers to work properly — these are the sort of mini-games that require props — but the results feel so satisfying.  The examples are clear and to the point.  They don’t muck around much with story.  They show you what they need to show you and get out of the way.

And yes, I made a little squeeing noise when I saw the platoon combat mini-game.  Me!  I did!  All I could think about was Aliens.  But my favorite of the four by far is the social combat mini-game.  It’s the best RPG social gaming simulator I have seen since Chris Aylott’s “Dynasties and Demagogues” for d20, a system that never did social combat well but tried.  Unlike FATE which does social combat, and with the Aspect system and compels and social maneuvers, does it well.  It feels like the ebb and flow of social combat.  It feels like the board has pawns and bishops and queens and the players can push them all around by making cunning rolls and burning FATE points.  Maybe I am very visual and I like being able to see the little dots on the field and know what my political target is and how far there is to go to win or lose, but it clicked with me on a deep level.  I want to take Diaspora’s social combat system and use it everywhere.

Yeah, I would totally play Diaspora.  It appeals to my deep gearhead geek.  It gives me toys and gets out of my way so I can go play.  I would probably lose at the starship battle and platoon battle the first several times I played but FATE allows one to lose gracefully so that’s all good.  I’m sure there are now fancy Indie gaming terms I have completely forgotten to codify why I like it but in my terms it is: excellent narrative structure for flow of play, incredibly clean and clear game rules, excellent examples, lots of ships and weapons out of the box, and the process of creating a cluster filled my head with ideas.  It passed my test — if I could think up three campaign ideas while reading the source book, it’s a damn fine game.  If I could think up three ideas and understand the rules clearly then it’s a win for the good guys.

The PDF is only $13, so it is slightly above the “I would buy it just to skim it” price.  It looks fantastic on Good Reader on the iPad, so if you have one of those, you’re in business.  I hear it’s in paperback now, too.  So go buy that. You can even go buy it here.

Not quite 1000 words on antihistamines and cold medicine on a game.  Awesome. Also, it occurs to me that I do not mind reviewing games as long as they are available in PDF that displays on Good Reader on the iPad.

PAX East 2010 Roundup

Short form: We had a fucking fantastic time.

Long form: I am not a big fan of cons and I don’t attend gaming cons. I have never been a big enough tabletop gamer to want to dedicate my entire weekend, plus a drive, plus hotel, plus food, to tabletop gaming. But since I was about ten, I have wanted to go to a video game con — any video game con, anywhere. For years I devoured the coverage of E3 until it became so tepidly lame that it finally died. I would have gone out to Seattle to PAX if I could have swung it and the moment I heard there was a PAX East, we had tickets. I bought tickets three hours after they were announced and sat on them since September.

Video games are my primary nerd-dom, followed by (indie) comics, then indie music. PAX is awesome. Main passion is video games? PAX. Like comics? PAX. Into card and board games? PAX. Want to spend your entire weekend playing D&D 4th Ed? PAX. It is a pinnacle of nerd fury.

We drove up to Boston and stayed in the Sheraton Boston attached to the Prudential Center which also housed the convention center so we never went outside. I wasn’t a big fan of the hotel — the room was tiny, the bar sucked, everything was overpriced, and they tried to buy me out of my room the moment I arrived. (Um, no? How does NO grab you.) But we spent very little time in the hotel.

PAX East 2010 had a problem with underestimating the amount of space needed for all the panels and activities/people, so everyone got real friendly and there were problems with space and seating. Without dedication to the entire convention, it was very difficult to get into many of the main events. We already know that next year it is moving to bigger facilities for demand but once we figured out that getting into major events meant waiting in lines, we dedicated ourselves to waiting in lines.

Some of our high notes:

Wil Wheaton’s Keynote: It’s online (search YouTube for ‘wil wheaton pax east.’) It was a pitch-perfect speech that addressed getting Old and still being a Geek.

Saturday Night Concert: If we were going to do anything while we were in Boston it was see Internet Troubadour Jonathan Coulton perform live. We nearly killed ourselves getting guaranteed seating. We stood in the pre-line for the line to get the wristbands so we could get in the line. We were not disappointed.* The highest point was the performance of Mr. Fancy Pants on a Zen Drum hooked to Logic Pro. Seriously. Make with the clicky.

Also, if for some reason you don’t know or listen to Mr. Jonathan Coulton and you claim to know me, click the above and exchange money for music. Or go to the old Thing a Week and listen to some of the tracks and then buy CDs.

Eric met MC Frontalot: What else do I have to say? Eric had the MC Frontalot demos off the website and wanted to exchange money for CDs. And completely unbidden, every CD cover got signed and Eric got a signed poster. It was awesome. You should totally buy a copy of the new LP, Zero Day. It has Jhonen Vasquez cover art! A bonus XKCD comic just for MC Frontalot! A song about Kingdom of Loathing! I don’t like hip hop but even I like the CD.

Steel Battalion: I would have nothing to do with this incredibly wrong game but we had to watch a match. We had to. Steel Battalion is a game for the old XBOX that required this enormous 40 button controller and was a “complete power suit simulation.” They had 10 machines all lashed together on a LAN to play tower defense games. It was insane.

Apples to Apples: We couldn’t get into the MC Frontalot concert on Friday night, so instead we discovered we could actually check out board games and card games. We met another totally random group of guys and played three hilarious rounds of Apples to Apples for an hour and a half. It summed up the entire con for us: people were on the whole awesome, people were looking for other people to play with, and you could hook up with total strangers to play games. (I also bought a Fluxx deck finally.)

The Rock Band Lounge and the Handheld Lounges: The Rock Band Network took over a room and turned it into a faux-bar with beanbags and chairs and had people get up on stage and make total jerks of themselves playing Rock Band. If you didn’t play on Expert you were booed! Best run of the con were the guys who played Iron Maiden — total props to you guys. You know who you are.

The best part were the long hallways covered in beanbags. Anyone could just go collapse with a handheld or a laptop on a beanbag for a while. Two huge hallways had beanbags on two floors so there was always a beanbag free. This was just brilliant — if you collapsed from just tiredness you always had a place to go.

The EXPO Center: I thought the Expo was too small — and we already know it will be bigger next year — but most of the booths had playable demos. I saw Puzzle Quest 2 with the big upgraded interface, so once that comes out nice knowing you guys. I saw tons of really compelling tech from the huge upgraded video cards to the tiny portable gaming rigs with 12 hours of life to the full six-string guitar controller/trainer for the XBox 360. (They gave me a free t-shirt — there were free t-shirts everywhere.) The new Rockstar game looks fantastic. Big downer though: I couldn’t get into the Civ5 demo.

I still seriously want that gaming table/dining room table.

Awesome people: From the guys who played Apples to Apples with us to the guy who told me the horrors of trying to win a Mario Cart DS tournament (avoid the blue bombs!!!) to the guys who let me watch their Mafia card game to the guys who demo’d their insane D&D4th edition flat-screen table with minis, everyone was just awesome.

Friends! We saw Chris and Jen, and I had lunch with Mark, and then we had a great meal with Mark and Eleanor. We will see you guys at the end of May!

Despite scheduling issues and having real difficulties getting into panels and that we are so sore, I am intending to buy our PAX East 2011 tickets the moment they go on sale in September. For the first year, it was great, and it will be guaranteed to be better next year.

I do have a photo archive up. They’re not the best pictures but they’re something.

* We had a backup plan if we couldn’t get into the concert. Freezepop was playing at the Harmonix Showcase just outside the convention center.

Newer posts »
%d bloggers like this: