New Dune that isn’t the shitty worker placement Dune

Design by the Cosmic Encounter / original Dune board game team the Olotka’s, Kitteredge, Eberle, Reda this looks to be a high speed version of the original Dune– and it’s coming FAST (September) so you can even pre-order it.

I’ve been impressed with Galeforce 9 games as they were just some dudes that made wargaming trays and measuring sticks awhile back. Spartacus is classic, Sons of Anarchy is a fantastic game and though I do not like the ART from the Dune reprint, there’s a lot of love there.

Let’s see how this one plays and I have yet another reason not to waste any gaming hours on the Euro-Dune.

Pax Transhumanity – a review

I decided to break my rule of 10 plays with Pax Transhumanity and do a review with only 7 plays. Most of them were 2-3 players, but one game was solo to remember how to syndicate and commercialize ideas before playing again! This may be a bit long, there’s a lot to talk about here as this is a very intriguing game and one that is easier to play than Pax Ren, but much more difficult to strategize around to win because it is about solving problems and creating companies and not destroying Sultans or triggering the military phase of the Reformation. The first time we played, two of the players did not like the game, but we have played since and that feeling has changed, for some of us at least.

Form Factor

This is your typical Sierra Madre /Ion Games game that is a MASSIVE game in a teeny tiny box, with minimal components and lots of cards. Like Greenland, I can grab this off the shelf and go anywhere with it. Sierra Madre’s efficiency of components is a wild post-Fantasy Flight concept and one everyone should copy. There is a folding board for the game, but you do not need it at all. This game made me look at a lot of the games I have that come in huge boxes, that don’t need them at all (Condotierre, Hit Z Road, and a few others) based on the included components. I think there’s a stigma of small box games in that they are always light and generally have limited gameplay and especially replay-ability. While there are entire sections in the game store for the ‘light smallbox games, looking at Pax, Bios and Innovation/Glory to Rome, the ‘we need a big ass box to be taken seriously’ should be re-assessed: pronto.

The Theme

Pax Transhumanity assumes that mankind is going to have a technical renaissance that will improve our lot as well as some nuclear or biological warfare exchanges which we will survive rather than succumbing to a The Road style post-apocalyptic dark age. In the game you play as very strange societal benefactors/investors. One is a Doctor, one is a Citizen, one is a Colonel and one is… a Blogger? I’m not sure where these came from or what thematically they are supposed to represent. What they are good at though is 1) having a patent in a specific scientific discipline at the start of the game 2) being able to raise a SHITLOAD of money from investors 3) having a secret goal that may score them points at the end of the game.

Your goal? Create a bunch of companies (tycoon victory) or solve a bunch of very serious problems in the world (like pollution) that score points at the end of the game based on the ‘regime’ in play at the time. You are competing with other players to have the most of these rather than attaining a certain goal (like Pax Porf where you become the head of most of Mexico, either on your own or as part of the United States, or Pax Ren where you usher in a certain type of society in Europe and go down in history as it’s architect and financier).

There are multiple ways to score, and multiple ways to win, but this is not a point salad, in fact it is distinctly an ANTI point salad game. Every single point is hard fought and precious and with the exception of your secret goal, open to easy assessment by the other players at any time. End game scoring takes about a minute or two, which is a breath of fresh air for everyone who got suckered into playing Coimbra or Everdell at some point and can never get that time back.

The cards in the game represent future tech and are the heart of the game, there are oodles of conjecture from all over the sci-fi map from Open Source Sexuality (oh yeah!) to a trapped AI ‘God’ to Reverse Cyborgs and rather mundane techs like Bio-printing, electronic textiles and a universal biometric database whos black heat is Secret Police of course. Some are game-change powerful and some are barely worth bothering with except as a research project to get another tech. With only 38 of these in any given game, you won’t see all the cards for a long time.

Art is OK, not stylish or taking any chances, it’s very passable and safe (like Pax Viking, which was a bit of a shame). Graphic design is fantastic for usability.

The Play

There are four major interlocking parts to Pax Transhumanity. First is the Market which is a conveyor of cards that replace a card auction, random draws or drafting. Each of which may or may not effect play during the game depending on what the players do. These cards can be funded by syndication, researched to give patents or commercialized to score points or have other effects.

Second is the finance board, which totally removes the need for money chits or tokens from the game and was obviously the inspiration for the Riverfolk in Root. On this board each player has cubes that reside in Capital (best), Wealth (OK) and Debt (not good). They move down to generate needed money or move upwards when players fundraise. This is the only currency in the game, and it’s brilliant.

Third are the ‘Sphere’ boards which are assigned to each of four markets. These spheres represent areas in the game where the market is active, much like the refugia from Bios Genesis. The spheres are First World, Third World, Cloud and Space. These also hold where the problems reside as well as sphere-specific companies and utilities. Spheres are the strangest and most important part of the game, so if you sit down to play this, make sure you know what these do.

Spheres allow players to generate the work needed to do research and to commercialize from either companies or public utilities by hiring workers. Workers are represented by player cubes (employees) that move down the Sphere boards when they do work. For example, if a player wants to research an idea in the Cloud, he must have an ‘idea’ worker in the cloud sphere. If he would like to commercialize that same idea, he must have a ‘maker’ worker in the cloud sphere. This was difficult to grok at first, especially since where the worker comes from (a company or utility) defines what can be done with the work in the case of research (patents or the think tank).

Fourth is the human progress splay which represents technological progress for all human kind, or at least, for the player’s technology companies. The splay serves two purposes. First it makes ideas in the market viable for commercialization based on the color pairs in the splay. For example if there is a color pair of blue/green in the splay, blue/green idea cards are viable for commercialization from that point on. Second it is a repository for agents that are keeping down ‘heat’ around a technology advance or exposed heat that will come back to bite the players up the ass when there are nuclear exchanges (representing periods where society becomes unglued). For example, Dr. Fauci and Christian Andersen would be considered agents in this game, agents whose sole purpose is to keep the heat off of people working on gain of function research on coronaviruses which their controllers funded and commercialized in the form of a coronavirus vaccine (which is an amazing technological advance still in it’s early and experimental stage). Funny how that is all modelled in this game!

The idea market seems familiar to Pax players (and Bios too) but you never ‘own’ any of the cards in the game and there is no player-only tableau. Cards in the market can be Syndicated which means their special rules text applies to that player or in a player’s think tank (also allowing special rule effects) or residing in the ‘human progress splay’ which again is a marker for the technological progress of human society as a whole.

Idea cards have a color pair (like blue/green) and various impacts that happen once they are commercialized. Most of these solve some problem and the player that commercializes the idea gains that problem chit as a potential victory point. Idea cards may also allow companies to be created, more agents to be added to player’s finance boards or other positive or negative game effects.

The pathway to victory lies in choosing cards you want to commercialize and then work towards that by making them viable either via patents you have or your think tank (both created via research) or wait until it becomes viable for all via the human progress splay. You need work for all this, so hiring workers into companies, creating companies or using utilities effectively is a big part of the game.

The kicker is that the human progress splay controls what the current ‘world regime’ is, which determines what scores more points than other problems. If you want to cut out the mystery, go for the Tycoon victory and create companies. If you go the problem route, you need to make sure that the global regime is in line with your problems/companies when the game ends, or alternatively NOT in line with your opponents. Game ends when a “tipping point’ card is commercialized (most of the time…).

Orange-Orange all the way up inside the Cloud.

Whew, that’s a lot. Like Pax Ren, there are some difficult mechanisms to deal with in the game and timing them is critical. For example, when to research, when to commercialize or when to move cards from one market to another are clutch choices to stop other players from going after things you don’t want them to. Most of this won’t be evident the first time you play the game, so you have to get over the hump a bit with plays before the strategy is able to come out. Again, I equate this to the timing and orchestrating of revolts in Pax Ren– not an easy thing to handle since there are so many types with so many different effects.

Now to the review part (finally). There are some ticky-tacky parts of this game that may reduce your enjoyment of it, even after a few plays, but what will start to fascinate your and other players is the sheer madness that starts to occur when the market is laid out at first and then when the Cloud and Space markets are all filled with cards. The possibilities become maddening as there are just so many mechanics to play with. There is a shitload of idea cards and only 38 of them will show up potentially in any game. If Open Source Sexuality is a critical part of your strategy, there’s no telling whether it will be in any game or not. Sometimes a bunch of very powerful idea cards all start in the game at the same time and cause chaos in the market and human progress splay, or set the game up for massive casualties later with tons of black heat that player’s couldn’t afford a Dr. Fauci to cover up early game.

This chaos mitigation is what I love most about the Pax series of games. You just never know what will happen either from other players actions or the market. Opportunities must be seized but at what cost and what will happen next. Transhumanity is less cut-throat than the other Pax games with little direct attacks (remember, there is no tableau in the game), however subtle moves or firing up a combo that lets you research critical cards out of the game or control the global regime via the splay are just as satisfying as the black and orange cards from Pax Porf.

Pax Trans has a very rough learning curve, and at times I thought it was more difficult to learn than Pax Ren, but if you stick with it, there is an amazing and nuanced game here that rewards multiple plays even in the same day. The game is not particularly long at all, and can be hammered out in about an hour and some change after your first game.

Player counts. I think at higher player counts, say 3-4, this is a bit of a rough ride due to turn angst. I would hazard to say that 3 is the max I would want to play with and this is quite a good 2-player game. 4 players– I’ve never played with that many but I might go insane waiting for my turn.

Heuristic issues are very few in this game, especially compared to something like Twilight Imperium, but there is one that bothered us and that’s remembering the two actions per turn. You only get two, which is the same as Pax Pamir and Pax Ren, but for some reason it’s hard to keep track if you have taken 1 or 2 actions in a turn. I think it’s because a few of the actions are very complex, such as research and commercialize where you are making work, spending money and triggering effects on cards. I know during all of my games I either took an extra action or didn’t take my second action and certainly so did my opponents.

Strategy and subtle combos abound in this game and reward multiple plays. They aren’t as bullrushy as Pax Pamir with it’s Free Action / Switch Suit /Free Action trickery, but combining favorable impacts with some of the powers that you’ve syndicated or think tanked is probably more satisfying. Winning the game is about either preventing the Tycoon company rush or doing it yourself most games. When that doesn’t happen and it defaults to problem scoring, you need to make sure the global regime favors your secret problem suit or you have overwhelming ‘open’ problems solved in that suit. It can be very tricky as the game goes on and more and more technologies become viable, the Human Progress Splay can become crazy. Lastly, you can destroy other players by posting your agents on black heat in the splay, so watch for those opportunities and especially card powers that let you retroactively add agents to heat late game. When the nukes go off, your companies will still be there!

Bottom line, this is an amazing design that has a ridiculously steep learning curve. It’s a cheap game (45$) and has a very small box so there’s little reason for you not to give this a shot, or coerce someone in your game group to buy it.

Here are some resources:

Phasing Player’s learning video

How to win video – this is important

Phil Eklund and Jon Manker discussion about the game

Guilty Gear Strive, I give you, the KANCHO FACES of old.

One of the good Dr.’s special moves is the kancho. Here’s how the rest of the cast reacted in the last Guilty Gear.

the two main characters aren’t looking too happy about it.
Pretty much sums up both characters.
not too sure about GATO as his body is dead right?
1000 year old vampire takes it like a champ and who knows about pool boy…
the fastest character and the slowest, neither very happy.
Both of the musicians seem to like it.
Bedman still can’t wake up! hahaha.
as expected.
mostly confusion with these two.
Ramleathal – no response.

Excellent Interview on FASERIP

Dungeon Designers Guild did a long and excellent interview with Jeff Grubb, the designer and mastermind behind FASERIP (aka, Marvel Superheroes RPG from 1984) on FASERIP itself (he’s done a lot of other stuff).

Look, there’s the real Captain Marvel!!!

I have probably posted this on this blog before but Matt and I got this as kids and I learned it and tried to play and it just did not grab us, especially from just the base set. I think it was the small set of characters, the fact that you can’t make your OWN characters (at first at least), the rather oddly written rulebook and the apparent SIMPLICITY of the game compared to what we were playing at the time (Call of Cthulhu and AD&D mostly). We had been playing Champions which was a total mess to play with great mid-max character generation. I wish I had stuck with FASERIP back in the day until the Advanced version came out and tried it again– it’s really good and still probably the best Superhero game. While it would be fun to create a hero, in all honesty I’d probably just grab She-Hulk and punch stuff and say lawyer quotes from Better Call Saul.

Anyway, enough of my words, listen to the podcast.

SPOTIFY

Big (and rather sudden) Virtua Fighter News

Release trailer for a GRAPHICALLY updated Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown for the PS4 coming— in less than a week.

I didn’t see Vanessa (my main) but everyone looks pretty good. Akira’s face is a bit off to me, but really this is all about the gameplay gameplay gameplay. This is the best fighting game there is– one that I still play more than any other fighter. The game combines the ability for new players to pick up and play easily (only 3 buttons!) and yet at the same time is the deepest fighting game there is. I’m pretty pumped.

Invincible – Comic to Cartoon Show – Season 1

I finished watching the last episode of Invincible last week and can speak to the series so far in comparison to the comic. Generally, I think they are doing a great job with the cartoon show and the pacing is solid. The Invincible comic starts slower and then ramps up a bit quicker when it does get going than the show–then it starts to cover a LOT of ground. I’m over halfway through the comic series and unfortunately the writing quality really starts to drop, I THINK due to the tie-ins with the other Image comic heroes and what looks like some sort of cross-over event? The middle of the series has an interesting world-effecting plot line that seemed phoned in and didn’t mesh well with the overall metaplot of the series at all. I can’t tell from the trade paperbacks what else was going on with Image at the time, but I’m hoping the comic gets back to form.

But that’s far, far in the future for the Invincible cartoon show and I’m sure they will clean that part up (or even skip it).

In terms of the show’s pacing, the cartoon did the Omni-man plot much slower than in the comic, but did the ‘guardians of the globe’ plot much earlier. The Mauler Twins/ Robot incident doesn’t happen in the comic until long after the main ‘twist’ to the series is revealed. So we got more time with Mark and his dad and less time with development of the Guardians (the new ones that is, I’m trying real hard not to have any spoilers).

The coolest ‘added’ part in the show which isn’t in the comic is when Omni-man goes to the other dimension where the invaders keep coming from and fucks them up, big time. This was eluded to in the comic but never directly shown (as it would reveal too much about Omni-man at that time in the story). That was great.

The battle in the very first episode and the team battle in episode 5(?) vs Machine head were both superb. The comic handles the first Omniman battle quite differently and the Machinehead fight just hit all the numbers with even more intensity than the comic. Image comics (the good ones) have always had solid fight scenes, especially Savage Dragon, and I think Invincible deftly pays homage to Eric Larson’s masterwork.

Of course, there’s shit I didn’t like. I do not like the show’s version of Amber. The girl that Mark was protecting from that bully guy in the comic was not Amber, it was another girl and that girl had no interest in Mark at all. The issue has nothing to do with the fact that they changed her to a different character/skin color, it’s that Amber in the comic LOVES Mark, and it takes a really long time for things to go south because of his duties as Omni-man v2. Comic-Amber doesn’t ever tell him to fuck off and frankly, the way he’s treated by cartoon-Amber in comparison– she has no value as a girlfriend at all compared to the Amber in the comic book. It’s very strange. It’s like they wanted to make this empowered woman that won’t take any shit but that’s not at all what Amber in the comic is about, and Mark really tries to be a nice guy (albeit with anger management issues) and doesn’t ever give her any shit to deal with except the fact that he has to run all over the place to save the town/city/world at times.

Multi-hued Viltrimites. In only one scene there are darker skinned Viltrimites. Typically the Viltrimites are pale with black hair– they all look pretty much the same except for a couple I’ve seen in the comic with different hair colors (usually older ones). While I’m not going to spoil anything about what they actually are, seeing them with different skin colors was very strange and didn’t make a lot of sense. Part of what makes the Viltrimites.. uhh… what they are is that they are all the same and if they aren’t the same, part of a plot later on that’s critical doesn’t make a lot of sense. Let’s see where they go with this one. I saw three of the main Viltrimite characters in the short cut scenes in the last episode and they all looked like they did in the comic.

Final episode pacing. After the big battle, there was a very long period of mellow scenes to roll the episode out. Frankly I would have left it with Omni-man flying away, then cut. I don’t think they knew they would get another season (they did) so maybe that’s why they ended it a bit like a movie.

Anyway, these are minor quibbles to a really awesome series with incredible violence and a compelling meta-plot to hang everything off of. I loved that the lines that Omni-man was saying to Mark in the last episode were things that many dads would say to their teen-age sons. I certainly heard such phrases from my dad, basically “I should have raised you differently, you don’t understand what you are supposed to be doing, you’re not listening, none of the things you think are important now are important at all when you put things in perspective.” Etc. Just like dad’s saying those things…. the eerie part is: many of those things end up being true for many sons. Let’s see if that’s so for Invincible!

One thing you can absolutely count on if you haven’t read the comic is that the level of crazy superhero graphic violence will continue on and on and on.

“I suspect that we are ill-formed for the path we have chosen. Ill-formed and ill-prepared. We would like to draw a veil over all the blood and terror that have brought us to this place. It is our faintness of heart that would close our eyes to all of that, but in so doing it makes of it our destiny‚Ķ But nothing is crueler than a coward, and the slaughter to come is probably beyond our imagining.”

Shadow Planet: The Board Game

Another indy kickstarter I failed not to back. Based on a Graphic Novel (or maybe the other way around), this looks to be a similar game in theme to Stationfall as in: Space, Aliens, Paranoia, except this one is a deck builder. I got suckered in by the art, and then read more about the game and was impressed by what it is trying to do.

I’d like my character ability cancelled by Jenna Scott too.

While there’s a lot of the appearance of FOMO created around the CMON kickstarters, the recent purge of old Kickstarter exclusive content on Miniature market for SMOG, the Others, Hate (kickstarter only in the first place!) and other games means that no matter what is labelled ‘exclusive’ by CMON, it will always come out eventually, and sometimes at very reasonable prices.

The real FOMO is these little kickstarters from new companies that barely make their funding goals and if they don’t the games never come out. I remember an adventure game a few years ago with a really cool map/art that didn’t hit it’s goal, and was never heard from again.

Yes, you may be tempted by CMON, FF or various large publishing company’s kickstarters, but it can really pay off to check out what the small guys are doing (Dungeon Degenerates!), even if you get burned by some mediocre games from time to time (such as Murder at Devil Pines).

Virtua Fighter Rumors…

My son was talking shit this weekend about my Vanessa so we busted out VF5 Final Showdown on the Xbox360 and I stuffed that in his craw (granted he is getting good with Kage). We hadn’t played in almost a year, so he was quite embarrassed by the customized outfits he had made, one being a Santa Clause, “when he was a little kid.”

Rumor has it that there is either an E-sports focused port of VF5 Final Showdown or a VF Ultimate: i.e.: a reskin of the characters and graphics with no (or small) change to the gameplay to update it to modern consoles. While not Virtua Fighter 6, this would be GREAT news either way as the game still looks amazing and needless to say, still blows away everything out since.