Friday, December 16, 2011

[Play-Thru] Claustrophobia

In 2009, I owned a lot of board games - mostly because I was working at a game store, and I have "ooh, shiny" syndrome. (I've since paired my collection down to about 1/3 it's former glory.) One of the games I picked up at the time was Asmodee's Claustrophobia, a two-player dungeon crawl, based in Hell Dorado, the setting of a minis game. A little over two years later, I finally got to play it.

One player controls the Redeemer (essentially a Paladin or Cleric) and his condemned warriors, a group of thugs and and murderers with nothing to live for but their redemption. The other player controls the demon and his troglodytes. It amounts to 17 beautifully pre-painted plastic minis. One may think this is a limited selection in the grand scheme of things, but read on.

The board is modular, a series of square tiles, which get turned over as you explore the catacombs. Many of the boards have special rules, including movement-affecting terrain and game events, such as card drawing or treasure collecting. The tiles are sturdy, the art gorgeous, and the random aspect of the catacombs really increases the re-playability of the game, while adding to the immersion of "where the hell am I" for the Redeemer player.

Speaking of re-playability, there is quite a bit in Claustrophobia to keep you playing. The Redeemer can start the game with a number of different spells and abilities. While the game is scenario-based - there are several in the book and more at the designer's website - the random abilities and the random board seem to provide plenty of fresh play. The condemned are outfitted with different weapons and abilities as well.

While the demon figure doesn't change (duh!), the demon the figure represents does. Basically you have a card that explains the stats and abilities of the demon you're using. There's some nice variance here; I can't wait to try more out.

I mentioned I have "ooh, shiny" syndrome, but if you know me, you know I wasn't necessarily referring to the beauty of the components. The big draw for me was actually the mechanics.

Each good guy character has an interesting take on a character sheet. The character card is dropped into a raised plastic tray, similar to those found in my favorite racing game, Formula D. You use pegs to show damage on these, and there's a spot for a six-sided die. The die you put in that spot determines your stats for the round.

At the beginning of the turn, the Redeemer player rolls a number d6s equal to the number of active characters in play. The dice are then assigned to the character cards, and the numbers correspond to a line of stats. The Redeemer's abilities also tend to correspond to a die number, so you only get them when the right die is used on his card. I mentioned peg holes for damage. These also correspond to lines of stats. If a line is marked by a peg, you can't use that line any longer. If you're forced to put a die in a card that matches a canceled line, that character is out for the round, for the most part.

On the demon side, as I mentioned before, the demon's stats and abilities are determined by which demon you're playing. The troglodytes have their own board. Here dice are rolled to give the troglodytes modified stats or to give the demon player access to more monsters or special events that generally make things hard on the good guys.

Both sides get to make fun - and tough - choices. It makes for an enjoyable tactical experience, as you react to your opponent and deal with the "hand you're dealt" throughout the game.

The rules recommend you begin with a scenario where the Redeemer and his condemned are trying to escape the catacombs, and the demons are pretty much trying to eat the good guys. My friend Robert and I went with this scenario. I played evil (indeed!), and Robert played the Redeemer and his condemned.

At the start of the scenario, it seemed like the good guys were going to run away with it. A d10 was used to show how close the Redeemer was getting to the exit, and it was ticking up fast! Evil eventually got some control and stomped the good guys. Our first play went pretty fast, considering we had the book in hand. I absolutely believe the 45-minute play time on the box.

Combat in the game is simple. Roll a number of d6s equal to the attacker's Combat stat. Each die that beats the defender's Defense causes a wound. Simple and efficient.

Claustrophobia is aptly named. The Redeemer starts out confident; then the game starts to really close in on him. This was exacerbated by the fact that I had two rules wrong, both of which favored my side (not deliberate, I swear!). While we initially thought the game was too skewed toward the bad guys, it turns out it's much more balanced when you play the game correctly!

It's a good sign when the loser of the game wants to play again, and once we determined my rules flub, Robert was ready to play again.

My one complaint about Claustrophobia is the dice. The d6s are OK, but the d10 is very obviously cheap. At the very least, I will be replacing the d10. I may replace the 6s if I can match the size right.

Overall I recommend checking out Claustrophobia. It's a great two-player game - one of my new favorites (despite it being on my shelf two years).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

[Read-Thru] The Flux

Are you one of those GMs who get Shiny New Game Syndrome? Does it cause you to constantly switch games on your usually-reeling players? Have your players held an intervention to make you commit to running the same game for more than, say, 90 days?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions (I may have), then John Wick's The Flux might be just the ticket for you and your group!

The Flux is one of the many little games to be found in John Wick's Big Book of Little Games. The PDF was provided to me, gratis, by the fine folks at DriveThruRPG.

You might be playing The Flux in your current game, and you don't even know it - yet. Because The Flux happens to your character, to your group's whole party, and usually when they least expect it.

Imagine playing a sorceress in a Pathfinder game, and she's in the midst of a climactic battle. Suddenly, your GM describes a humming in your character's ears. She can't place where it comes from - it's everywhere and nowhere. Then there's a flash and BAM! She's no longer a sorceress in Golarion, but a mad scientist in Hollow Earth Expedition. Later in the Hollow Earth, she has been captured by Nazis and left without any gadgets. As the player you try to help the mad scientist recall a memory - a skill or ability - from a previous world or existence, and suddenly she makes a gesture, speaks an incantation, and throws a fireball at her captors, clearing a path for escape!

In The Flux, you can totally do that. Seriously.

So if you're running a game, say RunePunk for Savage Worlds - you love it; you really do - and you discover you can finally read Earthdawn Third Edition on your iPad (totally not your fault!), there's an easy way to transition, using The Flux and making it easy on your players:
  • Grab your players' RunePunk characters
  • Make new Earthdawn characters for them, based generally on their RunePunk characters
  • One session, in a tense moment, have The Flux kick in
  • You're now running Earthdawn
Your players don't have to make new characters or come up with new personalities - you're remaking their characters in a different world. Your players don't have to know about the new world right away - your players' characters are supposed to be hazy on the new setting.

There's no need to remember the rules from the old game. To access their previous characters' abilities, the players keep their characters in a stack - newest on top, oldest on the bottom. They roll some d6s - the difficulty based on how old the previous character is - and if they succeed, they automatically succeed with the best possible outcome: Fireball? Max damage. Shooting? The target is dead, if that was the goal.

On the surface it may seem broken. You may think players will abuse the abilities. But there is a price. The world knows someone is breaking the rules, and it fights back. Every time you use an ability from a previous character, there's a chance for Whiplash, where your character may get really hurt - or worse.

The Flux is very cool. I will be trying it at some point. And to my players: trust me, there were no spoilers in this post...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Freedom From JPEG2000 Tyranny On iPad

If you’re an iPad user and a roleplayer who likes PDFs, one term has likely been the bane of your existence: JPEG2000 compression. As awesome as the iPad is for viewing PDFs, especially with GoodReader, any PDFs using JPEG2000 compression are at least buggy and sometimes unreadable.

There have always been tricks to make them work, but some PDFs are unfixable. Worse, due to many publishers locking their PDFs, there’s nothing you can do but appeal to the publisher for a fix. The problem is you have to spend your hard-earned money or do some research to even find out if a PDF will work on your iPad.

Publisher’s have gotten better about testing their PDFs before release, but for many publishers, there is a lack of skill and/or resources (and sometimes desire, sadly) to do such a thing.  And since my iPad has become my primary reading device, I have taken to just not using those books I can’t read on my iPad. I tend to read on my breaks, and lugging around a 300-page hardcover tome just isn’t convenient. This was an especially tough decision for me recently, when I had to veto my beloved Earthdawn (3rd Ed.) as a candidate for game night, since those books are epically unreadable in GoodReader, despite my efforts.

Then the other morning I had guests, one of which had a new Kindle Fire. I’ve been thinking about the Fire for my wife since she wants a tablet. I’d tried it in the store and liked it. But one thing I’ve considered is making sure there was a PDF reader that will utilize the built-in bookmarks like those added in Acrobat. Sadly many PDF readers (including Adobe’s on Android) don’t.

A quick search led us to ezPDF Reader. For $2.99 it seemed to have what Android users needed. My buddy went ahead and downloaded it. Success! So if my wife gets a Fire, or any other Android tablet, she’ll be good to go.

It’s a great app, and I liked the interface so much I wanted to see what it looked like on iPad. A quick trip to the App Store, and I was dumbstruck. It lists as a feature that it can read JPEG2000 compression! I downloaded it immediately.

It turns out it works as advertised. I can now read my beloved Earthdawn on the iPad. Pages turn a little slow when the app is set so it can read JPEG2000 (GoodReader just builds on features native to iOS - which is why its fast and JPEG2000 doesn’t work on it),  but it’s absolutely beautifully displayed.

The interface seems clunky, but it might just be that it’s different, since I’m so used to GoodReader. I haven’t even made the time to check out all the features, so I won’t call it a GoodReader “killer” just yet (though it will read those bookmarks). But at $2.99, it’s well worth the price of admission even if I only ever use it to read those pesky JPEG2000-plagued PDFs.