Friday 29 January 2021

horror stories - Betrayal Legacy Chapters 7 to 9

Warning: Major spoilers ahead. If you have not played and intend to play Betrayal Legacy, you may not want to read on. I write about Chapters 7 to 9 in this blog post.

Chapter 7 happened in Year 1876. The story started with a wedding being cancelled at the last minute, due to the unexpected death of the bride. The body was found in this creek above. In this chapter I was a priest. The death of the bride was initially a mystery. Soon we realised that all the players were secretly in love with her and all of us were accomplices in causing her death. When the Haunt happened, all of us turned traitor. However we were not on the same team. It was everyone for himself. There could only be one survivor and winner. 

The Haunt brought policemen to the mansion, a detective leading a team of constables. Incriminating evidence of all players were placed in a specific room, and the room was numbered 10. Some other locations were numbered, and the detective would visit all numbered locations one by one to look for evidence. What we had to do was plant evidence incriminating other players for the detective to discover. Whenever the detective discovered a piece of evidence, the corresponding player would be arrested and would thus be out of the game. Planting evidence was not easy to do though. There were constables around and we could not be caught in the act. If the detective reached the final location, he would discover all evidence incriminating all remaining players. The evidence was in a stack, and he would arrest players in order. Only the last player would be spared, and he would win the game. So one way to win without incriminating others was to manipulate the evidence stack to place your evidence at the bottom.  

The grey round markers in the photo indicate the locations the detective would visit. The detective is the dark red round marker on the upper right. 

If manipulating evidence was too difficult, we also had the option of killing our competitors when the policemen were not watching. This was not easy either, because there were policemen everywhere. When we explored the house, we created many long corridors with excellent line of sight. There were not many corners we could hide and do evil stuff. We soon found that we had no more opportunities to plant evidence, because all the remaining search locations were being watched by constables. Michelle decided to gamble. She attacked one of the lone constables, hoping that after killing him, she would be able to plant incriminating evidence at one of the search locations. Desperate measures! Unfortunately for her, the constable was well-trained and parried her surprise attack. She was immediately arrested and she was first to be out of the game. 

In the photo above, the detective (dark red marker), Shee Yun (yellow) and I (green) were all outdoors (group of tiles on the right side). Michelle (red) and Chen Rui (blue) were inside the house and upstairs (upper left). 

The detective was at the bottom right, and he was approaching search location #2. Next he would go to #3, #5 and #6, which were nearby. He would be progressing swiftly since these locations were close to one another. We did not have search location #4 this game. 

The detective had searched location #2 by now (the token had been removed), and was now heading to location #3. Shee Yun (yellow), the detective and I (green) were all in a straight line, which meant Shee Yun and I were in the detective's line of sight. I was hoping to kill her when nobody was watching, and I had missed my chance. However soon after this she went into the house, i.e. out of sight of the detective. I quickly followed her, while the detective was still busy outside, and killed her.

Now the only remaining players were Chen Rui and I. I could go upstairs to hunt her down. I was better at fighting this time. I could also just make sure the evidence pile at the last location was not disturbed. My evidence was at the bottom, so as long as nobody rocked the boat, the detective would arrest Chen Rui first, and I would be pronounced innocent, and win the game. At this juncture, it was difficult for Chen Rui to manipulate the evidence stack. 

At the time I had an apothecary kit with me, which I could use to boost my stats. Despite being in the leading position, it was never a bad idea to further solidify my lead. I drank a potion to make myself stronger before I hunted Chen Rui down. Unfortunately for me, there was something in the potion I was allergic to, and I died immediately after drinking it. It reduced my Sanity, which was already at the critical point. Game over for me. 

It was due to my greed and over-confidence that I neglected the fact that drinking potions was a risky thing to do. I rolled a 2, and ended up poisoning myself. Chen Rui won without needing to do anything. I felt stupid stupid stupid. Probably served me right - for being a priest and still secretly desiring a lady. 

Chapter 8 happened in Year 1890. My job was a scholar, but I was a lousy one. My Knowledge was poor. 

This time Chen Rui was the traitor again, and she was very happy about it. She worshipped the dark lord, who was almost able to break free from his chains and re-emerge into our world. The heroes' mission was to find the chalice, and to search the underworld for three pieces of corners of hell. These three cards were shuffled into the bottom 11 cards of the deck, which meant we had to do much underworld exploration to get to them. 

In this chapter, some of the standard rules were modified. We could explore the underworld from omen locations (those with the yellow crow icon in the photo above). Each omen location could be used just once for exploring the underworld. It was still best if we could find the chasm, from which we could explore the underworld as many times as we wished. This chapter felt almost impossible for the heroes. Chen Rui as the traitor could use the helm to inflict damage on us every turn. There was still a bit of luck needed, but since she had very few family crests on the helm, the odds were good for her to damage one of us successfully. 

When we explored the underworld, we would usually take some damage too. This was very tough for us. I wonder whether we should have tried to gang up on Chen Rui and kill her first, before searching for the chalice and the corners of hell. Not that this would be easy. She could summon dead inhabitants of the house to do her bidding. 

When she struck a fatal blow, we realised that we would not die from it. We became very weak, with all our traits set to critical. She wasn't actually trying to kill us. She was just branding us to be slaves of her master. This was her objective, and she completed it without breaking a sweat. No wonder she already declared this too easy when she read the Traitor's Tomb explaining the Haunt. 

Chapter 9 occurred in Year 1901. At the end of Chapter 8, the dark lord was supposed to re-emerge after the heroes failed to stop him. However there was a twist in the narrative in the legacy deck. Just before the dark lord returned, one of the weakened heroes managed to destroy the chalice, and this prevented the dark lord from returning. After the events in Chapter 8, all the heroes and the traitor vanished without a trace. The house was abandoned. Many years later the local government claimed the house and repurposed it to become a mental hospital. 

In Chapter 9, I became a proper traitor for the first time. I had played traitor twice before, but in one case I had voluntarily joined the traitor team because it was more likely to win (and it did), and in the other everyone was a traitor and it was a free-for-all game mode. This was the first time I played traitor in a one-vs-many scenario. 

I was a mad scientist and I had discovered a way to reanimate dead bodies. When the Haunt occurred, I transformed two of the inhabitants of the hospital to become zombies under my control - a chimpanzee and an orderly. Both were physically strong, and I wanted to use them to overpower the heroes. My goal was to kill all the heroes. The Traitor's Tomb hinted that the heroes would be working on a concoction which I needed to be cautious of, but it didn't say exactly how this worked. I had to play by ear. 

When the Haunt occurred, Chen Rui (blue) found herself in a dead end (photo above). Two of my zombies were in her way. She was cornered. I (green) was nearby too. If my zombies were able to kill her, I could reanimate her, turning her into another zombie under my control. She would become my teammate. This scenario seemed to be very tough for the heroes too! 

At this point, Michelle who was inside the house had an opportunity to swap places with Chen Rui, to get Chen Rui out of trouble. I didn't know it at the time - they needed Chen Rui's high Knowledge to help them develop an antidote which could be used against me and my zombies. Thus the importance of getting Chen Rui away from danger. Chen Rui had an equipment which could help her escape, so they decided it was not necessary to have Michelle risk herself. Unfortunately for them, Chen Rui's equipment failed to work. She didn't manage to get the required die roll. My zombies swamped her and killed her. 

When Chen Rui (blue) was killed, we added a ghost sticker to the tile. 

I (green) reanimated Chen Rui (blue). She now carried this small monster token, indicating that she was a zombie and she was on the traitor team. Chen Rui dying was a major setback for the heroes because it would be more difficult for them to develop the antidote. Shee Yun decided she had to attempt it anyway before it was too late. She managed to roll the required number. Also, when she used the reroll power, it triggered a helm event, and that helm event happened to give her additional Speed. Her Speed went up to 8, the max. Once the antidote was ready, Speed was an important trait because administering the antidote was done using the Speed trait. Shee Yun was well positioned to kill me and all my zombies with the antidote now available and the max possible Speed. 

When Chen Rui died, she dropped all her equipment. I picked them all up. The equipment which she had previously tried to use to escape was a magic mirror. I looked at how it worked, and found it pretty handy. It could be used to steal equipment from other players. The mirror became more powerful at locations with ghosts. Since I was in the crypt, which had four ghosts, I took the opportunity to use the mirror. I managed to steal a weapon from Shee Yun - the violin. This was a weapon operated using Sanity. I had high Sanity so this was perfect for me. I didn't have any decent weapon prior to that, and I wasn't physically strong either, so being able to steal this weapon helped me greatly. 

Shee Yun came to where I was, and I was rather puzzled. I had just killed Chen Rui, and I had two zombies nearby. This should be the last place she wanted to be. Only afterwards I realised she needed to come to where I was - the warehouse - because it was the only place she could develop the antidote. There were other locations where the antidote could be developed, but they were not yet discovered. Shee Yun successfully developed the antidote, but she had not foreseen that I would steal the violin from her. Before she could attack me or my minions, I played the violin horribly and the noise killed her. Had I attacked her using Might, she probably would have survived to be able to attack me when her turn came. Unfortunately for her, her Sanity level was weak, so my horrible violin-playing was very effective on her. I soon reanimated her too and made her my zombie. 

I (green) attacked Shee Yun (yellow) using my violin. 

The only hero left now was Michelle (red). She did not have much choice other than trying to fight all of us one by one and hoping to survive. The heroes' mission was to kill the traitor and all the zombies, including the hero-turned-zombies. That was a lot of work. Despite the poor odds, Michelle managed to kill both Shee Yun and Chen Rui. I guess that was a consolation for the heroes. At least Shee Yun and Chen Rui were properly put to rest and did not need to continue to "live" as zombies. 

Eventually Michelle (red) succumbed to my horrible violin-playing too, and I won the game as the traitor. The violin was my family heirloom (green sticker), so it increased my Sanity by 1 when I carried it. That contributed to my high Sanity. I had named this the heavy metal violin.  

Having played 10 games so far, if I look at just those one-traitor-vs-many-heroes scenarios, it seems most of the time it is difficult for the heroes to win. There was only one early scenario where the traitor was bullied by the heroes. For all the rest, it was an uphill battle for the heroes. Sometimes it felt downright hopeless. Perhaps that is the whole point. This is a horror game after all. Dread and despair is what the players should feel. Also if the heroes do manage to win, it would be highly satisfying. 

Friday 22 January 2021


The Game

Yokohama, by Hisashi Hayashi, is a heavy Eurogame published in 2016. It's a Japanese themed game designed by a Japanese, so you can rest assured the setting and cultural aspects will be portrayed properly. Mechanism-wise, this is a typical point-scoring Eurogame. I played it with Allen and Han on BoardGameArena. When I first read the rules, it seemed a little intimidating. Now that I have played it, it is not as complex as I had imagined.

This is how a 3-player game is set up. The size of the play area differs based on player count. Every tile that makes up the play area is a location in Yokohama. Each location allows you to perform a specific type of action. I consider this a worker placement game, although technically you only have one worker - your company president, who is supported by a team of assistants. On your turn, you first deploy up to 3 assistants anywhere on the board. You then move your president to a new location, and perform the corresponding action. The new location must not have another president present. This is the worker placement aspect of the game. Each location your president passes through and the final destination must have at least one of your assistants. Think of the assistants as always going earlier than the president to make appointments, arrange travel logistics and book accommodation. Once the president reaches the new location, you check your Power at the location to determine how strong your action is. The president and the assistants each contribute 1 Power. Each building you own also contributes 1 Power. Once you complete your action, all assistants at the location are returned to your hand and become available again for new assignments. The president stays on the board. You only have a limited number of assistants. Managing how many and where you deploy them, and how quickly they return to you, are an important aspect of the game. 

In the screenshot above, the pawns are the presidents, and the cubes the assistants. At the bottom of each location you can see 5 rewards listed, for Power levels 1 to 5. These describe how strong your action is depending on Power level. In some cases you must have at least 2 or 3 Power to be able to gain anything from a location. Things you do at a location include gaining resources, taking orders, gaining techs, and converting resources to victory points. Orders are a way to convert resources to points. At any time you may pay the resources listed on an order to complete it and score it. 

In addition to the main board, there are a number of management boards which represent specific locations on the main board. These three above are the Employment Agency, the Port and the Customs House. The Employment Agency is where you get to take more assistants, shops and trading houses into your hand, i.e. you come here to get more game pieces. Normally what you get at the start of the game won't be enough. To get shops and trading houses, you have to pay too. The Port is where orders can be taken. The Customs House is where you trade imported goods (the rarest resource type) for points. 

These three management boards are the Dock, the Lab and the Church. The Dock works the same way as the Port. You come here to take orders. The Lab offers techs, which are permanent powers you get to enjoy for the rest of the game. The Church is for converting resources to points. 

There is no fixed number of rounds. Instead you have 5 different ways a game can end. When you are unable to fill order spots at the Dock or the Port, the game ends. When you use the Church or the Customs House, you must leave behind an assistant. Once the total number of such committed assistants reaches a certain count, the game ends too. The final two ways the game ends are when any player builds all of his shops, or all of his trading houses. The players have some control over how the game ends and whether it ends at a time beneficial to them. 

The Play

When I first started playing, the number of options was overwhelming. So much to do! I didn't have much idea what's best to do first. So I stuck to the general principles of resource conversion games - just try to gather resources as efficiently as possible. They will be useful sooner or later. This turned out to work well for me. In this aspect, Yokohama is similar to other resource conversion Eurogames. Being efficient is always good. 

What stood out for me in Yokohama was the worker placement mechanism. It is quite different from typical worker placement games, so at first I didn't even think of it as worker placement. When you deploy assistants, you either deploy three to different locations, or two to a single location. Naturally, being able to deploy more is more efficient. However that means you need good forward planning. You can only use one location on your turn. Scattering assistants about means they will be stuck on the board for a longer time, waiting for the president to come and use them. Sometimes when you are in a hurry to achieve high Power at a location, you need to place two assistants there. Not ideal, but sometimes necessary. Since your assistants are paving the way for your president, you need to think ahead where your president wants to go. You also need to consider how much Power you need when your president eventually arrives at a location, so that prior to his arrival, you have already spent enough turns dropping in the required number of assistants. In my mind, this whole thing about a busy president's meeting schedule and a team of assistants scurrying around to make sure everything is properly arranged is the soul of the game. What the president actually does, i.e. the resource collection and conversion to points, are not particularly noteworthy. Sometimes you deploy an assistant to a location because the location is on the president's route, not because you actually want to use it. It is a little wasteful leaving this assistant there and never use him. If you can work this location into your strategy, it might be beneficial. 

Positioning of your president is important because you can use him to hinder your opponents. When your president is present, your opponents' presidents may not use the location. Also they need to pay you if they want to place assistants, or if their presidents pass through. Money is tight. If you can extort some toll fees from your opponents, it's a good thing.  

Watching how your opponents place their assistants is an early warning mechanism. You can roughly guess what they intend to do in the next few rounds and what strategies they are focusing on. 

The board setup is random, so before the game starts you already need to analyse the board situation and have a rough idea how you want to play, and what strategies would be easier to execute. 

The shops and trading houses are the engine-building aspect of the game. When you build them, you can gain points and other benefits. They permanently increase your Power at a location. If you intend to use a location frequently, you should build something there. It will save you assistants and time. It is a commitment not to be taken lightly though. If you end up not using the building much, it's a waste. Buildings are expensive. 

The Power mechanism is interesting. You need to have 4 Power to construct a building, and getting to 4 Power takes some forward planning. Usually you will need to have three assistants supporting your president. You also need to make sure you have a building in hand. All locations give a bonus to the first visiting player to achieve 5 Power. That's yet another thing that causes competition among players. 

My (red) president was on 1st row, 4th location. Han's (blue) president was on 2nd row, 1st location. Allen's (green) president was in his hand. When your president has no good place to go to, you may forfeit his action and take him back into your hand. Next turn you may deploy him anywhere instead of needing to move him step by step from one location to another. Forfeiting one action is usually not a good idea. It's almost equivalent to wasting one full turn. 

You can see that each location has a brown card at its top right. The brown cards are construction sites. The four small spaces are for shops, and the one large space is for a trading house. If you look at 3rd row, 3rd location, both Han (blue) and I (red) have one shop. 

In this particular game, most of the resource locations were on the right half of the board. Both the rightmost cards in the 1st row were fishing grounds. The rightmost card in the 2nd row was the tea plantation. The rightmost card in the 3rd row was the copper mine. Only the silk farm was on the left side, in the 4th row. Since I had decided to focus on resource collection, I spent most of my time on the right half of the board. Between the Dock (2nd row, 1st location) and the Port (4th row, 2nd location), the Port was nearer to where I operated, so I mostly took orders there, so that I didn't have to move far. 

The three cards at the top left are the achievement cards. They are randomly drawn during game setup. When you fulfil the condition stated, you score points, without needing to consume any resources. The first player to fulfil the condition scores the point value on the left side of the card. Others who fulfil the condition later scores the point value on the right. These achievements give players another objective to aim for. 

The card in the middle, next to the achievements, is an order card. It requires 4 tea and 1 silk, and it is worth 8 victory points. There is a country flag at the top of the order card. This particular order is from France. You score points for collecting country flags. There are five countries: France, England, Germany, USA and the Netherlands. 

These are the completed orders and the claimed technologies. The technologies come with country flags too. 

At this point the order deck had run out, and there was one spot at the Dock which could not be filled. The game end was now triggered. The current round would be completed, and then another full round played, before the game ended. 

3rd row, 1st location was the Customs House. All three of us had committed some assistants here (cubes), and we all hoped to visit before game end to convert our imported goods to points. The game ended more abruptly that we had anticipated. We were not quite ready. I was earlier in turn order, and quickly went to the Customs House to surrender my imported goods. This was bad news for Allen and Han, because I now blocked this location from their presidents. Han still managed to use another method to trigger an action here, but it was a weaker version and did not score him as many points as he would have scored normally. 

I (red) completed the most orders, while Han (blue) had the most techs. 

The Thoughts

Yokohama is a resource collection and conversion game, which sounds boring and doesn't do it justice. I find the president and assistant management interesting. There are many things you can do, but you won't be able to maximise everything. You can only try your best to do as much as possible with as few actions as possible. There are no direct ways to attack your opponents, but there is certainly no lack of player interaction. How you position your president, how you race to grab various rewards, and the area majority contest are all ways you will compete. You can say it is peaceful competition, but it can be ruthless competition all the same. I find this a heavy game and wouldn't recommend it to new players, since there is a lot to take in at the same time. Not that it is very complex. It is the breadth that may be challenging for new players. For regular boardgamers, this game is rewarding to learn and play. 

Friday 15 January 2021

horror stories - Betrayal Legacy

I bought Betrayal Legacy more than a year ago. This is a legacy game. I had originally intended to play the whole campaign with a same group of colleagues. However a few of us moved on to new jobs, and we had fewer opportunities to play. We only managed to play up to Chapter 3. I thought it was unlikely we would complete the rest of the campaign, so I decided to change plans. I tried to recruit my family to continue this campaign with me. There are 14 campaign mode games to be played in total, a tutorial game and 13 proper games. I had done the tutorial and the first three chapters, so there were 10 more chapters to be played. 

When I tried to sell the game to my family, younger daughter Chen Rui was the most intrigued. Playing traitor sounded like a great idea. My wife Michelle wasn't so keen on games with aggression, so she wasn't comfortable with the idea of turning traitor and having to fight. Elder daughter Shee Yun wasn't too interested. She's mostly playing online multiplayer games nowadays. Thankfully I was still able to convince everyone to give it a go, and we had an enjoyable time with the game, playing three chapters over the new year long weekend. Michelle said the game wasn't as scary as I made it sound. I probably oversold the horror part of it. She thought of it more as a cooperative game. She didn't want to play traitor, so we agreed if she happened to be assigned that role, we would find some way to reassign it to someone else. Shee Yun was very engrossed when we played. She usually plays seriously. She learns the rules quickly and knows how to utilise opportunities. She plays purposefully for the win. Chen Rui's life goal is to be the traitor. She plays based on what fancies her and what she finds fun, and she doesn't always care about winning or what the system is driving her towards. In our games she did happen to play traitor quite a few times, which made her happy. Our game sessions took a bit longer than I expected - about 2 hours per game. 

Warning: Major spoilers ahead. If you have not played and intend to play Betrayal Legacy, you may not want to read on. I write about Chapters 4 to 6 in this blog post. 

This was Chapter 4 (Year 1797), and the story started at a funeral. There was a mining accident, and thirteen miners died. The funeral was held at the cemetery in front of the house. In the first half of the game, Michelle and I explored the outside of the house, while Shee Yun (yellow) and Chen Rui (blue) explored indoors. This was the situation when the Haunt was triggered. The Haunt is the incident which changes the game, usually turning one of the players into a traitor, and from that point onwards the game transforms from a cooperative one to a traitor-vs-heroes contest. 

The child in yellow pyjamas is holding a teddy bear behind her back. Chen Rui (blue player) and Shee Yun (yellow player) encountered both the NPC's (non-player characters) in our game. The green one was a man, and the purple one a woman. The man, a grounds keeper, was rather annoying. When you encountered him, you had to swap an item for a random new one, or take mental damage. The woman was good. If you spoke to her you could look at the top three tiles from the room deck and bury two to the bottom of the deck. You would have some control over which room would be discovered next. These NPC's are occasionally changed. In the next game it may be a different character. There are three NPC's in the game - man, woman and animal. 

I was the one who triggered the Haunt. Normally it would be this same person who turned traitor. However in Chapter 4, the traitor was to be the player with the highest Knowledge. At that point, it was Chen Rui (right). So her wish came true. See how happy she was reading the rulebook. 

Our story involved a pukwudgie. I had to look up Wikipedia to learn that this is a creature from Native American folklore. It is similar to "child ghost" in South East Asian folklore. If you rear a pukwudgie, you can get it do things for you like finding something lost, stealing something and cheating when gambling. A pukwudgie is more a handy minion type of monster than a scary predator type. In our game, Chen Rui the traitor was suspected to be in league with a pukwudgie. We heroes needed to collect enough evidence to put her on trial. Only if we managed to convict her could we lynch her. We were not allowed to hurt her before that. To gather evidence we had to catch the pukwudgie and force it to confess. 

At this stage, we had only explored the outside of the house (the group of tiles on the right in the photo above) and the ground floor (tiles on the left). We had not explored the basement or the upper floor. 

Michelle (red) and I (green) were both outside. The tile I was on had a crow icon, which was the omen icon. When you discover a tile with an omen icon, you will need to draw an omen card, and you will need to roll dice to see whether the Haunt is triggered. Often the person triggering the Haunt is the one who turns traitor. It was this specific tile I discovered which triggered the Haunt. 

Since Chen Rui was the traitor, she had to read the traitor's booklet. The heroes (i.e. good guys) read the heroes' booklet. The two sides do not know what is written in the booklet of the other side. You can decide when to reveal relevant information to your opponents, typically at a time convenient to you. 

When preparing to play traitor, Chen Rui placed many components on her player board. These were the traps she could set in this scenario. They looked intimidating. This was a fun scenario for the traitor - so many toys! What was funny was one of the traps she set - the crib - ended up hurting her much more often than it hurt the rest of us. In this scenario the traps affected the traitor too. 

Michelle, Shee Yun and I worked hard at chasing down the pukwudgie in order to force evidence out of it. Unfortunately we had poor die rolls, and we also kept forgetting to use the once-per-game reroll ability. We were all worried about Chen Rui hunting us down. We could not attack her yet because we needed to prove her guilt first. We were slow in gathering evidence. While we were doing this, Chen Rui busied herself outside the house doing searches. We had no idea what she was searching for, but we knew she was definitely up to no good. She placed many "Searched" tokens outside. We didn't know what they meant or how we could get rid of them. We did not dare to go near, in case they would hurt us. We watched helplessly as Chen Rui placed more and more of them. 

Eventually we managed to gather some evidence. Not a lot, but enough to be worth an attempt to put Chen Rui on trial. Shee Yun was the one confronting Chen Rui, and I was present too. Both Shee Yun and I carried evidence on us, and we needed as much evidence as possible on the same tile as Chen Rui when confronting her. Shee Yun's die roll odds were decent, but unfortunately she failed to roll what we needed. She had already used her reroll power earlier in the game so she couldn't reroll. We could not prove Chen Rui guilty. On Chen Rui's next turn, she promptly announced that she had won. It turned out that she wasn't actually trying to kill us off, although she could do that to win. Her target was the pukwudgie too. This pukwudgie had been going out of control, threatening her and demanding things from her. So she herself wanted to capture and imprison the pukwudgie. All that "searching" was actually preparing to capture the creature.  

That pink rectangular token was a piece of evidence I carried. The rune tokens represent evidence in this scenario. I had two (green) omen cards. The second one, a porcelain doll, was treated as a ghost I carried with me. Spooky doll! Whenever a character dies in Betrayal Legacy, you add a ghost sticker to the location he or she is in. Some equipment in the game becomes more powerful when you use them at locations with ghosts. So it can be useful carrying a ghost doll with you. You will always have at least one ghost wherever you are. My Calling was Occultist. Whenever I rolled dice based on my traits, I could add 1 to my result if there was a ghost around. Since I carried the porcelain doll with me, I would always enjoy this benefit. 

This was Chapter 5, Year 1830. I think this is a nod to the classic train game 1830. The house owner was Chen Rui. She was turning mad. Her sanity was reduced, but her might increased. Michelle, Shee Yun and I were guests at her home. This time we mostly explored the upper floor (the group of tiles at the bottom) and the basement (group of tiles at the top). 

This Bloody Room on the left looks scary, but it's a good tile to discover. If you search the room successfully, you can find an item.  The two skull icons at the bottom left are the ghost icons. Two people have died in this room in the past. 

When the Haunt happened in this game, we found that a portal had opened, leading to the underworld. No one turned traitor immediately. We were all heroes and our job was to seal the portal. To do that we had to collect spell fragments found around the house. The problem with these fragments was some of them were active. When we touched these, we would turn traitor. We could only collect the dormant fragments to seal the portal. The dormant fragments could turn active, so carrying them was a risk. A hero working hard to seal the portal may suddenly go crazy. 

When we triggered the Haunt, there were three fragments in the house, two dormant and one active. To seal the portal we needed four fragments, so we still needed to explore the house to find two more. Immediately after the Haunt was triggered, Chen Rui ran upstairs to where the active fragment was, and muahahaha turned herself traitor! After she transformed, she still had one action point. She turned around and smiled at Michelle who was just next door, and shot her dead. Chen Rui had a gun which was operated based on the knowledge trait, and she had high knowledge. This was not good. 

In this game I was a decent fighter, but not Shee Yun. Also, she didn't have any weapon with her. When Chen Rui came after us, Shee Yun immediately turned tail and ran, leaving me to fend for myself. How could my own daughter do this to me?! With only two of us left, it was going to be difficult to gather four fragments, especially when there weren't even enough dormant fragments on the board yet. With Chen Rui coming at us, we could soon be killed. My thinking was to take the fight to her and eliminate her first, before we continued to search for fragments. Shee Yun's plan was to find a weapon first. I did end up fighting Chen Rui a few times. I was lucky I did not promptly get myself killed. Both of us were only slightly injured. 

Then something unexpected happened. Another active fragment appeared. Shee Yun and I looked at each other, and we both thought: screw this I'm going to turn traitor. Both of us ran towards the active fragment. She was closer to it and would beat me to it. She and Chen Rui giggled gleefully. They would be teaming up to whack daddy again. 

I thought I was doomed, but then when I used one of my equipment, I found myself teleported to the room with the active fragment. I greedily picked up the fragment, and turned myself traitor, while Shee Yun looked on in horror. It was going to be two strong fighter traitors against one weak hero. Time to declare game over. At this point Chen Rui asked me, can a traitor attack another traitor? She still wanted to kill me! I looked up the rulebook, and could not find a definite answer. Normally a game has only one traitor. I decided that in the spirit of the scenario, the traitors were on the same team and should not be attacking one another. That wouldn't be logical. Chen Rui was disappointed.  

Red was Michelle. That was where she was shot dead by Chen Rui. 

Chen Rui wasn't too keen about taking down Shee Yun, so I had to do the job. Then another twist came. A third active fragment appeared. That was a life saver for Shee Yun. She quickly grabbed it and joined us at the dark side. The game ended with three traitors winning. It was a dark day for humankind. 

Shee Yun (yellow) transformed in this room. 

Chapter 6 occurred in 1849. This group photo turned up. I don't know what it's actually for. After we completed the chapter, we were instructed to discard the photo. I am guessing that since there were a few possible stories for Chapter 6, the one we had did not use the photo, but another one would have. I am impressed that the game makers took the game components this seriously. The five figurines were not just random characters. The game makers found five models to take this photo, and the figurines were designed to match them. 

Our Chapter 6 was the monster ants scenario. It was one with no traitor. This was a fully cooperative scenario, and that disappointed Chen Rui somewhat. She wanted to play traitor and kill everyone else. In our story, Shee Yun (yellow) was the one triggering the Haunt and she was first to run into the queen ant monster, the large teardrop shaped monster token in the photo above. The queen ant had three drone ants on her, representing her bodyguards. When she fought, these bodyguards allowed her to reroll. 

Once the queen appeared, she would visit a number of locations in a specific order. She would lay eggs at each location. If she reached the final location, the heroes would lose. At the end of every hero's turn, a new tile must be revealed, and a drone placed on it. Drones prioritised filling up the queen's bodyguard team. Once that's done, they would hunt down and attack the characters closest to them, including the NPC's. 

As heroes, we could set up traps for the queen. We knew the order it would visit the series of locations, so we could predict her path. If we managed to ensnare her, we would kill her bodyguards and stall her momentarily. That would be the best time to strike. 

The monster ants acted once per round, like an automata traitor. We revealed many tiles this game, and brought on many drones. The swarm of ants killed both our male and female NPC's. I wished they had killed the animal NPC, the annoying hound, but the hound was a strong fighter and survived. It would have been nice to have the female NPC around. She was the only helpful NPC. Too bad we couldn't save her. 

One thing we were lucky with was the second destination of the queen came up very late. The queen needed to go to the kitchen, but it was nowhere to be found. At one point we were worried whether we had misplaced the kitchen tile and we searched the tile deck to make sure it was there. It was. Phew. When the queen could not see its next destination, it would feel lost and stay where it was. In our game, it squatted at the front door for a loooong time pondering the meaning of life. We had plenty of time to set up traps for it. We knew it would definitely need to come into the house and walk through the main hall to get to the kitchen when the kitchen showed up. In the photo above, the pink rectangles are the traps we had set for her. 

By the time the kitchen tile was drawn and placed, we were ready to fight the queen. I (green) was the designated queen killer, since I was strong in battle this time. Earlier in the game when I explored the underworld I obtained this tool, the Sphere of Amber, which was quite powerful. It was single-use. When I needed to roll dice, instead of rolling I could decide to use a result of 8. The queen's might was 7, which meant when fighting she would roll 7 dice, and her results would be a 7 on average. Fighting her using the Sphere of Amber was not a guaranteed win, but the odds were better than average. When the queen rolled, she got an abysmal 4. I easily slapped her dead. The heroes won with zero casualties! 

The orange octagon on the right is the hound, the animal NPC. Michelle (red) was weak in fighting this time, and hid at the lower right corner. I (green) was stronger so I tried to lure the drone ants away from her. 

After playing Chapters 4 to 6, I was surprised that we didn't have many deaths among the players. Only Michelle's character died in Chapter 5. In previous games I witnessed many more deaths. We tended to prefer to play the same characters if they survived, so many of our family records had the same persons appearing again and again. They always went back to the house again when they were older.  Perhaps that adds to our story. 

Thursday 14 January 2021

Kickstarter: Ping Yao


Ping Yao is a game about the earliest bank networks in China, set in the Qing Dynasty. Ping Yao itself is the city where such bank networks started. This game is a medium-weight Eurogame with dice placement as the core mechanism. The artwork and production look amazing. It is on Kickstarter now. Quite many reviewers have reviewed the game and done videos for it. Check out their Kickstarter page.  

Friday 8 January 2021

boardgaming in photos: Escape, Ascension, Epic, Lords of Runeterra

13 Dec 2020. When I brought out Escape: The Curse of the Temple again, I realised I really was rusty. I have played it many times with elder daughter Shee Yun. We have done all the modules in both the expansions. This time, it took us a few attempts to win. We were only playing the very basic mode, without even the Curses or Treasures modules which come with the base game. 

Younger daughter Chen Rui was still afraid of the soundtrack which comes with the game, so we used the non-scary soundtrack I composed. I teased her, aren't you a bit too old to be still using this non-scary soundtrack? 

This was one rather extreme game of Ascension I played against Han. This was his last turn. The victory points had been exhausted (0 star with red glow at the centre). Han was at 54VP (small star along the top edge) and I was at 10VP (star at bottom left). He had 13 runes (grey triangle) and 57 attack (red circle)! There were no monsters in the centre row for him to attack now. If he spent the 57 attack on the 2-health cultists, he would be defeating them 28 times! Over the many years of playing Ascension, I think this was the first time I encountered such a situation. 

The reason was this specific card. This allowed Han to treat all Mechana heroes as constructs, i.e. they could stay on the table and didn't have to placed in the discard pile. Because of this he had many Mechana cards in play every turn. 

Completely slaughtered... 193 vs 63. More than 3 times my score.  

This is Epic on iOS. I own the physical game, but have only played it a few times. I remember it fondly as a quick and fast-changing game. However I never spent much time to learn it better and play it more. I noticed the app version was free-to-play, so I downloaded it to give it a go. It turned out to be a disappointment. It was not well polished. Not having bells and whistles was forgivable. What annoyed me was the user interface design. It was workable, but it made the game feel tedious to play. I don't remember the physical game being so much hassle. During battle, both players have opportunities to play cards until both pass. In the app, this was implemented in such a way that I had to press some button a number of times before I could get one single fight resolved. It wasn't smooth at all and I think it could have been done better.  

My biggest gripe is the speed of the AI. It takes a long time to think. I can't stand that. Simplistic or the lack of visual effects and sound effects do affect the user experience, but these are not problems with gameplay. The AI speed and the user interface (UI) design are the showstoppers for me. One more example of why I don't like the UI is how I view the details of a card. When I bring up the card details screen, I have to click a button to close it. A better way would be to let me touch and hold the card to call up a details box, and when I lift my finger, dismiss the details box. Alternatively when the details box is open, just let me touch anywhere to close it, instead of requiring I press a specific button. All these annoyances add up to stop me from enjoying the actual game. It felt like a poor game. This app version of the game really can use some refinement. 

Legends of Runeterra is a very different story. This is a digital-only 2-player card game based on the League of Legends universe. It has beautiful artwork, impressive visual effects and sound effects, and good UI design. The user experience is excellent, and reminds me of Hearthstone. All these are games of the same genre. It is two players building decks then going head-to-head trying to reduce the other's health to zero. 

It is probably grossly unfair for me to compare Epic with the other two titles. Its production budget and development team are likely much smaller than the other two. It doesn't make sense to compare a low-budget indie film with a Hollywood summer blockbuster. Still, I think the UI and AI speed in Epic need to be improved. 

In the screenshot above, there are many keywords in yellow on the character card. When you touch a keyword, an explanation pops up. 

The onboarding experience of Legends of Runeterra is excellent. I don't know the universe or the characters, but it is still fun for me. It's just another generic fantasy setting to me. I'm not sure I will play this for long though, because I'm too lazy to do deck-building. I used to play Hearthstone, and that didn't last very long for this reason. I find Legends of Runeterra rather similar to Hearthstone. Some elements are exactly the same. 

Every round players receive mana, which is then spent to play cards. Some cards are characters, and others are spells. Spells have one-time effects. Characters stay in play and are used to attack your opponent and to defend yourself against attacks. In the first round you get one mana, in the second round two mana, and so on. Just like Hearthstone. One difference is that up to three unspent mana can be carried over to the next round, and such mana can be spent on spells. Another difference is the round structure. In Hearthstone, when it is your turn, you gain mana, play cards and attack. After that your opponent takes his turn. In Legends of Runeterra, when a round starts, both players gain mana, and then they take turns performing actions, until both pass. Within one round, only one player gets the attack token and may initiate attacks. The other player may only defend. So players only get to attack every other round. 

I recently purchased the Brink of War expansion in the Race for the Galaxy app. This is the third and last expansion in the first story arc. I have been playing this a lot, so it's well worth the money spent. The main element introduced in Brink of War is prestige, a special and rarer type of victory point, which can help you earn extra regular victory points. The expansion also includes many interesting and quirky cards. 

After adding this expansion, I sometimes run into problems. Occasionally the AI's take a long time to think. Once in a while, the app crashes, and I can't resume the game which is in progress. I am forced to start a new game. That's a shame. If this happens, it is usually when the game is building up to a climax. I wonder whether my iPad is just too old for this. Too much processing. With all three expansions in play, Race for the Galaxy is quite complex. Also I prefer to play with the maximum number of players, i.e. with three other AI's, and I set all the AI's to the strongest level. I'm now going to try playing with just two other AI's. Let's see if this helps avoid crashes. 

In the screenshot above, I scored 57VP, which I thought was respectable. However one of the AI's scored 61VP. I had two 6-cost developments which scored 11VP each, which was decent. The winning AI mostly scored via prestige and consumption.