Friday 26 February 2021

MicroMacro: Crime City

The most succinct way to describe MicroMacro: Crime City is it is an advanced version of Where's Wally / Where's Waldo. The main component is a humungous drawing which is full of details. Although classified as a cooperative game, which can be played solo as well, I consider this a puzzle game instead. The drawing depicts a busy city, with multiple crimes being committed. Gameplay is about solving these crimes by finding clues in the drawing. There are 16 crimes in total for you to solve, and all of them happen in this same huge drawing.

On the box cover you already get a bonus mini crime to solve. This helps potential buyers decide whether it's something they will enjoy. It is a good preview of the play experience. This bonus crime is relatively easy to solve. The answer can be found on the box cover itself. The crime is related to the murder of the burger vendor. 

The box cover is part of the main drawing, and already contains much detail. The burger stall is at the top left.  

When you first open the game, you need to organise the cards by case and put the set of cards for each case into a separate transparent envelope. 

Each case has between 5 to 10 cards. The first card is always an overview of the case. The rest of the cards are questions you need to find answers to. By correctly answering all questions, you will solve the case. A question is posed on the front of a card, and the answer plus further details of the case can be found at the back. When playing the game with two or more players, one person plays the lead investigator. When you are confident with your answer, the lead investigator checks the back of the card to see whether you've got it right. If you are wrong, everyone except the lead investigator needs to continue investigating. The lead investigator already knows the answer, and has to wait until the rest of you find the right answer. Once that's done, you proceed to the next question together. 

There is an advanced rule where you only look at the case overview, and then try to solve the whole case without looking at any of the questions. When you are confident you know all there is to know about the case, you check through all the questions at one go to see whether you have indeed found all the required answers. This is a more challenging mode, and I find it more fun. Once you have played the first few cases and are familiar with how they work in general, you should switch to the advanced rule. Unless you are playing with children. Or players new to the hobby. 

The drawing takes up three quarters of my dining table. You need to lay the whole thing out, and you need good lighting. Don't allow any other game component obstruct any part of the drawing. It contains many small details, and anything obstructing any part of the drawing may just happen to cover a crucial clue you need to solve your case. Playing this game can be tiring to the eyes if you have poor eyesight. For one of the cases I had to use a phone to take a photo then zoom in, in order to see a specific piece of detail.

The art style is simple, cute and clean. Sometimes I get an urge to pinch and stretch part of the drawing, as if I am using a smart phone and will be able to enlarge the drawing. 

The game comes with a microscope, which can be handy - less stressful for the eyes. 

To imagine how big the drawing is, compare the next four photos below. Focus on the guy dressed like Batman in the centre. In each subsequent photo, I zoom out a little to show more of the drawing. 

Here's Mr Batman on a rooftop. 

Now you can see the roads around the building he is on top of. 

Zooming further out, you can see other city blocks. 

Going even further out, you can now see the riverside at the bottom right, and the factory at the bottom left. And this is just one quarter of the drawing. 

When I look at the drawing in the game, it reminds me of a display in a Japanese museum. In the series of photos below, focus on the lady hanging laundry. This will give you a sense of scale. 

The Play

The first time I played, I solved 7 cases in one go, and it took about an hour and a half. I completed the rest of the cases in two more sessions. By around the 6th case I started using the advanced rule. I like it that way - no hand-holding from the step-by-step questions. 

The fun in MicroMacro is in finding and connecting all the clues to form a coherent story. Every case has multiple segments in the drawing, and when you can find them all, you will be able to stitch together all the who, what, where, why and how. Almost all the segments will give you some hint where to find the next segment. Sometimes you work forward, sometimes backward. All in all it is not a difficult game to play. You just need some logical thinking, and the patience to comb the drawing for clues. 

The cases have difficulty ratings from 1 to 5, 5 being the hardest. 

This poor guy was crushed by a piano. What a "grand" way to go. 

The Thoughts

MicroMacro is somewhat like the Unlock and Exit series. You can only play it once. Once you know the solution, you can't unknow it. However you don't destroy or alter any game component, so once you are done with the game, you can give it to a friend. 

The idea is refreshing and novel. That was what made me decide to get a copy. It is fun to see how the various stories are told through drawings. When you manage to find all the relevant segments, you will be able to reconstruct the whole story. Some of the stories are fairly complicated. The game does test your logical thinking. 

I wondered whether this game would work well on a tablet computer, because you'd be able to zoom in and zoom out easily. After some thought, I decided it was better to play with the physical piece of paper spread out on a table top. It just feels more real. I guess I like the grandeur of seeing the drawing spread across the table. Playing the game is like studying details of those gigantic classical paintings in museums. And finding that little boy peeing into someone's soup.  

I recommend playing this on a table and not on the floor. Because back pains. 

Sunday 21 February 2021

horror stories: Betrayal Legacy chapters 10 to 13

My family and I have now completed our Betrayal Legacy campaign. Chapter 13 was the finale. I played the prologue and the first three chapters with some friends. After that there was a long hiatus, and I didn't think it would be easy for us to resume. So I recruited my family to continue the campaign with me. We played 10 games in one and a half months. Although we are done with the campaign now, the game can still be played, just that in the subsequent free play mode we may draw Haunts that we have played before, so these won't be new to us anymore. Still, the game situation would be different, even if we know how the Haunt works. Depending on the game situation at the time, it can be harder or easier than the previous experience. We will be better informed, but I don't think it affects gameplay too much. Both the heroes and the traitor will have more information. 

We felt a little disappointed after playing the final chapter. We had been hoping to go out with a bang, but we lost rather miserably. We felt downtrodden. However I must say the finale was something different. There were special arrangements and it was a different experience from other Haunts. 

Now that I have completed the full campaign, I can give a better overall comment on the game. It is primarily an experience game. You play it for the experiences and interesting situations it puts you in, and not so much for admiring the game design or thinking deeply about the strategies involved. The premise is interesting - you don't know who among you will turn traitor, and the traitor and the heroes initially don't know what the other party is trying to do to win. Betrayal Legacy is a role-playing type game. Immerse yourself into the story and just enjoy the ride. I don't find the overall game design particularly memorable, but I do enjoy seeing the story unravel. It is the kind of simple joy of reading some pulp fiction. Don't expect anything profound. Just relax and have fun. One thing I do admire is how most Haunts feel very difficult for the heroes, yet are not completely out of reach. They sometimes felt almost impossible, but even after we failed, we realised we were not that far away from being able to win. I think the balance is done very well. Horror games should have this kind of sense of dread. 

Despite having an overarching story threading through the campaign, gameplay-wise each chapter is quite independent and self-contained. There are many legacy elements like heirloom items and outcomes of one game determining which new cards get added to the deck for future games, but these don't have a big impact. They are more novelties. We don't have any long-term plan, knowing what we do now will have some bearing on our success in future games. We can play the same characters in a subsequent game (if they survive), but it's just the names that get carried over. We don't carry over items they have found or any abilities they have gained. 

Warning: Major spoilers ahead. If you have not played and intend to play the game, you may want to skip the rest of this post. 

Younger daughter Chen Rui named this weapon rather... inappropriately. Let's just pretend it's a Thai name.  She loves this rifle and she remembers that it's found on the upper floor. She always goes upstairs hoping to find it again. 

Chapter 10 (Year 1925) had monster lice. On that tile on the left you can see the nest of the lice. Our mission was to burn it. We could go to specific rooms in the house to get specific pieces of equipment. Each piece would help increase the probability of success. The lice were not particularly strong and did not hinder movement. However they could cause injury and reduce our Speed traits. If our Speed was reduced to zero, we would be out of the game. Whenever we killed lice, all lice on the same tile would die as well. They were not super scary, but when they swarmed us, it would be very dangerous. 

On the left you can see one of the equipment - the Contraption - which we could use to burn the nest. There were four pieces of equipment. When the Haunt started, not all the rooms with equipment were found yet, so we still had to explore to find those rooms. There would be more and more lice entering the game, so time was not on our side. If we couldn't find enough equipment, we would have to attempt to burn the nest with whatever we could get our hands on. 

Coincidentally soon after the Haunt started, we discovered the furnace room, where one of the equipment was found. 

That giant eye token was placed here due to an event card. Whenever you enter the room with the eye token, you toss it like a coin and see how it lands. If it lands on the open eye side, you take injury. Chen Rui (blue) decided to enter this room despite knowing the danger. At that point she was weak and one more damage would kill her, so I told her it wasn't a good idea. The room itself was tempting because a successful search would yield two items. She said YOLO to me and went ahead anyway. And she actually survived the encounter. 

This time the traitor was Shee Yun (yellow). She had picked up some of the equipment to keep them out of reach of the rest of us. She summoned many lice to attack us. I ran into the elevator to go to another floor. Only two lice managed to reach me. The rest of them had to U-turn to go after someone else. 

Shee Yun got killed this game, but she won the game anyway. The traitor does not necessary lose when she is killed, because the heroes' objective may not be to kill the traitor. After dying, the traitor still controls all the monsters in the game, and will still win if her objective is achieved.  

The heroes fell to the lice one by one. Michelle (red) was the last survivor. She brought what she could to try to burn the nest, but unfortunately failed. 

The heroes bitten by the lice didn't die. Instead they were transformed into statues. So we had three new weird-looking statues in the house after this chapter. When Michelle was turned into a statue, these above were the items she carried with her. 

Chapter 11 occurred in 1947, shortly after World War 2. At this time, the house had been refurbished to become an inn. This chapter started with all of us at a crossroads in front of the house. We had to walk through a hedge maze to get to the lady innkeeper. 

We did much exploring and revealed many tiles. 

The traitor mechanism was different this time. When the Haunt occurred, we had to pick out four tokens and randomly place them face-down under our four family crests. One of the tokens had a 1 on it, and that indicated who the traitor was. This meant even the traitor himself initially didn't know he was a traitor. There were three more family crests distributed to far corners of the house. Whenever anyone investigated one of these crests, he could peek at the corresponding hidden number. If anyone was able to investigate all three crests in the house, he would know for sure who the traitor was. Since the crests were far apart, it was difficult for a single person to investigate all three. We split up to investigate, and shared information. We were aware that one of us was the traitor, and might not be truthful. Eventually we figured out Michelle must be the traitor. It became a 1-vs-3 fight. Shee Yun and Chen Rui were weak. I was the only one who could fight, so I had to slug it out with Michelle. 

Our husband and wife fight involved a rifle and a crossbow. It was no joke! Both these weapons happened to be our respective heirloom items too, so it was intense. Michelle had the apothecary kit on her. When we were both bruised and battered from fighting, she took a risk and drank a potion from the kit. She was lucky with her die roll and regained health from the potion. I couldn't outlast her and was soon killed. 

I was green, and Michelle red. Both our Might traits were at the critical point. Any more Might damage and we would be dead. Chen Rui found this particular card from exploring the underworld. It could deal manage to people on tiles with ghosts. At one point we were hoping to lure Michelle to such tiles, so that Chen Rui could use this card to deal damage to her. 

After Michelle killed me, she took all my weapons and items. Look at how much stuff she had! At this point, all her traits were at the critical points. A single damage would kill her. 

I did tie down Michelle for some time, which allowed Shee Yun and Chen Rui an opportunity to look for weapons and buff themselves. They managed to strengthen themselves a little. What was more important was I had weakened Michelle. So now it was more viable for them to fight her. There was once when Michelle was attacked and the attack roll was a 6, which was high. Michelle was only one damage away from getting killed, which meant she must roll at least a 6 too. She could only roll three dice, so 6 was the best case scenario, with a 1 out of 27 chance. Michelle thought this was the end for her, but to all our shock she rolled exactly this: 

I guess it was not meant to be. 

Eventually it was Chen Rui (blue) who defeated Michelle (red). In this game Michelle came near death twice, and both times it was the apothecary kit which restored her health. It was a long hard slog for us heroes to be able to finally defeat her. It was not often that the heroes won. 

Chapter 12 happened in 1969. Our starting location was outdoors, but we all went inside the house because Chen Rui kept saying the rifle was upstairs. 

I found a firearm, but it was not Chen Rui's old family rifle. I found a revolver which we had not seen before. I made it my heirloom item and named it Dogie. 

This time the traitor was Shee Yun. She had control of an alien creature, which was initially small but could transform into a large monster. We heroes did not know how it transformed. We just know it could and that it was probably not a good idea to let it transform. Only Shee Yun knew how to make the alien creature transform. When the Haunt happened, Shee Yun was in the basement. The creature was inside the house, and seemed to be heading towards its nest, which was outside. We heroes guessed that it probably needed to get there to transform. Our mission was to destroy the nest. We had to search specific locations for explosives, and then bring those explosives to the nest to try to blow it up. 

Later we found out that in order to transform the creature, both the creature and Shee Yun had to be at the nest. Shee Yun used the magic mirror to teleport herself to the nest, while the creature made its way there by itself. It was quick-footed. The creature transformed into a large monster. At this point, the heroes had some explosives but we were nowhere near ready to blow up the nest. The creature was at the nest, so this was a dilemma for us. If we approached the nest, we would probably get killed by the creature. 

The creature was fast, and Shee Yun sent it into the house to hunt us down. Chen Rui was killed by the creature. Michelle was killed when speaking to the innkeeper. At the time the creature was near her, and her only chance of escaping was speaking to the innkeeper and hoping to find a way out. That came with a risk. Unfortunately Michelle's die roll didn't favour her, so she died from chatting with the innkeeper. So it's true - gossips can kill. 

I was the last survivor now. I was in the basement, and the creature was coming for me. I picked up the magic mirror previously left behind by Shee Yun, and teleported to where she was. This let me escape the creature, and also allowed me to attack Shee Yun. 

Shee Yun (yellow) was weak at the time, and I (green) managed to kill her easily. 

We realised we had an unusual situation. The creature was now stuck in the basement with no way to leave! At this stage of the campaign, the staircase leading to the basement had been sealed off. There were some tiles which allowed us to go down into the basement, and also to get back to the ground floor. For example the coal chute was a one-way path to the basement. There was a corridor from the basement which connected to the entrance hall on the ground floor, but we had not yet discovered this corridor in this game. We did discover the elevator, but monsters could not operate elevators. Monsters could not discover new tiles either. With Shee Yun dead, the creature had no means to leave the basement to come after me. I had all the time in the world to search for more explosives and to blow up the nest. Shee Yun conceded the game. We were quite surprised the game turned out this way, because the situation was bleak for the heroes. 

This was the omen item which played a critical role this game. Shee Yun used it to transform the creature. I used it to trap the creature in the basement. Perhaps Shee Yun was a little overconfident. That was why she overlooked the risk of the monster getting stuck in the basement. 

Chapter 13 happened in 2004. This time, there was a father and a daughter in the house we had to interact with. We had to talk to them multiple times to work out what our mission was. One difficulty was they sometimes ran all over the house and we had to keep hunting them down to talk to them again. While we started talking to them, a countdown also started which would lead to thralls entering play. The thralls were our ancestors previously captured by the dark lord. They were strong monsters and would always attack our weakest trait. Also they could not be stunned, only pushed back. 

Thralls were represented by the older set of player pieces, like the one above which doesn't have a coloured base. Time was of essence. We needed to make progress with our mission before we were overwhelmed by the thralls. 

After completing the 10 conversations with the father and the daughter, we learned that this was just the first step. We now had information about what we had to do next, and some hints on what we would eventually need to achieve to win the game. There was still much to be done. We needed to forge a spear out of meteorite rock, then take the elevator down to hell to kill the dark lord. At least that was what we thought we had to do. We didn't get very far. We did manage to forge the spear. By that time there were three thralls on the board. We couldn't make it to the elevator before the thralls killed us all. Game over. 

It was possible that one of us would turn traitor. This would happen when the last thrall appeared. However we were all killed before that happened, so we didn't have any traitor. Chen Rui was most disappointed by that. She prefers scenarios with 1 traitor vs multiple heroes. This scenario was already unforgiving even without a traitor. I can't imagine how tough it would be with a traitor giving us more trouble. 
I (green) was killed by my own ancestor. 

I am guessing that if at least some of us managed to get into the elevator, we might be able to win the game. The thralls could not operate the elevator, so taking the elevator would be a crucial way to escape from them. Later on we discovered a mistake. We had made some illegal moves. We should not have been able to forge the spear yet. It was too much trouble retracing our steps, and we decided to admit defeat. We lost even with the spear being forged. It would have been worse even if we rewound to an earlier point. 

This was my player board after completing the campaign. I was traitor 3 times. The figures along the top are those I have used. My most long-lived character was Peter. He appeared in 3 chapters. Even by his third appearance he did not die. I could have had him for a fourth game, but I decided against it because he would be 112 years old by then, and that would be stretching things. 

Sunday 14 February 2021

Contest entry: Dancing Queen

Today is Valentine's Day, which matches the theme of this game well. BoardGameGeek is running a game design competition now, and the key premise is you can only use 9 cards in your design. I thought that was quite interesting and decided to give it a go. I have always been a big fan of Seiji Kanai's Love Letter. So I set that as my goal. I wanted to create a game that is simple, clever and fun, with some depth that is not immediately apparent. I wanted something people would enjoy exploring the intricacies of.  

Dancing Queen is a 2-player game. Every card in the game is a dancer. When you play a card, you play it face-down, so your opponent wouldn't know what you have played. You will play at most 4 cards, and one of them is designated to be your lead dancer. The rest are supporting dancers. Each card has a girl half and a boy half. Depending on how you orient the card when you play it, you determine the gender. The half pointing at your opponent is the gender of the card. In this photo above, the player has played two girls, while the opponent has played one girl and two boys. 

A complete game takes about 20 minutes. You will play several rounds. The winner of a round gets a trophy (yellow cube). Whoever reaches 4 trophies first wins the game. At the start of a round, both players simultaneously play a card, and these are the initial lead dancers. After that you take turns either drawing and playing a card, or proposing to end the round. 

When a round ends, both players reveal their lead dancers and score points accordingly. Higher scorer wins the round. The scoring methods all depend on the game situation. E.g. the pairs in play are all same-gender pairs (like in the photo above), or there is an even number of cards in play. Some cards have an instant-win condition. If the game situation matches the condition exactly, you win the round immediately. E.g. the Spice Girls card requires exactly 5 girls (and no boys). If your lead dancer is the Spice Girls and there are exactly 5 girls in play, you end the round and win a trophy immediately. 

It was great fun going through the designing and playtesting process. It was a lot of work too. Younger daughter Chen Rui did the most playtesting with me. She claims to play brainlessly, but that is not true. She came up with a strategy which stunned me and I had to take that into account when I further tweaked the game. I asked a number of gamer friends to help me with playtesting, and they gave me many ideas and suggestions. I found it critical to get input from many people. There were many unusual situations and perspectives that I had not thought of myself. The playtesting sessions gave me much to think about and helped me improve the design. 

Now the game is in a presentable state and I have submitted it to BoardGameGeek, to get the help of even more people to playtest it and give me feedback. If this sounds interesting to you, do download and play, and let me know your thoughts. 

Youtube rule explanation: