Thursday, July 21, 2016

My Favorite Monsters: Big Trouble in Little China preview

Working on a bunch of 13th Age stuff today, so this BTiLC preview is going to be quick and self-indulgent, introducing two of my favorite villains from the set. They really are Monsters, the villain group associated with the worst of the Masterminds, Ching Dai.

I liked these two all  during playtest and I think they'll be fun in widely-recruiting games of Marvel: Legendary. When I saw the final art I was even happier, probably my favorite pieces, oozing personality.

I think the Guardian lives up to its on-screen appearance. It's a villain card that has a markedly different impact at the start of the game compared to the end of the game. At the end of the game, it's a quick 3 VP, especially for a player who has already been doing well. But if the Guardian shows up early, there's a decent chance it's going to escape and force you all to beat the Mastermind an extra time, and that one of your all-in efforts to beat the Mastermind is going to be rewarded with the googly-eyed booby prize of a Guardian card that's only worth 3 VP and doesn't do anything worthwhile for you as a Fight effect.

The Bug Monster is a one-card game dynamic! When it shows up at the start of the game, you're saying, "Thank you, thank you for springing out of nowhere and eating one of my lousy Chang Sing Warriors" (or maybe a Mediocre Hero like the Jerk . . . ). But if it does you the favor of eating a hero you can afford to lose, that's not the end, it gets shuffled back into hiding. The more of your 0-cost Heroes you get rid of, the closer you are to losing a Hero who matters. Eventually the Bug Monster gets a happy meal.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

ENnnies Shout Out

This morning I made the time to poke around on the ENnies voting site for introductions to cool games and websites I hadn’t looked at before. It was painless, informative, fun, and quick, and given the hassles I went through earlier this week coping with other organizations’ misaligned web sites, a hearty shout-out to the ENNIES for handling their voting process so well.
Things that I already liked, and voted for, include The Dracula Dossier, Feng Shui 2, the Dragon Age RPG, Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff, Illuminerdy, the Epic coins from Campaign Coins and the Frostgrave miniatures rules from Osprey.
Things that I worked on as the 13th Age line developer, and voted for, include the free product Race to Starport (written by ASH LAW) and the 13th Age GM’sScreen and Resource Book written by Cal Moore and Wade Rockett.
        The GM resource book that Cal and Wade wrote most of, and that I contributed three or four pages and chum-the-adventure notes to, comes wrapped in a wonderful triptych screen by our core book artists, Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell and also includes Lee’s full-color map of the Dragon Empire.

        Voting can be handled a few nibbles at a time, but it ends tomorrow, so don’t miss the chance to voice support and browse links to new things you might like. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Green-eyed Brides with Killer Kung-Fu: Big Trouble in Little China preview

Towards the end of Big Trouble, the evil sorcerer David Lo Pan orchestrates a prenuptial kung fu exhibition and magical survival ritual for his two green-eyed brides. Am I the only one who thinks that when Gracie Law and Miao Yin float down from the burning blade, they should have learned martial arts?

Upper Deck arranged that we could add a touch of new content where it felt right, so I added green-eyed brides with legendary kung fu! Each of these cards appears once in the set, they're the rares for Gracie and Miao Yin. As you'll see, they also tie in to the two themes I talked about in my earlier design previews.

Fighting Bride is an example of the way the heroes of this set interact with each other. Gracie is into Jack Burton so much that she can see through his dumb glasses and hold onto him even if he's in his Henry Swanson guise. . . and yes, Henry Swanson is another of the game's heroes. No Jack? No Henry? Or during the Showdown when you can't recruit? Fighting Bride will handle the situation herself.

If you're wondering what the Energy symbol is doing on the card, you *could* imagine that her kick-ass kung fu spear is shooting fire! Or you could stick with this set's definition of that symbol as Magic. When Big Trouble characters have the blue symbol, they're dealing with Magic, but it still works fine to interpret it as the Ranged class when bringing in Marvel heroes or mixing the sets.

Certainly Gracie works better when played with the other heroes in this box instead of mixed with the general Marvel population. Playing by the letter of the rules, the Villains and Schemes and Bystanders in Big Trouble fit optimally into games built using the entire random cornucopia of Marvel cards. But if you want to script your own variation on the films, you *could* propose an alternate timeline in which Jack Burton isn't around to be Gracie's bad-boy love interest, but someone like Wolverine is!

Miao Yin's Green-eyed Bride is an example of the other design theme I talked about in the first preview, compelling player interactions. Everyone else needs to choose a gift. So do you gift high, figuring other players will go cheaper? Or do you go low to make sure you can afford to lose the card? If the lowest cards tie, the tied players all lose their cards and the Green-eyed Bride has a wonderful wedding party. And speaking of happy wedding parties, this was a card that my blue-eyed wife Lisa suggested the final version of the mechanic for! If the card causes you strife at your gaming table, try to remember that it was made with love.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Hero Buddies & Extra Hero Cards: Big Trouble in Little China Preview

Marvel Legendary uses Team Icons that match some iteration of the comic book universe's affiliation web. Teams are another fun way to create combos as you build your deck, but they didn't feel like a natural part of the Big Trouble in Little China story.

Instead of using the Team Icon shorthand to show how characters are affiliated with each other, I used Hero names to represent some of the stronger, more noticeable, or funnier connections between characters in the Big Trouble storyline. Here are three examples of a mechanic that's spread through the set.

Margo's Yeah, I'll Call the President plays off the 'romantic' subplot that springs upon viewers in the final scenes! She's definitely interested in Eddie. And in order to combo with cards that are more in the reporter's telephone-tech arsenal, the card can also combine with other Tech cards.

Eddie has a couple interesting combos, but given that he seemed surprised by Margo's interest, they don't involve Margo! Dragon of the Black Pool plays off Eddie's place alongside Uncle Chu, who is the grey 3-cost card that takes the place of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Officer from Marvel Legendary. The forgiving combo rule for this card's wording means that you can buy an Uncle Chu, put in your discard pile, and then play Dragon of the Black Pool and get the bonus.

Wang Chi's Time to Go! shows another way that a few of the Big Trouble characters interact. Given Wang Chi's longing for Miao Yin, it's not about *having* Miao Yin in your hand--it's about longing for her as she waits as one of the cards someone is going to get hold of! Or, in games that don't feature Miao Yin, or when the villains are getting close to escaping the city, it's about needing to kick butt when the other players haven't gotten the job done! If everyone is doing their job and taking care of the villains handily, the card's not as good, but that's what I call high class problems.

Players who prefer using optimal groups of Heroes may not want to use Time to Go! in games that don't involve Miao Yin. Unlike most of the other Legendary sets, Big Trouble in Little China provides an option. I wanted to increase the number of possible games and there was a limit on how many Heroes we could add. So instead of adding more Heroes, I created an extra 'common' card for the film's two central characters, Jack Burton and Wang Chi. In Wang Chi's case, if you'd rather not play with Time to Go!, you can play with You Gotta Help Me! and Everybody's Buddy instead.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Nosy Lawyers & Catacomb Monsters: Big Trouble in Little China Preview

Upper Deck is going to have Legendary: Big Trouble in Little China out at GenCon. That's less than a month away so it's time for some previews! 

One of my design goals was to create a set with a lot of player interaction. I wanted moments that made players talk and act during each other's turns and moments when everyone cares about the flip of a specific card. 

Nosy But Nice is one of the common cards for Gracie Law, meaning it appears five times, so it usually shows up in games that include Gracie. Nosy But Nice always does something good for the opponent to your left, letting them discard a card and then draw. It's not a *huge* help to your opponent, so you don't have to feel like you're handing them the game when you play it, but when someone helps you out with Nosy But Nice it a) feels great; and b) sets the tone for a game in which players will help each other out a bit instead of always looking to inflict little cuts. 

Towards the end of a tight game, or in the hand of a highly competitive player, Nosy But Nice may end getting discarded as too much help to the opposition and not enough help to its owner. But that's more likely to be true after its Covert trigger has gone off earlier in the game, allowing the owner to whittle out a strong deck that doesn't need more help from the 2-cost card. 

The Catacomb Monster belongs to the second style of interactive moment, creating tension as players take turns revealing the top card of their decks. Especially at the start of the game, the Ambush effect isn't so bad. It usually KOs a bunch of 0-cost starting Heroes and everyone is happy, which fits my sense that the Catacomb Monster feels ominous in the movie but doesn't wreak all that much havoc. On the other hand, the awful Escape effect becomes a universal problem that everyone tends to work together to prevent. Or pretends to work together to prevent, if they're aware that they have lower-cost cards then everyone else and are not as likely to be hit or hurt much if they lose a Hero. 

I'll show a couple more cards in another post next week, probably showing off the way the heroes of the movie interact, which is a bit different than Heroes in other Legendary sets. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

My Book of the Year: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

I've gasped out loud while reading one book.
This book.

I don't want to say too much about the story. Surprises exist. I'd rather not hint.

It's a blend of the brutal and the mythic and the humane, glowing in unforgettable language that's often worth reading aloud.

On e-readers the novella is cheap. $3 cheap. I'm buying a paper copy for my shelf of favorite books and to pass around to friends.

Thank you, Kai Ashante Wilson.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Pristine City

The Pristine City is a fun 57 page 13th Age-compatible adventure for 4th or 5th level characters from Stacey Janssen and David Noonan of Dastow Games.

While reading the adventure and framing my response, I realized that my gaming experience is probably different from most GMs. So far as I remember, and I'm thinking all the way back to Top Secret and Chivalry & Sorcery and Monsters! Monsters! and AD&D  and then Champions and RuneQuest and the days when I bought a LOT of rpg adventures . . . going all the way back and working forward, I have never run a published adventure that was written by someone else. Unless you count:
a) the pieces of published adventures I played as solitaire system-tests when I was a kid; or
b) the co-op/solo micro-dungeons published for The Fantasy Trip, when I was playing as well as flipping the pages; or
c) the adventures in 13th Age in Glorantha that were written by Jonathan.

I think Item C counts. That's a recent development!

So while I've read big chunks of The Pristine City, and skimmed the rest, I haven't run it. The fact that the book got me thinking about how I would run it turns out to be extremely unusual.

Without giving too many spoilers, here are some things I like about this adventure.
  • A clever overarching structure that will shape the game alongside the player characters' actions (I must not say more, but this deserves an exclamation point)!
  • Amusing reinterpretations of the icons that both dodge the copyright issues, add their own twisty values, and are still clear enough to anyone running a core Dragon Empire game. 
  • Interesting reasons why this singular place blends oddities you might find in a living dungeon within themes created by the dwarves. 
  • Well-themed magic items that enhance the storyline. 
  • Amusing touches in the price lists and great material for dwarf-oriented player characters in the list of Real Books in the Pristine City
  • Vignettes that could be dropped into other dwarven areas if you're not going to run the whole thing. 
  • Far more playable material than you'd expect to find in a 57 page book, because they didn't reprint monster stats from the core 13th Age rulebook or the 13th Age Bestiary. Page references suffice and the focus of the text stays on exploring the city instead of reprinted monster stat blocks. 
  • A couple new monsters I'll be using the next time I need [REDACTED].