Saturday, September 21, 2013

A solo-playable game made in Brazil

Earlier this year I invested in a crowdfunded tabletop game project called "Runicards", made by brazilian game designer Rovalde Banchieri. This week I received the game, along with the deluxe game box. Over 440 cards, plus die cut counters, glass beads and two different boards!

For now the game is available only in Portuguese but I do hope that Rovalde's company fares well enough that they try distributing it in other countries. His team did handle the project very professionally.

Runicards can be played as a cooperative adventure for one or more players, which control heroes with various abilities, fighting random monsters until they reach the lair of the main villain. Action is card-driven, there are no dice rolls. After defeating monsters, heroes gain experience that may be traded for items, used to level up or even remove some negative effects from the game. The game also has an "Empire" competitive mode where players fight each other for resources and territory.

Today I played my first few solo matches and I did not even get close to the lair. Solo play with a single hero is really challenging. Now I have to try it in true cooperative play, as well as the "Empire" mode.

Well, this is all for now. Crowdfunding has been very helpful for independent game development, whether it is computer-based or tabletop. Hopefully this will be the start of a new tabletop scene around here.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Solo Tabletop Gaming and Computer Games

Recently, I started playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown on the PC, and so far it is very good. While certain boardgame conversions have failed terribly, this game delivers an interesting strategic campaign with turn-based tactical battles that remind me of playing with miniatures on the tabletop (note: that is also true of the original XCOM games but in my opinion, the additional abstraction in this more recent version brings it closer to a "tabletop feel".)

This brought me back to wondering why I keep playing solo tabletop games when there are computer-based options for strategic and tactical battles. After all, they do not require physical space, miniatures, and terrain; setup time is minimal; it is possible to stop and resume as one wishes; and while the "artificial intelligence" in many such games are lacking, they ought to be more sophisticated than paper-based alternatives. A similar case can be made for computer RPGs.

Despite all of these good reasons, I keep attracted to solo tabletop games and RPGs. So there must be some fun or pleasure that I get from this activity that is different from computer games. After some introspection, I came up with these thoughts about the subject:

1) Mixing the roles of player and author: Most RPGs and wargames are presented as frameworks to play one's stories and battles, as opposed to the designed experiences of computer games. Besides, solo gaming requires interpretation and customization of game rules to suit my needs. Whenever I am playing a solo RPG or tabletop game, I have the feeling that I am also tinkering or experimenting with the rules and narrative. This activity of simultaneous play, analysis and design is currently my main drive to play tabletop games. I think it is also the reason why, if I am not feeling up to the task, I end up not playing them at all.

2) Ease of use vs. ease of modification: Computer games are convenient to play but not so simple to modify. Mixing a game's set of rules with another one's narrative can be nearly impossible. Although several computer games nowadays provide customization tools, they do not provide the same freedom or ease of use of the tabletop counterparts. For instance, editing a map or script for a computer strategy game still takes more time and effort than writing down some notes and placing terrain on the table -- especially in my case, as I use paper terrain and figures.

3) The pleasure of implementation: The previous reasons mean that I could move to digital tools, playing my tabletop games in MapTool or something like that. However, in my experiences doing so I felt like something was missing. So I think that some fun that I have comes from taking part in the implementation of the game, including the manipulation of the game pieces.

So this is it, from what I can gather from my experiences. Writing this has led me to another question: how much digital technology can I incorporate into my tabletop gaming to make it easier without losing something in the process? Automate reaction systems and random tables? Play on a touch-sensitive tablet?