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Joshua Fox (Rabalias)
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A longshank rascal with a mighty nose!
A longshank rascal with a mighty nose!

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Joshua Fox (Rabalias)'s posts

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My circles

I have decided to experiment with specific circles for specific things. At the moment, anyone I've circled gets pretty much everything I write - but I'm going to try changing that and see what happens. So! If you want, comment here to tell me which you're interested in of:

- General gaming
- Game design specifically
- Smallholding (vegetables, pig-keeping and so forth)
- Food
- Politics (UK perspective, left wing/social justice focused.)
- Random other stuff (silly memes, pictures of my son, anything that doesn't go in the circles above)

If you don't comment here but you're in my circles, you'll get everything. If you do, I'll put you in the specific circles you ask for.

If I stick with this system, I'll probably re-post this occasionally for newcomers or people who missed it the first time.

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Lovecraftesque has been nominated for the Indie Groundbreaker awards! Best setting and best art.

Also, Seven Wonders, which +Becky Annison contributed When the Dark is Gone to, is up for Best Rules, Most Innovative and Game of the Year. This means Becky is in all five categories!

We are utterly delighted by this news, and particularly to see +Robin Scott and +Nathan Paoletta recognised for their great work on illustrations and graphic design for Lovecraftesque - well deserved.

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+Becky Annison is making great progress on her werewolf pack game Bite Me! Check out her designer diary post about it.

November

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. We messed up the rules - not in this game, but in October. We found out when the November game called on us to check if box 6 and 7 were open, and we realised box 7 should have been open from pretty early on in our first October game.

Would it have made a difference? Well, it looks like I failed to write up the October games, so we'll never know. But from memory, we did what we always do and rushed for the search mission, in order to avoid it getting any harder if we procrastinated. So very early on in the game, the quarantines mission would have been ripped up and replaced by the mission to build vaccine centres. That doesn't seem like a terribly difficult mission, so probably it wouldn't have changed the outcome (which, from memory, was a win on the first attempt). But it would potentially have meant we started November with permanent vaccine centres and/or vaccinated cities.

Mostly what this tells me is: the game has gotten a little too complex. In particular, the need to notice a trigger being met when it's only described on the door of a box you basically never look at is... well, not helpful. I'm disappointed to have got it wrong, it's just a bit annoying.

Anyway: November went well. For the first time I can recall we got a lot of blue and very little faded, both of which seem like auspicious starting conditions, especially now that we had the vaccine in hand. Still, while we got four vaccine centres done about as fast as it's possible to do it, and in fairly well-chosen locations, we struggled to get moving on vaccination. The faded appear so quickly, and our vast network of military bases is such a pain in the ass that we made little progress on that at first. Plus all the cure cards seemed to be in my hand - the soldier, unable to actually cure anything - so it didn't look that great.

Even so, it went well. We managed to keep the wolf from the door just well enough to avoid much in the way of outbreaks. We vaccinated five cities (we had a mini-argument on whether we should wait it out and try to vaccinate a sixth before completing our third cure, just for honour's sake, but decided against). We burned some more military bases, leaving us with three unburned.

Sadly we also lost Baghdad - that's two fallen cities now.

Next game feels like it could be both easier and harder. We have few military bases left to burn, making the sabotage mission a bit tougher - though we've deliberately loaded the relevant city cards with equipment so that the soldier can pick them up from the discard pile. The vaccinated cities ought to make the game easier, and we have a permanent vaccine centre in a location that would otherwise be a bit inaccessible. On balance I feel optimistic, though of course we don't know what the mission parameters will be. (Vaccinate everything? Eradicate the faded?)

Only one or two more games left now! Should be finished before July, I'd have thought.

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Pandemic Legacy: September fucktastrophe edition

Remember, remember, the game of September. When you found out the whole thing was a bit conspiracy. Yep, it turns out we were right to be paranoid about all those military bases.

Our first game in September was a total disaster. It was going really well; we had a cure in hand, were one card short of the second cure, the military bases objective already accomplished, and then we completed our search making 2/3 objectives complete and the third more than halfway done. Except then we uncovered the uberplot. Which triggered one of our two characters, the quarantine specialist, being revealed as a traitor, unceremoniously ripped up and replaced with a civilian (and those lovely cards she had been collecting for a cure, lost). Plus of course one of the objectives we’d completed was no longer a thing, as our new objective was revealed as burning all the military bases down. Sigh.

Needless to say, we lost. We were doing pretty well, even after the debacle, but we just couldn’t pull it off after losing so much momentum. And with the search already completed, we now had to complete three out of three objectives - including the never-before-completed seven quarantines objective - in the rematch.

I’ll just pause for a moment there, because it would be wrong to move forward without noting how shellshocked we were by that game, and how we didn’t really enjoy it. Up until now, all the reveals have been cool and exciting and, even when they made our lives harder or even caused us to lose, they added to the game. September felt like it crossed a line. It destroyed one of our hard-won experienced characters on the roll of the dice, with no way we could have avoided it. (We gave “paramilitary escort” to the quarantine specialist, the previous game; but if we hadn’t, by pure chance we would have lost our scientist instead, which would be even worse.) It felt like the designers had abandoned any sense that this was a game, in favour of an “exciting” reveal. Worse, it felt kind of predictable, given that we did in fact predict it. It also added to my personal sense that the game is very much governed by luck; by chance we were in a position where we were guaranteed to lose an experienced character, but we very nearly gave paramilitary escort to an undeveloped new character, who we might not have played this game, in which case the very same in-game event would have had virtually no effect on us. It all feels a bit arbitrary. And we felt very concerned about our chances of winning the next game. We left the game feeling a bit dejected.

As it happens, the rematch went well. We got lucky with our setup: very few faded in play, the three-cube cities all clustered around Atlanta. We brought in a new character, the soldier, with the intent that he would wade through any faded unharmed, dropping quarantines as he went, while the scientist got on with curing things. And indeed, this is exactly what happened. We trundled through the early part of the game, fairly in control, building up a bank of quarantines. Unfortunately the solder kept drawing the right cards for a cure (an action which he is incapable of performing) but even so, things were going well. Then we had a string of bad luck - closely-spaced epidemics dropping three-cube cities in hard-to-reach places or right next to each other where chain reaction was a risk. But we stayed flexible, focused on containment and got the plan done in the end - even if the board looked a total mess (photos are from the second game: the close-up shots show you just how bad things had got).

We had long speculated that the quarantine objective was near-impossible. Simply because the faded cities are tough to traverse, bring risk of scars and (because they can be generated by player draws as well as infection draws) would keep popping the quarantine seals, making it tough to get to seven. The reality was that with the soldier’s scar-ignoring power, it wasn’t hard at all. You drop the quarantines on cities that have already been drawn from the player deck if possible. We’d also bought a funded event that gives an extra two quarantines. It really wasn’t that challenging. And we’ve now given the solder “local pressure” as an upgrade, which means he can spam quarantines to adjacent cities without moving if he’s in a military base.

Feels a bit like the game has blown its wad now - there’s a couple of obvious things coming up in the form of finishing off the three items we’re collecting, and continuing to burn down military shit. Maybe they’ll let us start to treat coda again, probably we’ll need to win a game by eradicating coda. Will there be more surprises? We’ll see. I’ll never quite forgive them for the excessive surprise of September, though.
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24/04/2017
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I did it! I have had virtually no time or headspace for design this week, but damn it, I can still design 200 words.

FINAL TESTAMENT

3-5 players. You play ordinary people, who are friends.

Shuffle a card deck (minus face cards).

LIFE

Character objectives:
*Be open about their life and emotions
*Entangle the characters socially and emotionally
*Reveal tiny unexplained Enigmas in their lives (record these)

Draw a card each. Go in order of face value, lowest first, to:
*Frame a scene where something happens to develop or transform your relationship with another character
*Draw two cards, discard one

DEATH

When your hand hits 13+, die.

Take turns to describe the funeral, a sentence at a time.

POSTMORTEM

The deceased becomes GM.

The GM’s objectives:
*Create a compelling, frightening conspiracy
*Make it threaten the characters
*Weave the Enigmas in

Start the clock at zero. The GM frames scenes and advances the clock if, in a scene:
*The characters work to resolve an Enigma
*The characters show fear

When the clock reaches 13, the characters secretly choose one of the following:
*Go into hiding forever
*Risk death to crack the conspiracy
*Betray the others

GM: frame a final scene where the conspiracy is fully revealed.

If anyone betrayed, those who risked death are screwed. Describe what happens.

Anyone who survives narrates a short epilogue for themselves.

So, I had an idea at last. It's an indie style conspiracy/mystery/horror (you choose the exact flavour) game where you create a group of people who know each other, complicate and intensify their relationships, and then one of them dies. Here's the thing though: throughout the game to that point, you've been scattering minor unresolved enigmas. The player of the deceased uses the next phase of the game to turn those enigmas into something genuinely strange, and draw the living players into it.

My dilemma is, how should the game end? Do I make it open-ended? Do I build in a formal ending, and if so what? I'm currently thinking it's a decision point where the players find out what was really going on and might destroy, join, escape or otherwise resolve their final relationship with the mystery. Ideas welcome!

It's going to be tough to fit this into 200 words but I think it's just about do-able.

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We just posted two new scenarios, taken from the Gauntlet's Codex (which you can get the full edition of by backing their patreon at https://www.patreon.com/gauntlet - highly recommended):
- Ex Nihilo, in which a crew of renowned scientists and a washed-up celebrity astronaut fly into the heart of a black hole.
- Pizza Time!, in which the bizarre and lurid tales told by the staff at an ageing chain restaurant may contain more than a grain of truth.

Check them out!

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June and July

June was a walkover. We started with all of our initial three-cube cities within one space of a research station; and since our quarantine specialist has an upgrade that means they can remove one cube a turn from an adjacent city, we had all three neutralised straight away. No new nasty rules and relatively few faded cities; it was pretty straightforward.

Despite this, the board had quite a lot of faded on it by the end. The new rule introduced in May(?) that places faded when player cards are drawn is really nasty. We saw this again in our July game, where we only drew one coda infection card the entire game but still ended up with heaps of faded including an outbreak into previously non-faded cities.

As I've remarked elsewhere, it feels like your initial draw is such a potent thing - with a good draw, you can walk the game, with a bad draw it's near-impossible, and looking at how bad the faded got in these two very favourable games, I'm forced to conclude that with a less favourable draw we'd have been toast.

Anyway, July. July introduced the search rules, with the hunt for a virologist as a new objective. You need a research station in a faded city to search, so you need a coda card to get started , and drawing a coda card means placing a faded in that city past the first turn. We therefore heaved a sigh of relief when our starting hand contained a coda card - but only one. Thankfully our characters have long benefited from the ability to pick up each others' discards, so we not only got a research station in Algiers early on, we also got 2/3rds of the way towards our search objective shortly afterwards. We found the virologist on turn 4. And on top of that, we started with five military bases thanks to earlier upgrades, so we were very quickly within striking distance of two objectives.

As mentioned above, we had few faded infections. We didn't draw a single one at the start! This was a psychological benefit at least; frankly we tend to avoid faded cities anyway, and with the quarantine specialist in play it isn't that hard to keep them under control, so in a way it may not be as big a deal as it sounds. But it felt good. For once, we didn't have an epidemic in the first couple of turns, so things were rapidly under control. But they didn't stay that way - any relief we felt about the faded was quickly erased when Istanbul quite rapidly shot up to three cubes and then an outbreak. Gutted! That's two more cities converted to faded status - up until now it was only Khartoum. Plus looming threats in other cities.

But in the end we had it pretty well locked up. For the first time in ages, it wasn't the scientist doing all the cures - with the ease of swapping cards using our relationship (co-workers), and only four cards needed, the scientist had been the workhorse, but this time around the quarantine specialist managed to snag one. (Yes, the scientist did the rest.) We started with five military bases so it was straightforward to get the sixth.

We are now seriously powered up. We've got five military bases and three research stations on the board; you get a free permanent military base in August (two if you lose the first game). We've got all three diseases upgraded to the second level, so we can cure them as an event, away from a research station. The two characters we use most have are well upgraded: flexible and dog tags for the scientist, local connections for the quarantine specialist (and hopefully the related power that does quarantines in nearby cities soon).

The board doesn't look too bad at the moment, either. There's about half a dozen cities currently panicking above level 1, only one of which has gone beyond level 3 (Cairo is collapsing).

Let's see what the future brings, but it feels like we're well set up for it.
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18/03/2017
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May game (first and second attempt)

[I haven’t yet written up our April game, and it’s now long enough ago that I may never do it. My panicked faded photo gives a flavour!]

May was our first game with the faded in play right from the start. It felt a bit unjust, therefore, that right from the beginning of the game, yet another new rule came into play mandating yet more faded. Every black player card drawn gives you an extra faded, yikes! And our dismay was compounded when our initial nine infections were heavily skewed towards black. We thought it couldn’t get any worse, but then we drew an epidemic on turn 1. So… yeah. This was not a good start. Becky remarked that she knew we’d lost when we drew that epidemic and it’s tough to disagree.

We’d chosen the colonel in the hopes of keeping the faded under control, but that proved impossible, since there were so many of them that it wasn’t safe for him to enter faded cities and start shooting shit up. We’d hoped to get the six military bases we needed for our third objective (three cures and an eradication being the first two, natch). In the event, things ran out of our control very fast. Possibly we could have done better by emphasising containment more, but I doubt it - this felt like a lost game from the start and before long we were fighting primarily to roadblock in the faded, preventing them from spreading outside the CODA zone. This was sufficiently challenging that we ended up having to take a scar (first one!) from lingering too long in a faded city.

Suffice to say we didn’t win the first attempt. The second attempt was a big improvement, mostly because there were fewer CODA cities from the start. We had one three-faded city (Baghdad) and two one-faded cities. The other cubes were evenly spread and it looked like a strong start, especially as we got our unfunded airstrike card on turn 1, meaning with our April win bonus we could remove two faded before they even got their running shoes on.

Even so, this was a desperate, hard-fought game. We got an epidemic on turn 1 (AGAIN, FFS), but despite this we kept things largely under control at first. We built up half the military bases we needed, got a couple of cures pretty quickly, and were looking good. But it is amazing how quickly those faded can spread with both decks pouring them onto the board. Even with the colonel the best we could do is delay the explosive spread. By the time we had the cards for our third cure, three out of four diseases were looking ropey as hell, with multiple three-cube/faded cities in each area. (See the final photo in this post to get an idea of how horrific things had become.)

Still, we did it. A last-minute dash to eradicate yellow, give the scientist the cards for the cure and build our final two military bases saw as avoid disaster by one turn - the next epidemic was waiting for us if we’d failed, and would almost definitely have caused multiple outbreaks and ended the game. This was the hardest victory we’d had - all other games had either suddenly and wildly exploded out of our control, or been pretty easy.

It feels like the game has hit a “sweet” (not really sweet at all) spot in terms of difficulty. If things go well, you struggle to contain the diseases, and have to accept a loss of control if you want to have enough actions to fulfil your objectives. The best you can do is contain, contain, contain and then dash for victory. If things go badly, of course, you’re screwed, and it feels like a bad draw at the start makes victory more impossible than ever.

The other thing I want to comment on is how the game is pushing you towards military stuff. We’d noticed this from early on (pre-faded) and wondered if the storyline was about military takeover. For that reason we were leery of military stuff and building permanent military bases. But while that’s still a possible storyline for the future, we are increasingly dependent on military bases (and therefore military characters); we now have three permanent military bases. I’m wondering where this is headed - can’t help worrying that some future rule will see the faded able to overrun bases and take them out of play.


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06/03/2017
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