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

Joshua'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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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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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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Should we submit Lovecraftesque for the Ennies?

Anyone got any sage advice on this? My thoughts below.

- We're really proud of the game
- We think its design is both good and innovative
- The layout and art is superb
- We've had a lot of great compliments on the physical product
- It would raise our profile even if we didn't win anything? (Would it?)

- We're a pretty small deal compared to our likely competitors so very unlikely to win anything
- Submitting a physical copy is super-expensive

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Argh! What the ever-loving fuck is happening? Get these motherfucking Faded off this motherfucking plane! :( :( :(

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[This is part of the “humanity project” series being vulnerable and shit. I’ve deliberately elided the details; if you happen to know them, don't un-elide them please.]

About a decade ago, my partner and I fell out with some very close friends. It was a massive tragedy in our lives because, as so often happens with these things, we had not only lost a very important friendship, we had many shared friends, relationships that were strained or broken by what happened.

What was particularly strange is that the “break up” itself was over a third party: our two friends had - for reasons that were opaque to us - fallen out with this third party, and their subsequent “break up” with us was because we wouldn’t throw her under a bus. After a confrontation about our lack of bus-throwing, we were suddenly frozen out, persona non grata.

These were people we saw every week, maybe multiple times a week. We gamed with them, we socialised with them, we went on holiday with them. If you’d asked us at the time we’d probably have said they were our best friends, or at least in the shortlist. It was horrible and remains a stain - albeit a distant one, as time has passed - on our social scene.

Today that stain arose anew as a mutual friend accidentally broke the silence by inviting us to the same social thing. Not their fault at all: the exact scale and extent of the problem wasn’t visible and, while they knew the “break up” had happened, they’d justifiably thought it would all be ok. And indeed, we’ve made it a point of principle not to turn down invites to events our former friends might attend, since we hadn’t done anything wrong, and felt we could simply avoid talking to each other. We didn’t want to make things awkward for mutual friends by forcing them to choose.

Turns out that, ten years down the line, they don’t feel the same way. We remain persona non grata, and so the invite prompted what by all accounts wasn’t a terribly pleasant response from their side. We’d always assumed that they had put out an APB barring us from any social event they attended (they had somewhat higher social status than us), so it was a bit of a surprise to discover that this had, in reality, only now come up. I guess they assumed people would do it without needing to be told. It’s rather unfair on the person who stepped on the social landmine.

I feel like this is the part where I say it’s brought the pain back again, but the truth is that my main feeling about the whole ordeal remains bafflement. I still don’t get it. I don’t get why they fell out with the non-bus-thrown third party, I don’t get why it mattered so much to shatter a good friendship. I’ll never understand why someone would destroy a friendship and threaten to tear apart a social scene over something like this. But it remains a source of a certain amount of social anxiety / friction. We are still periodically uncertain of whether we’ll be invited to this or that social event because they might be. The person who sent the recent invite handled the whole thing very sensitively (a fact for which I’m very grateful!) and it’s worked out ok for us. Even so, it’s unpleasant to know it's still kind of hanging over us ten years on.

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March game (attempt the second)

We started the game with a concentration of black cubes, which happens to be our Coda, which didn’t exactly bode well. Thankfully though, a combination of the February win bonus, the Quarantine Specialist’s ability and some funded events enabled us to lock down black without visiting the area until the very last turn of the game. The rest of the story of March[] was the most monumental crushing ever delivered (by us, at any rate).

We began with a smattering of red which we swiftly cured and eradicated (fourth turn of the game, I think). We swiftly travelled to South America to pick up the yellow cure and then eradicate the rather paltry number of cubes that had managed to get a foothold there. Finally, we moved on to Europe where earlier positive mutations made a cure almost too easy.

I’d spin the story out for longer, but it really was that quick. We methodically worked through cures and eradications. We cured our third and final disease on the thirteenth turn of the game, before we’d even had our third epidemic. We had zero outbreaks. Two eradications - could probably have managed a third if the game hadn’t ended. This felt like an utter vindication after the disaster that shall not be mentioned.

Thanks to this success and others, all three non-Coda diseases now have positive mutations, two of them up to the second level. We are frankly salivating at the idea of the third-level mutation, which grants cures with one less card (so for the scientist, three cards only).

[] This is the only story of March. The other game NEVER HAPPENED.
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March game

The difficulty was substantially raised for this month. First, we had no funded events at all; and second, we had two objectives to complete. The core objective to cure all the curable diseases remained, but we also had to either eradicate a disease or set up six military bases - one in every part of the map. When we saw the second objective we said to ourselves that this was an impossibly hard ask, though it didn’t stop us trying to do it.

The game started badly with an epidemic straight away. This was to put us on the back foot for the rest of the game, as we frantically raced to try and keep things contained. Even so, we were doing pretty well initially, triaging efficiently and steadily working our way to two cures (red and blue, the two really easy ones thanks to earlier mutations) in fairly short order.

Then the shit really hit the fan. First red exploded, with an outbreak in Shanghai and cubes liberally scattered over the rest of the eastern zone. While we raced to deal with that, black exploded, with three-cube cities in three and then four places. Recall that black is the coda (uncurable) disease, so the best we could do is to quarantine those cities. We kept a cool head and continued to triage, but where before we were triaging to reduce or eliminate the risk of outbreaks, now we were triaging to eliminate the risk of a game-ending outbreak in the central zone, since black cubes were nearly all gone.

Oddly though, it was neither red nor black that did for us. These were both in a pretty sorry state by game end, but black was quarantined to the eyeballs and only Shanghai was vulnerable when it came to red. We felt we were struggling - definitely at risk of losing - but safe from immediate loss when yellow suddenly detonated.

Our problems started when Khartoum had an outbreak. We knew this was a risk but, by this time, we were focusing on game-ending risks. As our fourth outbreak this was pretty damn bad, but not disastrous, or so we thought. A couple of turns later, an epidemic shattered our dreams of victory. First Johannesburg was drawn from the bottom of the deck - ordinarily not that bad, but the earlier outbreak in Khartoum meant Jo’burg also had an outbreak and, of course, this reverberated back to Khartoum. Three outbreaks in three turns. Then, as always, the epidemic was followed by a regular infection phase - and the first card drawn was Khartoum. An outbreak at Khartoum triggered another at Johannesburg and then another at Kinshasa. We had suffered five outbreaks in quick succession in an area that seemed relatively safe, and the game was over.

We felt pretty despondent. We seemed to have gone from crushing the game to being crushed by it. Our almost pristine board was now full of panic markers, including two rioting cities. Our pristine win record was now blemished with failure.

After a too-long post-mortem, I partly blame our insistence on pursuing what we had recognised at the start as a very tough objective: my operations expert spent four actions spamming military bases, when those actions could have been used differently. We also raced towards cures when our board wasn’t sufficiently under control, meaning we were pretty close to a win (four military bases out of six, five cards in hand towards a final cure, and the blue disease down to three cubes, but at a cost of not controlling the board.

We’re returning to the scientist and quarantine expert on the rematch. They seem a more potent combination, and will ensure we focus on the two more gettable objectives over the military base one. Hopefully that plus the extra cards and upgrades will offset the increased difficulty - and our rioting cities.
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First ever loss at Pandemic Legacy!

Bit unlucky in a way, as we managed to convert one city with three cubes on it (one of only two cities on the board that were in that state) into three outbreaks in a single turn.

Still, that only lost us the game because we'd already had quite a few already. The lesson, as always, seems to be: containment first.

Full report soon.

Handling widespread injury

What do you do when your airwomen are mostly out of commission? The book says play will naturally gravitate towards the base, but so many of the moves seem predicated on the 24-hour cycle that I'm wondering quite how it will work if there's no mission coming up.

Do you continue to play the cycle but without the missions, or just cover a few highlights from each day until they're healed up? What do you do if there's one odd woman out who isn't injured? Any tips for how to make sessions sing during this period?
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