Thursday, June 30, 2011

M12: Skywinder Drake

Wizards has a lot of images from the M12 set up on their website. What they had up so far was pretty interesting but one card in particular brought back memories of possibly the most important draft of my life. The card?

I expect most people will see this and be pretty unexcited. Sure, it's a nice aggressive card for blue in drafts but what's so special about it? Well, it is a functionally equivalent reprint of the card Rishadan Airship from the Mercadian Masques set, which was the limited format for the first Pro Tour I qualified for.

It was December 5th, 1999. Pro Tour: Chicago was taking place and there was a storm in Toronto so the turnout was very low. Jer had won a PTQ in Waterloo earlier in the season but still let a couple of us crash at his parent's house in Toronto and chauffeured us around. I think it was just myself and Tom playing in the tournament. There were 5 rounds and I was 3-1 going into the 5th round. The judge then pulled out a rule I'd never seen before and hadn't seen since. There were enough people at 3-1 that if we all drew some of us wouldn't make top 8, but if just one table drew they'd both advance. He didn't want games dragging on as we waited to see if other people were drawing or not so he said we had to decide _right now_ if we were drawing. We were all choosing secretly if we wanted to draw without even knowing who our opponents were. If two people wanted to draw and happened to get matched up they could draw. Otherwise we had to play. No one ended up drawing.

My opponent ended up being incredibly slow, and we actually ended up naturally drawing. I'm not sure if he did it on purpose or not, I certainly played fast as always. At any rate we both ended up making top 8. We had a draft archetype we liked in Team Comf which involved focusing heavily on blue for aggressive flyers (3/1 and 2/3 for 3) coupled with great control cards like waterfront bouncer, stinging barrier, counterspell, and gush. I ended up drafting mono blue with I think 4 bouncers and a ton of flyers. I won the first two rounds easily and ended up in finals against a young Richard Hoaen. I believe we split the first two games and were on to game three for all the marbles.

We ended up doing a lot of early damage to each other and then the board clogged up with a lot of junk on both sides. On the critical turn I declared an attack and Hoaen cast shoving match. This was a blue instant which gave all creatures in play on both sides the ability to tap to tap another target creature. In a game with a lot of creatures and low life totals it might as well read 'target player wins the game'.

Typically what will happen is the caster will tap a creature to tap something else. The something else has the same ability so it taps back. Eventually everything is tapped. And when everything is tapped, I lose. So I put on my best dejected face and didn't tap anything back. After all, doing so would guarantee I lose. Hoaen tapped my flyers and then said he was done. It was at this point that my heart started racing and I got really excited. I turned to the judge and said 'I get to attack now, right?' and the judge nodded. So I attacked with my Saprazzan Outrigger, used my balloon peddler to give it flying, and then used the shoving match and my remaining creatures to tap the rest of Hoaen's flyers. Outrigger punched him in the face and killed him off. 'Target player wins the game' indeed, but for some reason he targeted me with it instead of himself.

I often get asked by people why I never concede games when it's 'obvious' I'm dead. This game is the primary reason why. Even when I know I'm guaranteed dead just the act of staying calm and making my opponent keep making plays can result in them making a brutal mistake and throwing the game away. Also, sometimes I actually have an answer in hand. If I'd always concede when I didn't then good players could play around my answer when I don't. By always making the game play out to conclusion I remove that tell from play. (An exception is if I think time is a concern and it's just game 1 and not the match. Conceding early to save time can make sense.) Interestingly, the first time I qualified for Nationals I won a slot in a grinder. My opponent in the last round of that grinder had the game guaranteed won several times but managed to throw the game away at every turn.

Never give up! Never surrender!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Magic the Gathering: Nationals

At the GCBGB event on the weekend I was talking to some people and someone asked if I ever went to 401 Games. (Duncan and Sara run a board game night there every Wednesday, I believe.) I said I hadn't been there for board games before but had been a couple times for Magic. Some people asked if I had any old decks kicking around to play with and I told them I always just borrowed cards from Duncan. Duncan overheard and mentioned that he hasn't actually been keeping up with Magic sets recently but was thinking about starting again, and it came up that Canadian Nationals for Magic are in Toronto this year, and are in the middle of August. Conveniently for me, between the World Boardgaming Championships and Fan eXpo. I've been qualified for Nationals for quite a few years now on rating but I've been steadily slipping. Two years ago I believe it was top 75 in Canada make it in and I was 76th, but tied with 75th so I got in. I went to take a look to see about this year... Top 100 qualify. I am 101st. And tied with 100th. So I'm in, again, barely. (I'm tied with Josh Rider and I seem to recall I was tied with him last time too but I can't actually find any reference to the 2009 invitation list. Google is letting me down! This is why I need to blog about this stuff.)

At any rate, I now have a major Magic tournament going on a short jaunt from my apartment. I guess it's time to learn a constructed format full of cards I've never seen before. And a draft format that doesn't even exist yet. And to find a source of cards to build a constructed deck. Possibly just cash money. I wish there was a deck rental service for Magic...

The official website from the tournament organizer doesn't even say what the format is. The site does, in a sense. It says 3 M12 boosters are used but there are two drafts. I'd assume both drafts are the same format but that hasn't always been the case and core set drafts seem weird to use in a major event. At any rate, it turns out M12 isn't even out yet so I can't really get started on practicing the actual format straight away. It comes out on Magic Online on August 1st, while I'm at WBC. Nationals is the second weekend after I get back from WBC so that'll leave almost 2 weeks for playing on Magic Online which should give a reasonable amount of practice. The paper pre-release for M12 is next weekend, July 9th, so I should probably head to that. The release is the next week so hopefully I can find some kind of drafts to get involved in during the second half of July.

As far as constructed goes, the format will include all of the last two blocks, the last core set, and this one. A very full format of which I have no information at all. I did a bunch of drafting with Scars of Mirrodin but the other 7 sets are completely new to me. (M12 being unreleased is new to everyone.) They also just banned two cards so the format should be shaking up from that change along with potential changes from M12. I think I should put a bit of a focus for the next couple weeks on reading up about rules changes in the last two years along with what's going on in post-ban standard to get some ideas percolating in my little brain.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

League of Legends: Damage Mitigation

A couple days ago I had what the kids these days would call an 'epic game' of League of Legends. The opposing team picked heroes that did pretty much exclusively magical damage. Someone on my team noticed this and mentioned that we should all just buy some magic resist. 25 minutes into the game 2 people hadn't bought any at all and we were getting obliterated. I think the hero kills at one point were 6-22. So the other guy and I went back to harping over and over about magic resist. 10 minutes later we had a flawless ace against them since 4 of us had enough magic resist that it felt like we were practically unkillable. We stormed into their base while they were dead and won the game despite still being down at least 10 kills. It seemed like stacking on more and more resists was really doing something and I want to take a look at what it actually does and if it really does make sense to stack on as much as we did. (In some games armor just gets better the more you have. In others the marginal gains are worse the more you have.)

The formula (for both armor and magic resistance) is the same and very simple. The amount of damage you take is multiplied by 100/(100+MR). Simple enough. But what impact does that actually have on how much damage it takes to kill you? Assume you have X health and Y MR. Then the amount of damage it takes to kill you (alternatively, your effective health, a stat which WoW players put way too much emphasis on but which works here due to the lack of full resists/dodges.) is:


Y' = dZ/dY = X/100

X' = dZ/dX = 1+Y/100

The important things to note here are that Y' doesn't vary with Y and X' doesn't vary with X. How much health you have doesn't matter when you're looking at how good adding more health is. How much magic resistance you have doesn't matter when you're looking at how good adding more magic resistance is. There is no inherent reason who you should stop at any given level of magic resistance, or why you should keep piling it on. They do, however, vary with each other so it is entirely possible that the most efficient stat in terms of gold and inventory space will change as you buy more items. 

The best magic resist item in the game adds 76 MR for 2610 gold. (It also gives 8% movement speed and a hefty amount of health regen in the form of 40hp5+.35% of your health every second.)

The best health item in the game adds 1370 health for 3000 gold, but it takes time to charge up. (It also gives 45hp5.)

Ignore the other bonuses (though the MR item just has strictly better ones) and for the same price you can get 76MR or 1192 health. What's the equilibrium point for those two gains? 

X = 15.68(Y+100)
Lets look at some typical values of Y. With nothing at all you probably have around 30 MR. X = 2039. If you have more than that much health you should get MR. If you have less then you should get health. 

With just the Mercury Treads boots you have 55 MR. X = 2431. 

With a lot of MR I typically get up around 200. X = 4704. 

I must admit I'm a little surprised here. All signs are pointing to just getting more health first. Especially when you consider that most teams will have physical damage dealers too, and MR does nothing against them while more health does plenty. I think I'm going to try getting a basic tanking item and then rushing the super health item and see how it works out in my next game.

Monday, June 27, 2011

City of Villains: Free to Play?

Last year I posted about paying to play an MMORPG and how not only do I not have a problem with doing so, but I think it's been a good idea. The City of Heroes/City of Villains game is apparently going to switch to free to play during their next patch and that has me thinking about giving it another shot. On the surface this doesn't make a lot of sense. If I really wanted to play the game why wouldn't I have reactivated my old account already?  As things stand right now doing so would get me access to everything in the game (I may need to also buy expansions? I don't know.) but in the new model I'd get a lot of stuff completely free but I'd have to pay money afterwards to get everything. For the switch to make any sense one would imagine if I actually wanted everything I'd be paying a fair bit more.

Looking at their comparison page it looks like if you play for free you only get to choose from about half the classes. You lose a third of the power sets. The claim is you get 70% of the (admittedly awesome) character builder. You lose the ability to join a guild, or send private messages, or mail, or write on the forums. You get 2 character slots instead of 12. Your AH usage is 'limited'. They appear to be adding payer exclusive servers and priority to payers in the log-in queues. You can't even talk to a GM if you're a free player. If you had an old account at some point you get to come in at the second tier, so I'd be able to send private messages and mail. I could join but not form a guild.

Now, the reason I was intrigued is I thought maybe other people would want to play too. I stopped playing the first time around because I didn't know anyone but my brother who played at all and I'm bad at making friends. My character was awesome. Oroku Saki who led an army of ninjas called the Foot Clan. Not terribly imaginative, but awesome nonetheless. Looking at what free players actually get though, I'm not sure that would even work. Not being able to send tells in game seems absolutely crippling in an MMO. They do say it's subject to change before launch so I'll be keeping an eye on things to see but if it works the way it says on that page I can't in good conscience recommend to anyone that they sign up as a free to play account.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Great Canadian Board Game Blitz: Toronto - 2011 Recap

Yesterday was the Toronto GCBGB event held in the back room of a pretty nice pub in downtown Toronto. It was definitely a fun time with a lot of new faces in attendance. Overall 21 people showed up to play at some point during the day with a couple people only playing a few rounds. One change to the format this time is they didn't run any 5 player games. I believe the reason was time concerns (many games just take 25% longer with 5 people instead of 4) though I think for scoring purposes it's pretty bad too. Of course with 21 people we ended up playing a lot of 3 player games which have scoring concerns of their own. Oh well. Off to the games!

Round 1 - Bohnanza, 7 Wonders, Carcassonne, Wizard, Dominion, San Juan

I was randomly assigned to pick 5th. We had 18 people to start off so we were going to be playing 3 4-player games and 2 3-player games. When it was my turn to pick I could still pick any game I wanted so I went with San Juan. It is both the game I'd enjoy playing and the game I think I have the best chance of winning so it was the obvious choice. We ended up being one of the 3 player games. A 19th player showed up just before the game start and he chose to join the other 3 player game instead of ours so we were the only 3 player game in the round. One of the other players had played before, the other hadn't. In fact, the guy who had played before was in my game of San Juan last year too. He seemed vastly improved from then when I think he was pretty new to the game.

The game opened with righty going first and building. I played a tobacco storage. I never crafted or sold myself and it remained my only trading related card for the game but just having it in play meant I wasn't falling behind when they were crafting and selling either. I followed it up with a carpenter, a cycled archive, and then a quarry. With the purple building combo in play I went into playing lots of purple buildings and actually ended up building almost all the good ones. Chapel, then library, then prefecture. I didn't end up with a large building but I did build all 3 statues as well as putting 6 cards under the chapel. I ended the game and was multiple buildings ahead of the other players, I think. One had a zumft hall with a good selection of production buildings but it wasn't quite enough as I won by 7.

Round 2 - Alhambra, Ra, Roll Through the Ages, Saint Petersburg, Medici, Glen More

This round featured 2 games I've never player before, one I've played exactly once, and one I really dislike. Picking 5th last meant I might have been in a bad spot but fortunately one of the two games I like and know was still available. I hadn't played it in like 2 years (since WBC2009 I think) but figured I could pick it back up again. The game was Saint Petersburg and featured 2 new players, myself, and the guy from San Juan who seemed like he really knew the game.

I opened up in the noble seat on the first turn and we ended up only taking 1 building off the board in the building phase. That meant I got the only noble on the first turn which was a pretty big boost to my game. I then managed to manipulate the board such that we'd get 6 workers on the second worker turn when I happened to be 2nd. Those two things combined meant I was making 15 gold a turn compared to 12, 9, and 9 from my opponents. After another turn I pretty much stopped generating more income and focused exclusively on victory point buildings, managed to snag the 7 point per turn building pretty early on. I ended up winning very handily 84-65-58-55.

Round 3 - Ingenious, Ticket to Ride, Two by Two, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Thurn and Taxis, Yspahan

I got to pick first in this round which seems like it should be good. Unfortunately there isn't a single game in this selection that I both know and tolerate. If I'd been thinking ahead I would have played some T&T on BSW last week to refresh myself on the game so I could have played it. I don't really like the game though, and since I didn't know it either I stayed away. I ended up picking Ticket to Ride which is the only game from the set that I thought I knew.

I was doing pretty well for myself in the game and was in a good position near the end of the game. I counted my cards in hand and trains left and figured out I could end the game in like 3 actions. Instead I went for more tickets. Now, I had 6 yellow cards in hand and was connected to the 6 yellow and the 5 yellow so I had a pretty good chance of pulling a ticket near my track worth a fair amount. Observant people will note I said I had 6 yellow in hand and there was still a 6 yellow track in play. I could have taken it and ended the game in 2 turns. That seems strong. Instead I went for tickets. One I could do trivially, building just one 3 track. Great! Then there was another I could do with the same 3 track, and the 6 yellow, and a singleton. I decided to keep it as well despite knowing fully well that I could have ended the game in 3 turns and therefore someone else probably could have too. (One guy built a bunch of 6s and didn't go for tickets ever either, so it should have been obvious that I wasn't getting 3 more turns if he didn't want me to.) He then immediately built the 6 yellow, dropping down to 4 trains in stock. The game ended one turn later, so I both only got 2 turns and didn't get to build the 6. I ended up coming a pretty distant 3rd place. In fact I was exactly the negative point value of the route I took, so I could have tied for 1st if I'd just taken the 1 ticket. Probably I just win if I build the 6 yellow myself instead of taking tickets at all. The guy who came last was actually the guy building all the 6s. It turns out he got spited out of a critical piece of track and failed to do all of his tickets.

Round 4 - Egizia, Puerto Rico, Santiago, Stone Age, Settlers of Catan, Container

By this point we were up to 21 people so we were playing 3 3-player games and 3 4-player games. All 6 games were now included. I was tied for 3rd at this point, with Duncan. This round featured 3 games I've never played before, 2 I have played a ton but don't like, and 1 I both like and know. Stone Age time! It ended up being a 3 player game. In fact only 2 people had chosen it when the last person was to pick and she was forced to play it. Neither of them had played before but both seemed interested in playing it and both seemed like they wanted to play again later so that's good. The game itself was less good. There are things about Stone Age that you just can't know until you've played it at least once, like how to properly value the different cards. I ended up winning by over 100 points.

Round 5 - Agricola, Power Grid, Caylus, Tigris & Euphrates, El Grande, Steam

Everyone ahead of me or tied with me lost in round 4, so I was back at the top of the pack. This round had lots of interesting options, and I almost wish I was 2nd going into the round instead of 1st. Someone asked me what I'd do if I was 2nd and I said I'd go to whatever game 1st picked (unless they picked the one game I didn't know). Sadly no one else seemed to feel that way as the top 6 all chose a different game. As for what I was going to pick, well, Steam was out since I've never played it. I think El Grande is terrible with 3 players and didn't want to risk it. I just don't like Caylus and would never pick it over Agricola since I think Agricola solved the problems Caylus has. So it was down to Agricola, Power Grid, and Tigris & Euphrates all of which I like to play and think I'm pretty good at. I went with Tigris & Euphrates since I never get to play it and wanted to practice for WBC. It ended up being a 3 player game with 1 new player which was a little unfortunate. I would have prefered a 4 player game. In retrospect I probably should have gone with Agricola since I like it a lot with 3 or 4.

The game itself featured me beating up on the new player and the 3rd player building an empire with 2 monuments in it. I screwed up a blight and failed to take over one of the monuments when I really needed to, and after that failure (using my last blight) it was very hard to stop him. I managed to set up one chance where we would do an external red fight. Red was both of our lowest numbers by far and the winner of the fight was going to score up 5 or 6 red points. He ended up having enough to successfully defend (I had to attack since he was guaranteed to win since he had a red monument) and as such won by an incredible margin. 16-8-7.

Coming second in the last round meant a lot of people could pass me with a win. It turned out two people did so. Sara and Duncan. Both of whom already have passes to Fan Expo since they're volunteering for the gaming convention. So while I didn't end up actually winning (exclusively to that screw up in Ticket to Ride!) I did get the prize I wanted. And as an added bonus I got to play 2 games on Roll Through the Ages with Sara and Duncan afterwards. Fun game. I'll probably try to pick it up since it's short and similar to Ra! Dice but better.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Galaxy Legion: Ergosphere Filter

The next mission in the temporary mission chain was released this morning. The mission is called The Aevax Experiment and it costs 25 energy for 55 experience. 60 shots gets you an NPC battle which rewards a cloak building. You can repeat the mission a total of 15 times. It took me 13 shots to kill the NPC so I'm looking at 1565 energy per building. It will take me more than a week of exclusive energy spend to pick up all 15 of them which is a pretty substantial commitment. So the question is, what does this do and how many do I actually want?

The ergosphere filter is a dedicated defensive structure that provides cloak to a planet. It takes up only 1 space and provides 150 cloak. On top of that it gives your planet a buff for another 20% cloak on top. You can only build one per planet so you can't go super multiplicative on a good planet. Note that even with no other cloak on the planet the 20% buff will give 30 more cloak just from the filter itself so really it's worth 180 by itself.

There is only one building with more cloak per space than 180. It provides 300 for 1 space but you can only get 5 of them total and you can only use 2 per planet. Also note that if you build the filter on a planet with 2 of these buildings the filter is worth 300 for 1 space too. In short even without putting much effort into a planet this is by far the best cloak building in the game. Any planet worth defending with cloak needs one of these bad boys.

But as I said earlier I don't like spend space of defense for most of my planets. Now, 1 space isn't a lot to spend and can end up costing nothing at all just given how space works out. Also there are some good production buildings which will go on every great planet which provide some cloak and the filter will give 20% more from those. From buildings I have access to I can get 40 each from 2 spy uplinks, 150 from a counter intelligence, and 150 from modified grid pylon (also limited to 15 from a mission). Combined with a filter that's 530 base cloak, multiplied up to 636 from 380 without the filter. Double those numbers if you're in a normal full legion (sadly I'm not) and you're looking at 1272 cloak by adding 1 space instead of 760.

What does that much cloak do for you? Planet cloak has only one impact on the game: it makes it harder for other players to scan the planet when they're going scanning. So we need to look at how scanning works to see what this building actually does.

Scanning works on a two roll system. First you make a roll with a chance for success based on your scan value and the number of planets you've already scanned. I don't know the exact formula and it really doesn't matter since cloak doesn't matter here. The game doesn't even know what planet you're looking for at this point. It's just checking to see if you can get anything at all. If that roll succeeds the game picks a planet for you. It isn't clear how that happens but people assume it isn't completely random across every planet. Occupied planets are over-represented it seems but no one knows for sure. If the planet chosen is occupied then a second roll is made. This roll is based on ship scan against planet defense. The chance for success seems to be (1-cloak/scan). So if their scan isn't as good as your cloak you simply can't be found. If they have more scan than you have cloak then how good cloak is depends on how much scan they actually have but it always gives you a chance to stay hidden. (Contrast this with planet defense and attack which can be completely surmounted if you have small amounts.)

To really get a handle on how good cloak is we need to look at some standard scanning values. The actual current maximum scan possible is 15294. However this requires the use of a limited use buff and requires them to have picked the scanning class. (Everyone gets to pick a race and class which each provide benefits. I started with the scan one and did like it a little but have since switched and it seems almost all high level people have also picked something else.) The max without those two percentage buffs is 10620. I have pretty reasonable scanning tech for my level, I think, and my max right now is 3024.

Most of my planets aren't in danger of being attacked by a very high level player, I don't think, even if they find it. Someone around my level, though, would be all over my better selection of planets. Assuming they have 3000 scan, how good is the ergosphere filter? With it they'd have a 58% chance to find it. Without out, they'd have a 75% chance. 17% is a pretty reasonable difference but it doesn't feel game breaking. It feels big enough to justify spending the 1 space for sure, but I'm not as convinced that it's worth all the energy to get them.

In conclusion any planet worth spending a bunch of space on cloak needs to have one of these. And planet with all the production/cloak buildings can make good use of the filter too, but it's not nearly as mandatory. Personally I have one planet that needs to have one. Probably 7 or so that would like one. And I'll probably get more planets that want/need them in the future. If this mission wasn't trapped behind a 500 flux probe mission I'd probably do it a few times and leave the rest for the future. But I'm pretty sure in the long run I'll want all 15 of these at some point and I'm not sure I'll get another chance again. Spending a week's worth of energy isn't something I look forward to doing but it seems like a reasonable price to pay.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Optimizing D&D Healing

In previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons each person had a number of hit points and if you ran out you were unconscious and/or dead. Most people would have no real way to restore health on their own (other than resting for months at a time) but if one of your characters was a cleric you were set for life. Clerics cast healing spells a few times a day and even if they did absolutely nothing else they'd still be mandatory because you need to be able to handle damage spikes and just keep moving from fight to fight. Maybe forcing someone to be a cleric is a problem, maybe it isn't, but it was certainly a feature of the system.

In 4th edition they changed the way healing works entirely which shakes that whole world all around. All characters still have a number of hit points which will knock you out and/or kill you when you run out, but now everyone has a second health related stat: healing surges. You get a number of these things based on class and con value and basically you can spend one at any time out of combat to restore 25% of your maximum health. So, as long as no one actually dies and everyone has at least 4 of these things left you're guaranteed to be capable of being at full health for the next fight. You can also take an action once during each fight to get the same amount of healing. If your group doesn't have a healer in 4th edition you aren't just screwed after the first fight. As long as you won and no one died you can keep playing.

Healing classes still exist in the game, though they're more hybridized than in previous editions. All of the healer classes can be built in ways such that they can do reasonable damage, or buff the party's attacks and defenses on top of the extra healing they bring. They bring the extra healing in two primary ways: by letting other people use healing surges in combat and by making those healing surges better.

Normally each person can only heal themselves once per fight, and it costs them a standard action to do so. Standard actions are pretty good and in a vacuum are way better than healing for 25% of your health. You'll use it in a pinch or if you really have nothing better to do but you're rarely happy about it. Healers can spend minor actions to let other people heal themselves with their healing surges. The healer still gets their standard action too so the party isn't losing out on damage done in this process. The healer can also hit the same person multiple times so if the enemies are threatening to spike someone down they can deal with it.

Perhaps more importantly the healer modifies the amount of healing done. This varies from class to class. I'm playing a shaman, and the basic idea is my minor action heal (which can be used twice per fight) heals a second target as well. Clerics make the heal a lot bigger on the one target. I'm not really sure what other healers do, exactly, but I'm pretty sure they all do something. This can actually be a huge difference in the amount healed compared to someone just spending their surge themselves.

As an example Aidan is playing a rogue and has 37 maximum health. His surge would heal himself for 9, though we found a magic item which raises everyone's number by 1 if they stand near Sky. So, he can spend a standard action to heal himself for 10. Or he could almost certainly hit an enemy for 20ish damage with that action instead. I took a bunch of healing related feats and items, so if I make him spend a surge instead with my healing spirit spell he's actually heal for 9+1(Sky's belt)+1(my neck)+5(my wisdom) or 16. Also, someone else would get an extra d6+1 healing which averages to 4.5. Also, everyone standing beside my pet (guaranteed to be at least one person and often 2 or 3) gets an extra 5 temporary health which will get damaged first if they get attacked. So all told we can either heal for 10 as a standard action or for ~30.5 as a minor action. It's not all in one spot and I have to modify my whole turn to position my pet properly but I get thrice the effect and still get to keep my standard action. So, yeah, healers may not be mandatory to play the game anymore but they're still pretty mandatory for being awesome.

What I want to look into, however, is how to heal up after a fight. In this case temporary hit points don't help at all and we have to commit to standing around for 5 minutes if we want to recharge my healing spells. If we're not willing to do so then healing up becomes easy... Everyone uses surges to get near full and we move on with our lives. The tricky part comes when we're willing to wait a little bit. Now I can actually heal people without costing them surges (I can land the d6+1 where I want) and surges are worth x+7 instead of x+1. The x varies from person to person, so I should try to have the person with the biggest number spend their surges and spill over to the people with the lowest number. I also want to try to bring people as close to full as I can so I don't waste the d6s or the surges. It turns out there's a feat which makes all out of combat healing dice roll maximum and I may want that feat at some point just to make the process deterministic! For now it seems like the right idea most of the time will just be to make Sky spend his surges and try to spill into Aidan since Sky heals for much more per surge (and has more surges) and Aidan has the least of both. Thinking about it a lot is unlikely to really help while I'm rolling dice. I should probably work out how many x+7s it will take to heal everyone and then see how much healing each person would need from d6+1s in order to need one fewer x+7.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Great Canadian Board Game Blitz: Toronto - 2011

The crazy tournament from last year is back and is being held this Saturday at a downtown pub. There's a Facebook event with more information here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Value Over Replacement

VORP is an advanced statistic used in baseball to determine how useful a player is. The basic idea is you create a mythical 'replacement player' and compare how your specific player performed compared to that mythical player. The idea is if that player got abducted by aliens or whatever and you were forced to take your basic shmoe batter how much worse would you be? You can then use this value to determine things like how big a contract you should offer him when his current one expires. If he's barely better than replacement level (or even worse) then you're not going to give him a very big contract. If he's a lot better then you should make sure he doesn't leave for another team!

I use a similar theory in the game Galaxy Legion to justify not defending my planets. There I actually can derive precisely the value of a replacement planet since I know specifically which planet I will take if I lose one of my current planets. The difference in production between the two planets is my VORP. From there you need to then determine how much of that VORP you'd have to give up in order to build the appropriate defenses and also work out the odds of those extra defenses mattering.

As an example let's look at a planet I recently had stolen from me: Cern'. This was a large metallic planet with very rich research, extremely abundant mining, and extremely sparse artifacts. According to my spreadsheet it was worth about 122 production per hour. My best available research planet is worth about 107 production per hour. So the value over replacement for this planet is 15 points per hour. It's about 14% better than replacement. In short this planet was certainly worth having but if I had spent even so much as 6 of the 51 size on defensive buildings it would have been worse. So even if I know someone has scanned the planet, and is willing to attack it, and willing to defend it themselves, it wasn't worth putting more than 3 defensive structures on it. At the time that would have been about 600 extra defense (to go with the passive 400 on the planet) which would have meant someone with 2700 or more attack would have had the maximum invasion chance against me anyway. (My invasion attack without using anything special is near 3000, so that much defense wouldn't deter someone of my strength at all.) In order to actually defend the planet from myself I would need to make it worse than replacement. Which is exactly what the guy who took it from me did, as it is now worse for him than planets I have uncolonized. I was hardly hurt by his invasion and he's actually hurting himself long term by defending the planet from me. He may actually be better off undefending it, letting me take it back if I want it, and picking up something else. But I don't really expect logic from him, so whatever.

I haven't ever defended a planet I didn't conquer from someone and expect immediate retaliation from and I've only lost 4 planets ever from the 46 or so I've colonized. I believe that means your run of the mill, average planet needs no defenses at all, so you can look at any uncolonized planet you've scanned as a potential replacement using full production buildings on it. (After all, if someone actually wanted to take it they could just go colonize it for free right now! Defenses aren't going to deter them. No one else who has scanned it wants it!) So the replacement level for a planet is actually pretty high, I think. It's full undefended value.

In conclusion, before building defensive structures on a planet you should take a look at how much production you're actually giving up to build them. You need to consider just how much of a deterrent they actually are (getting up to 1000, for example, is a lot like nothing at all to me) and what you could take to replace it should you lose it. Unless the planet is pretty special or you have an unhealthy attachment to it beyond the numerical production it provides you should just leave it open. Maybe someone will take it and you'll lose a little bit of production. Probably they won't and you'll profit forever. The alternative, where you defend everything and no one would have attacked anyway, is much worse. You're just hurting your production for no reason.

Monday, June 20, 2011

FnaticMSI wins!

The League of Legends season 1 championship has ended and Team FnaticMSI pulled out the win. I missed the games during the day since I was at work but the final match started right when I got home. Pretty sweet games in the final and throughout the weekend. I saw some heroes used in new ways and now have a strong desire to try them out and see what I can do.

The team I was rooting for sadly didn't make it to the finals, finishing in 3rd place. They did pick Vayne some of the time, but I actually saw Vayne work in a game. Laning with Janna and her shield (absorbs some damage taken and gives her some attack damage) seemed like it actually worked out pretty well.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ocarina of Time

A couple months ago I was talking to Andrew about Zelda games (I think it was the day I picked up my 3DS) and he mentioned he'd never played A Link To The Past. I remember telling him that he had to play it since it was definitely the best Zelda game of all time.

As Robin Williams is letting us know, Ocarina of Time comes out on the Nintendo 3DS this weekend. I know people who say this game isn't just the best Zelda game. It's the best game, period. Now, it turns out I haven't actually played it. Or actually, any Zelda game at all except for A Link To The Past. So while it may be the best Zelda game I have no real basis for making that claim, except that it's awesome and the one I grew up with. I used to be a big Nintendo fan but it turns out when I moved to University I was broke and my brother won custody of our Nintendo 64. (After a drawn out legal battle I did get the SNES. I think I won!) As I moved through University the people I lived with had just a Playstation or eventually a Playstation 2. So no chance to play the newer Zelda games. I do recall watching OoT get played a little bit when visiting my family between terms but I never really had time to play it myself.

That will all change today as I have errands to run at the mall. (Hair cut, allergy pills, fatter pants...) The eB there claimed they'd be getting it in today, so hopefully on the subway ride home I will be starting in on playing 3D Zelda. It may not live up to being the best game of all time but it should at least be pretty good.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Coin Toss Tournament

I was doing some reading on Dreamhack and came across a qualification tournament for the main Starcraft 2 event at Dreamhack. Essentially you had a 64 person single elimination tournament set up. The top 2 from that tournament qualified for Dreamhack. The winner of that tournament got to play a series against a known pro with 10000 SEK on the line. (Swedish Kronen, with an approximate value of $1500 Canadian.) It's not clear but I know the League of Legends qualifications came with airfare and hotel so it's possible this event did too. Either way the prizes seem pretty sweet. (First place at the Dreamhack main tournament is 100000 SEK, so $15k. It's noteworthy that the LoL tournament has a first place prize of $50k, though it is split 5 ways. I'd have thought the SC2 event would be worth a lot more but I guess Riot is really trying to pump up the LoL tournament scene.)

At any rate the qualifier tournament had an interesting twist. I asked Andrew about it and his opinion on the format agreed with mine and I wanted to solicit some other opinions on the matter. I will post my reaction to the format at a later date.

The twist? Most of the rounds were best of 3 matches of Starcraft 2. The 2nd and 4th rounds, however, were determined solely by flipping a coin. Thoughts?

Friday, June 17, 2011


Dreamhack is being held this weekend in lovely Sweden. According to Wikipedia it would seem that Dreamhack is the world's largest LAN event with lots of tournaments and gaming stuffs going on. Apparently 10% of attendees are female which sounds high (and yet so terribly low).

At any rate, the reason I care is that they're running the season one championship for League of Legends this weekend, and also a large Starcraft 2 tournament. Both events are going to be streamed live. Many casters are going to be streaming the SC2 games, with Day[9] being the most prominent one. (SC2 is running 5 games at a time to get everything done so other people will be casting games at the same time.) League of Legends seems to be running one match at a time so they're just going to have the one stream going. (LoL has 8 teams, SC2 has 48 players.)

The only downside is the event is in Sweden and it turns out that's on another side of the world and they haven't yet switched over to being awake at night and asleep during the day so their video game streams sync up with my life. (Work on that, Sweden!) The LoL stream at least starts at 4:30 am my time. I'm considering setting an alarm and waking up extra early...

I don't know much about many of the teams (though I did manage to catch the last few matches of the north american qualifier series a few weeks ago) but I'm going to pretty arbitrarily root for team Solomid. I just hope they don't draft Vayne, I never see anyone win with her. 8P

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shaman: Final Choices

I have two final non-pet specific abilities to choose and then some items to pick. When I first picked items I didn't know of a rule which said you can only use 1 item daily power per day. I thought it was 1 per item so I grabbed a bunch of abilities that seemed useful. In reality I won't be able to use most of them so I figured I should take a look for passive bonuses that might be more useful. (The rule does makes a lot of sense since otherwise why wouldn't I run around with dozens of 'daily' healing items and just rotate through them all.)

First up I had to keep my healer's brooch +1. It adds 1 to every power I use that lets someone regain hit points. I went looking for other passive bonuses and didn't really find any that were awesome. (Not too surprising I guess since we are talking level 3-5 items and all.) I did switch my totem for one which provides a passive 1 to perception. I want to see things! It also has a daily minor action which might do 2 damage when I use it. So, pretty bad. I kept my boots of jaunting since I only bought them the first time around for the name anyway. Getting to teleport 1 square as a minor action might even come up big at some point! Finally I also had to change my armor. (I changed item level on my weapon so to stay legal I needed to make the same swap for armor.) I found a situational daily power that seems good for a boss fight. Immediate reaction to an ally within 5 squares of me hitting an enemy with a melee attack while flanking the enemy. (Situational!) What does it do? The ally regains health equal to half the damage done. (Probably +1 from the healing brooch?) That seems like it could be a lot of extra healing for essentially no cost.

Next, I get a second at-will ability. The first one was locked in by choosing elemental (it lets Sky attack with big bonuses). The second one I took before lets me make a personal melee attack for d8+wis damage. Hit or miss an ally within 2 squares of me or my pet gets to make a saving throw. This seems situational but very good when we need a saving throw. The only concern with taking it along with the elemental one is I may end up with no actual at-will attack to use. I can never make my pet make an attack so if I don't have an ally to give an attack to I'll have to wander into melee. (Worth it to give a saving throw. Probably not worth it just to do anemic beatdown.) The other option is to pick an ability which lets my pet attack and give up the ability to grant saving throws. Probably my best such option is a pet attack for d8+wis and if he hits all adjacent allies get +1 ac. Also not great. Maybe I should just accept that I need to delay until Sky goes (or use my twin panthers encounter power as my first action every fight).

Final, my daily power. There are a lot of interesting shaman daily powers, most of which do a massive AE with an interesting side effect. I can make a wind tunnel which makes a permanent 9 square grid which I can move and I can slide anyone in the grid around. I can give out saving throws with a +5 bonus to anyone in an 121 square grid. I can do an AE blind (save ends) and make a semi-permanent 9 square grid which obscures and does 5 damage. I can give 2 allies a basic attack. I can do a slow but guaranteed 6d6 damage. I can debuff a dude with daze, slow, 5 damage (save ends those) and a permanent -5 to saving throws. I can do a 121 square grid AE which damages all enemies and gives all allies regen 2 while bloodied which they can dispel as a minor action for a 10 point heal. I can debuff a dude with 5 damage and +2 to hit him (save ends all). I can make a permanent 9 square grid which is difficult terrain for enemies and cover providing for friends. Or I can do a 25 square AE centered on me, with a 9 square centered on my pet for huge damage and knocking the enemies prone.

Some of these seem situationally interesting and good. Others seem rather mediocre (2 basic attacks? Really? Since I can't target the same guy with both attacks and there are no bonuses to the rolls this is probably worse than my at-will). I can go super utility with saving throws for all (it does ok damage to enemies too), or super healing with the hot. I can go super AE damage to blow up a bunch of dudes or the big debuff to cripple a boss.

Initially I went with the big AE and it seemed pretty good. I was able to hit 4 guys with relative ease, knocked 2 of them over, and put out a bunch of damage. It feels like often a fight is going to involve getting swarmed by some dudes and having the ability to bust them up seems strong. On the other hand, my new encounter power which does a resist shield and an AE might fill that role nicely too. The big heal seems really big. At worst it's 44 health to the party at the cost of a few minor actions. The card says the healer's brooch affects the power but it isn't clear if it affects the regen 2 or the regain 10 or both. I'm pretty sure it does impact the regain 10 but don't know about the regen. Either way it's surge free healing which seems good, and it does do d8+wis to all enemies in the close burst 5 (miss for half) so there is a little damage going on too. It's no 3d6+wis but it is something.

How important is it to be able to wreck a single guy? If (big if) I hit with the cripple it seems like it'll blow him out. Daze, slow, and -5 to saving throws are pretty brutal effects. Missing still gives the daze for a turn and the slow until save. And the -5 to saves persists regardless, but only while he stays beside my pet. Since my spec will probably often not have a pet in play and we don't have a lot of other save ends powers (I don't think) this seems weaker than it could be. I think I'm just going to go for the big heal and see how it plays out for a while.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

National Anthems

Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals just finished and the Boston Bruins got the win 4-0. My team was eliminated a couple rounds ago and I lost interest and skipped pretty much the entirety of the third round. I did watch all the games of the finals though. I started game 1 wanting to cheer for the Vancouver Canucks because apparently good Canadians should cheer for a team based in Canada. I quickly found I couldn't cheer for them because I don't respect the way their top players play. Dives and bites galore. Bah. So I started rooting for the Bruins and they managed to pull it off. Good work!

I watch a fair number of televised sporting events and they tend to start with the singing of the national anthems for the countries involved. I'm generalizing here but it generally seems like singers can put their own spin on The Star Spangled Banner in terms of tempo and enunciation and such but Oh Canada is the same every time. I don't much care about how people treat the US anthem since I'm not American but I do get upset when someone 'butchers' my anthem.

Now, the Canucks have an opera singer who sings the anthems and he puts a twist on Oh Canada that I actually like. He just stops singing in the middle and leaves it to the crowd to keep it going. The first time he did it had to be pretty ballsy but it seems to be something of a tradition now.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Shaman: Protector vs Elemental

I posted a bit yesterday about the immediate impact of choosing a shaman pet in 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons. Protector seemed to come out ahead to me, but elemental wasn't very far behind and Sky wants to roll more dice. However, there are other choices later on in character creation which are also impacted by the type of pet. In particular every pet has at least one encounter power which gets improved and there are feats which can only be used if you have a specific pet. I went through the builder and made a character of each type to see what the choices were. Ignoring the 3 other pets, what are the options at each stage?

Encounter 1:

Elemental - pet makes a melee wisVref attack for d8+wis fire damage, target gets vul 5 fire for a turn, pet disappears, anyone adjacent to elemental pet can choose to deal fire damage for a turn
Protector - pet makes a melee wisVref attack for 2d6+wis damage, target is marked, if pet is protector the mark is for -5
Protector - I make ranged 5 attack, wisVfort for d6+wis thunder damage, if you stand beside pet you get resistance 4 to all damage, if pet is protector me or an ally with 5 squares of me gets 4 temp hit points
None - I make two ranged 5 attacks, wisVref for d8+wis damage, pet makes all adjacent enemies grant combat advantage for a turn

Theoretically if everyone saved up an action point and we used very precise positioning then we could get 40 bonus fire damage out of the vulnerability from the elemental attack. Possibly good for a boss fight but it doesn't seem very exciting for most encounters. I like the second protector ability for pretty much every fight since it gives damage prevention both from the resist and the shield. Those numbers are based on con modifier so taking it as an elemental spec is pretty sketchy. Making 2 attacks and granting combat advantage to a bunch of dudes actually seemed pretty reasonable (it's the stalker one and the choice I made for the first session) and I think it's my best choice for elemental, too.

Encounter 3:

Elemental - pet targets an ally beside him and disappears, ally gains resist 6 to all damage for a turn, do a close burst 1 attack centered on that ally hitting every enemy with a wis+2Vac attack for 2d6+wis damage
Protector - pet makes a melee wisVref attack for d8+wis damage and the target is immobilized for a turn, also allies can flank with a protector pet and get an extra +4 to hit if they do
Protector - pet makes a melee wisVfort attack for 2d8+wis damage and an ally adjacent to pet can spend a healing surge, if protector pet they get 4 extra healing

The elemental one here seems insane. Have an ally mostly surrounded by dudes? Put a big damage resistance buff on them and beat up all the enemies too. I again wanted the second protector option since having more ways to actually heal people seems good. The elemental shield size is based on int mod for elemental and would be only 3 for another pet type which still seems decent.

Utility 2:

Protector - daily minor action, me and all allies beside my pet get resist 4 to all damage for the fight
None - daily standard action, someone within 10 squares gets to heal as though they had spent a healing surge without actually spending one

The protector one isn't exactly protector only, but it is based on con mod so it gets pretty weak for another pet type. Resist 1 is ok but it requires precise positioning to pull off on everybody and is it really going to prevent more than letting someone heal without spending a surge? That one is a standard action which does hurt it a little, but I like more ways to heal that aren't pet dependent. I definitely take the resist 4 as a bear spec but as elemental I take the heal.


Elemental - each time you summon your pet you give an adjacent ally 4 temporary hit points
Elemental - each time your pet disappears from an attack power one ally adjacent to him before he disappears can shift 1 space as a free action

There are no protector specific feats that I can find. I was a little worried about losing the extra temp health from the protector at-will attack but it looks like I can pick up 4 temp health a turn out of the elemental pet if I spend a feat. I'm not sure about the timing on the second one but I think that means I can give Sky an attack but he gets to move a space before attacking, letting him get into range before swinging. Sounds like it could work well with the encounter power which hits everyone around my targeted ally.

I have 3 feats to pick total and it turns out there are 2 which really buff my main heal which I missed when I built my character the first time. They give the primary target of my heal 5 extra healing and they give everyone adjacent to my pet 5 temporary health. I don't know that the shift is really critical so I think I'd be going with both of those and the elemental temp health or both of those and +3 to perception as a protector. (I had a +1 to hit feat but it turns out we weren't supposed to take those. Oops!)

So elemental wins out at the encounter 3 and feat level. Protector wins out at the encounter 1 and utility 2 level. Overall they both seem pretty good and a lot better for what I need to do than my first try as a stalker. So it all comes down to if I want more consistent across the board healing or if I want more damage. Also note I have a healing daily or a damage daily I can pick from, so I can cover a whole spectrum.

My gut feeling is the extra 4 temp health from the elemental feat pushes it over the top. I get to roll fewer dice but Sky rolling at +14 for 17.5 damage and a guaranteed 4 point shield seems a lot better than me rolling at +9.5 (assuming targeting will is ~1.5 better than ac) for 10.5 damage and 4 point shields to everyone around on a hit. That's more than double the damage and it would take 2 targets getting the shield (and using the health) every time I hit to make up the healing. So, I think I'm going to give elemental a spin and see how it works out.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons : Shaman Pet!

Yesterday I started a hack and slash 4th edition D&D campaign. There are 4 player characters with varying degrees of familiarity with the system. (From knowing it well enough to rewrite it to having never played before.) I'd played before a couple years ago but am certainly a little rusty and not at all up on any of the new stuff they added after the first player's handbook. At any rate we decided to play a little fast and loose with some of the rules regarding character integrity. Basically, we can change anything we want between sessions which is nice since it meant I didn't really have to worry about what choices I made when building my character. Pick some things, see how they play out, change them if needed.

I'm the 'leader' of the group which pretty much means I'm the healer. I picked shaman as my class since pets are cool and the first choice I had to make was which type of pet I'd use. I picked the one that allowed my pet to flank (the only real campaign I'd played before I was a rogue and desperately needed to find ways to flank so I thought it might be useful). The pet you pick locks in a lot of your abilities and feats so a lot of stuff ends up changing if I decide to switch to a different pet.

Now, the other 3 characters in the party are all melee characters so it turned out there's a lot of flanking going on from other sources than my pet. On top of that, rogues apparently have better abilities to get combat advantage now than they did when I last played so they don't need my pet as much as I thought. And for my heals to work properly my pet needs to be beside an ally, not on the opposite side of a monster from them. In short, the flanking just didn't seem good enough to justify making the choice on its own which is why I made it in the first place. So, with 3 whole combats under my belt, it's time to consider switching which type of pet I use.

The first and possibly most important part of the choice is what 'boon' the pet grants. The 5 options are:

Elements: adjacent allies get +2 to saving throws, pet can be summoned as a free action if not on the field at start of turn
Protector: adjacent allies get +my con mod to second wind heals and all of my healing powers
Stalker: adjacent allies get +my int mod to damage against bloodied enemies
Watcher: some stuff that helps ranged attackers
World Speaker: allies get +my con mod to all defenses against opportunity attacks adjacent to pet

The ranged attacker one is clearly right out. Getting world speaker could help people position themselves better in order to flank amongst themselves which could be nice but can't really be quantified. Damage to bloodied units is what I have now but it didn't seem to really have much impact. It doesn't actually work on very many attacks especially since we have other bloodied effects going around. The +4 damage didn't apply to the first couple hits and was often just extra overkill on the later hits if they were even adjacent to my pet at all. Getting free actions would be nice for getting off to a good start to a fight and the +2 to saving throws will rarely come up but I can probably work out the positioning to make it happen when it does matter. Finally, getting to add 3 or 4 to all of my heals actually seems pretty strong. Right now my basic heal pretty much heals for 10+d6 and this alone would bring that up to 13+d6 to 18+d6. (My heal hits 2 targets so if they're both beside my pet they'd both get the +heal.)

So the question then is, do I need more healing? On my first try I tried to take a mix of healing and damaging abilities but ended up not doing such a good job. One of my healing abilities turned out to not be very good since I didn't have as high a con stat as I thought I did. Two others turned out to be mutually exclusive. I often found that my pet wasn't near anyone so my good heal was actually pretty bad. (This was a combination of trying to use my damage dealing abilities and forgetting that my pet doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity.) Also when I did do damage it was a fair bit less than the damage the other people were doing. So, yes, I do think I could benefit from getting some more healing. Especially extra health healed that doesn't cost more healing surges.

Picking a pet also immediately locks in 1 of my at-will abilities and the opportunity attack my pet gets to make. What are those for the 5 choices, starting with the at-will standard attacks:

Elemental: pet disappears, adjacent ally makes a basic attack with +2 to hit and +4 to damage
Protector: pet attacks wisVwill, hits for d8+wis and every ally adjacent to the pet gets +con mod temporary hitpoints
Stalker: pet attacks wisVfort, hits for d10+wis, pet can flank for a turn (+1/2int to hit if bloodied)
Watcher: ally adjacent to pet or within 3 of me gets to make a basic attack, hit makes enemy grant combat advantage
World Speaker: pet attacks wisVwill, hits for d6+wis, hit or miss an ally within 2 squares of pet can shift 2

And now we see why the elemental pet can be summoned for free. It disappears when you make your standard attack. This removes the saving throw advantage so presumably I'd either not use this attack when someone needed to make a save or I'd resummon as a minor action. I think Sky's class in particular would benefit from the free attack with +2 to hit and +4 to damage but the rogue wouldn't like it very much at all. World Speaker again lets people position themselves properly. Maybe this will end up being a big deal but I don't feel like it's all that strong. Getting to do it even on a miss is nice, though. Allowing the flank just didn't seem that relevant and Watcher had a real bad boon. This leaves Protector which actually seems really strong. If I manage to get an 18 to con then everyone beside my pet would get a 4 point shield on a hit? Seems good!

And the opportunity attacks:

Elemental: wisVref, d6+wis damage and target grants combat advantage
Protector: wisVref, wis damage, hit or miss any ally within 5 squares heals for my wisdom modifier
Stalker: wisVref, d10+wis damage
Watcher: one ally within 10 squares can make a ranged basic attack with combat advantage
World Speaker: wisVwill, target stops moving on a hit

Now, the enemies seemed to avoid giving my pet an opportunity attack as it was so I don't know that this really matters. Watcher is again pretty much worthless with this group. Protector grants a free surgeless heal if it ever goes off which really seems like the best option here. I doubt I'd ever get to use it since they likely just try to kill my pet instead of letting someone heal for a bunch but it would be nice to have.

All told it really seems like the strongest ability from all 3 pools for my group is the protector one. The downside is it changes my secondary stat from int to con which probably means I should change race and puts a hit on my ac. (Which in turn makes it easier to kill my pet...) But it seems like it is at least worth a try! I just hope there's another con/wis race beside smelly dwarf...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Galaxy Legion: Buffing Off-Spec?

Byung had an interesting idea on how to use the Kronyn Datacube mission reward. Rather than use it on a planet which specializes in research what would happen if we used it on a planet we actually use for mining or artifacts?

The reason this isn't as ludicrous as it sounds is there are two types of ways to boost your planet production. The first is to build lots of whatever your standard building is. You start with a building that occupies 4 space and makes 1 base research. As you tech up you can get better buildings. Byung has 13 space for 5 research, I have 16 space for 8 research, and the best you can eventually get is 18 space for 12 research. Other than teching up the building tree there's not really a way to impact how much you're getting from standard buildings and for the very massive research planets I was talking about last time these are pretty much the only source of production.

The other way is to put special buildings on your planet. Generally these buildings have a cap so you can only build 1 or 2 per planet. You get them in a variety of ways: completing missions, killing NPCs, fighting in PvP, or getting them from your random artifact point draws. An example of one of these buildings is the 'warp gate' which takes up 1 space and gives you 1 research, 1 artifact, and 1 mining. There are a bunch of dual-purpose buildings with multiple resources which you'll put on your best planets.

Now, eventually you're going to build these buildings on all your planets anyway so you'd still be better off buffing up your research planets. Except for the fact the datacube is twice as good if used on a 'abundant' or smaller stat. I don't have a research planet that low, but I do have some artifact planets with research on the side. How good would buffing those be?

It's a good idea but doesn't really pan out for me. I plugged a formula into my spreadsheet and using the datacube on my actually research planet will net 18.5 per hour. Using it on a non-research planet gets only 4.5 per hour. The problem is I just haven't built all the awesome research related buildings on my artifact planets with bad research. I've built them on actual research planets and on artifact planets with a better secondary research stat already. In fact, one of those planets gets 5.5 per hour out of it despite only getting the .25 multiplier instead of the .5.

But let's pretend I have loaded up a planet with everything I could. That 5.5 is missing one building it could have for research which would add another 1 per hour. So I could get 13 per hour bonus. A very massive planet has 69 space, so with no tech it could have a base of 17 research production. After all modifiers are taken into account the datacube would add on 8.5 research per hour. So with no buildings researched but a fully artifacted out planet I would be better off buffing the off-spec. In fact it breaks even with power 5 buildings and only gets worse at power 6. Interesting.

Now, that assumes you have a twinked out artifact planet and none of those buildings on the research planet. This may be the case early on, but personally I have a few artifact buildings on every planet (and no planet which even meets the optimal twinked criteria used). And in the long run you're going to research bigger buildings (in particular the 16 space for 8 building is awesome and worth striving for) and once you get up to them you're better off having buffed a very massive research planet.

I have 4 very massive research planets and I'm going to use my datacubes to bring them all up to very rich (x2.25) research production. I may end up losing them to an invasion at some point which would be sad but the same is true for any other planet I may use them on and I'd probably rather lose one of the 4 identical planets than buff up a good artifact planet and lose it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Final Fantasy II: Esuna Replacement

I was broke when I was in the one town that sells the esuna, which removes negative status conditions. As such when someone gets blinded or poisoned I have no recourse. I could fill my inventory with eye drops and antidotes but that's annoying. The solution? Beat up my blind friend until he's dead. Then bring him back to life with the life spell! As an added bonus, he also gets a pretty good chance at getting more max hp in the process!

I just rescued Hilda and blew up the Dreadnought. My play time thus far is 5 hours and 21 minutes.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Galaxy Legion: Kronyn Datacube

Galaxy Legion is a Facebook game with a lot of different things you can do to make your empire better. One of the ways is the Facebook game standard of running missions. You get a certain amount of energy every hour and have different missions you can do to spend energy on experience and rewards. One of the twists they throw in is to have a story line mission chain running with a limited duration. You have 2 weeks to do the current mission if you want to, or you can just ignore it. After those 2 weeks pass the next mission in the chain becomes available. Do it if you want, or pass. Eventually the story will play out and the mission chain will be added to the base game to be done as normal, but you have to start at the beginning. Your progress is tracked and remembered but you can't go finish off the second mission unless you complete the first one.

The current storyline had an annoying first mission. To complete it you'd need to obtain and turn in 500 of an artifact which I get 1-2 of per day. Yeah. I managed to get it done twice in the two weeks it was up but that involved getting extras from Andrew and Byung. I'm not expecting to do the mission when it gets re-added, so if I want any of the rewards further down the chain I need to go them during the limited two week window. I did just that with the second mission, getting all 4 of the modules from that mission. (It adds to scan and invasion attack and can be used on top of all existing modules so they're just an added bonus to two stats I need to have absolutely maxxed out any time I use them.)

The third mission in the chain just spawned today. It's a mission that costs 2000 energy for a reward and can be done 6 times total. The experience/energy ratio is decent but not exciting. My rough math puts me at making almost 80 energy per hour, so I can get all 6 rewards in about 150 hours of energy. That's 6.25 days, or less than the 2 weeks I have to do it. So, I can get it done if I want to. Keep in mind that I don't expect to get a chance to do this mission again for an awfully long time if ever since I still need 450 more flux probes to cash in on the first mission in the chain.

One of the other aspects to the game is planets. Every 4 levels you can colonize another planet. Planets have different sizes, types, and different resources available. The game has millions of available planets and you can use your scan stat to find more, but you're capped on how many you can find based on your scan stat. So, for example, I know of 262 planets right now. Unless I research better scanners or find a way to forget one I've found I can't find any more. I'm allowed to own 36 of those planets, and want to get the ones that make the most resources.

The current mission reward is a single use artifact which allows you to add an extra +25% research modifier to any planet you own. So you can take a planet from x1 to x1.25, or from x3 to x3.25. Assuming I get one of these, where should I use it?

The first thing to note is that it doesn't matter what the current modifier is. All else being equal the net gain is the same regardless of where the modifier started from. If a planet has a base production value of 100 then going from x1 to x1.25 takes me from 100 to 125, or a gain of 25. Going from x3 to x3.25 takes me from 300 to 325, or a gain of 25. So, assuming equal base values it doesn't matter what the modifier is.

What if the base values are different? A planet that makes 100 base gains 25. A planet that makes 200 base gains 50. Having twice the base gives twice the gain. So, I want to use it on the planet with the biggest base production value. And in this game that essentially boils down to one thing: planet size.

The bigger a planet is the more buildings you can cram onto it and the higher your base value is going to be. The biggest planet I've ever seen is very massive, though you can make bigger ones. I have a few very massive research planets kicking around and at my current tech levels my base is 74. So this artifact is worth 18.5 research points per hour if I get it. Currently I make 2125 total, so getting all 6 of them would be a 5% boost to my total research production. Using a week's worth of energy for a 5% research boost seems pretty worthwhile, especially since it's a permanent long term bonus.

Now, I could use all 6 on the same planet or spread them out across my 3 different very massive planets for the same impact on my income. Another part of the game is planets can be attacked and invaded by other players if they also scan the same planet. My viewpoint has been that defending my planets is a waste of time (I'll go into details later) but suffice it to say if anyone really wants any of my planets they can trivially take them. So stacking all 6 in one spot runs the risk of losing them all in one shot. (Especially since making one planet really good makes it more likely someone will really want it!) So, I should spread them out and not stack them up, I think.

One final twist is the artifact has an extra bonus. If it gets used on a planet with a x1.25 or less multiplier it actually gives +.5 instead of +.25. Now, I don't actually own a single planet with a best stat of only x1.25 so I can't really make use of that bonus. But I could colonize a planet which is very massive and x1.25 research. On it's own it's not really worth taking. (My spreadsheet says it will be worth 83.75 which is worse than every planet I currently own.) On the other hand if it was very massive and x1.5 then it would be worth 100.5 which is actually better than 10 of my current planets. So while it wouldn't be spectacular or anything it would be reasonable quality. In fact it is better than every other non-colonized research planet I've scanned. So if I was going to get another research planet before going on another scanning binge this would be the one I'd take.

When it comes right down to it that bonus twist elevates the very massive x1.25 planet into one I think I want. And I think the overall boost from this reward is enough that I want to have it going forward. The window to get it is small, but the bonus is reasonably unique and fairly strong, so I'm going to go for it. I have stronger things to do with my energy *right now* but those options will still exist in a week and this one won't. Run it!

Thursday, June 09, 2011


Apparently this weekend is the quarterly board game gathering at the Agricola church in Toronto. It's basically beside the York Mills subway station so right off the 401. I went to the last one and managed to break my glasses and learn a new game. It should be fun!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Nintendo 3DS SD Card Issue

I've had a Nintendo 3DS for a while now (my old DS was on its last legs and I wanted to have a console to play FFIII on when I got there in my marathon) and one of the apps it came loaded with was a rudimentary music player. It comes with a 2G SD memory card so I was able to move my mp3s from my ancient mp3 player to the SD card through my laptop. I was then able to play the music fine in my 3DS, but every time I opened the music or camera app it would yell at me. The claim was that the SD card was set to write protected mode and therefore nothing could be saved to the card. I took it out and looked at it... Not write protected. I put it back in my laptop... Not write protected. I stopped caring at that point since it would play my music at least and went on with my life.

Nintendo released a patch on the 6th which added in a web browser and a game store. Great! Only problem, it wouldn't let me update with a write protected SD card. (Well, it didn't tell me as much, but I updated and it failed.) Mark had linked to an FAQ describing a bug in the update which broke the Ridge Racer game. (Want to keep playing it? Don't update your 3DS.) In the same sub-section was an SD card FAQ. It didn't describe my error at all, but it did advise that the SD card can only hold 100 music files per folder and 1000 folders total. That got me thinking... I have more than 100 mp3s, right? And I remember searching through trying to find a specific song I _knew_ I had on there but couldn't find it on the list. (Simple & Clean by Utada Hikaru) So I took my SD card out, split up the mp3s on my laptop, and tried it in the 3DS. Worked perfectly. Downloaded the update. Worked perfectly. Got my free copy of Excite Bike 3D. Woo!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Amumu the Sad Mummy

A few months ago the League of Legends servers were really unstable for a week and people were unable to play. To try to make things up to people they credited all active accounts with 350 RP (less than $3 worth). I can't complain since I didn't even try to play during the outages and only found out about it later when I was talking to Adam. 350 RP isn't actually very much and there isn't a whole lot you could buy with it so I just left it sitting around.

Now, periodically they put a couple heroes 'on sale' which cuts their RP cost in half while leaving their IP cost the same. (IP is the currency you earn by playing games.) One of the heroes currently on sale is Amumu who dropped from 575 RP to 287 RP. This is particularly relevant to me since it takes him from out of reach to affordable with the free RP they gave me. I mentioned earlier that I wanted to play Annie and Ashe during the last free week but was often stuck taking a tank for team balance reasons. Amumu was that tank and I enjoyed playing him so I figured I might as well buy him while he's on sale and always have that option open to me. I was lamenting that I didn't have the proper runes to play him so I should probably save up for them now. But what should they be?

There are plenty of interesting guides for heroes at Mobafire but very few of them actually put any hard facts behind their recommendations. By and large they wave their hands and say what works for them or recycle 'known information' which I haven't been able to properly source. So, my intention is to work out exactly what the different talents and runes are going to do for me so I can make an actual informed decision.

First off, though, I need to decide how I'm going to typically play the character. There are a lot of different roles that can be filled by a hero in the game and Amumu is particularly adept at a few of them. The roles it seems like he's best at are:

Tank - The primary goal of a tank is to mitigate incoming damage. If everything goes optimally the enemy team will attack the tank for a long time during which the tank's teammates will be killing off the squishier members of the enemy team. To pull this off you need to both be tough and be attacked. Some heroes have taunt effects which force the enemies to attack them which makes things easy. Alternatively you could root the enemies in place which will prevent them from attacking far away people, forcing them to focus on the person near them. Or you could just disable them entirely and prevent them from attacking anyone at all. Some heroes can be set up to be very annoying or damaging if they're left alive and therefore you can 'force' the enemy to attack you by making it a good idea for them to attack you. You can also rely on your opponents being bad and just attacking the first man in which actually works a lot in the games I've been playing.

Initiator - Games often devolve into all 5 heroes from both teams standing close to each other. Neither team wants to start a big fight since who starts it off is going to lose. (The first person to walk close enough to the other team to get hit by their fireballs is probably going to explode.) So you end up wandering around looking at each other until either someone gives up and stands down to farm or makes a mistake and starts a losing fight. An initiator will have the ability to force the fight to start on terms beneficial to your team. Perhaps the best example of this is from my favourite hero, Blitzcrank. He essentially has a Scorpion style grappling hook which you can launch in a direction. If it makes contact with an enemy it pulls them in to you. Pulling an enemy into your team of 5 is a good way for them to end up dead and now you can charge in 5v4 and use strength in numbers to overcome hitting them on their turf. Or you can just walk away with your hero kill and farm.

Jungler - There are 3 lanes with perpetually spawning monsters which is where most of the experience and gold in the game is generated. Experience is split evenly among all nearby heroes so by default you'll have 1 hero getting full experience and 4 getting half experience. (You split your 5 heroes among the 3 lanes in a 2-2-1 split.) In addition to the lanes there are also little camps of neutral monsters that spawn all around the map. These are also worth experience and gold and sometimes even provide a powerful temporary buff. If you have a hero dedicated to killing these neutral monsters in the jungle then suddenly you've split your team up 2-1-1-1 and now have 3 heroes getting full experience and 2 getting half. And you're getting powerful temporary buffs on your team. And you have a hero perpetually hidden in the fog of war so the other team has to worry about where he is and if he's going to jump out of the shadows and gank them. (And if they don't worry about it at all then you just run around actually ganking them!)

Beatdown! - Someone needs to actually kill the enemies!

All characters in League of Legends have 5 abilities. A passive ability, 3 normal abilities they can level up (1 skill per level) and an ultimate ability they can level in the same way which can only be leveled at 6, 11, and 16.

Amumu's passive makes anyone he hits get a debuff with -35 magic resist. This lets him do more magic damage but more importantly lets his caster teammates do more magic damage and can provide an incentive for the enemies to kill him off.

Amumu's Q ability is like a reverse Scorpion throw. You throw a 'spear' in a direction but if it hits any enemy they get stunned and you get teleported on top of them. It also does some damage to them. This is awesome for initiating since you get right in their face from a fair distance away. The stun helps hold them in position so your allies can catch up. Great for initiating. The stun can also be used in the middle of a fight to stop their best damage dealer from attacking your team, so it's ok for tanking.

Amumu's W ability is an aura. This aura drains your mana but deals damage to everyone around you. The damage it deals is percentage of maximum health so it hurts the other team's tanks a fair bit. This is another reason the enemies want to kill Amumu off. If he just stands in the middle of the fight he's gradually killing off their whole team. Great for chasing people down, too, since you just have to stay near them to keep the damage coming.

Amumu's E ability has two parts to it. The first part is a passive effect that reduces incoming damage by 10 at max level. This is fantastic for tanking, of course, but also very good for jungling. In a lane the monsters tend to attack each other so the heroes don't take a lot of damage but out in the jungle the neutral monsters only have you to attack. Taking less damage from them is good. The second part is an area of effect damage spell. It's nothing spectacular but it gets its cooldown reduced each time you get hit. So if they wail on you then you get to do more damage to them.

Amumu's ultimate ability is one of the best in the game. It puts down a pretty substantial area of effect snare. This prevents any enemies in the area from moving or attacking for 2 seconds. It also does a fairly large amount of damage. It's insanely good for initiating fights. Or for ganking people. Or for preventing the enemies from hurting your teammates while they run away. Coupled with his first ability this lets you jump onto someone, stun them, then root them when they try to get away. Just fantastic!

Monday, June 06, 2011

Paying For Games

I've been playing 4 online games recently which have drastically different ways to pay. I have a deep seeded aversion to some of them and I'm not entirely sure why. Those games and how they make their money will be detailed here to try to figure it out. The games are Starcraft 2, Final Fantasy XI, League of Legends, and Galaxy Legion.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

More Power!

I played a couple games of Battlestar Galactica over the weekend. I talked a couple weeks ago about how I became President Admiral CAG Colonel Saul Tigh. Well, in the very next game I played I pulled it off again, become President Admiral CAG Samuel T Anders. This was even less likely since I started the game with no titles at all and Anders is near the bottom of the President and Admiral depth charts. This time I made a questionable call which resulted in us losing the game at a mere distance of 5 with a reasonable amount of every resource left. We lost to the ship exploding. The critical decision involved a crisis which would either gain us a morale but damage the ship twice or lose us a morale. We had 5 morale at the time, so we could either go up to a robust 6 or drop down to a scary 4 with likely 3 jumps still to come. 2 damage doesn't sound so bad except we were 3 damage from losing. The damage token pile had 4 left in it, and cylon Byung was up next. His action is likely to be roll a die and on a 4-8 he'd get a bunch of ships into play to attack us and he could then follow it up with rolling another die and on a 1-5 (I think) he'd damage the ship once.

So, we immediately lose specifically when the null token is the last one drawn and Byung makes two dice rolls for a little under 10% chance of instant loss. Of course, we're still left with a very damaged ship and 2 revealed cylons taking actions but we would have 2 human turns in between which included my turn which could launch a nuke with my once per game ability for the guaranteed destruction of all ships in one space. Our chief had some repair cards so it's entirely possibly we could have stabilized things under that choice. On the other hand, we weren't likely to win.

That said, dropping to 4 morale with so much game left to play is a lot like losing, too. We still have a rather damaged ship and pressure is coming in from all sides. I didn't really think the decision through all the way at the time and I still can't really quantify the odds of losing from 4 morale... The choice was definitely questionable but I'm sure if I'd made the other choice and we'd lost on morale we would have complained then, too.

As it turned out the non-damage token was the last one and Byung did make both of his rolls so we immediately lost.

The second game didn't involve consolidating power and the humans actually managed to win but that involved some pretty crazy luck too. We played with 10 loyalty cards and the sympathizer card in particular was the 10th one in that deck, which doesn't get dealt out. So our game which was supposed to be 2.5v1.5 became 3v1. Cylon Byung managed to force us to add an 11th card to the sympathizer and deal one of them to Andrew but still missed on dealing it out. Despite that we still came very close to losing and needed 14 or 16 straight cards to come up with jump prep in order to win. Ultimately it feels like the new cylon fleet action (the one that let Byung roll those dice in the first game) is just too powerful. The cylon fleet smooths out the attacks and makes the game feel more like BSG which is nice but it really seems like it makes the game a lot harder for the humans to win. Not sure how to fix it, though...

Saturday, June 04, 2011

World Boardgaming Championship Video

It's almost that time of year! 2 months until WBC! Here's a video they have posted on their website which tries to give a brief overview of the event.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Difficulty Settings

I've been playing Dead Rising 2 a lot recently and the difficulty of the game is starting to get frustrating. The problem I'm having is there are 'boss' fights that exist as part of the plot and as part of rescuing survivors and these fights are brutally hard. For the most part they all seem to have a powerful ranged attack which has a knockdown component making it practically impossible to aim a gun at them and powerful melee attacks which make it hard to swing any sort of awkward melee weapon at them without taking a beating in return. They kill me in 3 or 4 hits. I have to hit them 20-30 times to kill them and it has to be with a powerful weapon like a katana, sledgehammer, or lightsaber. They move faster than I do, can't be stunned or dazed, and knockdown even with their melee attacks. The only advantage I have is I can heal by eating food in the area or that I brought with me and they can't. (Except one guy who actually spent most of the fight eating. I have no idea how to even try to beat him since he healed to full every 10 seconds.) Also they're AI controlled so if there's a trick that can be exploited I may be able to exploit it. The problem there is when I first get into a boss fight I tend to be dead in a matter of seconds and the nearest save point was probably a 5 minute run away.

Now, every time I level up I get more powerful. I can do more damage with my attacks, or get more max health, or get the ability to carry more items (which means more healing items or powerful weapons if I prepare in advance) or get more abilities. I remember in the original Dead Rising that I gained the ability to dodge by rolling away at one point and that ability would be crucial for many of these fights. Get in, melee once or twice, dodge the big attack, repeat. Instead of now where my plan is get in, melee one or two times, get knocked down while losing a third of my health, run in a circle until I find food, eat it, repeat.

Am I supposed to just ignore the boss fights and level grind? You can restart the plot from the beginning without resetting your character level so that's certainly a plausible way to approach things. Certainly the non-plot fights I've taken to just skipping but I had a mandatory mission involving a fight with two katana wielding babes and it took many tries before I final won. My winning strategy? Fill my inventory with broom/machete combo weapons and full health items. Blindly charge in and mash attack until I got knocked down. Heal when I got low. Repeat. I barely won. But there was no tactics involved. If they started attacking me I had no way to avoid the damage so I simply had to chase and burn them out first.

I like hard fights but these just seem so out of reach and not having saves anywhere near the fights is frustrating. I feel like the fights should scale with level in some way or I should have some sort of ability to use defensively. Right now it seems like whenever the AI decides to do damage to me they get to and my only hope is it just is designed to play badly enough to let me win. Maybe I should just grind up some zombies and see if I can't learn a dodge move...

Thursday, June 02, 2011

League of Legends: Level 20!

I recently hit level 20 in League of Legends. Level 20 is probably the second most important level to hit with only levels 21 and 30 being even anywhere near as relevant. Why, you may ask? Well, every level gets you a talent point and a rune slot. Talents are free and can be changed around at will at any point you aren't actively playing a game. It takes 21 points to reach the bottom of a talent tree and the 21 point talents in 2 of the trees at least are incredible. (The three 21-point talents are 5% extra base damage, 4% less damage taken, and 15% cooldown reduction on your 'summoner' spells.) This is what makes 21 powerful. 30 is the maximum level and you need to get to level 30 before you can play ranked matches. But what is so important about 20?

Runes work a lot like World of Warcraft glyphs work now. There are 4 types of runes (glyphs, marks, seals, and quintessences) and you can't mix and match. Marks go in mark slots, not in glyph slots. You need to buy the runes before you can use them but once you've learned a rune you have it forever. (Though if you want to fill all 9 of your glyphs with one you need to buy 9 of them.) You buy these runes with in game currency you win at the end of every match, though you can spend real money to increase the rate at which you accumulate them. You start out capable of buying low powered runes. (Lesser Mark of Desolation, for example, is .93 armor penetration.) At level 10 you can start the second tier of runes. (Mark of Desolation, for example, is 1.29 armor penetration.) At level 20 you can buy the third tier of runes. (Greater Mark of Desolation, for example, is 1.66 armor penetration.) There is no fourth tier.

Personally I bought a couple lower tier runes when I first started but didn't end up buying enough to fill all my slots at all let alone to have different sets for different heroes. (Stocking up on tier 1 runes seems silly in the long term since they're strictly inferior to the higher tier ones in every way except cost and when you can start using them.) When I hit level 20 I barely had enough IP (the in game currency) to fill my 20 slots with top tier runes. So I had to make some choices... Armor penetration runes are supposedly the best ones for melee characters but are practically useless for mages. Mana regeneration runes are good for characters who don't buy mana items but pretty weak for those that do and useless for those that don't use mana as a resource. I couldn't afford to buy 2 full sets. So I could either buy flexible but non-optimal runes that work for everyone (magic resistance, for example, is decent on everyone but not the best for very many people) or I could optimize one class of characters and just try to play those ones or I could break down and pay some money to get more IP.

I ended up picking a hero that was free the week I hit 20 and buying the optimal runes for that character. (Ashe, for reference, who is an archer that does physical damage and has a pathetic mana pool.) I got armor penetration for my marks, mana regeneration for my seals, cooldown reduction for my glyphs, and movement speed for my quintessences. Unfortunately most people who play in pugs don't think about team composition at all so sometimes I'd be in a game where my teammates took 2 archers on top of my Ashe. It's pretty easy to beat 3 archers (stack armor) so I'd want to switch to Annie who is a fire mage with a pet bear, Tibbers. She has no use for armor penetration but is ok with the other ones. It turned out I barely had enough IP left over to buy 6 magic penetration marks so now I'm stuck with move speed, mana regen, and cooldown reduction but I can pierce the right kind of defenses for whatever damage dealer I pick.

And then I ended up playing a tank most of the week since no one likes to play tanks but they're really important. *sigh* Guess I need to play more games to earn more IP, eh?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Dead Rising 2

The original Dead Rising is a game about a zombie outbreak in a small town. You control a photojournalist who helicopters onto the mall in town which appears to be the center of the outbreak in order to take some pictures and break a story. There's a whole plot line where you're going around taking pictures and trying to figure out what is going on (along with actually surviving until your escape helicopter arrives 3 days later). In actuality what you're doing is wandering around a mall picking up anything and everything in sight and killing zombies with them. Baseball bat? Club the zombies to death. Chainsaw? Slice them in two. Bowling ball? Toss it at them and knock them down. (There's an achievement for killing 10 zombies with one toss of the bowling ball.) I think this was the first game I really played on the xBox 360 with lots of wacky achievements like that and it was awesome. To give you an incentive to wander around the whole mall and find lots of different zombie killing implements there are survivors scattered around which you get sent to save. Get to them, kill the zombies around them, and lead them back to safety for bonus experience. They even follow you around and use items you give them so it's possible to build a small army of followers armed with handguns to go on a zombie killing rampage.

As I was saying yesterday all I really want out of Dead Rising 2 is more zombies to kill in interesting ways. I've been playing it a little the last couple nights and it has certainly delivered on all cylinders. The basic idea here is zombies are now a fact of life in America and there's a game show where you drive around on a motorcycle with chainsaws attached to the handlebars. The goal is to kill the most zombies by driving through them. You control one of the stars of this show. Shortly after the show ends something happens and suddenly all the zombies the show has locked up for use get free. (Oh noes!) The area is quickly quarantined but it's going to take the army 3 days to arrive to clean up. So you end up trapped in a casino/mall complex for 3 days with a plot directing you around trying to figure out what exactly happened to cause the zombies to get loose. There are lots of zombies. There are lots of ways to kill zombies. And there are survivors to go rescue...

In short, it's the same game. Yes! They made some tweaks of course but they really followed the same price template. 3 game days of zombie killing mayhem loosely guided by plot points. They did remove the picture taking aspect of the game. (I think I liked it more than most people but really I didn't have an itch to take more pictures of zombies so I'm fine that it's gone.) In its place is a system where you get to learn recipes as you progress through the game (so far I've found recipes by leveling up and by finding a secret thing to examine in the mall) and you use those recipes in specific rooms to build super weapons. In short, they took out a low awesome aspect of the first game and replaced it by adding in absurdly awesome ways to kill zombies.

For example, you can find a box of nails in the mall. Use it as a weapon and you feebly throw some nails at the zombies. The zombie will get dazed when you do this and probably will die if you hit him with enough nails. (I haven't thrown nails specifically but I did manage to kill a zombie with poker chips so I imagine you can eventually pull it off.) Or you can find a baseball bat. A couple good thwacks will kill a zombie. In both cases you earn 10 experience. But if you take the box of nails and the baseball bat to a maintenance room you can combine them into a spiked bat! Now you can swing the bat to kill a bunch of zombies in one attack for 50 experience a pop. Or you can line up one zombie for a big attack and rake in 100 experience! Leveling up by fighting zombies with normal stuff is obsoleted. Not a big loss, especially since you get some pretty silly animations from the super weapons.

The second super weapon involves combining a bucket with a power drill. You end up with a sadistic looking device that has drill bits pointed into a bucket. Plop it onto a zombie's head and watch as his skull gets ripped to shreds by power drills. 200 experience and you can pick up the device to use on the next zombie.

Next up? Combine the box of nails with a propane tank. You end up with a propane tank covered in spiky bits. You can swing it around to kill zombies with the spikes. Or you can wind up and impale it into a zombie's back. This doesn't kill the zombie but he has no way to get rid of it so he stumbles around with a propane tank on top of him. Run a bit away, pull out a gun, and shoot the tank. Kabooom! Massive zombie explosion! 300 experience per zombie killed in the explosion. (I can see rewarding people for using the tricky to combine weapons but a 30 times multiplier seems a little absurd. But whatever, more zombie death!)

Take an ordinary push broom (useful for clearing a path through a bunch of zombies I guess) and combine it with a machete (useful for clearing a path through a bunch of zombies by hacking them to itty bitty bits) and you end up with a polearm that makes zombie Gary Gygax wet his pants.

Combo weapons aren't the only sources of awesome zombie deaths though. Starting up a lawn mower and pushing it into a crowd of zombies results in some very satisfying zombie bits flying all over the place. I even found an "adult" store and tried to kill a zombie by beating it with a giant purple dildo. Sadly it didn't seem to do much damage and I gave up long before the zombie died.

They also kept the system of getting new outfits in the mall by trying on clothes in stores. I like how it adds a bit of customization to your avatar. You can dress your guy up in a dress if you really want to. At the moment I'm wearing a white fedora, a fake moustache and glasses set, a suit jacket, jeans, and black go-go boots. It works, honest!

I'm sure there are tons of zany achievements though I haven't even looked at them yet in case their are spoilers to the plot. I figure I'll play through the game once and then bask in the glory that is achievements. Who knows, maybe this will be the first game in which I get them all!