T.I.M.E Stories

The first time we heard about T.I.M.E Stories was at Essen SPIEL 2015, where the publisher had a fairly impressive booth, all white, closed from the exterior as to avoid spoilers, and that seemed to have a fair amount of success. We didn’t get to play there, but it was definitely enough to put the game on the “I’m intrigued” list (marketing ploy: successful).

The base of the game is that the players are part of a time travelling agency, and they get sent to various missions as characters of the situation that they need to fix. As far as I can tell, the probability of finishing a given scenario on the first try is very low – and would probably require a lot of luck. But what T.I.M.E Stories does really well is that, since we’re within the framework of time travelling, all the information that the players have can be re-used in the subsequent runs of the scenarios. Consequently, a game of T.I.M.E Stories consists of one or several runs of a scenario, until the players figure out the whole story and achieve the scenario’s goal – how to achieve the “perfect run” that allows them to unlock the victory conditions. A scenario that is played through does not have any replayability, but there’s around 10 official scenarios, with more to come.

T.I.M.E Stories is more of a “framework” than a game: the base box provides a generic board, tokens, pawns, and base mechanics, as well as a single scenario, Asylum. Scenarios are essentially a deck of cards that player explore according to the framework rules, and define the use of the tokens, as well as any additional rule. The base box also provides a way to “save” the state of a game between two runs. Since we’ve always played through all the runs of a scenario in one afternoon, we haven’t used that feature at all, but I really like the idea!

We’ve played four scenarios (Asylum, The Marcy Case, Prophecy of Dragons, and Under the Mask) and I’m happy to report it’s always been an enjoyable experience. To me, it’s actually fairly close to an investigative game-master-less RPG. There’s obviously little to no leeway for crazy shenanigans and weird plans that are doomed from the beginning, but the whole feeling of solving a narrative puzzle as a team is definitely there. If that makes sense, I also get the same kind of “fatigue” after playing T.I.M.E Stories than I get from an RPG session (as a player), which makes me think that it probably scratches the same kind of itch.

The only point that could be improved in my view is that the rules feel sometimes slightly too fiddly when it comes to handling the time limit of a mission. We’ve had to check them multiple times in the last session because we were not sure if we had to spend a unit of time or not to make certain actions, and that’s a bit annoying. There’s also the feeling that the expansions differ with one another when it comes to the clarity of the extra/specific rules.

But all in all, it’s a solid experience and a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon with friends.

Dipping a toe back in EVE waters

That’s me, in EVE!

I used to play EVE. I was never any good at it, but it always held a kind of fascination and it’s a world I find myself drawn to. I’m not entirely sure why, mind you, because it’s a pretty stressful game: space is dangerous, unknown players can in no circumstance be trusted, and if you lose a ship… well, it’s permanent, and you need to make enough monies to compensate for the loss. But I think I enjoy the challenge of it, including its brutal learning curve, and I really like the fact that there’s a fairly large variety of content.

I also still know a community of nice and helpful players – people with whom I’ve played in the past, and with whom I still occasionally chat, making the whole “I should get back to EVE” a fairly common self-nudge. And then, someone who shall not be named showed me 21 Day Challenge, Can YOU plex it! the other week – which made me want to explore the PvE side of things more, and next thing I know, I’m looking at my in-game inventory trying to figure out where I left most of my stuff.

Coming back after a couple of years is a weird experience. My character is still there, with all her skills and all her money (which makes the “newbie” experience very skewed, but not necessarily in a bad way). I found my main stack of “stuff” in a station somewhere in high-sec, so that’s where I put my base for now – I’ll reconsider once I’ll have blown up all the ships that are in there 😛 Some reflexes are still there – where to look for what, how to try to fly safely, how the mechanics roughly work. Some “emotional” reflexes are still there as well – the gut-wrenching stress of deciding to go through low-sec to get to a place in 5 jumps instead of 25, or the very large hesitation at even considering to jump through a wormhole. (I haven’t set a wing in null-space yet.)

And then, there’s trying to get back in the game. I’ve had a few close calls already – and I lost a few ships as well. None of these actually happened in PvP, which makes it a bit embarrassing 😦 I’d like to believe it’s because I’ve been careful with regards to PvP, which is not entirely wrong, but I don’t think I was ever at a real risk there.

My first loss was a VNI, lost by engaging something I shouldn’t have. (In my days, Autothysian Lancers didn’t exist, and gate rats were… reasonably safe to engage. I think.) My second loss was ALSO a VNI, lost in a combat site that escalated past my (player) skills. I think I could have escaped that one if I had seen earlier that I was webbed (and not aligned) – I failed at warping out before my ship died. Sad.

After a bit of whining (that I’d lost a ship again) to the aforementioned nice players, someone made the remark that data cache hacking in wormholes was actually fairly good money, and that it was feasible in a pretty low-cost ship. I stumbled upon All-Out Guide to Relic/Data Exploration, which I found pretty useful – took a bit of advice here and there, and went on my merry way through that wormhole. Which lead to my third loss, which was, was, thankfully, less ISK-painful – only a Magnate. I scanned the whole hole, found a pirate signature, went to it… and missed the “covert” keyword on it. Started hacking a can, can blew up, and I heard the “DING” of the ship insurance notification before even seeing that something had gone wrong. Cheap ship, so it’s fine; I am, however, sad that I didn’t make the effort to dump my stuff back home between two sites explorations, because I had loot from the previous successful exploration in my ship 😦

Since then, I HAVE done a successful wormhole data expedition (and brought the loot back to my home base, although not sold it yet), and I brought a bit of salvage to Jita to go back to my starting ISK levels (roughly 1B liquidity – that I had PLEX’d before stopping playing, I think). I also did a couple more sites and got another escalation this morning, played with a Thrasher and guns instead of drones. I feel like I’m starting to slowly getting back into the game (and enjoying it 🙂 ) and re-building the itty-tiny bit of competence I ever had. I think I may enjoy the game more this time around, also partly because in the meantime I did get somewhat better at handling stress and anxiety. Hidden benefits of life skills: getting less bad at video games 😛

I don’t know yet if it’s going to stick – partly because playing both WoW and EVE may be more than I can chew. But this morning, I ran into a group of three Lancers. I wisely avoided them.

Slay the Spire

One of the video games I’ve played the most in the past year or so is Slay the Spire. Since it’s getting out of early access next week (and getting more expensive 😉 ), I thought it’d be a good moment to write a few words about it.

Slay the Spire is described as “card game meets roguelike“. The exact qualification of “roguelike” is debatable, but oh well 😉 It works as follows: you start with a character with a basic deck of cards. You enter a randomly generated dungeon – with a few constraints in the rooms you can actually encounter. For each room, you either have a fight, a merchant, a resting place, a treasure, or a random encounter that may or may not be to your benefit.

The fights are turn-based combats in which you play cards – either offensive or defensive. To play cards, you need to play their mana cost – you get, by default, 3 mana per turn (and the cards have integer costs 😉 ). At each round, you get at least an idea of what your enemy is going to inflict on you – including an exact number and strength of attacks – which allows you to make decisions on which compromise to make on that turn. Moreover, the enemies themselves are mostly deterministic: with a bit of play, you start knowing what’s in front of you and how you can beat them. The fight is over when either you or your opponent is defeated. If you are defeated, it’s game over: you’ll have to start a new dungeon run. When you win a fight, you get to add a new card (typically chosen between three) to add to your deck. When you win an elite fight, you also get to add a relic, which gives effects that stays between fights.

The game is split into three “acts”, all ending with an act boss, and the acts are getting tougher and tougher – but since you keep improving your deck and getting relics, it’s supposed to balance – if you play well, that is 😉

When you first start playing the game, you’ll need to unlock most of the features: cards, relics, characters. I don’t know if I’m too fond of the approach: on the one hand, it allows to get to know the possible cards and relics with a bit of time, which may help with the learning curve, and unlocking new content is fun; on the other hand, I remember being a bit frustrated by the speed of the unlocking.

The amount of content is pretty impressive. For the normal mode, there are three characters, each with their own cards and abilities. For each of these characters, you can unlock up to 20 “ascension modes”, which make the game harder and harder. And since the game is randomized, every game is a new challenge. (And yes, there’s a way to save a seed and to re-try a run.)

There are also two “special” modes: a “daily climb”, to which modifiers are applied and all the players can compete for the highest score, and a “custom” mode, where you can create your own set of modifiers to have fun with the engine. And I was just made aware of the amount of mods that this games has – including new playable characters – I think I’m doomed.

The annoying thing is that I’m still a fairly bad player. I played, according to the statistics, 200 hours; that gave me 36 victories and 204 deaths 😛 And I’m nowhere near running in the later ascension levels (I think I reached ascension 3 on one of the characters?). It’s a challenging game – and it’s, for me, really not easy to consistently create a reasonable deck, considering the randomness of the cards that can appear. The good thing is that a run is between 40 minutes and an hour, which is a fairly low time commitment (and, more importantly: a bounded one), especially since it can be split easily between rooms.

Overall, it’s a very solid game, and one that I continue playing. The community has some very nice things going on, there’s a lot of fan artwork, a statistics database, speed runs – you name it. The development has been very active during the whole “early access” duration, typically with an update a week, a lot of tweaking, re-balancing, and patch notes to which I looked forward every week. And any game that gives me 200+h of game play is definitely worth the money 🙂 Oh, and it runs on Linux 😀

Essen SPIEL 2018

Ce billet a été publié en français ici : Essen SPIEL 2018 (en français)

We went, for the fourth time, to Essen in Germany for the SPIEL fair (and that was the 36th SPIEL fair, if I’m not mistaken). SPIEL (or, as we tend to call it, Essen, although Essen conference center hosts a lot more things than that… I hear they have a car fair as well :P) is THE fair for all board game players in Europe – 4 full days and, this year, 190 000 visitors – that’s quite a few people.

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