Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bang!- Review

The camaraderie of a cooperative game is tough to replace, unless you can drown it out in a hail of bullets and violence set in a Western theme. Welcome to Bang!, the fast paced card game of the Wild West. In Bang players all adopt the role of a western archetype; Sheriff, Deputy, Outlaw or Renegade and attempt to kill one another. Really, it’s that simple. It is for 4-8 players and a game should last anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour. It also involves the pantomiming of shooting motions, hurt feelings, and mispronounced Italian words. Hence, fun for all ages.

One of the real neat aspects of Bang is that each player has a different goal for winning based on the role that they are randomly given. For example, an Outlaw wins if the Sheriff is killed, however the Renegade only wins if they are last one standing when the smoke clears. The Sheriff wins if only he and his deputies remain. At the onset of the game only the identity of the Sheriff is known, everyone else keeps it a secret, though by a couple of rounds into the game you can usually figure out who is who based on whether or not they are trying to kill the Sheriff. The game ends when one of two conditions are met; the Sheriff is killed, or the only people remaining are the Sheriff and his Deputies (note: Deputies only come into play with 6 or more players). When I first played it seemed like the Renegade was getting the short end of the stick since they only won if they were the last survivor and seemed to have no allies, however after playing it becomes obvious that this is not the case. The reason is that no one really wants to kill the Renegade, at least not until the end of the game. The Sheriff is really the man on the hot seat since the multiple Outlaws will be gunning for him from the get go. Despite all of this the game seems well balanced to not favor any role. In the games that we have played the winning role is pretty well spread out.

In addition to roles, each player also gets a character to portray from a host of cowboy types. This determines how many wounds you can take before dying and what special ability you have. Some abilities emulate the effect of an item (such as the built in Scope of Rose Doolan) and others are unique unto themselves, like Slab the Killer and his hard to resist Bangs! Players are also limited in who they can shoot at based on proximity around the table. To begin the game each player has a range of one, meaning that they can only shoot at players one place away from them at the table. Over the course of the game you can acquire items and new types of guns to increase the range. This is fun since you wind up making enemies with your neighbors, and it also does a good job of protecting the Sheriff from all of the Outlaws who would like nothing more than to open fire right away. It also another reason why the more the merrier with this game.

The rules for the game are perhaps the simplest I have ever seen in a game. You can easily understand the game within two turns of playing it. Each round a player draws two cards, then plays however many cards from their hand as they would like to (the only limit is that one Bang a turn is the max, unless you have a Volcanic gun or are Willie the Kid), and then discards to the number of cards equal to your current life total. Play moves to the next player. Between the number of players and the ease of the rules Bang is excellent for a night of casual gaming or when time is short.

The art on the cards is pretty plain, but also has a lot of personality to it. The characters in particular look cool, like shady western villains and heroes should. A personal favorite is the Mancato! (Missed!) card, which is played to negate a Bang on a player. The graphic is a bullet flying through a hat, narrowly missing the valuable contents contained within. Oh yeah, all of the cards are bilingual. They are written in both English and Italian, allowing you to make enemies with people that you would not normally even be able to communicate with. Though there is an element of teamwork in this game, especially among the Outlaws who all have a common goal of killing the local lawman.

Sometimes a little touch can go a long way in a game, and Bang has an excellent example of this. On the back of all the character cards are five bullets. These are used to track a player’s health during the game. Each player gets an unused card and flips it over, bullet side up. Using their character they simply show the number of bullets that they have life. Perfect! It eliminates the need for dice or any sort of counter and works perfectly. I am so into it.

I don’t have many criticisms of Bang. It is certainly not the most complicated or strategy heavy game out there, but it doesn’t claim to be. It’s elegance lies in it’s simplicity. It’s great for repeated plays, especially since a game can end very quickly. I like this game a lot.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hospitaler Prestige Class- Like a Paladin...but worse!

One of the aspects of D&D that makes it so appealing to so many people, myself certainly included, is how many options there are available, so many ways to create a character and outfit them with all sorts of gear and abilities. That being said, some are just totally unnecessary. Such as the Hospitaler. One of the problems with a lot of prestige classes is that they don’t do anything new, whatever they bring to the table can easily be recreated in core so I don’t really see the point of them. The Hospitaler is a good example because as far as I can tell it is a Paladin, however one that is a little bit worse. Sounds great, right?

In theory the Hospitaler is some sort of traveling knight who is obligated to provide protection to travelers. In reality it is a paladin who gives up some abilities for a reduction in their normal abilities. So awesome. In order to get into this prestige class a character needs a Base Attack of +5, 5 ranks of ride and handle animal, the Mounted Combat and Ride By Attack feats, an ability to cast 1st level divine spells, and a non chaotic alignment. A 5th level Paladin easily qualifies for all of this, a Ranger could as well but based on some of the abilities the Hospitaler receives it is clearly intended for the Paladin. So the question really is, what does a character gain by giving up future levels of Paladin for this nifty prestige class? Let’s break it down.

Both classes have full base attack, good Fort saves, and 2+ skill points a level. Both also receive the Lay on Hands ability, which stacks if the character already had it, so that too is a wash. Remove disease? Ditto, they both get it. The Paladin has a d10 Hit Die, whereas the Hospitaler inexplicably gets a d8. The Hospitaler also has reduced spellcasting, only getting an increased caster level for 7 of 10 levels. The paladin has slow casting to begin with and this only makes them a poorer user of magic. The other thing that really strikes me as odd is the lack of focus on mounted combat. The only feat requirements for this class are both related to mounted combat, so it seems obvious that this class would give them some advantages there. It sort of does in a very roundabout way (we will get to that in a moment), but what it does not do it make the mount any better. A Paladin’s special mount is actually pretty good but class levels do not stack for the two classes, essentially leaving the mount in a state of stasis as they get no new abilities. Likewise, the smite ability is left behind.

So what does the Hospitaler get? A couple of bonus feats. At 1st, 5th, and 9th level they get an extra feat from the fighter bonus feat list. That’s it. At least with this they can improve on their mounted combat skills with some feats, but there really aren’t that many available. They already have two of them, Spirited Charge and Trample are nice but a normal progression of levels will get them soon enough. A human could have them both by 6th level. The other aspect of the class that deserves mentioning is that a Paladin can take levels of Hospitaler and return to Paladin levels, which I guess counts for something. You can dip in for the free feat and then return to the holy warrior that is the Paladin. It’s nice that you can go back to the Paladin once you realize how poor of an option this prestige class is. The better option would be to have Fighter be the 1st level, and then take Paladin but whatever.

The other great thing about Hospitalers is the Code of Conduct that they have to adhere to. They must swear an oath of poverty, obedience, and defense of those in their care. As if being a Paladin wasn’t enough fun, you now have to be a poor Paladin.

And where are the abilities related to protecting people? I fail to see them. A straight Paladin, or even a Knight, would fill the intended role of this class much better than the Hospitaler does. Some classes are clearly meant to fill pages in a book, rather than a role in a campaign and this is certainly one of them. Thumbs down.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Class Struggle Review

Straight out of 1978 comes Avalon Hill’s Class Struggle, the board game of capitalism and socialism. The game embodies the struggle of the workers of the world to succeed in a world dominated by the prosperous few, leaving the restless many to toil away in a society stacked against them. The game is for two to six players and greatly benefits from having the full six players, it definitely loses something when one or more of the minor classes are not represented. The game time varies depending on the number of players, but it should take about an hour.

Truth be told, Class Struggle is not a very fun game. It’s interesting, it’s opinionated, it’s good for a laugh, but it is not all that fun to play. I think that this stems from the fact that the creator of the game, Bertell Ollman, is an academic teaching a political lesson with a board game, rather than a board game designer making an academic game about politics. It also has the most unintelligible rules that I have ever read. Seriously. I’ve read quite a few game manuals in my time, I even sort of enjoy them. But this one is just a series of bulleted points, essentially non sequitor rules floating out in the ether. It is the job (chore?) of the players to try to make sense of it, and nothing is really easily found. Normally a rule book is indexed or at least divided into sections like setup, moving, etc…This one is sort of like that, but not actually. It really takes away from the game. Plus, there are three different levels to play it on; beginner, full, and tournament play. I’ve played Class Struggle a couple of times and I still really struggle with the basic game play. Or maybe I’m just giving the game the benefit of the doubt by assuming that there is more to it than there actually is. Or maybe I just don’t care to learn the more advanced rules since the beginner game is not all that fun.

In the beginning of the game all of the players roll a die to determine which of the six classes they will represent. The rules are structured so that the Capitalists will most likely be portrayed by the lightest skinned, white male present. Which is sort of funny. The entire tone of the game is extremely critical of the Capitalists in the world and I’ve found that it is more fun if each player sort of adopts the personality of their given role. If the Capitalist player isn’t acting like a bully they are missing out. There are six classes in the game; Capitalists, Workers, Farmers, Students, Small Business, and Professionals. The game can only be won by the Capitalists or the Workers, the other players win by being allied with the winning class. The winner is the Major Class that has the most assets at the end of the game. Game play is fairly simple in that it is just rolling the die and moving that number of spaces and reading what the space says (usually collecting an asset or debit). The game also uses a D3 for movement, which is sort of odd. That part is simple. The rest is where it gets tricky. The end game is particularly awkward. When a player reaches the end of the board they can then begin to move other player’s pieces, but the rules for this are a bit convoluted. There is also a nuclear war space that can only be triggered by the Capitalists, if they land on this the game ends and nobody wins. Yay for capitalism!

One of the very strange things about Class Struggle is the inequality among the players in their ability to actually play the game. The game is about the Workers and the Capitalists; everyone else is just along for the ride. I understand, from a thematic approach at least, why this is. It is mirroring the way that the real world works, or at least the world that the creator is trying to portray. However, the end result is that it is not all that much fun for someone from one of the minor classes. It is literally possible for them to have the entire decision making process removed from them. They do not even get to necessarily decide where the alliances lie. And with the game really just being played by rolling and moving it gets a monotonous feel to it pretty quickly.

The game pieces are nothing special, pretty generic offerings. The board is a simple series of alternating colored squares that wind their way inward towards the game’s conclusion. My only complaint is that sometimes it is hard to tell when the player jumps to the next level of the board, other than that it is fine. The game also includes two stacks of assets and debits. Each class is represented by a cardboard symbol that affixes to a wood block so that it can stand upright. There are also alliance cards with the symbol of each minor class that go to the major class when they form an alliance. There is something charming about the late 70’s artwork and aesthetic feel of the game.

Apparently this game was created as a learning tool about the dangers/horrors of capitalism so making a fun game was not really the priority. So is it actually a game? What it be more appropriate to call it a classroom tool? I don’t think I can recommend buying this game (especially since it is rather expensive. Thanks Cris!) but if someone you know has it, it’s probably worth a quick play one evening.