Category: Gaming (page 1 of 71)

500 Words on Free-To-Play Games

Courtesy Supercell

I know there are a lot of people who consider “free to play” a dirty word. Or a dirty series of words. A dirty turn of phrase? Anyway, they don’t like it as a concept. And I can understand why: it sounds like a bait-and-switch. A game like League of Legends or Hearthstone or Jetpack Joyride or Clash of Clans is free to download, sure, and yes, there are ways to play that require zero financial investment. But to really compete, or even enjoy the game? Only the first hit’s free, friend.

There are a few instances where this is true. However, not every free-to-play game is pay-to-win. A bunch of folks on message boards will certainly contend that idea. “So-and-so is just pay-to-win bullshit,” regarding some of the games I’ve mentioned. But are they really? I can only speak to gaming experienced I’ve had personally, or am having, but I’d like to think that even with my own experiences, I can contend the points being made by others in a professional, semi-objective manner, without degenerating into name-calling and insults regarding someone’s mother.

League of Legends, and to a similar extent Heroes of the Storm, alleviate their barrier for entry (i.e. paying for the in-game characters players want to use) with a rotation of free characters that changes from week to week. On one level, this means that folks unwilling or unable to invest in the game always have something to try out. On another, it allows those with discretionary spending habits to try before they buy. One of the things I like about the store in Heroes of the Storm is that quick, helpful descriptions of each hero appear when you select them, including what role they fulfill, how they do their combat, and a general level of difficulty in playing them. It makes me more inclined to play the game, actually, since I have a notion of what I’m in for when I try someone out.

Hearthstone is happy to provide you with a brace of basic cards as soon as you get into the game for the first time. And while you might not think it possible, you can put together decks with these cards that actually win games, at least well enough on the ladder to earn you the monthly card back. Decks that have been constructed with Legendary minions and following guides do, in fact, lose to decks built with basic cards from time to time. Such is the nature of a card game with randomization elements like, say, shuffling.

As for the mobile games I’ve mentioned, money tends to get you acceleration rather than outright wins. You can achieve your goals for free, but it takes a long time. It’s more a test of patience than anything else. While I have yet to spend a dime on Clash of Clans, I’m also to a point that I want things like upgraded Barbarians and Wizards NOW, dammit. Blast you, Clash!

I totally blame Liam Neeson.

Goblinhearth vs. Gnomestone, Part 2

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

Picking up where things left off last week, we’re talking about the changes and updates to the classes that came from ‘Goblins vs. Gnomes’, and how I see the decks for those classes shaping up.

Rogue – A Pirate’s Life For Me!

Pirates, like mechs, have long been a subset of minions in Hearthstone without much in the way of support. You would occasionally see a gimmick deck built around the scurvy scalawags, but almost never on the ladder. ‘Goblins vs. Gnomes’ brings not only more pirate minions, but cards that benefit from you playing pirates. The Ship's Cannon goes off every time a fresh pirate hits the table, and One-eyed Cheat disappears from view under the same circumstances. I still don’t know if there’s enough there for a competitive deck. However, with the addition of the Salty Dog and One-eyed Cheat, there are more mid-game threats that a pirate crew can present.

I like pairing pirates with the Rogue because the Rogue is never without a weapon, and many pirates still operate best when a weapon is involved. While other classes do have weapons, the Rogue gets one from her hero power, meaning that pirates can almost always be at their best. Even in Casual games, when things are going well, you’ll be singing shanties in no time.

Shaman – Murlocs? Really?

Much like pirates, murlocs – the barely civilized species of amphibian beings found throughout Azeroth – had several minions with low casting costs, and even a Legendary leader in Old Murk-Eye, but it was difficult to make things viable for a lasting game against competitive decks on the ladder. And, much like pirates, murlocs got some reinforcements in ‘Goblins vs. Gnomes’ with beefier minions. However, the biggest changes were exclusive to Shamans, with the Siltfin Spiritwalker who benefits from your murlocs being killed or sacrificed… and the elemental lord of water, Neptulon.

Despite a hero power that always cranks out little minions in the form of totems, Shaman decks have tended towards control schemes, the Overload mechanic keeping their speed under control, for the most part. With the new murlocs, a Shaman deck can be a great deal more aggressive. My experiments with the deck I’ve built have proven it can be fun, but it doesn’t quite have the consistency to be truly competitive. Still, it never hurts to have a fully aggressive weapon in the arsenal.

Warlock – Demonology is totally a viable build, guys.

The above is a statement made within Hearthstone‘s inspiration, World of Warcraft. Warlocks have a sub-type of minions all to themselves, for the most part – demons. In Hearthstone, you can fill your deck with infernal minions, and Naxxramas added the Voidcaller, which brings demons into play even more quickly. However, most Warlocks do not take this route.

A deck focused on demons would likely sit squarely in the middle between the aggressive (“Zoolock”) and late-game control (“Handlock”) variants that most people would be familiar with,if they are familiar with Hearthstone‘s competitive scene at all. As a “Demonology” deck is a more rare sight, it will be more difficult for opponents to predict your next move. There’s something to be said for that, what with season after season seeing variations on the same decks returning over and over again to the Legendary ranks. If you’re going to try and compete with this deck, however, I would recommend acquiring Mal'Ganis – he’s a potent threat that opponents need to address.

Warrior – Garrosh Is Still A Massive Dick

Of all of the classes in Hearthstone, I would venture to say that Warriors have changed the least since the advent of ‘Goblins vs. Gnomes’. While Warriors can field mechs or pirates like any other class, but there’s very little incentive to do so. The most effective Warrior decks are still control-flavored, favoring minions that buff you or your other minions when they are harmed.

The only two minions to really earn places in a competitive Warrior’s deck are the Shieldmaiden and the Siege Engine, which bolster your armor and continue to put pressure on your opponent. Warriors already have an incredibly solid core for ladder-climbing, and if there’s any group of folks who subscribe to the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, it’s CCG players. I mean, look at the people who play Legacy in Magic: the Gathering!

(…please don’t hurt me, folks)

So what’s the future for Hearthstone? If ‘Goblins vs. Gnomes’ is any indication, the guys at Blizzard know what they’re doing when it comes to designing a cracking good card game. There’s an active community that is providing constant feedback, and tweaks are routinely being made to maintain balance between the classes and competitors as much as possible – looking at you, Undertaker. I’m still playing when I can, possibly live on Twitch… if people would be interested in watching, that is.

From the Vault: Theorycrafting

I am giving some serious thought to jumping back into the mix of tactical planning, visceral satisfaction, and utter frustration that is League of Legends. To that end, and since I’m not quite back on the review train yet, here’s a relevant post from back in the day that reflects what I’m doing now: planning builds and investigating new Champions. I am, once again, theorycrafting.

Courtesy Riot Games, Art by Akonstad

In this blogging space I’ve talked about writing and gaming in tandem. I’ve tried to give each a fair amount of time, but I’ve never really examined the connection between the two. Other than the overactive imagination, I think a big part of my inclination towards these activities is my tendency towards theorycrafting.

I haven’t been playing Magic: the Gathering that often in the last couple of weeks, mostly due to the hours I’m spending at the office lately. But I do love deck construction. I like seeing the cards available to a particular set or format and trying to find ways of putting an effective threat together, especially if it’s in a way that’s been unexplored. They don’t always work, of course, but that’s part of the appeal of experimentation: taking a chance to see what happens. I try to plan as many contingencies as I can before the game even starts.

The same could be said for the way I approach League of Legends. I spend some time looking over the abilities, statistics and build orders of various champions, toying with different sequences and combinations. When Nautilus was released a few weeks ago, I found his art, story and kit so appealing I picked him up and started toying with builds immediately. In fact, I’m still doing so, in order to find that balance between taking punishment and dishing it out. I may go more in-depth at another time as to why doing so in this game feels more satisfying to me than, say, StarCraft 2, but like my Magic decks, crafting and tweaking a champion’s progression long before I fire up the game is rewarding, especially when I manage to help the team win.

Part of this may be due to my experiences as a Dungeon Master. I delve into rulebooks and supplementary material, draw up maps, lay out stats and even stories for the NPCs and so on. I used to lay out elaborate and somewhat linear stories to lead my players down, but I realized quickly players want elbow room and freedom to choose for themselves. While this undermined my desire to tell a specific story somewhat, it also allowed me to plan more of those contingencies I like to ponder. DMs and players share these stories in equal measure, after all, there’s no reason for one side of the screen to hog all the fun.

This thread does carry through to my writing. It’s been said that writers are either ‘plotters’ who plan things out before pen hits papers (or fingers hit keyboard), ‘pantsers’ who fly by the seat of their pants, or a combination of the two. You can read more about the distinction here. For my part, I’m definitely more of a plotter than a pantser, with a great deal of time devoted to outlines, character sketches, expansion on background elements, and research relevant to the story. The problem with all of this theorycrafting, though, is that getting wrapped up in it can take time away from the actual writing that needs to happen. Then again, I know that if I don’t take the time to figure out where I’m going in the first place, I will hit a wall and sit looking at it for just as long.

Do you indulge in theorycrafting? Or do you jump right into things?

Goblinhearth vs. Gnomestone, Part 1

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

The first true expansion for Hearthstone, ‘Goblins vs. Gnomes’, has officially been released. I’ve picked up a few packs for it, thanks to some solid questing and saving up my gold, and I am already seeing changes within the meta. Quite a few of the decks remain the same: I can still spot a Zoolock or Handlock a mile away, and Priests are likely to stay annoying. However, since one of my favorite things to do in an CCG is build new decks, especially if I can test them in a competitive environment, I have some ideas, partially based on what I’ve seen and partially building on prior successes. I basically plan on having a deck for each class, which as of this writing, means 9.

Druid – A Natural Mill

This was a deck that until recently occupied my Rogue slot (jokingly called ‘Bouncy Bouncy’). I always felt that ‘mill’ decks (so named for Millstone) are not what opponents tend to expect, and are the sort of deck you play when you just want to mess with some heads. The problem with the Rogue incarnation was that it relied almost entirely on Coldlight Seer. Sure, landing a Sap on a big threat when the opponent’s hand is full always feels great, but it felt like a very rare occurance. And by the time it did, I would be on death’s doorstep.

Enter Grove Tender for Druids. Between this new card, the original but rarely played Naturalize, and Naxxramas’ Dancing Swords, there are plenty of ways for the Druid to fill the enemy hand. Druid also has more ways to stay alive until the late game. There are neat ways to capitalize on an opponent with a full hand, like Goblin Sapper and Clockwork Giant. With a few of the Druid’s old tricks, and new ones like Tree of Life, this might actually be viable for the ladder.

Hunter – Beasts, Marks, or Survival? WHO CARES BEAT FACE

I feel very torn between a variety of Hunter decks. There are three specializations for Hunters in World of Warcraft: Beast Mastery, Marksmanship, and Survival. To me, Beast Mastery speaks to aggression, Survival to control, and Marksmanship is more midrange. I’m more inclined towards control-style decks, as they make for longer, more interesting games, but aggressive decks make for faster trips up the ladder. So which would be best when it comes to Hunter?

Honestly, when it comes to Hunter, I’ve had the most success when I eschew the greater themes and just build something shamelessly aggressive. There are a couple cards in the new expansion, as well as Naxxramas, that will make this sort of deck both viable and fun to play. I mean, I crafted those golden Webspinners for a reason, right? I still am leery about using Unleash the Hounds as a core of any Hunter deck, even one revolving around Beasts. I will revisit a “themed” Hunter deck after climbing a few rungs, but for now, I’m going to do something less esoteric.

Mage – Mechanomancy’s All The Rage

‘Goblins vs. Gnomes’ (or GvG as it’s often abbreviated) has a very strong sub-theme of mechanized minions, or ‘mechs’ for short. The synergy between minions like the Mechwarper and Spider Tank is pretty nasty, in and of itself, but Mages in particular got a potent addition to their stable of possible helpers: the Snowchugger. In addition to decent stats – 2/3 for 2 is already above par – these little monsters also freeze whatever they damage, or anything that damages them. Combine this with, say, Spare Parts like Whirling Blades or the old favorite Defender of Argus, and you have an incredibly strong deterrent for the early game.

There aren’t a lot of threats that can deal with it, either. Mages are stocked to the brim with removal as it is, from their traditional standbys of Frostbolt and Fireblast to newcomer Flamecannon. It can be very difficult for aggressive decks to get a handle on a Mechanomancer, and control decks suffer from early damage if they cannot themselves remove the threat of multiple mechs rolling across the field. Put it all together, and you have an extremely potent weapon for climbing the ladder.

Paladin – The Silver Hand Wants YOU

This has been my pet class in Hearthstone for a while, now. At 500 wins on the ladder, the hero for your class and his hero power turn gold. I want Reinforce to give me golden Silver Hand Recruits, dangit. I’ve been after this since the previous iteration of my Paladin deck. With GvG, the goal has become even clearer, for two very distinct reasons: Muster for Battle, and Quartermaster.

In the early game, Muster lets you respond to aggression, or deal out some quick damage. Later on, when combined with the Q man and, for example, Knife Juggler, you’re presenting your opponent with a serious game-ending threat. Now, there are ways around this, from board clears like Flamestrike to underhanded moves such as Mind Control Tech, but even so, it takes some doing to get around that sheer amount of firepower. For a while, I was running this deck with Captain Greenskin, since a 2/5 weapon is nothing to sneeze at; plus, on occasion, I’d get a Truesilver Champion that could take out Yetis in one swing. However, I recently switched up for a build closer to Strifecro’s, and this is my go-to deck for struggling towards the twin goals of 500 paladin wins, and Legendary rank.

Priest – If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…

Oh, Priest. My love-hate relationship with you is well-known, among the five or so people who actually pay attention to my Hearthstone rants. To me, playing Priest on the ladder is like playing in Magic: the Gathering events with a deck that is almost entirely blue, mostly with counterspells and cards that steal things from your opponent or otherwise completely lock them out of what they want to play. I can respect that style of play, as I have done it myself on occasion, but in Hearthstone having such tactics used on me makes me inconsolably angry.

I can definitely get behind little combinations like Auchenai Soulpriest and Circle of Healing for a sudden and potent board clear, and while I don’t necessarily like getting smacked with a minion that’s been built up to 22 health and then given Inner Fire, I have to give it the traditional “Clever Girl” response. I don’t know if I’ll ever play Priest on the ladder, personally; I do my best to meet the challenge when I’m there, but in Casual games, I tend to concede immediately when I see my opponent is a Priest. Unless I’m playing Priest myself.

But yeah, Priest players? Much respect, and you can all go to hell.

What are my thoughts on the other classes? What does the future hold for Hearthstone? Tune in next week to find out!

From The Vault: Tabletop as Brain Food

I’m working on some board game write-ups and reviews, and it’s worth remembering why board games are an awesome way to spend our time.

SmallWorld with the 'rents

I’ve put myself on a path to improve my physical well-being. Being more mindful of what and how much I eat, walking with the intent to start running, looking into a local gym, and so on. Mostly, I fear the atrophy that comes with a sedentary day job and an equally low-impact life at home, and if I’m honest, I’m unhappy with the amount of flab I currently have on my frame. However, making such a change is relatively easy. The body can adapt to adjustments in schedule and activity rather well, all things being equal, and it’s really a matter of establishing and sticking to habits than anything else.

But what about the brain? The most vital of organs also needs maintenance and attention as we age. It’s important to keep the mind engaged and not just feed it something distracting or shallow all of the time. I mean, I won’t begrudge people who really enjoy “Dancing With The Stars” or “Two And A Half Men”, some people do need to unwind with that kind of fare. I’m simply not one of them. As much as I like the occasional campy pleasure like Flash Gordon, more often than not I look to have my brain fed, to keep it trained, to present it with challenges it must overcome.

That, in part, is why I enjoy tabletop games so much.

It took me a while in my youth to really grasp how important it was to me to keep playing them. For a time, I simply enjoyed spending time with my dad, even if I would sometimes let myself get bored between moves rather than studying his strategy and planning my response. Nowadays I can’t imagine sitting entirely idle during an opponent’s turn, though I do occasionally get distracted. Not only is it necessary to pay attention in order to look for victory, it’s an exercise in putting yourself in another’s position, or imagining the other as a complex being instead of just someone to beat. That, to me, is just as important as winning.

I am quite fortunate to be in a place where I can spend time around other gamers who are engaging in this way almost constantly. My co-workers play and even design games on a daily basis. A fantastic store is within easy driving distance to present all sorts of challenges. My father lives a bit further up the road. When I get home, I have the option to play something like Civilization V, Magic: the Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers, or Blood Bowl with other human beings. And on rare occasions, a game of Chez Geek or Dungeon Roll might break out.

To me, the important factor in this is that other people are involved. No programmed response or solitaire experience really throws a wrench into your thought processes like another live human being. It makes the problem solving more complex, and thus more rewarding, even when you lose. On top of that, being in a situation with another person as your opponent builds character and social skills. Trite as it may sound, we learn more from losing than from winning, both about how we play and how we act. It’s one thing to gnash your teeth and swear at something like Super Meat Boy or Hotline Miami; doing so at a stranger or even a friend is quite another issue. Fun as it can be amongst people who know you to engage in name-calling for the sake of in-game banter, when it comes to playing with strangers or in a competition it’s important to know your limits and when and how to gracefully bow out of things, or the optimal way to accept and celebrate victory in front of those who’ve lost. You can only get that through this sort of play, and you learn it as your brain is trained.

Boring as it may seem to some outside observers, when I’m engaged in a game like this, I assure you, I’m never really bored.

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