Chronicles of Harry - 50 points? What does that even mean?

2013 Dec 20

04:20:00 - 50 points? What does that even mean?

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So. I've been playing a bunch of Space Alert lately with the people here at Truth House. (I bought it because I thought I might actually get people to play it, and, holy crap, it actually worked.) Mostly with Andy, Seth, Ryan, and Dan[0] (Ryan in particular got kind of obsessed with the game...).

When we started out we often did disastrously. Things got a lot better once we started taking marking energy usage seriously. Eventually Ryan was (along with me) playing every game and we made him captain because, well, he seemed to be the best at it. Before long we could consistently beat white-threat missions... well, unless we just really screwed something up. Which is always going to happen now and again.

So we started mixing in the ordinary yellow threats. It took a bit, but before too long we could handle those pretty well too. So we mixed in the serious yellow external threats. Those posed more of a problem. I'm not sure we ever really got to the point of really being able to handle those, but we certainly beat them a few times.

Ryan graduated this semester and was leaving Ann Arbor on Wednesday, so Tuesday we played a few games and, even though we weren't really sure we were ready for it, we mixed in the serious yellow internals as well. (Dan is also going back to Australia shortly.) The first few games they didn't come up, so in the last game we reduced the density of white threats in all the decks. Indeed, Contamination came up, and we killed that, but ended up dying anyway.

Then yesterday I played with Justine, Angus, and Nick -- all of whom had played before, but not in a while, and never with any yellow threats in. (Seth was also in for one game.) So we went down to only white threats, and, well, it was tough. I'm not convinced this is yet a crew with whom we want to add in yellow threats.

Anyway. All this is prelude to the story I want to tell right now. Tonight, Geoff Scott[3] hosted a game night. First we played a few games of The Resistance -- which, I gotta say, though it's apparently still weighted towards the spies (the "Mafia", the "bad guys"[4]), certainly seems to be easier for the Resistance (the "townspeople") than Mafia is. Resistance won 3 out of the 4 games. Basically, it seemed to me, the game forces the spies to act rather more openly than the Mafia do in Mafia. Of course a lot of that could be us not having the hang of it yet. In particular, in one particularly embarrassing incident, when straight-up asked "Are you a spy?" in the final game (I was[5]), I started kind of giggling; simply saying "No" at that point wouldn't have been believable so instead I went with "What the hell is this?" and only then stating "No I'm not a spy." It didn't work. But, like, it's a little ridiculous, because I'd never do that during Mafia; I'm a decent Mafia during Mafia. Somehow, though I was prepared for "Are you Mafia?", I wasn't prepared for "Are you a spy?". Nor was I generally a good spy most of the time. (First and last games I was outed very quickly; second I managed to convince people I was Resistance, but I tried to be too tricky and cast a "mission success" when I should have cast a "mission failure", and that ended up us getting us in the end.)

(You know, it only now occurs to me that I was on the losing side every game.)

Er right but the point was Space Alert. So after that we played Space Alert. I had intended to play things other than Space Alert, because I'd play so much of that recently, but Geoff was saying we should play something... well, I don't remember what the conditions he said were, but Space Alert fit perfectly, so I suggested it.

Crew was me (captain), Geoff (comms), Julian, Jordan, and KK. (We didn't bother appointing a security officer.) Julian, Jordan, and KK had all played before, but it had been so long that we did a full rules explanation anyway. (I suggested we play one round of simulation first, but Geoff wanted to start on full mission.) The first game or two didn't go very well -- lots of non-marking of energy especially -- but by the third game we'd gotten some of the hang of it (though we still died). The fourth game finally we survived (with 28 points or so). (Side note: Geoff has the first edition, where Stealth Fighter has its speed misprinted as 4 instead of 3[7]. I didn't realize what was going on there until well into the game so we decided to just play it as 4. It wasn't a problem.)

Then Geoff says, OK, one more round; and since this is our last round, let's play with all yellow threats! You must be kidding, I say. The people I play with at home with have played well more than you and they're not ready for such a difficulty level; we're certainly not. We're going to die horribly. Well, let's try it, Geoff says. It's a Vlaada Chvátil game; dying horribly is the point!

And so it was. All yellow threats. And somehow... we won. With 50 points. That's such a large number I don't even know what to make of it. OK, we've had some high-30s wins here at Truth House, but... 50 points. Every threat killed -- Minor Asteroid, Nebula Crab, Phantom Fighter, Major Asteroid, Power System Overload. Only one damage (on red zone, from when we killed the Minor Asteroid). And we even had time to look out the window, for 1 point in phase 2 and 3 points in phase 3. Everything basically went perfectly.

I mean I'm not even sure what to say about this. Obviously we had a bit of luck, but... the people in the math department are just that much better than the people here at Truth House? Well, I guess that's not too unbelievable, but it's still kind of astonishing. We really did have quite a bit of luck though -- the Overload could easily have wrecked us; we needed to coordinate perfectly, all of us hitting B at the same time in 3 separate stations, in order to bring it down. (Plus one additional point from me on the turn before, and one additional from one of those Bs being heroic.) And the one point of damage that got through knocked out the blue gravolift. Fortunately, we didn't need it to get into position -- we already had someone in lower blue to fire on the Minor Asteroid, I was already in lower white manning the main reactor, and Geoff used his heroic action to rush to lower red from the bridge. So in fact knocking out any of the gravolifts wouldn't have caused a problem... OK, I guess that's a bit less luck than I thought. Still!

(I'm pretty sure had the Executioner or the Seeker come up, it would have been a slaughter. Those two really scare me.)

Anyway, 50 point victory, holy crap.

Well, one thing worth noting -- there are basically two ways that threats can be harder; they can be harder to deal with (increased probability of failure), or do worse things to you if you fail to deal with them (increased disutility of failure). (Though sometimes they can be intermingled, e.g. with Psionic Satellite.) I'm of the opinion that the game is harder (and more fun) when things are primarily hard the first way rather than the second (with one or two of the second for splash)[8]. Firstly, the latter tend to make things too all-or-nothing; either you die, or you survive with a huge number of points. Except the funny thing was, Power System Overload really is a hard-to-deal-with threat! Which is why it's so surprising we survived; Major Asteroid is not exactly scary, you know? (The Nebula Crab is a little, but they just zapped it before it could reach X.) If it had been more of the second sort of threats, our survival would have been less impressive.

Secondly, the first are just more interesting -- you have to spend more time figuring out what the hell you're doing in the first place; you can't just quickly come up with a simple plan and do it. (For the same reason, I prefer more smaller threats to fewer larger threats.) I think a game where there's more damage, and more chances for damage to screw you up (rather than just killing you outright), is more interesting. Although, I guess, even with a lot of damage, it often just isn't a problem -- guns frequently take damage after you've stopped using them, for instance. And who really cares if the shields are damaged? It is a little disappointing. Actually there's a number of things in the game that just don't seem to come up much. I mean, the interceptors, obviously -- those seem to be mainly used if someone's picked up a squad of battlebots and has nothing else to do -- but the one that really sticks out in my mind is repairing battlebots; due to the fact that you never have more than 2 internal threats per game, the existence of heroic battlebot actions, and the fact that few threats both have 2 hit points and fight back, it's just rarely necessary. Probably more necessary in the expansion when you have double-action missions with threats (and also harder threats).

Actually, tonight's crew was pretty keen on shields. I tried to convince them that shooting more was really just better most of the time, but they were not so convinced. Personally, this experience playing with a little more shielding and a little less shooting seems a data point in favor of "No, it really doesn't work as well." Although -- Ryan came up with this neat trick with the shields I'm teaching to people now. It is: On the first turn, someone refills the white shields; on the second turn, someone cracks a canister. Isn't that a bit early to be cracking a canister?, you say. Or at least, I said at first. Well, maybe, but this seems to work pretty well -- running out of energy by the end of the game due to insufficient canisters has generally not been a problem for us. (Certainly not compared to running out of energy due to people failing to mark, or people getting delayed, or not having people in position... you get the idea.) As I recall, when I learned to play, and played with Mickey and Nick, we typically had an unused canister at the end of the game. And often there just isn't much else to do in the first few turns, so, why not? Shields on white!

ADDENDUM next day: Well, OK, one reason not to is that it will seriously hurt you if you draw Crossed Wires...

Maybe shields are also something we could use a bit more in cases where we're deliberately not killing a threat, as often happens with the asteroids. But that needs proper timing -- it should be after the shooting is done. Of course, often, after the shooting is done, there's no more energy left, and in that case having someone draw energy just to put it in the shields seems wasteful. If there's energy sitting around in a side reactor to shield with, it would make sense, but drawing from the main reactor to do it -- especially having two people to coordinate to do it -- doesn't seem worth it.

Anyway. I think I've rambled a bit. I think that's all I had to say on the matter. I'll stop here.

-Harry

[0]This is Dan the first-year who lives here now, not Dan Zemke.
[3](From the math department.)
[4]Naturally, before the game started I kept making jokes about "Why do you asume the Resistance is the good guys? This game is just Resistance propaganda!" Later after a few votes on forming a team failed, I commented, "What an inefficient system they want to replace our government with!"
[5]In fact, I was a spy in 3 out of the 4 games we played.
[7]But on the good side, with the first edition, the canisters aren't rolling away all the damn time.
[8]Although, the Seeker kind of maximizes the first of these, and I'm not sure I'd consider the Seeker fun. I guess it goes a little too far. But, well, I've yet to actually encounter the Seeker, so we'll see.

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From:grenadier32
Date:2013 Dec 21 20:22:51 (UTC)
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We've gotten pretty good at playing Space Alert at my office (I actually can't remember the last time we got killed, and we usually play with yellows mixed into all externals--could probably adjust that up somewhat :). I often take the role of "combination captain and internal threat coordinator guy", so I'm often directing other players, and I never think to use shields. On pretty much all the occasions that I've seen them used, they were thought of by a different player, surprising me during the resolution phase with how well it caused us to beat some terrifying large thing. I should probably learn how to use them. The tricky thing is that they make it a good deal harder to coordinate energy, which I'm usually pretty good at when we're using only guns.

Side note: I actually suspect (with admittedly little evidence other than our prowess at Space Alert) that my company is really good at hiring people who are good at the sort of team coordination the game demands.

I'd never heard of Resistance, but it looks like a lot of fun. I'll have to get some people at my office together to play it. One thing I note: since it no longer has Mafia's "make a secret decision that has to get revealed by someone", it doesn't need a separate impartial moderator, which I like (it's fun being a Mafia moderator, but it makes it slightly harder to find enough players).
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From:sniffnoy
Date:2013 Dec 22 06:05:37 (UTC)
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On pretty much all the occasions that I've seen them used, they were thought of by a different player, surprising me during the resolution phase with how well it caused us to beat some terrifying large thing. I should probably learn how to use them. The tricky thing is that they make it a good deal harder to coordinate energy, which I'm usually pretty good at when we're using only guns.

Huh, I'd like to see that. Like, I can imagine there's a good way to use shields more, but I have no idea what it might be, so I'd like to see. They're so energy-hungry! I imagine I would also be surprised in that situation. And with certain crews here I think that would first require the other crewmembers to get better at the game independently of me; when I was playing on Wednesday with the mostly-new-people I had to do quite a bit of directing other people's little details personally. But what do you expect, they're new.

I'd never heard of Resistance, but it looks like a lot of fun. I'll have to get some people at my office together to play it. One thing I note: since it no longer has Mafia's "make a secret decision that has to get revealed by someone", it doesn't need a separate impartial moderator, which I like (it's fun being a Mafia moderator, but it makes it slightly harder to find enough players).

Yeah, it also just needs fewer players, period. There's a "short night" phase at the beginning during which the spies identify each other, but a player can handle that. (What if the spies *didn't* get to identify one another? It'd be a bit more realistic, I suppose... :P )
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