All The Scarlet Letters

SF Writer Sarah Hoyt describes the inescapability of politics, the stigma of not falling into line, and how non-progressives or those who are less politically inclined and might innocently associate with non-progressives are at risk of being marginalized and blacklisted.

According To Hoyt

One of the most interesting things – and by interesting I mean scary – about the reaction to Sad Puppies 3 is that many people who are anti-puppy (always wanted to write that) were mad at Brad for “not telling people you were putting them on the slate.”

Okay. The accusation is not true. Brad actually told people, except for a couple he legitimately forgot to contact.

But let’s not defend Brad on that front, because when we are defending him on that front, we’re already swallowing whole a pretty bizarre assumption of the other side.

Instead, let’s step back and take a deep breath.

What are the Hugos?

They’re awards, right? They’re awards given, supposedly, for the best science fiction and fantasy of the year, right?

In theory, theoretically as it were, who is supposed to nominate: why, Lord love a duck, right? Any reader of science fiction who…

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It’s a Tower Defense Tuesday: Incursion 1 & 2

Since Clicker Heroes isn’t exactly a game that you actively play (at least not for more than a few minutes at a time), I’ve run through both of the Incursion Tower Defense games.

I’m not sure how I feel about them. I mean, I enjoy them, but they don’t bring anything new to the table. Yet despite not bringing anything new to the table, for the most part they are able to synthesize the pieces they borrow from into something that’s colorful and entertaining.

I’ll go right out and say “they’re no Kingdom Rush”, but the elements that are borrowed from Kingdom Rush are a big part of what makes them enjoyable.

It uses the common rock-paper-scissors mechanic that is similar to Cursed Treasure, with archers (light), soldiers (heavy), and mages (magic, duh), with light attacks being strong against magic armor, heavy attacks strong against light armor, and magic attacks strong against heavy armor. The most striking difference between Incursion and Cursed Treasure (towers only, no ‘units’) or Kingdom Frontier (towers and ‘units’) is that, like Demon Rift, towers ONLY create units. Unlike Demon Rift, however, towers can create mixed units (one tower can have an archer, a mage and a soldier, though there are disadvantages to that approach; archers & mages are terrible in melee until they reach high levels, so you want to keep them off the roads, usually too far away for any soldier grouped with them to auto-engage).

The difficulty of having your mages and archers being physical units rather than a tower is, like your soldiers, they can be killed. This is a particularly bad problem with the first game; since you couldn’t set target priorities, all units would attack the enemy farthers along the route, regardless of what was happening around or to the unit. Therefore, the most frustrating enemies were the archers, who would pick off your guys who were fighting against baddies further along the path, and Necromancers, who would continuously raise skeletons who gave you no money and would prevent you from ever getting to the Necromancer unless you mucked around with your deployment flags. Fortunately, this was fixed in the second game, which makes it a much easier and less frustrating experience.

The second game gives you a couple unique characters to play with, which also really helps in dealing with those obnoxious enemy archers and spellcasters. So much so that the fact that you can specifically target enemies with any of your troops doesn’t come into play nearly as much. The heroes (particularly when you’re given two) make things pretty dynamic.

The cool thing about the Incursion games is that each level has a unique thing going on, whether it’s an ally with a strange or difficult method of activation or an element of chaos, some monster who will kill everyone around it willy-nilly regardless of whether it’s your guy or a bad guy.

The look is similar to Kingdom Rush (one might go so far as to say a “borrowed aesthetic), which isn’t a bad thing. It plays similarly, though perhaps less frenetic. There’s kind of a strange difficulty curve in second game, where the middle few levels are extremely difficult, while the last few levels are fairly easy (last two levels I got perfects on the first try). The goblin chaingun IS gamebreaking and you WILL get a perfect against the final level if you stock up a couple of them. You might find yourself frustrated by how much slower you’re upgrading things (you are essentially having to upgrade 3 different towers per location), but it’s an understandable game balance issue. You’ll eventually figure out that a bare minimum of soldiers in the right places combined with as many ranged units as possible tends to work out best. At least in the second one. I might need to give the first one another go and test things. I feel like the first game had more waves of quick moving medium health regenerating monsters that had to be stopped, while the second one focused more on slow high HP high damage giants with a range of abilities. You needed lots of troops to slow down the former, while it was best to stay out of the latter’s way and just wizard zap and arrow them.

I won’t say that the Incursion games are my favorite TDs, but if you enjoyed either Kingdom Rush or Cursed Treasure, they’re worth checking out.  You can play both for free on Kongregate.

“Meet and Marry a Gorgeous Russian Queen” or Why White Feminists Never Get Invited to Rap Battles

The first lady’d be all:
“You’re gettin all triggered while you don’t have the mic
Cuz some other lady’s here sayin stuff you don’t like
I don’t even know you but you’ve taken offense
You need to get off the stage if you’re really that dense”

And then the other lady would be all:
*points & screams like a pod person*
*mic drop*

Some feminist lady wrote some snarky poem* about a loser dude who gets a mail order Russian bride. It gets read at an open mic at a feminists-only convention. Some other feminist lady identifies with the mail order bride so much that she completely loses her shit, claims that she’s being harassed & files a harassment suit with con organizers and goes out of her way to destroy the first lady’s career. This reminds me of the time that Alfalfa got kicked out of the He-Man Woman Haters Club.

People who are perpetually offended can neither create nor enjoy anything of artistic value. I’ve got no problem with the idea of Safe Spaces, but they are incompatible with art and performance as a venue.

It’s really not much different from the time a guy on my label was booked to play an open mic revue in his town and was run off by violent red-necks wanting to “smear the queer” because he was a “dress-wearing faggit” who was “gonna play devils music”.  Those people wanted a safe space where they could listen to each other sing gospel and country songs strumming on guitar; just imagine the Muppets from Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas all lost it and started coming after the Riverbottom Nightmare Band with clubs & pitchforks instead of giving them 1st place (sorry, Paul Williams, that shit is real life).

If you’re going to have people perform, don’t expect it to be a “safe space”.  If you’re going to have “safe space”, don’t ask people to perform in it, because someone out there is going to get butthurt.

*:The poem itself is remarkably inoffensive, though fairly clever and amusing.

Anita Sarkeesian is the Dan Brown of Video Games Criticism

Anita Sarkeesian is to cultural criticism what Dan Brown was to historical fiction; for better or for worse, entire cottage industries have sprung up around illustrating what they’re wrong about and why they’re wrong. While the reaction to the DaVinci Code gave us lots of cool stuff from historians and archaeologists on DaVinci and Grail history, the reaction to Sarkeesian has given us a lot of nuanced content exploring gender roles in video game media. Sure, there’s lots of “Fuck Sarkeesian/Brown, s/he is an idiot who has no idea what the fuck s/he’s talking about and is wrong about everything”, but there’s also been a lot of really good and thought provoking stuff to come out of it, too.

That might not quite be what Liana K is getting at in this article, but this article (along with several others by the likes of Jenn of Hardwire & Liz F) is definitely part of that “good” to come out of it.

Bar-Lev: the Yom Kippur War

My dad and I started playing Bar-Lev last night.  I say ‘started playing’ loosely, because after sorting the pieces and getting everything setup, it had gotten pretty late and I needed to get home.

While I haven’t played it, my dad has and it’s one of his favorites.  Ironically, when he suggested it he did so because (he claimed) it was a fairly simple and quick game*.  Though it’s a pretty small scope, it actually reminds me more of Fortress Europa in terms of complexity than some of the simpler SPI wargames we’ve played in the past.  As my dad read the various rules for ranged fire phase, ground movement & combat, zone of control, supply line, air superiority (the air combat and support rules are complex enough that the system treats using air power as a whole new game with its own manual), and morale rules, I’m thinking to myself “oh, god, I’m still trying to setup my pieces!  I’m never going to remember this.  What if I set my pieces up wrong?!”  Fortunately, BGG has a pdf of the both the ground and air rules, at least, so I’ll have time to go over them before we actually play.

The game itself looks fascinating, and I’m excited to get underway.  It has two separate maps, one for the Egyptian Front and another for the Syrian Front, each using a different scale, movement and stacking rules (the Syrian Front tactical map is smaller scale, so movement rates & firing ranges increase while stacking decreases), with various reserve boxes representing the Israeli interior through which the Israeli player can move troops between fronts.  On separate sheets, the various (and rather useless) Arab allies reinforcements are kept in reserve (Lebanon is on a tiny corner of the Syrian front map, so they’re deployed, but I can’t imagine them ever coming into play; all of the other Arabs are off-map until they intervene).

The Egyptians have to fight their way across the Suez Canal against the Israeli forces on the border; I’ve got my heavy tanks stacked up in places where they can hopefully punch through with enough oomph to overcome the tactical disadvantages of attacking from the middle of the freaking Suez Canal.  The Syrians look like they’re going to have a lot tougher time, because they have to move down into a valley and attack up slopes and with much worse equipment than the Egyptians.  From what I remember from my dad’s reading of the rules, Air Power is pretty much going to make or break things for either side: you get air superiority?  you get to strafe, do bombing runs, move paratroopers, and mow down infantry with assault helicopters.  You fail to get air superiority, all of that stuff gets done to you.  And all while factoring in stationary and mobile SAM platforms and shrike radar jamming and god knows what other rules I may have missed because I was trying to figure out where to put my Syrian light tanks.

There are a LOT of options for endgame conditions, so many that I can’t remember them all.  All I do remember is that either the players can agree to a cease-fire or slug it out until the Americans & Soviets bring the hammer down and tell everyone to cut it out.

Interestingly, Bar Lev could be played as a 3 player game**: the Syrians with the Arab Allies are set up to where they could be treated as wholly separate faction from the Egyptians.  There you’d get interesting scenarios where one side could establish a separate peace while the other kept on fighting because they still had a chance.  But man, where would you find a third player for a game like this these days?  In my gaming group, stuff that takes more than an hour and a half are considered “forever-long games” (partly due the restricted time-frames we tend to have in some of our meetup locations), so I can’t imagine what they’d think of a game that takes that long just to set up.

Maybe being a hex & chit wargamer is a kind of masochism?  You’ve got to truly love both the game and the player to have to patience for this sort of thing, but usually it’s pretty rewarding.  Which is why it’s a shame that opponents are so hard to find.  Anyway, I’ll have more to say about it once we’ve actually started playing.

*: From a Board Game Geek review: “Each turn consists of twenty(!)steps involving both players. This may seem daunting, but once you get the hang of the system, it is really no big deal.”

**: Board Game Geek actually lists it 2-5 players.  I have NO idea who players 4 & 5 could be, unless you wanted to stick someone with the Jordanian reinforcements and the other with the maybe dozen & a half various (and nearly worthless) Arab Allies units.  There is seriously nothing worse and more awkward than trying to run a game where one player is controlling mid-game variant forces; I ran SPI’s Gondor once with splitting the city guards and the relief forces as separate factions (they DID at least have separate morale tracks) and it went rather poorly.

Spells: Why Sometimes Less Is Better

“Another reason why B/X is right about everything: the only spells that a new group would have had to learn was Sleep or whatever spell the magic user actually chose during character generation. Most other iterations of the game require people understand the implication of dozens of spells right out of the gate.” – Jeffro Johnson

Every new mechanical ability you give a player makes it that much more difficult for a player to grasp his character’s abilities and figure out a rational way to play the game. I say mechanical abilities, because in an RPG players can and should be able to attempt anything at all; how it plays out is determined by a combination of the roleplayer’s abilities, the system’s mechanics and the adjudication of the GM. The problem with mechanical abilities is that each one entails a rule one must learn and remember to apply in the relevant circumstance.

It can be a lot of fun to play magic characters, and new players are often intrigued by the potential of wizards and mystic types. The difficulty with any class that uses magic (or systems that use myriad skills, non-weapon proficiencies, daily abilities, etc.) is that every spell or ability is a new rule that must be learned and remembered and applied on top of whatever other mechanics may be in play. So not only does one need to remember how to move, how to attack, how to figure out what one’s armor is, or whatever other various tasks fall into the purview of tables and dice rolling as opposed to simply saying “I do/say/look at this”, one has to remember those additional rules pertaining to one’s class; and with any class that’s going to have a lot of spells, that could potentially be a lot of rules. This is one reason why I really like B/X for people new to roleplaying and why I really like low-level play.

I’ve talked about the game I was in where we were all level 12 gestalt characters in 3e; some players were new to the system and everyone but me had ridiculously complex builds* with lots of spells or psionic. What ended up happening was the players had a ton of abilities which they had no idea what they were, how or when to use them, and ultimately didn’t get to use many if any of them. While it’s not as extreme at lower levels in 3e or other systems, there are still going to be a lot spells and abilities and mechanics which new or inexperienced players just aren’t going to be able have enough of a grasp on to play effectively.

My opinions on cantrips and 0 level spells have changed considerably over the last few years. One of my problems with D&D mages was how unmagical they felt and how impractical they were as adventurers, but the weaksauce 1st level one-spell mage really does work both in a lot of settings (especially if you make extensive use of scrolls and adopt some of the implications of the ‘dungeon book’ from Holmes) and in teaching new players the game. That new player who wanted to be a mage? ‘Well, you’re special, so you get one extra rule (your spell) that you need to remember; think you can remember it? Good. If you need to double check, it’s written down.’ But imagine if that player had all of those cantrips (most of which are useless and you’ll find out don’t apply to the situation you want to use them in once you’ve double-checked the actual wording**) and several other spells to start with. ‘Here are all of your spells/abilities. They can be found here, here, and here. Here, they’re alphabetized. Here, they’re arranged by cost. And these over here are sorted by level and alphabetized by level’. You’d better believe that things are going to grind to a screeching halt when that player tries to do something and has to look it up, and he or she will be just as frustrated for the causing the holdup as the other folks will be by the holdup itself.

Having only a few things that one absolutely needs to remember and understand the workings of right out of the gate helps new folks learn the system bit by bit. Learning and acquiring new spells becomes something exciting to look forward to. Players will be excited to have mastered the rule because they’ll know exactly when to apply it, with an ‘aha!’ moment, and will be eager to move into new territory. That’s the difference between magic in a game being fun vs. being burdensome.


*:I actually had to fight to be allowed to play the simple Fighter-Rogue mix; I was strongly encouraged to pick dozens of skills from various splatbooks and use prestige classes and what-not to maximize my character; as it turned out, I was the only player who did not have to go searching through assorted books and pdfs when my initiative came up.

**We can use UA in the AD&D game I’m in, but almost never do. Remembering the mechanical implications of nearly a dozen worthless level 0 spells is more trouble that it’s worth. Phantasmal Force is better than anything else in there anyway, especially since it plays heavily to the aforementioned “players can and should be able to attempt anything at all”.