Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons/Pathfinder; Schism Explained

I'm going to try and do a semi-simple explanation with less hate and bias, but I can't help having a little, I'm not a journalist.

An Open Game

The original Dungeons and Dragons publishers finally floundered in the 1990's from bad decisions and low profitability.  The grandfather of modern fantasy gaming was dying and the upstart company, Wizards of the Coast, took the money it made off of Magic the Gathering and rescued it.  Vowing to treat it right, they put together a team of the most respected free lance content producers to create a new version of Dungeons and Dragons for the modern era.  This group of free lancers created the most free lance friendly gaming system of all time.  They pitched an "Open Gaming License", a sort of open source for the gaming world where anyone would be allowed to produce content for Dungeons and Dragons and SELL it along side official releases.  This would ensure that there was lots of new stuff to buy without WOTC being burdened with doing it all themselves.

A Turn of Events

Wizards of the Coast was bought by multi-national conglomerate Hasbro.  Hasbro has long been run by CEO's instead of gaming people for many years.  They did not understand how a company could freely give away permission to make stuff for games, and they did not understand why a company would not cancel a line that did not make $50 million a year, especially when Magic the Gathering was making over $200 million a year.  The caretakers of D&D from the 90's were bullied out or fired from the company, and Hasbro got a group of people they could work with.  They wanted new editions.  WOTC tried to tell them that new editions were not in their interest, and so they compromised and made a 1/2 edition, Dungeons and Dragons 3.5.  A few years later Hasbro had enough of the stalling, and 4th Edition was to be created.

A Change of Audience

Wizards of the Coast needed a "Hail Mary" pass to appease their employers.  Recently World of Warcraft came in and took an industry from 200,000 subscribers as the "top" tier, and turned that into 10 Million Subscribers.  WOTC would now use this as the basis for their new 4th Edition.  Unlike 1st to 2nd or 2nd to 3rd, 4th Edition would scrap much of the game and make its own.  The current audience was gambled, put on the line, to try and get a new, larger, higher spending audience.

The Great Schism

Much like the often used "schism" plot line in Dungeons and Dragons stories, there was a great split among gamers.  There have always been die hards of certain editions, but this schism was large enough to affect the sales.  The internet created a huge underground movement to keep playing 3rd Edition, and allowed them all to gather.  Hobby stores were split, and several could not even keep 3rd and 4th Edition materials in the same area for fear of arguments breaking out.

Enter Paizo

Wizards of the Coast needed to cut their waist line.  The company never put much faith in modules or magazines, but kept them around for "tradition".  They decided to sell contracts for companies to take over the duties of making these things.  A group of fans in Redmond Washington decided to make a new company for the reason of buying the rights to do these things, they called themselves Paizo from the Greek word that means To Play.  After a few years, WOTC decided to not offer the contracts out any longer, and so Paizo found itself with nothing to do, but a whole company ready to publish.

Finding the Path

Paizo looked around and saw the schism.  It was already known that 4th Edition was floundering.  Paizo got out the old book of Open Gaming License and researched it to see how far they could push this license.  In 2009 they released Pathfinder, a game that is basically Dungeons and Dragons 3rd(3.75) reborn.  Paizo put a new effort into constructing adventures and gaming aids for players.  For the first time since the 1970's, Dungeons and Dragons(in the guise of Pathfinder) was being created by players that did not have CEO's from other industries looking over their shoulder.  For the first time since it was created, Dungeons and Dragons was outsold by another RPG, Pathfinder was King.

A Turn Around

If there's one thing they can convince Hasbro to let them do, its create a new edition.  WOTC by this time had given up on 4th Edition, cutting out all publishing of material a full 2 years ahead of the announced new edition.  They went back to the drawing board, and vowed to go back to the older style of gaming.  They would release alternate versions of the rules for whatever edition you loved to play the most.  For two years they playtested and developed a new edition.  We're about to see the clash of the Titans on a common battlefield.  The new D&D was developed to compete with Pathfinder with a rejection of 4th Ed and a re-embracing of the old style game play.  People are starting to ask if Pathfinder is going to evolve and change.  Paizo made itself on the back of not changing, but will Pathfinder start showing its age?  Many believe an RPG's life is about 10 years(WOTC is pushing out new D&D's much faster lately), and the back bone of Pathfinder is past that now.  Online gaming is getting to be "normal" among many groups of players, and Pathfinder was developed without this in mind, while 5th Edition D&D does have that in mind.  It will be an eventful year.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Fairy Tale: The Card Game

Fairy Tale
by Satoshi Nakamura

Fairy Tale is a rare kind of card game where the gameplay is based upon "Drafting" a hand of cards to play.  To give a history, "Draft" gameplay began with Magic the Gathering.  You would buy several booster packs and pass them around the table.  Everyone would open a pack, choose a card and pass the pack until everyone had a pre-determined amount of cards to build a deck from.  The skill was in the knowing and utilization of the entire expansion's set of cards, and a little luck.  Fairy Tale emulates this.

The players draw a hand of 5 cards from the main, randomized deck.  Each turn they take 1 card and pass the hand to the next player.  Everyone does this until they have 5 cards.  The more players you have, the more mystery surrounds what everyone is playing.  The cards in the deck work together to perform point accumulating combos.  There are 4 colors, three of which are identical and 1 that focuses on forcing the other colors to flip their cards, or having you trade points for desired effects on your own set of cards.  It takes a little while to figure out how things work, but it is somewhat simplified in that 3 of the colors work virtually identical  to each other.

Fairy Tale is a game that can be played and enjoyed by 2 people.  I do this a lot, as I tend to play a few games with my girl on Sundays after breakfast while we relax outside.  There is less "set up" time than other card games, and much less complication to have at an outside table.  As I said before, upping the player count ups the mystery.  In a 2 player game, there is only one card per round you have no idea about, but with more there are more cards flying around, and you're not sure what you'll be getting back as cards rotate around the table.

Fairy Tale has an added complication that is both genius and confusing.  The game originally was released in Japan and all the cards had all the rules on them, but that meant they had to produce a different set for each language the game was released in.  The newest edition changes almost all text into symbols and numbers that are more universal in interpretation.  Through the use of this, they can reprint the rule book in the native language and use the same cards virtually everywhere.  It adds a little bit to the confusion of learning the game, but ultimately serves the game well.

Another cool aspect is that the cards can tell a story if you read into their artwork and their motives.  The story progression is actually a time progression and you can reveal it by looking through the artwork.  It does not serve the game very much, but its a neat little easter egg if you take the time.

Once everyone knows their stuff, its a quick game to play and quick to tally up at the end.  Its smaller on the player interaction between cards, but if you play black you CAN mess with the other players. It can be had fairly cheaply on Amazon, you might want to get some card protectors.  The cards are better than Munckin and Fantasy Flight quality, but nowhere near as nice as Flying Frog's card stock.  If you loved Draft in Magic the Gathering(as I did), you'll love the mechanics.  Also it is self contained, it is not a collectible card game, you do not need to buy expansions.