Friday, June 14, 2019

Pandemic Legacy Season 1 Done!

This post contains spoilers for Pandemic Legacy Season 1, so if you plan to play this game in the future, you'll want to bail now to avoid getting some twists revealed.

We finally finished our run of Pandemic Legacy Season 1!

To recap, here is where we were at the end of September...

Things were looking bleak as the C0da virus was ravaging south east Asia and Australia and had footholds in western North America. Fortunately, we roadblocked the shit out of things to contain the spread and watched with sadness as many cities fell into ruin.

Then we found out about the Zodiac group that purposely engineered the virus to try and destabilize the world to take control! The next few months were chasing after patient Zero, coming up with a cure, burning down military bases, trying to vaccinate cities that we could barely get into, and then searching for the hidden stockpile of the virus in Atlanta in the last try at December...

It came down to this: there were 8 city cards left in the draw pile, including one more Epidemic card that would doom us. We needed two blue cities to complete the search and the only player with them was Andrew who had just finished his turn. We had to hope and pray that the Epidemic card was one of the last two in order to win.

Dave went... no epidemic. I went... no epidemic. Chad's turn. Either he flips the epidemic and we lose, or he does not and Andrew completes the search for the win.

Chad flips... no epidemic! We win!

Our final season score was 676, one point enough for an overall victory.

Now on to season 2...

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Winner Winner...

After trying and deciding Apex Legends was not for me, I went back to PUBG (mobile using emulator) and have been playing that consistently for the past couple weeks. (Consistently for me, natch.)

I really enjoy this game, I feel like PUBG has hit the sweet spot of realistic fun versus realistic onerous, and the four maps really each have a different feel to them without abandoning the core mechanics. Recently they added in weather effects like rain, thunderstorms, and fog. The first time thunder roared I just about jumped out of my seat.

I played a game last night I want to tell you about.

I did a squad game with 3 random strangers. Quality when grouping with randoms is, well, random but the match making usually means they are decent soldiers even if their tactical decisions suck sometimes.

We parachuted and landed together (a good sign, you know its an uphill battle when the squad splits up from the plane at the start) and have a successful looting of a town. We hop in a vehicle and head into the circle. We stop at a small group of buildings to loot some more and the fog gets super thick.

Suddenly I spot an enemy and quickly dispatch him. I run over to loot his crate and I hear the sound of two vehicles quickly approaching. I'm exposed as they roar up, two in a car and two on a bike. The Bikers are closer and I hose them down with my SMG as they jump off, knocking them both (i.e. they are damaged to the point they can't do anything but crawl and must be revived by a teammate) but the other two lined me up as I had no cover and knock me down.

I desperately crawl to a low wall while they try to finish me off but my allies were close enough to take them out and save me. Whew! That was close! Once all healed up we jump back in the car and head to the new circle.

Near the middle of the circle is a hill with some buildings on it, and a lower section with a larger building. We go there and start to set up. Suddenly another car of a four man squad roars up on the main hill and a firefight erupts. I was on the top of the big building on the lower hill and I try to help out, two of our guys are knock, panic rising, but we manage to win the fight and revive our squadmates.

We reset and get into a sniping battle out one side with a guy in a ghillie suit with a suppressed AWM. I get hit to low health, another teammate knocked, one gets killed, but the opponent silhouetted himself on top of a hill in the distance and I was able to wing him. He retreated but came back a few seconds later and this time I was able to knock him, and let the approaching death circle eliminate him.

We;ve been lucky that the smaller and smaller safe zone circles have included our hill and we're getting down to the nitty gritty. There is three of us remaining after the sniper fight with Ghillie suit guy, and there are two other players. While we were distracted on the low hill fighting off to the north, the other two got on the big hill behind us. I'm on top of the big building and can see the top of the hill, but the buildings, bushes, terrain all conspire to make them hard to see, and I'm just behind a small wall that I need to pop over to shoot. Not good.

My teammates are on the ground and try circling to get on the hilltop and I still can't spot the enemies. Suddenly one of my squadmates is knocked and then killed. Now its 2v2 and they have the high ground... and the last circle is on the hilltop. I have to move soon.

Finally I spot one of them near a big cargo container. I popup and fire some shots and wing him, but bullets fly my direction soon after. Time is running out. I run to the stairs with bullets flying around me, the firefights earlier having left my helmet and body armour in shreds. I get to the ground and approach the big hill, I can hear someone moving and its not my buddy, who just got knocked. Oh crap.

I circle the slope of the hill and spot the first bad guy only meters away! We both open fire with SMGs but my aim is better and I knock and kill him. 1v1, circle is closing. I run to the top of the hill. Suddenly bullets fly past my head! I drop prone in tall grass and bushes and the next salvo missed me completely... and I see movement to my left. I open up on the pixel that is the player I can see and hit markers pop up. I have you now. A second later and I've won.

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Apex Legends - Thoughts

Image result for apex legends
Apex Legends is another entry into the Battle Royale genre that has become popular the last couple years due to Player Unknown's Battlegrounds (AKA PUBG) and Fortnite. As I'm a fan of this type of game and Apex is getting lots of rave reviews, I thought I'd give it a try.

PUBG and Fortnite both have 100 players parachuting from an overheard passing aircraft onto a map. The players start with no equipment and have to scavenge from supplies on the ground, or from the crates left behind by other defeated players. You can either drop solo, in duos, or in squads of four in both games. PUBG has four maps with distinct flavours (2 large, 2 smaller), Fortnite has one large map with biomes and is constantly changing the map every couple months to keep it fresh. Both games have character skins that you can earn or buy, but no one can buy in game advantages (AFAIK). The biggest difference between the two is that in Fortnite you also gather building supplies and can build structures and traps and the end of many Fortnite matches is fought in towering brick and wood constructions.

In order to keep the game moving both games have a constricting playzone where if you find yourself outside of it as it shrinks you take damage and will eventually die. This forces combat as players get closer and closer together.

So where does Apex differentiate itself? Well, Apex has one map right now and its smaller like one of PUBG's two smaller 4x4 km maps. But the map is amazing, with lots of different zones and architecture and interesting geology. Tons of verticality and zip lines to aid in some interesting movement. Its a very pretty map and lots to see and explore.

Players still drop from a passing aircraft but there is only 60 players in a match and you have to be in squads of 3; no solo and no duos.

Once in a squad before the match starts, players take turns picking characters, or as the game calls them, "legends". There are 9 distinct characters with unique voice lines, looks, and special abilities similar to Overwatch. Each character has a tactical ability that they can use often, and an ultimate ability they can only use once or twice a match that charges up over time. For example, one character's tactical ability is to deploy a healing drone and an ultimate ability to call a care package, while another can tactially zoom through the void (i.e. teleport) and for an ultimate, create a portal for other players to use. Squads can't take the same character more than once.

Like the other Battle Royale games players start with nothing and have to scavenge on the ground. They will find grenades, assault rifles, SMGs, sniper rifles, shotguns, armour, helmets, medkits, shields, attachments, scopes, sights, ammo, etc. Very similar to PUBG in this regard, although the shields are reminiscent of Fortnite. The weapons are very scifi, including a number of energy based weapons in the different categories.

So how does it all stack up?


- As I said, the map is utterly gorgeous even on low graphics settings and interesting and lots of varied terrain of different heights you can take advantage of.

- The different characters with differing abilities is a neat twist and does not feel overpowering when they use those abilities. Shooting is still the main way to win.

- The variety of weapons is excellent, and I like the new energy based weapons to mix it up.

- The game is well made, I did not notice any bugs or glitches while I was playing.

- The smaller map made the games faster and turnaround quicker. You never spend 10-15 minutes running across a desert and never see anyone, the next fight is only a minute or two away.


- The gorgeous map required me to run it at lowest graphic settings to increase framerate and even then I feel like I'm not as smooth as I would like. My computer is not top of the line, admittedly, but I don't have this issue with the other two games.

- Another problem with the map is that its so full of terrain that it is often hard to fight at a distance. Enemies can divert around the terrain, and almost all kills are in close range firefights.

- Characters move slightly faster than in PUBG and Fortnite and this causes two cons for me, the first one being the ring of death is never a concern because on the small map and fast movement you are always within easy running distance of next circle, and lots of terrain to cover your advance.

- The second issue with fast character movement is that combined with the long Time to Kill after players have armour and shields (especially later in game) is that even getting the drop on a player or shooting at them long range doesn't help as they can scoot into cover, lose themselves in the terrain, heal up, and come back for revenge.

(To be clear, I'm 45 years old and my hand to eye coordination was never great even when I was young, so this may not feel like a problem to other better players.)

- To make matters worse, matches are made up of new players like me and very experienced players with hundreds or more kills. Not just sometimes, all the time. Almost every time I died it shows the banner of the killing player and they had obviously far more experience at the game than me. This is a huge turnoff. I think Fortnite does this as well? I know in PUBG mobile that I play you are put into matches with players of similar season ranking if at all possible, climbing the ladder to more difficult opponents as you do well.

- The shorter matches does a lot to negate any build up of tension or anticipation. In PUBG and Fortnite once you kill the other players landing at the location you picked (if any), there is a build up of tension as you get your equipment and make the plan to get into the circle, picking your destination and planning your advance. Apex is right from action on landing to action to action to either dying or winning. That could be a plus for many people, but not for me.


At the end of the weekend, I went back to PUBG mobile using the emulator. There is a lot to like about Apex Legends, but after investing hours into it I did not feel like I was getting better after the initial learning curve and was constantly getting ganked by faster and better players. I want more time for the match to progress, I want more time to explore, and I want the satisfaction of properly planning my position to pay off in a kill, and not watch as my target gets hit and then disappears behind the building right over there.

Its a good game, but not for me.

Friday, April 05, 2019

So What Happened to February and March?

You may have noticed that before my post about Battlestar Galactica on March 25 I had not posted since the middle of January.

I was having a bad time. No major single issue but several small issues built up over January to the point that I was entering February in a pretty bad state. Money concerns meaning I was faced with having to give up my Jiu Jitsu training, a particularly cold and miserable Canadian winter, super busy with getting kids to activities every night, no time to hang out with friends, a birthday that was overall unexciting and uneventful, no free time with the wife... and on top of all that dealing with the realization of my divorce with EVE and the isolation that came with it, playing games where I had no personal connection with the other players and the lack of excitement of any new games for me to enjoy.

I became a little depressed. Not "I can't get out of bed depressed" but more like "I can't get excited about anything but I'm still functional and can pretend everything is ok most of the time". It got really bad in middle of February when I tried and failed to arrange a board game night with my friends for the first time in many months and had no luck. There was nothing to look forward to on the horizon and it was rough.

With March things did not improve at first. Canada's winter continued to dump snow and cold on us, I finally reached a point where it looked like for certain I would have to give up Jiu Jitsu, and the first weekend in 6 months my wife had free from the kids was marred by scary budget discussions and sleepless night.

Then some good news. I spoke with the owners of the dojo I attend and teach at and worked out a deal that did not have to give up the martial arts, and I sold some board games I didn't have time for to allow my youngest son to continue his art classes. The weather finally started to turn warmer. The budget started to come together as some cuts to extraneous luxuries were made. And, as my last blog post indicates, I finally got some friends together for a good board game night. As March closed out I finally started to feel like myself again and the stresses of the past few months finally released their grip on me.

And so here we are.

So with that out of the way, what have I been up to?

Mainly I've still been playing PUBG Mobile through the emulator when I have time to sit down and play for longer than 30 minutes. I've also started playing Magic the Gathering with the twins (and my wife dabbles) so I've tried out Magic Arena since its free and quick to play, and its surprisingly implemented well. Sometimes playing Overwatch at work but lately its been Magic Arena (Golgari Forever!).
Image result for images magic arena

At work once a week a group of four of us started playing Pandemic Legacy.
Related image

Its a fun game we can finish in about 20-50 minutes and we're about half way through the "season". Once its done I'm considering trying to run a Battlestar Galactica once-a-week game using Vassal. Or just arrange a rematch for last month's debacle after Easter.

And that is where we are at. Carry on.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Best and Worst Game of Battlestar Galactica I've Ever Played

Previous Post about BSG:

Its been a few year since I've sat down and played Battlestar Galactica, over 5 in fact. Its not that my love for the game diminished, its just that a few other games came up to try like Scythe and Game of Thrones, and a return to Twilight Imperium, and my time for sit down and talk game like BSG is limited.

But I got together a crew and made a go of it this past Saturday and it was at once the best and worst game of BSG I've played. Strap yourselves in for a roller coaster of emotions, accusations, paranoia, and surprises.


There were five of us playing:
Me as Helena Cain and I was Admiral
Brian as Starbuck
Dave as Giaus Balthar and he was President
Ron as Cat
Chad as Tom Zarek

We were playing the base game with the Pegasus ship, Treachery Deck, and extra characters from the Pegasus expansion. No New Caprica rules, no Cylon leaders, and nothing from Exodus expansion.

Now in the past I've been a Cylon in 6 of 8 games so I was hoping to not be a Cylon again.
Previous Results
But alas it was my destiny to be a Cylon again as the first round of loyalty cards went out. Sigh.

First Half

The game started with a bang with a number of crisis cards adding more Cyclon ships and a general feeling of "oh crap" as players went to the engine room on pegasus to increase the jump counter. I decided to play quiet Cylon for now and it was a good thing as everyone was very on top of the skill checks and it appeared that no other Cylon player was out there trying to sabotage things.
Getting dicey in space.

Fire the main batteries!

Damaged Basestar.

Getting close...

Heavy raider!

Heavy raider with centurions is almost aboard!
We escaped the first major attack without the heavy raiders getting aboard and entered the second phase of the startup: paranoia.

Brian using an action to look at the loyalty card of Chad and declaring him human (thank god it wasn't me!), Chad trying to get the president role from Dave, and me looking at destination cards and trying to avoid the 3 distance ones without making it look suspicious. The skill checks all passed easily as I was trying to keep my Cylon head down and not ramp up the card counting in the checks. I know from experience that much more important checks come later.

Second Half

Things are going frustratingly well for the humans as we reach 4 distance and activate the Sleeper phase of loyalty cards... and I get a second You are a Cylon card.

Well shit.

Things are going so well that I know my best option is to reveal and pass my unrevealed cylon card to someone else to increase the suspicions all around. I need help, and decide on Chad as he's a very good logical thinker with a good poker face and giving it to someone else would only turn heat up on them.

As a revealed Cylon I got to damage Galactica twice, going for the hanger deck to keep Viper pilots on the ship if I could, and the FTL control to prevent any emergency jumps. Then I sat on the resurrection ship collecting a couple Super Crisis cards and play the social game trying to get everyone suspecting everyone else.


More Cylons appear! 

Damaged vipers

Super Crisis Cards,  muhahahahha!
So the humans are still doing ok despite my reveal damage, Chad's wisely playing quiet Cylon trying to deflect and propose that I gave him a You Are a Human card to cover for the other Cylon, and I'm hoping for a chance to frustrate some skill checks while building up my hand of skill cards.

A crisis came up for Dave where he either had to give up the presidency or cause Galactica to loose more resources, so he did and Chad became president. This was some good news for me as Chad is my secret Cylon buddy.

 And then things got weird.

Brian, who became Admiral after I lost it due to revealing myself, looks at the destination cards for a jump and picks one that he says is "the obvious better choice" because its 2 distance, low fuel cost, and oh, hey, makes you pick the Scar crisis card from the deck and play it.

"Oops" he says. "I didn't read that part... is Scar bad?"

Well, I know Brian's a human but I play it up like he's acting very Cylon-ish with his "mistake" while gleefully placing the Scar ship on the board. Scar is a raider but only killed on 7-8 on a D8 (unlike normal raiders on a 3+) and activates twice instead of once.


Pegasus expansion crisis.

That's not the weird part. Ron at this point exclaims that he thinks Brian has outed himself and should be put in the brig. That was strange because in all honesty Scar crisis is not debilitating for the humans, but this is Ron's first time playing so I chalked his reaction up to inexperience.

To the brig with Starbuck says Cat!!

Mittfull of skill cards!
But then during the check to put Brian in the brig Ron puts in a LOT of skill cards to ensure it, making him look a little more suspicious. I'm loving this! Chad is under suspicion because I gave him my unrevealed card, Brian is under suspicion and in the Brig because of Scar, and Ron's under suspicion because he went after Brian so hard AND became the Admiral once Brian was brigged!

Poor Dave! He's the only one not under suspicion and doesn't know who to trust.

Scar doing scar things.

Paranoia running super rampant now as Ron is accused of being a Cylon and does not defend himself, instead jokingly... or not... saying "ha ha yeah".

Um what? So as a Cylon I'm loving this, I'm spinning all these things as Ron is the Cylon, or Brian, depending on what's happening, and Chad is playing into this suspicion on Ron as it works so well for us Cylons. Ron is under enough suspicion to be brigged and Admiral passes to .... Chad! Who is also the president!

I control Galactica now.
With Brian and Ron both in the brig and only able to contribute one card each to skill checks, things are getting worrisome for the humans. With Chad's prodding Brian and Dave agree to airlock Ron to prevent him from revealing next turn and getting his super crisis card when he's sent to the Resurrection ship. Chad moves to the airlock to activate it and nominates.... Dave.

Stunned silence.

"I nominate Dave."

Dave groans and says "well played." Brian is still in shock. Ron looks confused. I'm laughing hysterically. Brian asks to Chad desperately "can you explain your reasoning?" obviously hoping for an explanation to make it all make sense.

"Well, Brian, I might be a Cylon..." Chad responds.

I almost died laughing. I'm thinking we got this, two humans in the brig, one about to be airlocked, the Cylon president and admiral.

"Ron," I say through tears of laughter, "are you sure you read your loyalty card right? You acted so much like a Cylon!"

He picks up his two cards, looks at them, and says "yeah, I read them right..." still confused.

Uh oh.

"Ron," I say, not laughing anymore, a terrible realization forming in my head, "do you have a You are a Cylon card?"

"Um, yeah, I do."

Too many Cylons.

Everything falls into place. Ron was not a human player playing poorly, he actually WAS a Cylon. He got the card in the sleeper phase just like I did.

You see, when making the loyalty deck at the start we put in an extra card for the Giaus Balthar character but put in the wrong card, adding an extra "You are a Cylon" instead of "You are human" card. So there was three cards going around and the suspicions against Ron were correct. He wasn't a terrible human player, just an inexperienced Cylon player.

We had a good laugh despite the game being botched. I will forever treasure that broken look on Brian's face and Chad's "Well Brian, I might be a cylon" line delivered in the perfect tone of restrained glee.

As I said at the start, the best and worst game of Battlestar Galactica I've ever played. And I'm not even mad.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Emulating Success - Part 2

In my efforts to try out PUBG Mobile on the computer using the Android OS emulator Bluestacks, I was reading for tips to try and improve the lackluster performance of the game when I came across recommendations that said that the program Tencent Gaming Buddy was the better emulator to use for PUBG Mobile. Since Tencent is the company that publishes PUBG Mobile, that seems like a good path to pursue before fighting with Bluestacks some more.

I downloaded the program and PUBG Mobile, hooked my account up, and... I was blown away. The performance was far smoother with higher graphics settings, as smooth as my phone is on low settings. The keyboard mappings controls were slightly less polished than on Bluestacks but some playing with the customization options soon allowed me to feel 90% comfortable while playing the game.

I think the big difference is that the Tencent Gaming Buddy program is a custom program for Tencent games and is not a full blown Android installation, removing a double step that the full emulator has to make to go from game to Android OS to Windows to graphics hardware.

I have already deleted the Bluestacks PUBG Mobile installation; I may still use Bluestacks for other less intensive games and apps if the need arises.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Emulating Success

Last year I tried to get into Player Unknown's Battlegrounds but found that my old reflexes meant that I could not compete in a way that felt good. I lost almost every firefight even if I had the drop on my opponent. The hyper-realism in weapons operation combined with the long time between combats and harsh penalty added up to make the experience frustrating.

However I loved the concept and decided to try out PUBG mobile on my phone since it was free. What I found was a near perfect replication of the maps and gameplay on an interface that rewarded fast reflexes less than the PC version. The end result is that I can compete satisfactorily enough to enjoy the game and not feel like I've wasted 20-30 minutes every round.

The big downsides are comfort and battery life. No matter what accessories I use to enhance the experience (see image below) its never going to feel as comfortable as a big computer screen with mouse and keyboard, and my old Samsung Galaxy S6 battery struggles to allow me to play for more than an hour at a time.

So I decided to download and try running Bluestacks, an Android emulator for the PC. Basically you start it up and its running Android in a program window and you connect with a Google account and you have the play store to download apps and run them on your PC. You can even connect to the same account you use on your phone to synchronize game accounts. I installed PUBG Mobile on it, ran it... and was not impressed.

Now, before the calls of "cheater" and such erupt, allow me to point out that PUBG Mobile detects when you are using an emulator and groups you in matches only with other players using emulators! I'm not taking advantage of poor people on phones with my mouse and keyboard. I would not use an emulator if this were not the case (and I know its working because the game pops up a message informing you that it detects an emulator and will be doing just what I said).

First off, the good: mouse and keyboard integration are spot on, it does not feel unnatural or hacked in. Playing the game on the bigger screen from my comfy chair is nice. No battery to worry about either.

Now the bad: my PC is 4 years old and not bad but the performance of the game was not great. I turned down the graphics all the way and experienced lots of choppiness. I tried some tuning to improve it and its playable, but nowhere near as smooth as on my phone. I had some crashes too, not a lot but at least 1 in a two hour play session.

I'm going to see if some help from the internet will make things better, but overall I'm disappointed. I thought for sure the more power of the PC's video card and SSD and RAM would make this game sing on the PC but so far I've decided to stick with the phone. If anything changes, I'll update the post.

Appendum: as a counterpoint, I also ran Clash Royale on Bluestacks and it ran quite smoothly with no noticeable lag or choppiness, so your mileage per game may vary.

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