Simple Strats: Tanks Part 1 — Using

Of the various roles that champions can fill, tanks are the ones that pose new players the most obvious trouble. While the effects of support champs can be more subtle, and damage-dealers put out flashy numbers, it is the tanks that make games seem flat out unwinnable. A well-positioned tanking champion can not only shut down an enemy’s advance, it can control an entire side of the battlefield; a poorly-placed tank becomes little more than a silent observer. I am going to break down discussion of tanks into two sections: the first will cover using tank champions well, and the second will cover how to respond to well-used tanks. The former should help establish ground-level understanding to talk about the latter. Part 1 will start with an outline of the two main strategic ways to use tanks, and then will provide some general advice that applies regardless of the strategy.

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Simple Strats: Playing without Direct Counters

In this Simple Strats, I want to talk about how to play without direct counters to an opponent’s rune or strategy. Counters are an essential idea to Pox Nora — counter moves, counter strategies, counter cards, soft counters, hard counters, counter-play, the works. Getting past entry-level conceptions of how to respond to your opponent can be a difficult task. If you encounter a new problem and don’t have an answer ready, what are you to do? The previously linear response to a monolithic problem breaks apart; instead of a single choice — to play the counter rune or not — you must suddenly consider how each of a dozen other small decisions contribute to the situation. The matrix of interactions requires new ways of thinking about problems. While I won’t explicate all of those ways here, I will attempt to provide a few methods by which to counter a problem without needing a single direct response.

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The Darkness in Darkest Dungeon

Editor’s Note: This is a much older essay that I wrote over a series of drafts about a year ago, before I started the project of playing indie games. I was hoping to do something more with it than just fling it out upon the internet ether, but as I grew more skeptical of that possibility, and the essay got older, I decided that just publishing it on the blog and being done with it would be best. It doesn’t have any pictures, but I might go back and add some later. Enjoy.

Of all the games I’ve ever played, Darkest Dungeon is the most insidious, cynical, and cruel — unwittingly. “We don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents,” and Darkest Dungeon has a dark and happy accident at its heart, elevating an otherwise competent but unambitious game to something more: an elegant portrait of systemic evil. Mechanics and themes often make for disjointed partners in games — accumulated millennia of storytelling knowledge coupled with fresh, baby-faced entertainment, like an old man running a three-legged race with his granddaughter. The effect is charming, if awkward. Here, though, the core mechanics highjack the experience, sending the whole package hurtling deeper and darker, into unintended territory.

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Simple Strats: Throwing Mid-Font

New players quickly learn to capture and contest fonts; doing so is the most fundamental strategic and tactical option available. This lesson, however, usually gets learnt as “Capture every font that you can capture, contest every font that you can contest.” It can take a long while to unlearn that, in part because it is daunting to do so — if you aren’t supposed to run like a big-eyed child towards every blue bubble on the map, then what are you supposed to do? How do you fill that huge decision-making hole? Where once there was certainty about how to move, players are suddenly left with a huge range of additional decisions to make. My goal here, and the goal of these Simple Strats posts in general, will be to provide basic ways of cutting through the more complex decision making involved in Pox Nora. Here, I propose a way of looking at one common game event that should help newer players (and maybe even some vets) make better strategic decisions.

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Short Thoughts on Enter the Gungeon

I played some Enter the Gungeon, and walk to talk about it, specifically how its theme of guns interacts with its genre.

Enter the Gungeon makes its pet theme very clear, so clear and prevalent that it becomes its own joke. Guns are everywhere, almost as prolific as puns on the word “gun,” or the names of guns. But this emphasis on guns and shooting things runs orthogonal to the player’s mechanical experience, because, however much guns are about shooting, Enter the Gungeon is about dodging. It’s a bullet-hell game, at its heart, one built into a popular rogue-lite shell, but a bullet-hell nonetheless. So it’s weird that a bullet-hell — an other-focused genre, which pays attention to what enemies are doing and then asks the player to respond — would place such an emphasis on guns — things which, when treated as unique and exciting, are self-focused, in that they draw attention to player actions.

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Narrative Puzzles and the Systematizing of Story

I’ve been playing Duelyst lately. The 6/15/2016 patch included a cycle of cards called the “Seven Sisters.” Each of those cards had a symbol hidden somewhere in the sprite art, along with a large amount of cypher text in their descriptions. It’s cute: the idea is that players will break apart these puzzles as a way of getting at the story. Duelyst‘s approach is innovative, although not entirely new. The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth featured a similar kind of ARG experience, if less connected to overt lore. Most notably, this story-as-puzzle is a centerpiece of Dark Souls, and its associated games.

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