City of Kings

Updated findings: Currently my favorite cooperative game.

My buddy and I played through two “stories” of this today and I’ve got a much better grasp of what’s really going on. Each story has four chapters, plus two options for “heroic” and “legendary” finales once you’ve already won.

The first story teaches you how to work the map and take care of big creatures by taking advantage of the map’s abstraction. It also teaches you to keep your worker tokens engaged and hunting goodies in the map. The story finale is pretty straightforward — kill the end boss — but making that happen took coordination and timing. It felt close, until l acquired a killer piece of gear and then it was too easy. I got scared that the game kind of pivots on equipment draws and… It might, at least in part.

The second story threw us headfirst into the resource management game. Each of the first three chapters required we bring back more and different big loads of resources, which isn’t as easy as it sounds! For one, there’s constant time pressure throughout the story. For another, you roll to see what your workers harvest and sometimes you add “attention” tokens to that map spot. Get four tokens, generate a monster. Yikes!

What was really cool about the second story was that we stumbled into more useful rules! Like how to add more gear to the inventory you can buy from, and build and deploy temporary structures like camps and barricades and traps. Once again the equipment turned out to be pivotal. And we had a character that let us shop the (very large) equipment deck for stuff we needed.

So now we’ve played all six character types. They’re kind of same-y. They have their own skill trees but you only get through five or six of them in a story. What seems to matter more is agreeing to how you’ll build your team. In the second story, I built the super hitter and Robert Chilton maxed out his worker tokens, and that was extremely effective.

There’s a lot more euro-type resource management than I was expecting, that’s for sure. And combat is pretty deterministic except when you’ve invested in luck, which just gives you the best bonus die of what all you’ve rolled. It comes together for an extremely clever puzzle management game, and it demands lots of lateral thinking as the critters get super scary. We’ve only seen the first third of the two player monsters and they will melt anything they can get their hands on without careful planning.

So: I’m currently liking this more than Gloomhaven. There, I said it. It sets up faster, it feels more engaging, you can finish a game in under two hours. There’s not a ton of story to the stories and it’s not a legacy game, but the payoff feels creatively similar and a heck of a lot faster.

City of Kings

Super preliminary findings!

Got a chance to play this with a buddy yesterday. Got through the first two (of six?) chapters of the first story.

The short version: this is a cooperative game driven by a series of stories that are broken up into “chapters.” The story is the big overarching thing; the chapters kind of reset and recalibrate the game as you go, while the map and ongoing character development stay locked throughout the story.

It feels a tiny bit like Gloomhaven in terms of asymmetrical character development (there are six classes, differentiated by skill trees you work your way up) and a tiny bit like Mistfall in terms of a highly abstract map you’re moving around and revealing. But the map is quite a lot more dynamic — you and the enemies cruise around it quite a bit each turn — and there’s a whole other resource management game that you can get into. In fact you’ve got a secondary “worker” unit that’s also going around the map doing…stuff. We didn’t quite get far enough to see that part of the game in action.

I think my favorite bit of the game is that the creatures are dynamically generated every time. The game comes with a big stack of tiles and markers, but they’re purely decorative: banner art, title, and backstory if you care to read it on the back of the tile. The actual critter is generated by pulling a wide, short tile from a numbered stack, and then modifying it with pulls from easy, medium and hard drawstring bags of ability chits. So we had a critter that both tracked you down and panicked your piece into randomly moving elsewhere on the map, and another that had the ability to teleport right to your location and then poison you. It’s super dynamic and weird and hella challenging if you draw tough combos.

There’s a really weird thing about the game, though, and I’m still chewing on it: apparently there’s no saving your character if you stop the story between chapters. I semi-expected a legacy game aspect to this (maybe because it feels Gloomhaven ish), but there isn’t one. But it’s just weird to me that you can be on chapter 3 of 8 or whatever, just put everything away, and then start your character development from scratch all over again. Basically the handling when you’re playing less than one story’s worth is vague and weird. I’m gonna go dig around on and see what the consensus is. Entirely possible I’ve missed an important rule somewhere.

EDIT: Nope! You’re supposed to play a single story to completion. Oh well, guess we’ll have to replay the chapters we finished. :-/

The production values are super nice, the bits are clear and easy to understand, the rulebook is marvelous. Honestly it all came together nicer than I had come to expect (for no good reason, just delayed delivery maybe?).

Old Guys and Dead Trees
Small Vent

I get irrationally frowny when I get the inevitable weekly-or-more email from that one of my titles has been updated.

If it’s a game I only own in PDF, mostly that doesn’t bug me. But if it’s something I have on paper, oh jeez.

First: I get that perfect is the enemy of good. I’m all in on that.

Second: PDF updates almost never address play-important changes.

But! But but but I actively dislike the feeling that my printed copy is imperfect.

I speculate my feelings about this are tied to a couple things: the age of these creators and their relationship with e-docs, and Kickstarter.

On the first point: are these changes just not seen as a big deal by most folks? I’m asking the creators, here. And I’m talking specifically about Legacy: Life in the Ruins and The Veil, because both of those books have recently been updated. I guess Wrath of the Autarch as well, and that one has play-relevant changes from the hardcopy I have.

Is it generational to de-privilege the printed word? It might be! I honestly don’t know! In my head, and as a practical matter, my hardcopies are my reference volumes. I actively dislike fiddling with PDF readers at the table, because that means screens and screens are bad-disruptive almost every time. So knowing that my reference volumes are not the most up-to-date bums me out.

The second point I want to bring up is Kickstarter. Is there a tempo aspect to the revision and development of these games because you’ve put a date out and you super-duper want to hit it? This feels like what’s going on both with The Veil and Cascade, as well as Legacy. This is me asking the question as a potential future Kickstarter creator: do you feel actual pressure to deliver on promised dates? Where’s that coming from? What’s it costing you?

I mean it may totally be true that hardcopy is on its way out and perfecting it is now a minor concern. It was weird when the web went majority-mobile, too. Things change. If this is the actual fact, well, I guess I need to live with it. But if this is self-imposed rushing to get physical rewards out the door on an arbitrary schedule, I’m a lot less sympathetic.

A couple closing thoughts.

* Repeated small PDF updates really bug me (I’m looking at you, The Veil.) Because like…even if I wanted to order a new “best possible” printed copy, I have no idea when or if the revision process will ever end.

* Changelogs or errata would sure go a long way toward making me, personally, feel better about changes. Like if I can see stuff like “bolded some game terms” or “paragraph broke badly, changed the flow” or whatever, great, I can ignore that. And if there are major things like “changed the Empath move” then I can go and mark up my own copy with a note to see the errata. That’s great.

I do dearly wish we could treat tabletop games like software, you know? Quietly patch in the background so your run-time experience is always the most up-to-date. Heck, even have a beta patch opt-in, Steam style. But that’s not how we learn or use tabletop games. We can’t (yet?) seamlessly merge patches into the github of our brain.

Just to be clear: I’m not dragging anyone here! I’m asking questions and I’m being super charitable about what the reasons might be. Thanks.