Saturday, June 2, 2012

Conquest of Nerath, A Bad Week in Seattle

Hello, everybody! Welcome back to another issue of Atomic Dragon Battleship.

Sorry for a tardy posting this time around. I’m up against a deadline on Monday (the Thornkeep book for the friendly folks at Paizo/Goblinworks), so I’ve been burning the candle at both ends to get that design done on time while keeping up with my current novel. I’ll try to get back on schedule next time.

Gaming: I just learned that my conquer-the-world boardgame Conquest of Nerath won the Origins award for best boardgame of 2011. I’ve been fortunate enough to win a handful of Origins awards over my professional career, but this is one I’ll especially prize. In the first place, Conquest of Nerath was something of a labor of love that went seven years between design and publication. Secondly, it’s likely the last Origins I’ll win in the colors of Wizards of the Coast, so it’s one more marker of change in my career. I won my first Origins in 1994 for the Birthright Campaign Setting, and with the callowness of youth I assumed I’d knock one down every year or so. Turns out they don’t come around as often as you might think.

I’m pretty happy with the way Conquest of Nerath turned out. It’s a fun strategy game with good replayability and a solid balance of deterministic elements and randomness. Pete Lee, the lead developer of the game, did a great job of working through the piece balance and card balance. A year or so ago, Pete and I sat down with Rodney Thompson and Jeremy Crawford and played the heck out of the just-printed game for a month and a half of lunchtimes, running through multiple games in different positions, and we were pretty happy with how it turned out. I wish we’d set the game in Krynn or Faerun, but as it turned out we generated some pretty good story content for the Nentir Vale world when we built the map.

If there’s one mechanic I’d change for the game, it’s dragons. We were all over the place in development and playtesting for the cost of the dragon and the exact lineup of its special abilities. (At one point, dragons cost 7 gold each.) But in the real world with thousands of people playing the game, dragons turned out to be too good. It’s hard to see why you don’t just build a stack of 4 or 5 dragons and use that as your army. So, here’s my simple recommendation: You can’t ever have more than 1 dragon of your color in the same space. Dragons are extremely suspicious and paranoid toward their own kind, and never willingly cooperate with each other. If for some reason you end your turn with 2 or more dragons in the same space, they fight until only 1 is left.

The dragon “problem” really isn’t a problem until you have multiple dragons in the same space and multiple hits you can negate. This rule patches that nicely without nerfing the value of an individual dragon in your army. Anyway, if you play Conquest of Nerath and dragons are a problem, try this as a houserule.

Politics/Current Events: This has been a rough week in Seattle. I’m sure most of you have heard about the coffee shop shooting. You may not know that the shooter carjacked a woman a few blocks from the scene and killed her, too. There was also a shooting at the Folk Life Festival in the Seattle Center last weekend (fortunately, not lethal). And on Thursday night there was a shooting right here in my hometown—a 13-year-old boy was killed in his apartment not half a mile from my house.

Most  of the time when you hear about a shooting in the city you live in (or near), you don’t have any connection to it. But this week the six degrees of separation wore thin for my family. My oldest daughter was at the Seattle Center on a school trip when the Folk Life Festival shooting occurred; they hurriedly evacuated the area. My wife’s officemate knew one of the people who had managed to escape the coffee shop, and the mother of my younger daughter’s best friend was close enough to the carjacking scene to hear the shots. And, finally, the boy who was murdered here in Pacific was a good friend of my younger daughter. They were part of the same lunch table and shared many of the same interests. My youngest is shaken up, but seems okay; I don’t think it has really hit her yet. I know that I didn’t lose any close friends until I was in college, so I can’t imagine how I would have reacted at her age (middle school).

It’s impossible to make sense of the senseless, so I’m not going to try. At times like these the only answer I come up with is that God must surely value free will above all else, and allows people to do evil things because making them not happen would do even more harm. Anyway, this week I’m happy to hug my kids and thank God that we still had a degree or two of separation to spare.

The Finer Things: Game of Thrones. I’m finally taking the time to work my way through the series. I have a curious mental defect that makes me delay reading things in proportion to the number of people trying to convince me that I need to read them *now*, so I tend to be the last guy to get around to a popular series. Anyway, I’m halfway through A Clash of Kings now, and I’m really enjoying it. My only problem is that my wife is watching the HBO series, and I don’t dare watch any of the episodes with her.


  1. It's not just your area. My city's crime and violence has gotten so bad some local politicians are calling for the national guard to come in and take charge for a bit. But I do live in the poorest city in the nation (it was officially declared with the last US Census).

    It's obviously far worse for you, though, you have a wife and children to worry about. And I'm glad to hear they are okay.

    But summer is here, maybe you guys should take a long vacation somewhere peaceful if it's in the budget. Maybe go to one of those petrified lake beds on the west coast and chisel out fish fossils for a week or two. that might help.

  2. it has been an odd and unnerving time. I have very positive feelings about living in the Seattle area, but it does seem like every once in a while people start going crazy. I guess these statistical blips happen everywhere, but that's not too comforting.

    I'm particularly sorry your daughter had to experience that.

    I guess I had a slightly similar experience last year, since I had gone to high school with Gabrielle Giffords (didn't know her well) and she was my parents' Congressional representative and they did interact with her a fair bit and went to various of her 'town-meeting' events similar to the one where the shooting happened. I did (and do) find that very unsettling and hard to make sense of.