Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Session Report – Under the Mountain – Session 5

[This session happened January 16th, 2017.  The Other GM was running.]

[Most of this play session was flashback to Tuesday and the three mages casting the ward at the safe house and nearly killing themselves by overdoing it.  That action is covered in the notes for Sessions 2 and 3.  We missed the sentence in the Ritual Magic section where you can spend reagents to soak the drain.  The critical sentence is in the casting paragraph, NOT the resisting drain paragraph where we were looking for it, which is damn poor organization of your rules.  There should have been at least a cross-reference to tell us to look for the rule.  This is one of the standing issues I have with the 5th edition Shadowrun rules – they edited for brevity and not clarity.]



PCs
Void – female night elf physical adept B&E specialist, a shadow that blends in easily
Moondance – male street samurai with an Ares fetish and a sniper specialization [new character]
Sin – male human rigger, knows exactly the wrong thing to say and says it
Prometheus – male human street samurai, handy with any firearm
Wasabi – young male human mage with more than a touch of ADHD [new character]
Ezekiel Tee – male human mage of the Zoroastrian tradition

NPC’d
Killroy – male human street samurai, specializes in hand-to-hand combat (and apparently machineguns)
The Fin – female human con artist and gambler from India, by way of Russia, posh and elegant
Bookie – male elf alcoholic hacker, favors whiskey with a whiskey chaser


Saturday, May 30, 2076
Afternoon
Baelthor and Ezekiel Tee, recovered from the overcasting back on Tuesday, ritually casted a [Force 7] Ward circle in the safe house.  The circle was large enough to hold the entire team, the target, and some defensive barricades in case the worst happened and Aztechnology found and attacked the safe house.  Once we grabbed the target, got back to the safe house, and eased the target in the warded mage bag inside this ward, the target would be behind two major wards [both Force 7], making her virtually unfindable magically.  Add a [Strength 7] jammer to block any homing signals and it should be nigh impossible for Aztechnology to find her.

As long as they don’t have a way to bypass “virtually unfindable” or “nigh impossible”, hence the defensive barricades.  [We just weren't certain what the GM was going to throw at us.]

The rest of the team, while reviewing the plan ONE LAST TIME, decide to get some supplemental equipment: four dirt boards, to speed up movement through the air vents, and a hardware toolkit for Void.  [I don’t remember why she wanted the toolkit and my notes don’t indicate the reason.]

Evening
Wasabi finished summoning the last of his three helper spirits for the run.  The plan didn’t have a specific need for them, but up against heavy magic foes it’s better to be prepared than wanting.

Sunday, June 1, 2076
Wasabi and Baelthor summoned up some watcher spirits for the safe house and then went to sleep, being exhausted.  [Both PCs were also running short on Edge and wanted to get back a point before the run started.]

With the planning done and the equipment secured, the team had to wait for “Go” time.  This gave the team [Prometheus, mostly] time to realize the audacity of what they had planned, the level of danger they were accepting, how long they were going to have to be targets before they could turn over the target, and how small the cut from the pay was going to be for team member.  The team decided [again, mostly Prometheus, channeling Sam from the movie RONIN] the numbers didn’t add up and sent Moondance back to Mr. Johnson for a raise in pay.  The team wanted Mr. Johnson’s organization to accept delivery as soon as we had the target (around 3:00 AM Monday morning) or we got paid double for adding the all-day babysitting gig and the fat bull’s eyes on our foreheads.  We also wanted 25% up front before we started the run.  Otherwise, we would walk away and Mr. Johnson could hire someone not as good as us at the last minute for a run that was highest stakes dangerous.

Then we waited.

Eventually Moondance called back, after meeting with Mr. Johnson.  Mr. Johnson insisted the delivery could not happen before 8:00 PM Monday evening, at the agreed upon location.  Mr. Johnson also would not pay double for the job, but he would increase the pay by another 150,000¥ with 35% paid by sundown.  He also stated that if the job was not successfully completed, the balance would be posted as a bounty on each of us.  We found his terms acceptable and reasonable.

Sundown
210,000¥ was deposited in the Pleiades Group’s Pay Receivables account.  The run was “Go”.

Monday, June 2, 2076, 2:00 AM
The team arrived at their respective trigger points for the run, ready to start the run.

End of Session

[This is the first and only time the PCs have ever re-negotiated the fee mid-run.  The players felt justified due to the immense danger we were going to face while sitting on the target for 18 hours.  We would have accepted lots more money or immediate delivery.  We were kind of hoping they’d cheap out and go for immediate delivery of the hot potato, but that’s not how things played out.]

[Philosophically, Shadowrunners need to know when a job is too dangerous and be willing to bail on the job.  Players can get tunnel vision and locked in on the pay at the end, but if your character doesn’t survive to get paid, what good is the promise of a payday?  This run wasn’t that situation, but you could see it from where we were standing.  If there was no inside man (Hercules Mulligan!) or we didn’t have access to enough mages, we would have needed to bail on this one.]

Session 1
Sessions 2 and 3
Session 4

Session 6 [Not Yet Written]
Session 7 [Not Yet Written]


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Session Report – Under the Mountain – Session 4

[This session happened January 9th, 2017.  This is the last of the planning sessions and the one where we wrote out our plan, working backwards from our escape.  The Other GM was running.]

[This is the game session Ezekiel Tee’s player joined the group.  Adding new players during the planning stages of a shadowrun can be difficult as the GM may not have planned something for their character to do in the run.  Additionally, if the planning is too far along it becomes difficult story-wise to insert a new character for no apparent reason.  As it was, we realized needed an Awakened character to run a distraction for us, so fitting Ezekiel Tee into the plan was easy.  Not so much for the other new player who ended up with no “screen time” at all and dropped from the group before the end of the run.  I understand his frustration and am sorry the timing did not work out.]

[In hindsight, we should only ever add new players between runs.  This allows a smoother transition, allows the GM to include them in the run planning, and involve them from the get-go.]

PCs
Void – female night elf physical adept B&E specialist, a shadow that blends in easily
Moondance – male street samurai with an Ares fetish and a sniper specialization [new character]
Sin – male human rigger, knows exactly the wrong thing to say and says it
Prometheus – male human street samurai, handy with any firearm
Wasabi – young male human mage with more than a touch of ADHD [new character]
Ezekial Tee – male human mage of the Zoroastrian tradition

NPC’d
Killroy – male human street samurai, specializes in hand-to-hand combat (and apparently machineguns)
The Fin – female human con artist and gambler from India, by way of Russia, posh and elegant
Bookie – male elf alcoholic hacker, favors whiskey with a whiskey chaser


Thursday, May 28, 2076, Evening
The team planned out the escape, working backwards to bagging the target.  This is what the final form of the list looked like, from back-to-front:

  • Sin drives the infiltration team away in a warded vehicle to the safe house.
  • Ares Roadmaster, driven remotely by Sin, drives up street location nearest hidden air vent.
  • Infiltration team climbs up exit air vent to hidden surface air vent.
  • Infiltration team transfers from the lab’s outflow air vent to the surface air vent in underground HVAC facility via maintenance access hatches.
  • Bookie loops security cameras in underground HVAC facility.
  • Infiltration team crawls through the lab’s outflow air vent.
  • Infiltration team access Lab outflow air vent using “portable door” explosives.
  • Bookie shuts off security monitors on Lab outflow air vent.
  • Wasabi casts Sound Barrier on “portable door” explosives.
  • Prometheus sets “portable door” explosives to cut through the floor to the lab’s outflow air vent.
  • Wasabi casts Looking Glass on the floor to locate the lab’s outflow air vent.
  • Infiltration team makes its way down the back stairs from the Residences floor (2nd, middle floor) to the Experimentation floor (3rd and lowest floor).
  • Infiltration team crosses hallway to back stairs.
  • Bookie loops cameras monitoring the back hallway of the Residences floor (2nd, middle floor).
  • Infiltration team cuts through interior walls from the target’s bedroom to the living space closest to the back stairwell, using NeruoStun as needed on occupants.
  • Infiltration team bags the target.

[Planning from the end forward helps notice any gaps in the plan and reminds us about gear and preparations we need to have with us at the beginning for later in the run.]

The team decided it needed a little more information to plan the break-in and arranged to meet with Hercules Mulligan, the inside man.  The team placed an order for three oil-dispersion grenades (“lube grenades” as we took to calling them) as a method to make the stairs behind them impassible by security, in case an alert went out before they exited.  [We discovered these in the equipment list of one of the later books and immediately saw their defensive potential.]  The grenades were available and would be delivered late Friday.  [I didn’t note whose contact we used, but I suspect it was Killroy’s.]

Wasabi started summoning three spirits (an Earth spirit, a Water spirit, and a Plant spirit) for assistance during the run.  To avoid being exhausted during the run, he will spread the summonings out and finish the string of summonings Saturday afternoon.

Friday, May 29, 2076
Lunchtime
Prometheus met with Hercules Mulligan to get details and answers to hanging questions about the security setup for the lab.  One of the things Prometheus learned was that there is a watcher spirit on the roof of the building, which will need to be distracted.  Hercules Mulligan confirmed he will be on duty Sunday/Monday night and will be the only one who can see the monitors for the elevator down to the lab.  He and Prometheus worked out communication protocols for use during the run to avoid blowing Hercules Mulligan’s cover.

At the same time, Void scouted out the entry area for the lab.  As this area was inside a retail space (fully owned and operated by Aztechnology through several shell corporations), doing so was much easier than would otherwise have been the case.  She located a pressure plate alarm outside the front door, several security cameras, and the make and model of the locks she will have to bypass [she rolled amazingly well with her security systems knowledge skill + Edge].

Afternoon
The team regrouped and shared the information they had gathered.  To distract the watcher spirit, Ezekiel Tee will cast invisibility on himself and spray-paint graffiti on a nearby residential building in full view of the watcher spirit.  This will draw the spirit and its attention to the back of the target building, allowing the infiltration team to enter through the front while invisible without raising any magical alarms.  Ezekiel was scheduled to start spray painting at 2:40 AM, Monday, and then leave at 2:50 AM, providing the infiltration team a 10-minute window to approach and enter the building.

Void reported on the ground-floor security.  She was confident she could bypass the locks and get the infiltration team inside during the 10-minute window with time to spare.  Bookie felt he could loop the cameras during the same window.  The entry plan was finalized and times set.

Evening
The "lube grenades" arrived via courier.  Prometheus dutifully read the user’s manual that came with them.

End of Session

[So clearly this was the most planning we’d done for a single run since the start of the campaign.  Four sessions of prep-work, gathering data and equipment from multiple sources to make it difficult to track afterwards.  We were a bit paranoid about Aztechnology’s reputation and really did not want to get on their hit list as a result of the run.  Looking ahead in my notes, we don’t actually start the run in the next session, but finish the prep work and perform a ret-con, which I’ll explain in the next entry.  This is what the later stages of a Shadowrun campaign can be like.  We’ve always done a lot of planning to do our best to make sure the actual run goes off as smoothly as possible.  Never “without a hitch”, because Shadowrun, but as smoothly as we can get away with.  There is another group we know of that uses the “barrel in, guns ablazing” approach and pays and pays for it in Notoriety and being treated as disposable by their clients.  That’s not how the Pleiades Group does things and as a result, we get fat paydays and respect.  We’re also starting to get nigh impossible jobs against hard, vengeful targets, but that’s success in the Sixth World, neh?]


Session 1
Sessions 2 and 3

Session 5
Session 6 [Not Yet Written]
Session 7 [Not Yet Written]

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2017 Board Game Review


I made it back to the Lone Star Gaming Fest again this past New Year’s weekend.  For fiscal reasons my wife and I were only able to attend three of the four days, but we still had a great time.  Next year we should have enough saved up to stay at the hotel at least three nights and attend all four days of the convention.  I am very much looking forward to that.

Now, on to the game reviews.

Twilight Imperium, 4th Edition (2-8 players)
Released in November 2017, the fourth edition of Twilight Imperium is exactly what I wanted from a long form strategic game: clear play without crunchy-rule inspired game delays.  I last played TI using 2nd Edition and it was a slogfest that lasted all day.  They’ve made tweaks to the rules and presentation of tech so that the game with 3 new-ish players (none of us had played 4th edition) and one teaching player only took six hours from box opening until we had a winner.  Actual game play (as opposed to board setup and rules explanation) was about 4.5 hours.  The player mats had all the ships and their stats laid out and tech upgrade cards to ships fit right on top of the old ship stats.  This allowed players to easily see what each other’s ships could do without having to continually ask what was upgraded and what wasn’t.  The public objectives are now do-able for modest payouts and none of the secret objectives were stupid hard, speeding up scoring during the game and shortening overall game length.

I liked this enough that I want to join the local TI player’s group so I can play it more.  The $150 price tag is a bit steep for me to buy a copy myself, but if I get more plays in this year, it might become reasonable to do.

Unfair (2-5 players)
The goal of Unfair is to build the best theme park using Rides, Upgrades, and occasionally throwing dirty tricks at your competitors.  The game lasts 8 turns (with players getting 3-4 actions in rounds each turn) and whoever has the most points in rides at the end wins.  Rides score points based on the number of upgrades added and I should note the scoring chart goes up to 36 upgrades with the value per upgrade increasing the further up you go.  Points are also scored for money in hand and a few other methods based on cards played in game.  The artwork is great and the color text on the cards is a hoot.

Like Smash-up, there are different themed sub-decks that are selected and added together to create the common decks the players will draw from.  The themes are fun and add flavor, but don’t dominate gameplay.  The game I played included Robots, Jungle, Gangsters, and B-Movies (a theme being play-tested and not currently published).

This was very fun and is now on my Must Acquire list.  Gameplay was about 2 hours, but it was getting late and we started losing track of whose turn it was.  I think with repeat play the playtime will drop down noticeably.  This game is easily teachable to non-gamers.

London Underground (prototype) (2-6 players)
There were several prototype games being played at the convention and this was one of them.  It was Saturday morning, I was looking for a game, and allowed myself to be roped into playing this one.  I was surprised by how engaging it turned out to be.  It uses an actual map of the London subway system, which was attractive.  You moved your token along the rails making deliveries (it is, in its essence, a train game).  At the end, the person who won did so just before I was going to and another two players were within stabbing distance of a win as well, so the balance was good.

I can’t go into more detail, but when this comes out I think I want a copy.

Liar’s Dice (tournament) (2-8 players)
This was fun, but the rules version where a failed challenge cost you the difference in dice washed me out early.  The version of the rules I’m familiar with costs you only one die and losing four in one go was a surprise.  Still had fun and stayed to watch my table play out.

The sets used in the tournament were home-built using components from a teacher supply store with printed rules and a board to show the current “bet”.  My wife scored a set for home use after the tournament.

Sol: Last Days of a Star (1 to 4 players)
Confession: I love this game.  Friends own a copy of Sol and I ask to play it every time they bring it over.  It is on my Must Acquire list, right at the top, and where part of my tax refund is going this year.  I taught the game to three other players, including the owners of this particular set who owned it but had never played it.  There is also a solo version of the game, but I've never tried those rules out.

In the far future, the sun is dying.  The far descendants of humanity need to power colony ships to escape before the sun goes nova.  To get the power they need, they must harvest it from the sun.  This is further destabilizing the sun, making the nova more immanent.  Game on!

The colony ships orbit the sun (also providing a mechanism to track whose turn it is) while smaller sundiver ships dive into the sun to build the structures necessary to harvest energy, transmit energy to the colony ships, and build more sundivers.  The deeper into the sun the stations are built, the more effective they are but the faster they destabilize the sun.  Destabilization is handled by drawing cards from a deck, the deeper the layer, the more cards drawn (from one to three cards).  In the deck are 13 Flare cards.  When the 13th one is drawn, the sun goes nova and only the colony ship with the most momentum (victory points) escapes.  Everyone else dies in the nova.  This makes the game a balance of getting things done versus blowing up the sun before you are ready.  When the deck starts getting low, things get tense.

This game is worth the cost.  The components are beautiful and the theme meshes well with the game play.  Gameplay is about 2 hours, depends on how much analysis paralysis your players are susceptible to.  The only downside to this game is that the silver colony ship looks like a pair of kids scissors (which has no bearing on play, but really guys?).  I don’t know what the manufacturers were thinking, but there it is.  (I always play blue.)  Other than that one minor thing, this is really a perfect game.

Divinity Derby (3-6 players)
Divinity Derby was just released in December and is beautiful.  The fully painted mythological monsters are beautiful, the board is beautiful, the cards are beautiful.  There was some argument over whether or not the players have enough information at the beginning of the game to place their bets on the racing monsters.  I think there is from 3 to 5 players, but for 6 players maybe not.  As a result of this argument, two of the five players left after the first of three races and the game ended, which was unfortunate.

The players sit around the table and between each player seat is a card holder with six cards.  You can look at the cards adjacent to you and use that information to place face-down 2 bet cards on two different monsters.  Part way through the race you will be able to place a third bet.  The bet cards have one to three race positions on them.  The more positions listed, the less the bet is worth.

Once bets are placed, players take turns playing one card each from the two racks next to them.  The Race cards show a monster and two values (ranging 0-3 plus a 5), one greater than the other.  Of the two cards, the player plays one at the high value and one at the low value.  The values are how many spaces the monster on the card will move, then the cards are discarded.  The race ends when all the Race cards are played.  Some of the cards can be played as dirty tricks, which risks the monster being disqualified by Zeus at the end of the race, depends on whether he was paying attention or not (random draw).

There are also two special power cards for each deity that are unique to the deity and either modify race positions or bets or whether or which dirty tricks might get noticed.

I liked this game and want to play it again.  I’d also like to read the rules instead of having them explained to me.  There was a point that came up that I would have liked verified.  At $40 this is a good deal.

Camel Up Card Game (2-6 players)
Racing camels and betting on them each round and for the over all race – that’s Camel Up Card Game.  This is the Camel Up (originally Camel Cup) board game in cards.  Each round the players choose 3 of 6 cards to be included in the race, some being shown and some being kept as a hole card.  This provides great replayability as you never know exactly which camels will move or how far each round.  Each turn a player performs a race action (which moves the camels along the races track) and optionally performs a betting action (which is where you get points).  Our race lasted three rounds because I pushed the lead camel across the line, so 3-4 rounds seems likely for each game, meaning a 30 minute play time is possible.  I think 45-60 minutes will be more likely, depending on how chatty the players are and, again, on analysis paralysis.

If you like Camel Up, you will like this game.  If you want a short racing game, you’ll probably like this game.  For $19.99, you can’t go too far wrong.  I’ll be buying this game this year, now that I’ve played it.

Azul (2-4 players)
Another beautiful game that is tactilely pleasing, Azul is literally a tile placement game where the players are selecting sets of tiles from the common play area to slowly fill a tile floor pattern on their play card.  Options for tiles are to draw a set from factories, discarding the remaining tiles to the center, or drawing a set from the center.  Like Yahtzee, you can only score sets of fixed numbers, ranging from one-of-a-kind to five-of-a-kind.  Extras fall to your workfloor row and count as negative points at the end of the round.  Points are scored at the end of each round for adjacent tiles and at the end of the game for complete sets and rows or columns of tiles.

This game can play quickly, but analysis paralysis will kill it, dragging out what should be a relatively quick game.  Non-gamers will be able to understand this game and it makes a good family game (for, you know, gamer families).

The bad news is that this game is currently out of stock.  If you can get it for the MSRP of $40 or near that, do it.  Otherwise, wait until the restock in March 2018.  It’s worth it.

Mystic Vale (2-4 players)
Mystic Vale is a deck building game where the sleeved cards can be upgraded with inserts.  The game comes with more than enough sleeves for the player decks.  The inserts stick a bit when the game is first opened, so you need to separate them before attempting a shuffle.  They did not re-adhere to each other during play, so that seems to be a one-time issue.  The rules are laid out well for learning the game.

The number of cards you have to work with each turn varies from 2 to “a lot”.  How many cards you get is limited by the blight icon that appear on cursed lands and some of the upgrades (you stop at 3 and bust on 4).  There are two economies: mana for card upgrades and spirit symbols for vale cards that provide constant benefits each turn.  The card upgrades are on transparent cards that with images that occupy the top middle or bottom of the card.  You may not overlap images and some of your starting cards have images on them, so this will limit you.  Plan ahead with your upgrades.

The MSRP is $44.99 and this seems to be a fair price for everything that comes with the game.  There are already three released expansions and likely more on the way.  If you like deck building games, this is a good game.  If you are so-so on deck building games, you might still look at this.  The number of cards in your deck never changes, but the cards keep getting better as you play.  This avoids the long wait for a particular card that can happen in games like Dominion.  My wife, who hates deck-building games, loves this game.

BONUS REVIEW

One Deck Dungeon (1-2 players, 4 with two sets of the game)
I didn’t play this at the convention, but it ended up among my games when I got home and unpacked.  It had ID in it, so I know who to return it to, but in the meantime, we played a couple games of it and loved it.

One Deck Dungeon allows one or two players (four if you combine two sets) to explore a small dungeon, represented by a deck of cards.  The deck of cards are a timing mechanism for each of three dungeon levels (you flip two cards to the discard pile each turn) and represent the rooms with monsters you can explore for experience, loot, or skills.  Each turn you either explore (and draw face down cards so there are 4 rooms to explore) or kick down a door and face either a monster or trap.  If what you find behind the door is too scary to face right now, you can flee and end your turn.  Otherwise, you roll dice to resolve the trap or kill the monster.

You will always kill the monster of get past the trap.  What you are really doing is rolling dice and placing them on the card's threat spots to minimize the consequences the room.  If you don’t roll well enough with the right dice (yellow for fighting skill, pink for agility, blue for magic, and black wild dice) to cover all the challenge squares on the card, you take the effects of the uncovered squares.  This can be damage, time lost, or both.

At the bottom of the deck is a stairs card.  When this comes up you either descend to the next level of the dungeon or linger on this level to finish kicking down doors.  The danger of lingering is that there are no more cards to discard for time, so instead you put damage tokens on the deck.  Every time there are three tokens, the players must allocate a point of damage to a character.  Linger too long and a character can die and the dungeon wins.

After the third level, you must face the dungeon boss.  This fight will take multiple rounds as the boss only takes damage from certain threat spots on its card and can take more damage than can be dealt in one round.  If you have not improved your characters enough, this fight can be very, very tough.  Again, if either player dies, the dungeon wins.

I plan to buy a set of this and a set of the expansion when the expansion comes out at the end of March.  Depending on how well they play together or separate, I may buy a second set of both for 4-player mode.  At $20 for One Deck Dungeon and $25 for the expansion/second game, it’s a good deal.


That's it for this year.  Session 3 of Under the Mountain will appear next week.