Thursday, September 29, 2011

JUST GAMING AROUND - More Yucata PLUS Trying out Vassal with 'Inspector Moss 2' - PnP solitaire game design winner (aka Am I Gaming Online Again? 1-Player even?)

I'd stated before that online gaming isn't so much my thing. And then I tried out Yucata back in March and found that I enjoyed it. I played a few games then got busy at the end of the school year and during the summer and didn't revisit online gaming.

Well, a couple of weeks ago I had some friends over and we ALMOST played Hacienda (which I got to play at the Gaming Olympics early last month and wanted to play again), but it was a split decision and we played some other games instead.

My friend garygarison really wanted to try it though so we agreed to give it a go online. I invited him to a game of it, along with 4 or 5 other games (Stone Age and St. Petersburg) with some other online buddies. I haven't had a lot of FTF gaming the last couple of months so it has been a nice way to get in some gaming.

Since that first game we played a couple more times, then moved on to Oregon where he is KING OF OREGON (as he says - he's top ranked on it). We have played several games and finally got to where I only lost by 1 point on a couple of games! And yesterday I finally defeated the King of Oregon!

Anyhow, what's been great about Oregon in particular is that it plays very fast and has a lot of interesting little things going on and every game is different. One game we literally filled up one entire corner of the board and almost nothing else on the board. Other times we've been all over the place. I'm learning to love it's subtleties and fickleness with the card draws (and points draws on the Coal and Gold - which have been KILLING me in the end game, hence losing by 1 point at least twice as a result). I literally cannot stop playing it now. It's been a great way to unwind in the evenings and even get a quick game in during lunch.

I've also been learning to love the tightness and subtleties of St. Petersburg as well. I had never played it before playing online and it's been great online as I can take my time planning out my moves, reviewing what each card's benefits are, etc. The ability to take notes as reminders for myself between turns has been invaluable as well.

I'm really starting to enjoy online play. Who knew!?

I must digress a bit though - what REALLY spurred me to actually plugging in again was a geek mail I got from one of the designers of the game Inspector Moss 2: House Arrest, Jonathan Warren he apparently reads my blog and thought I should check it out. It recently won a recent Print and Play contest: Solitaire Print and Play Contest which is pretty cool.

The other designer is Rebekah B.

Well, I looked at it and, honestly, I thought the artwork was a little strange with heads stuck on pawns as bodies.

The Detective you play - Inspector Moss

The dead guy - John Dough

One of the suspects - Sue Phlaye

And, it's a solitaire game. I don't typically play solitaire games (almost never) - if I have time for myself I'm usually writing about games, pimping games, building my own copies of games, or opening, punching or learning new games. If I'm going to play a game I usually prefer to play with someone else.

Hence, my willingness to play games on Yucata recently - at least it's with SOMEONE. I like the competition against with other players, particularly 2-player games with head-to-head action.

I admitted to Jonathan that I wasn't likely to print it out and make a copy just to play it, but I noticed that it was available on Vassal and might be willing to try it there.

To Vassal or Not To Vassal
Well, I've never actually used Vassal. I sort of knew about it and that it was a computer application that you could make game components and a framework for playing games, but you manage all the rules and such yourself as you normally would playing a table-top board game - you have to know how to play the game. Without going into details I began to see how LARGE a selection of games were available for the Vassal system. Check it out yourself (well, later after reading the rest of this post of course :) )

Still being skeptical I installed Vassal and loaded Inspector Moss - a solitaire game where you are a detective trying to solve a murder? It didn't seem possible that this could be very workable or with much replay value.

Ready to Roll with Moss
Once I got the game loaded, it was obvious I was going to have to read the rules to understand how to play. At first I started reading the rules slowly. Then, I started getting more into it the further I got into the rules. It sounded kind of interesting. Well, *very* interesting actually. I could see it was a puzzly sort of game but with movements and actions restricted by dice rolls. Actually, I thought the whole mechanic sounded very clever.

What's Vassal Got to Do With It?
As I was reading through the rules I was starting to play the game as well. Not having used Vassal before it took me a bit to get used to the interface. With Yucata the system handles just about everything for you and has tips for elements when you hover over them.

There's very little of that with Vassal - you get all the components and a couple of buttons (such as to start a new turn, roll dice, etc) but you get to move all the bits around yourself, rotating them as necessary, keeping score as necessary, etc. This lends itself to making mistakes, but also leaves it open to be able to play games the way you want, back up/redo if necessary, etc.

I love this...I love having control and being able to play the way I want to play. Yes, it's nice when the computer keeps track of everything for you, but sometimes you want to be able have more control and play the way you want to play.

Anyhow, the game! 'Inspector Moss 2: House Arrest' goes like this: you are Inspector Oliver Moss investigating the death of John Dough, wealthy bachelor and owner of a large baking company. During a party he was killed in his house where 11 guests were attending - you and what are now 10 murder suspects. A judge orders an injuntion to lock the house down and you must explore the house, examine the evidence, find the murderer, arrest them and haul them out to the waiting police car. And, you only have 45 minutes to do it!

I'm not going to go into full details, but here are the basics to give you a flavor of the gameplay:

* First you roll 7 white dice and 1 red die. You decide which dice to 'lock' and which to re-roll. You can re-roll twice more. You can even re-roll 'locked' dice on the 3rd roll if you wish. And, yes, you might want to do this.

* Then, you can use 6 of the 8 dice in different combinations including:

  - Move (1 die, 2 pair, 3-of-a-kind) -- Go through open doors using the matching dice number of a neighboring room that is connected. You may need a pair or 3-of-a-kind of that specific room number to get through locked doors to go that way - very 'expensive' use of your dice. There are also 'secret' passages that may let you move quickly across the board.

Also, as you move into new rooms you begin to 'see' more of the house and neighboring connected rooms (and items in them) are revealed.

  - Reveal evidence (small straight, i.e. 2,3,4,5) - The 'evidence' is arrows that point in different directions that prove suspects as innocent (if they are pointed to). The arrows can be rotated to point any direction. This action also lets you re-rotate previously placed arrows if you use it again in the same room (i.e. re-examine the evidence)

  - Collect assistance tokens (3-of-a-kind) - If you are in a room with an assistance token you can pick it up. These tokens help you out by giving you 1 of 10 different special abilities including a key to go through any doors for only 1 die, a flashlight that lets you use secret passageways for NO dice, and a phone which lets you switch any 2 evidence tokens.

  - Make an arrest (5-of-a-kind) - If you have eliminated 9 of the 10 suspects, you know who did it! Go to that suspect's location and roll a 5-of-a-kind to arrest them. Once you are successful you must then haul them off to the waiting police car (outside the house)

Time Keeps on Rolling, Rolling, Rolling....
After rolling the dice and taking all of your actions, you then must account for the amount of time spent on that turn. There is a timer (score track) that goes from 60 (minutes) down to 0. The standard game you start on 45 and must make the arrest before time is up. You can make the game easier or harder by allowing more or less time. This is a terrific way to ramp up the challenge once you get good at it!

The way time works is this: No matter what the Red die value was when you stopped rolling, that is the amount of time taken. Thus, 1 to 6 'minutes'. This occurs whether you used the red die for your actions or not. I really like this mechanic - very well done!

In addition, if (and only if) you used any 6's in your turn, each counts as 1 more minute. Why for just the 6's? Well, because a 6 is 'wild' meaning you can use it as any number you want. But it will cost you if you use it in terms of a time penalty (even if you use the 6 as an actual 6 you are penalized)

Also, if you used a secret passage, you must also account for this 'extra' time spent by adding the numbers of the passage end values then moving your time marker down the same amount.

Every Little Thing You Do Is...Important
One more interesting little twist is the mechanic for placing the police car - you can actually control it a bit sometimes. The first tile you place that has a door to the 'outside' of the house (on the outside edge), the police car is then placed there. You can see that it might be to your advantage to delay that 'choice' as long as possible to try to get the murderer and the police as near each other as possible.

In my first play, this was definitely my downfall. Once I worked the evidence to narrow it down to just one suspect who was the murderer, that person ended up being on the complete opposite side of the house from the police car. AND, I only had a few minutes left on the clock....needless to say I got pretty close to winning the game (probably just 3 or 4 turns at most) but alas, he got away :(

It's all these little things of how you place the tiles, how you place the evidence, how you leverage your dice that brings everything together and presents you with an interesting challenge.

Turn, Turn, Turn
I may have left out a small rule here or there, but that's basically the game play. What I discovered from my reading of the rules was what seemed to be a clever and potentially interesting game, for 1 player, in the vein of a 'puzzle' game where you must manipulate the board to get the result you want/need, while also managing risk with the dice and fighting a quickly (sometimes VERY quickly) running clock.

Obviously, you can see that a time limit of 45 means anywhere from 7 to 45 turns (if you never used wild dice that is)...that's a HUGE range. Of course, luck of the dice dictates. If you figure an average of 3 to 4 minutes per turn (rolls + wilds), that's roughly 11-15 turns.

So, you have to be efficient, but you also need to be a little bit bold as well and push your luck in the dice rolling to get the most actions out of a turn that you can. Remember that even though you may have a certain number of turns, you can perform multiple actions on a turn based on your rolls and how the game is set up.

Whoooooo are you?
So, before I give my opinion, there is one last thing that is fun to read. The characters in the game ultimately are just pawns in the game. HA! Literally! But, they are all given colorful and pun-ny backstories in this geeklist: Dicing... with Death: Introducing the Characters of Inspector Moss 2

Take a read and get to know the characters a bit...none of this makes any difference in the game, but it gives you a sense for 'who' they are.

The evidence before the court is incontrivertable...
So, I have to say that I enjoyed playing this game. I enjoyed it quite a lot, more than I expected. I found myself engaged in it and pushing myself to make good decisions with the re-rolls as well as the actions. I would formulate a plan and then try to get the rolls to execute on it while also trying to keep wilds down and the 'minutes' per turn down.

It was fun trying to get the evidence to eliminate enough suspects and get them oriented the right way. The 'assistance' special actions were very helpful and I had to figure out how I could best put them to use.

So, here's a shot near the end of the first game I played on Vassal:

You can see by the 'timer' in the top-left that it is near 0 so I don't have many turns left at this point. I have narrowed the suspects down to 1 (Sue Phlaye, you bad little...pawn you!) but she is across the house from me and, worse, her location is clear across the house AGAIN from the waiting police car. Thus, I must make good use of my dice rolls and hope I get low time usage per turn.

I have two 'assistance' items in my favor: the 'clock' (far left) which allows me to eliminate any time used for 1 turn (basically a free turn), and I also have the flashlight which lets me take the secret passageways without incurring any additional time penalty. Both very helpful in the endgame.

Well, as you can see from my roll, I didn't get quite what I needed. I was able to use a 5 to move to the neighboring room, then another 5 to move to the diagonal room from there using the secret passageway (which doesn't cost me any time with the flashlight), then 2 of the twos to move to the neighboring room through 1 unlocked door. I had another 2, but actually needed 3 of them to move into the room with Sue. So, accusations would be waiting for one more round. Also notice I had two dice that I didn't even get to use (i.e. two dice of the 6 that I was 'using') - and using the 6 didn't even really help me. AND, the red die was a 6! Ugh. So, I had to spend my clock to allow myself more time on future turns.

I won't play out the whole rest of the game here, but you can see that the odds were stacked against me. Once I got to the room with Sue Phlaye in it, I couldn't arrest her! Man, she's one tough EGG! By the time I did the time for the injunction ran out before I could get her out the to police car and had to let her go free. But I was pretty darn close for my first play! I need to play this again!

Well, overall I feel there is a nice mix of luck and decision making with enough elements to keep it interesting and yet not overwhelming. Other than the special actions which each have their own ability, the rules are pretty simple once you get the hang of them. And, even with the abilities added in, only a couple of them come out during a game so you just have to look those ones up as they appear.

Overall I like the artwork and look of the game. I'm still not overly crazy about the faces on the pawns, but it certainly does give it some...ah...character ;)

A couple of things I might suggest tweaking in the game:
First, I ALMOST want to say change the pawn artwork, only because it might actually turn some people off before they even give it a further look. BUT, it also makes it distinctive and gives it a bit of personality, so it's difficult to actually suggest doing that.

One thing I would suggest changing in the game is the 'Bomb' assistance action. It really doesn't make sense that a detective would place a bomb and create an opening between two rooms. Why not just make it a resolving book case or something? Much more 'mystery in an old house' feeling. The bomb just doesn't fit the theme.

Another change I might suggest - the arrows for the evidence are kind of boring - I think they should either be fingers pointing (which only sort of makes sense but at least goes with the theme) or something else that suggests 'innocence' that I can't think of at the moment. I like the fingers pointing idea at least.

Also, the Informant assistance doesn't seem to be as strong as the other ones. Why not let you look one time at ANY facedown evidence (or maybe ANY?) token (i.e. you don't have to be in the same room) - it seems an informant may be MORE likely to tell you about evidence you do NOT have direct access to. It also lets you be able to plan ahead when working with other evidence. (Also, why doesn't the informant picture have a head of some shady guy whispering or something?)

These are minor quibbles though in a very strong game and it's no wonder it took first place in the Solitaire PnP contest!

The Final Countdown
So, when I played my first game I wondered how it would all come together. And, I was pleasantly surprised. One of my initial concerns was around if it would always be 'solvable' given the mix of randomization going on. Not solvable in the sense of easy to find the solution, just that the concept even worked. Well, I didn't see it manifest into a problem, so that seems to check out.

I will say the game theme suggests 'deduction' but this game isn't really about that - it's about manipulating the board to get the result you want - a single guilty suspect (also note that eliminating ALL pawns causes you to lose immediately). This might disappoint people that expect something else, but if you like puzzly games you should LOVE this one as I certainly did. Plus, the addition of the clock is brilliant as, obviously, you'd be able to put it all together and be successful at some point, but trying to do it within a set time limit is really the key to making this game 'exciting'.

Well, that's the story on this interesting PnP game from a couple of fellow BGGers. I suggest you go out and give this game a go (or maybe even one of the other 165 PnP Solitaire contest games entered) - you might just find a hidden gem (or murderer)

Oh, one final note: There aren't too many components to make a physical copy of this fact, I have plans already to make my own copy, partly because I like the game and partly because I serendipitously have enough round and square tokens as left-over parts from other games as well as some nifty dice and even some boards and a box that are almost exactly the right size for everything. I even have some 'pawns' I might use for the characters (but not sure if I'll be putting little heads on them or not)

1 comment:

  1. The pawns with peoples' heads on top is very likely a homage to early Cluedo, where people were depicted just like that. It was actually one of the things that drew me to the game.



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