Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden Review

As I played Mutant Year Zero a realization struck me about the subtitle of the game: Road to Eden.

On the surface it’s appropriate because it is an on-the-nose reference to your characters physical journey as they explore the “Zone” in search of a fabled location called Eden. However, on a completely different level (and probably only in my mind), the road to Eden is your personal journey as you try to understand the inner workings of the game: the rules the game is built upon and the interface in which you use to play it.

Continue reading “Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden Review”

Keeping Campaigns Organized with Kanka

Kanka.io
Around the start of 2020 I started working on what was then a conversion of the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons module Ruins of Adventure into 5th edition D&D. The module took place in the expansive Forgotten Realms setting originally created by Ed Greenwood in 1967 as the backdrop of his childhood stories but brought into Dungeons & Dragons two decades later. Since then countless forms of media from novels to computer games have been released using this setting, including the roleplaying game that sparked my infatuation, Pool of Radiance.
Continue reading “Keeping Campaigns Organized with Kanka”

Betrayal at House on the Hill – Tabletop Review

Wanting to get together with friends during this Covid-19 lockdown but not wanting to break quarantine protocol and spread the disease, I reached out to a member of my community who was wonderful enough to gift me a copy of Tabletop Simulator and promptly got a list of games together to play which included Betrayal at House on the Hill, but with so many games out there, is this game worth your money and time?

 ⚅⚅⚅

The story behind Betrayal at House on the Hill doesn’t matter.

Rather, the story behind Betrayal at House on the Hill is simply whatever you want or need it to be in order to get your group of various characters to the house sitting atop the hill because this wonderful game by Avalon Hill knows it’s what happens within these walls that truly matters. It’s what transpires behind that locked door that provides the most entertainment, and what happens is a lot of fun with a twist of betrayal!

I played this game with three of my friends, but it can be played with up to six total each taking the role of one of the six characters in the game who have varying ages and backgrounds. However, this is all just for flavor. It will be their attributes that you will want to keep an eye on as they are what impact the gameplay.

Beginning a game of Betrayal at House on the Hill
The fun begins…

Speed, might, sanity and intelligence are the four attributes that will affect how you interact with the world around you in various ways. Speed, for example, not only gives you the number of tiles you can move each turn, but affects how you interact with certain items or events when called on. The Revolver item allows you to use your speed attribute when you attack rather than your might – the more common attribute used with melee weapons – which is obviously a good thing, or is it?

The first phase of this game – the exploration phase – is a cooperative experience in which all the players take turns to move throughout the house into random rooms stopping only to investigate the items, events or omens they find within. You are free to share these items and omens as long as you are in the same room as other characters and the card allows it, and there is justification to do so. After all, the first member to die will be the weakest link, the one with the lowest attributes and the least amount of items to help them.

Item cards

Items are generally used to attack enemy, raise your attributes or aid you in some way and you are able to take them with you and trade them.

Event cards

Events happen on the spot, generally heavily rely on a dice roll giving you a heavy chance to hinder as well as help you and can not be taken with you.

Omen cards

Omens are almost a mix of the two. Sometimes you take them with you, but others happen on the spot. Sometimes they can help you but they can also hurt you. Sometimes you can trade them with others. Every time you get an omen, however, you have to make a haunt roll meaning you have to roll six dice and meet or beat the number of omen cards on the table. If you do, the games continue. If you don’t, the haunting begins.

☠ THE HAUNTING ☠

Haunting chart
The many different forms of haunting.

Depending on what the omen was and what room it was found in, you may find yourself in one of a hundred different hauntings which is amazing for replayability keeping things fresh. Also, you never know who is going to be the haunted. It may be the person who drew the omen card, or it may be somebody with the lowest called on attribute – intelligence, for example. This is the justification for not helping other players during the exploration phase. If the player you are helping turns into the traitor, you will have been making the enemy stronger all along and taking valuable resources from the survivors.

Our first run was haunting number 38: Hellbeasts.

Haunt 38: Hellbeasts

This one has the person who pulled the omen turn traitor – in this case: MotherTrix. Using rules that only she could read, she simply turned traitor which means she could not help our cause, but also had to place firebats in the house which tracked us down to drain us of blood to breed. Not particularly nice.

The rest of us, as the survivors, read our rules which stated to win we had to exorcise the firebats from the house by performing an exorcism ritual – a sanity or intelligence roll – in certain rooms and on certain items equal to the amount of players. If we didn’t have the rooms or items, we had to search until we did. Oh, and we couldn’t attack the firebats either.

This had the full potential to easily overcome us, but we luckily had the items and rooms needed so we quickly laid out our best strategy, had four good rolls and the game was over quickly in our favor.

Survivors = 1. Traitor = 0.

The next game we played didn’t turn out so well. It was haunting number 59: The Fleshchild’s Alchemical Mandate, and it was a bitch.

Haunt 59: The Fleshchild's Alchemical Mandate

The basic idea is the traitor – FatsackFails, in this case – has now turned into this Fleshchild who must go around gathering a pound of flesh from each of the characters. If all the flesh is gathered or all of us are dead, the traitor wins.

Our goal simply is to kill the Fleshchild. This would have been an easy task but we had a really good round where we had collected a good amount of items which meant the traitor had, among other things, the Blueprint which allowed him to travel to any dumbwaiter on any floor from another which was basically fast travel. Also, he was allowed to raise each of his stats by 4 – the same amount of players in the game. And he was the first to pick up any items and omens from the ground of the people he killed.

Through all of this, I had a plan. I had a card which I could use to steal the blueprint from the traitor slowing him down and allowing me to get nearer to the other living survivor downstairs. I also had dynamite that, if it didn’t kill him, would at least force him to drop all the flesh buying us more time.

And then I roll all zeros on a defense roll when attacked.

Survivors = 1. Traitor = 1.

With this we ended our night, positive we will come back to play this game again.

⚀ EPILOGUE ⚀

Betrayal at House on the Hill is an exceptionally fun game that is easy to understand, set up and play. There was rarely a time where we were fuzzy on the rules and, if so, the rulebook clarified them quickly. Replayability is something that is absolutely necessary in a board game and this game has that in spades with the way the house, item, omen and event cards are randomly drawn from their respective decks during the exploration phase and how the haunting has 100 different options.

All said, I can’t recommend this game enough as it offers countless hours of surprises and fun promising you will visit the house on the hill over and over again.

+ + +

You can buy the physical tabletop game on Amazon or the Tabletop Simulator player-created version on Steam.

You can watch our full playthrough on Twitch.

Let’s talk about Dex, baby

A cyberpunk side-scrolling role-playing game set in the fictional city of Harbor Prime, Dex puts in the boots of a citizen named Dex who is wanted by an overreaching powerful organization who wants her for unknown reasons, but will she turn friend or foe?

+ + +

The steam summer sale came and went, and I picked up (more than) a few gems for a great price. Being a fan of the cyberpunk and dystopian genres, I had my eye on a certain cyberpunk action role-playing game for a while by the name of Dex. When I realized it was on sale for only $4.99 (down from its original price of $19.99) I had to pick it up.

Chinatown in Dex
All the familiar places…

Dex takes place in the distant future and puts you in the boots of a blue-haired hero, Dex, as you are awoken one night by a voice in your head telling you to get out of your apartment because “they” are after you. In the next few minutes (which also act as a tutorial) you learn that you somehow possess the ability to hack into electronics without the need to “jack in” (access via a cable in the back of the neck) which leads you on your journey of discovery.

From this venture, like other role-playing games, you progress through the main quest line while grabbing up side quests from various NPCs throughout the city, and what a city it is. Divided up into thirteen distinct sectors and brimming with unique locations and people (oh what interesting people!), Harbor Prime (the city) is truly one of the biggest and best characters in the game.

The map in Dex
The city sprawls out to encompass many different areas

The side quests are, for the most part, more interesting than your usual RPG fetch quests thanks in large part to the wild characters and locations that you meet and traverse through which helps in the longevity of the game. The main quest is, for the most part, a combination of tried-and-true tropes, but mixed with the previously mentioned characters and locations it feels somehow unique and special.

This is, of course, all accentuated by the great visuals and audio in the game. The grungy, neon atmosphere that the game creates is superb. Swirling garbage on the street, homeless huddled around a burning garbage can and wild dogs running free in the Chinese Quarter compare drastically to the clean lines and manicured trees of the Highrise. Like any great dystopian future, the streets always feel busy — the crowds of people walking on the other side of the sidewalk in the foreground are a nice touch. The characters you run into are all wonderfully voice acted that brings them to life which only adds to the the living, breathing city around you.

Of course, all roads in the city are not without their potholes, and Dex has more than a few. And let me preface this by saying I was using a controller for the entire game. I did switch out to the keyboard and mouse to test, but there really isn’t a perfect control scheme for this game.

Obviously, movement — jumping, running, rolling, etc. — is fairly wonderful using a controller. Aiming on the other hand can be a chore, especially when using a gun. It feels like the reticle wants to lock into one of eight positions even when your enemy can be 360 degrees around you forcing you to walk back and forth to accommodate for this loss in degrees. On keyboard/mouse aiming is brilliantly smooth but movement is a bit cumbersome. Pick your poison.

A firefight in Dex
You’ll find yourself on the wrong end of the gun too often

Combat, one of the necessities of the game, is somewhat of a mixed bag until you level up your character, and even then it feels sluggish — like you’re working against the system. The enemies feel like tanks because they block you shots and hit you with ease (and aren’t phased by your shots at all). Meanwhile you attempt to roll around them to bypass their blocks but you go too far which, in turn with their amazing promptness, leads you to only hit two of your three hit combo. Then you repeat. That is, of course, if they don’t knock you down with their power attack. It’s a dance with the enemy and with the controls that just doesn’t feel completely balanced and leads somewhat to frustration.

Once you level up your character things start to turn in your favor, but this isn’t until you are near the end of the game which seems logical but it isn’t a smooth progression. If feels more like a wall you must climb learning all your skills along the way but when you reach the top you don’t need them anymore because you are done climbing.

I couldn’t figure out some of the side quests (this entirely could be my fault or it could be that the quest goals aren’t labeled well enough), and as good as the story is, it does get confusing. The biggest culprit to this is because a majority of the explanation is left for the final chapter, the previous chapters encompassing the side quests and minimal story leading up to the main story. It comes at you with such ferocity it’s hard to take in. Even now I’m not entirely sure I understood what happened at the end.

Augmented Reality in Dex
Augmented Reality (AR) is a unique ability that comes with frustration

Dex has a unique take on hacking, but I’m not sure if it’s all that successful either. Hacking is split up into two areas: AR (augmented reality) and when you are actually inside a computer system. In AR you are able to hack systems (cameras, guns) and even people (when you upgrade the skill) in order to disable them (people only for a short time).

Hacking in Dex
Hacking in Dex breaks from the norm but is odd and ultimately unsuccessful

Once you reach a hackable terminal, you are thrust into a Geometry Wars-like area where you must “fly” around and shoot enemy (anti-virus software, etc.) and download information from the computer.

Both of these systems are a welcome change from the running around in meat-space, but again has its share of frustrations. The rate at which enemies come at you, specifically one stationary turret that shoots little “drones” at you (some of which can shoot), is more than extreme at times. You can get three different variations of your main weapon, which isn’t explained to you, but using the controller to switch weapons (with the D-pad) isn’t easy when you are running away from enemy (with the left analog stick). Hint: you have to stop moving. You also get two programs that you can use — a shield and a nuke-type weapon — if you can afford them.

Dex staring out a window
Dex contemplating life or just waiting for her pizza to arrive

Overall, the game presents a really great atmosphere in a wonderfully developed city that fits right alongside the beautifully crafted characters. The combat and hacking can be a mixed bag, but invest enough time and patience in them and you can have them working for you to a better degree. I didn’t finish all the side quests so that along with the different leveling mechanics should give you enough content to do a replay if you can get past the frustrations.

It would be hard for me to not recommend this game at its measly price tag of $20 (especially since I got 19 hours of gameplay out of it), but I still feel hesitation. If you can find it on sale for anything lower ($15 or below) I say pick it up most definitely. There are a few bumps in the road, but Dex proves to be a largely enjoyable journey in the end.