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A Re-Review of Edge of the Empire in One Player Aid

Monday, July 27th, 2020
Posted in roleplaying

Lately it seems I can only express my concerns in images. I suppose that is some classic Pisces energy.

Here is my final take on the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire roleplaying game after five years of play as expressed in an actual players’ aid on how to roll.

For best results, I recommend printing on an architectural plotter and rolling into a scroll

It is not my favorite roleplaying system.


A Non-Review of Fantasy Strike in Two Images

Sunday, July 26th, 2020

This is not a review of Fantasy Strike since I played all of about 15 minutes of it. It’s billed as the fighting game for people who cannot play fighting games - simple moves which don’t rely on dexterous combinations of arcane inputs.

That sounds like my jam. It is not.

BUTTONS ARE CONFUSE

The tutorial insists on its own labels for buttons. It’s easy as long as you remember that C means A and A means Y. Maybe this attempt to redefine your gamepad is normal for fighting games? I have no idea.

I found the rest of the tutorial similarly awkward in lesser ways which are harder to express as fake levels from Baba is You.

Cast of characters from the Fantasy Strike Steam store page

Once I powered through the tutorial, I was greeted with a generic1 cast of characters where the male gaze is rampant and closest thing to representation is a gambling panda bear with no pants.

I get that the fighting genre is rife with problems of representation and that worse offenders like Dead or Alive exist. However, we can do better and those other games don’t set out to be for everyone.

This was enough to make me call it a day.


Sirlin once wrote a detailed analysis of why HBO should remake the last season of Game of Thrones. He did this because he was a fan who loved the show it might have been.

I’m not half as clever as Sirlin so you just get two images and some lame jokes to make a similar point. I love what Fantasy Strike might have been if it was tested with people who fall outside the typical pro fighting circuit demographic. As it stands, I’m not sure who this game is for.

I’ll keep rooting for Fantasy Strike to become more truly diverse and noob-friendly over time.

  1. One likely reason the characters are problematic is that no one appears to care too much. They are defined in promotional material by generic descriptors like “fire,” “martial arts,” and “sword.” Also note how the last two characters in the roster are drawn in a different art style. These minor quibbles stand out because Fantasy Strike’s design is otherwise so precise - you can read all about the frame-by-frame animation and netcode here for instance. 


Sparker the Eighth - A Review / AAR of Here I Stand

Saturday, May 16th, 2020
i can never un-see the different text alignments on this card

There’s an annual tradition with some old friends where we take a full day in May to play through the GMT game of war / religion / marriage / divorce / exploration / piracy / everything, Here I Stand. The game is beloved by many for reasons that I have never totally understood, but I like my friends and they like Here I Stand.

The upside of the current pandemic is that this was our first virtual installment so it was easy to take notes as I played. So here is an annotated transcript of my game of Here I Stand. Just like the game, it is too long and could use editing.

There’s a few closing thoughts on the game at the very end for the few who make it through the pages of recap or want to skip straight to that section.


[8:36 AM]
sparker joined #sparker-the-eighth.
sparker set the channel description: wherein I document my Here I Stand game because it is long with lots of downtime

It’s 1517 and I’m Henry the Eighth, I am I am. My goals are…

  1. invade Scotland
  2. produce a male heir
  3. annoy either France or the Hapsburgs endlessly

[8:40 AM] - Turn 1, English Impulse 1
For some reason only England may conduct diplomacy on turn one. I made a deal with France to keep them out of my war with Scotland. They get a free card out of my hand this turn and a free card draw the next. This is a pretty solid deal - I could have tried to barter that down to 1 draw + 2 mercs but then again France could have pushed for steeper terms.

With this deal in hand, it’s time to invade Scotland. With my home card I declare war and build up a mercenary horde.

[8:41 AM]
The best players in the game seems like the Ottoman, Hapsburgs, and Protestants. France sounds rusty on the rules but then again they won last year, so they belong on the list too. Basically everyone but me and the Pope. There’s not much I can do about Suleiman and Martin Luther, but I can definitely attack the Hapsburgs or French once I’ve (hopefully) taken Scotland.

But for now, we take a long pause for the debates between the Pope and the Protestants. My capsule review of that mechanic – it’s too drawn out and and the decisions too limited for the players involved. It’s more tolerable for the other players since I know when I can take my coffee and bathroom breaks.

[8:47 AM]
Also, I should mention I got a 2cp card from the Hapsburgs due to their play of Cloth Prices Fluctuate. This was great news for me - one more card helps me ensure a capture of Edinburgh.

[8:53 AM] - Turn 1, English Impulse 2
I play Shipbuilding for the event, placing a fleet each in London and Calais. The London fleet will allow me to siege Edinburgh next impulse while the Calais fleet makes Calais much harder to siege should France or Hapsburgs get up to no good

[8:56 AM]
FRANCE PLAYS “MERCENARIES BRIBED” AGAINST THE HAPSBURGS! My deal with France is now pretty good in retrospect - that card would have wrecked my game had France come in as Scotland’s ally and played it against me.

It would have turned a 7v3 fight in Edinburgh into a 5v5, awful.

[9:02 AM]
Also I’m listening to this on repeat in the background today and it really works as a HIS soundtrack: The Guard on the Battlement. The music is technically anachronistic but it suits the mood.

Anyway, I’m talking nonsense which means it’s the Papacy and Protestant turns. Time for another coffee break.

[9:06 AM]
The Pope excommunicates France because… well, I’m not sure why. Maybe I missed a beat. Anyway, I was a terrible Pope when I played that faction a few years ago so I’m not one to judge. Remind me not to get on the Pope’s bad side.

[9:13 AM]
Barbary Pirates comes in as a mandatory event - that’s pretty early and makes things look bad for the Hapsburgs.

[9:19 AM] - Turn 1, English Impulse 3
I play “Mercenaries Grow Restless” for 2CP. I move the London fleets into the North Sea and begin the siege of Edinburgh. I deal 2 hits and take one - a good result and makes me very likely to take Edinburgh next turn w/ minimal losses at 6 v 1.

In retrospect there was no need to bring both leaders up to Scotland - if France had betrayed me, that would have put one at pointless risk.

[9:26 AM]
The Papacy / Protestant impulses begin, so I get a long break to consider the rest of my turn. My last card is Unpaid Mercenaries - would love to save a card for next turn but I absolutely positively have to take Edinburgh before the Winter Retreat. I can’t afford to march back to Scotland again next turn.

[9:32 AM]
In other news…

  • Ottomans continue to ascend - sitting at 12 VP and will start pirating in earnest next turn.
  • Hapsburgs are in real trouble - somehow France captured Charles V when I wasn’t looking, so that + Ottoman piracy is trouble.
  • Protestants are very close to translating the New Testament into German already. This feels early so Martin Luther could be an issue.

[9:42 AM] - Turn 1, English Impulse 4
Siege of Edinburgh takes out another 2 mercs – more costly than I’d like – but I take the key. This gives me another card draw next turn and 2 VP. With the other 2 CP, I decide to launch an exploration. I have never done this in HIS before and I don’t really know how this works. TO BE CONTINUED AT THE END OF THE TURN!

[10:01 AM]
We are officially two hours away from Jet’s Pizza for lunch

[10:12 AM] - End of Turn 1
We’re exploring - my hot streak runs cold as I draw my worst explorer, Hugh Willoughby. France gets to double dip and then Hapsburgs. We’ll see if there’s anything after that for my doofus Hugh.

[10:14 AM]
BLARGH! France discovers both the Pacific Strait AND circumnavigates on his first explorer, a cool 4 VP. I told him Cabot wasn’t a bad draw from my hand. Brutal.

Meanwhile, Hugh gets lost at sea after Hapsburgs and France both get extra discoveries. Bye Hugh, I’m glad I’ll draw better explorers after you

[10:18 AM]
France just pulled 5 VP off exploration and is sitting at 20 VP. This is a 25 pt game, so it could possibly all be over before my pizza arrives

DID I SAY PIZZA SINGULAR?! Cause that is incorrect.

[10:53 AM] - Turn 2 diplomacy
Turn 2 starts - I am gifting Hapsburgs a merc and letting them borrow my navy. My hope is that they can delay or deter France for a turn while I move along the marriage track. I may have to change course and use my home card instead to DOW England. (editor’s note – of course I meant France but what a neat alternate history that implies)

I uphold my deal to France as much as it stings. They take Mercenaries Depart(?) which clears mercs out of a space. I announce this card to the rest of the table as petty revenge on the vile French.

I really hope I don’t have to DOW on France this turn. I’m going to prepare for war and see what France does in response. I hope to pull enough French attention away from the Hapsburgs that the Holy Roman Emperor can make a dent in the French.

[11:05 AM] - Turn 2, English Impulse 1
I cash in Knights of St John for 2CP . I move fleets into the Channel and buy a merc in Calais. I’m trying to signal a siege on Rouen or Paris – hopefully France remembers my home card lets me DOW mid-turn and takes the bait.

[11:09 AM]
Meanwhile, Hapsburgs advanced on Metz to counter the French there. France buys mercs in Paris - that’s what I hoped, but it wasn’t many.

[11:14 AM]
Reformationy things happen. I have run out of things to say during this long part of the game. It is no fault of the players - both our Pope and Luther are played by Bills and the Bills are moving right along. It’s the game which is at fault - the math for religious actions is complicated, slow, and involves MANY dice each impulse.

[11:27 AM] - Turn 2, English Impulse 2
I play Sale of Moluccas for 3CP. I’m delighted that France didn’t snag this card since they circumnavigated. Instead I use it to start a colony. This also helps delay playing my home card. Using it to move to “Ask for Divorce” stinks but is also critical to winning.

[11:38 AM]
France plays Patron of the Arts - +1 point for France and 4 cards left in his hand. I’m seriously considering using my home card to DOW instead of pursuing marriage. If I do, that means Edward VI is unlikely to happen this game.

[11:47 AM]
Hapsburgs begin their siege of Metz. They are unlikely to take it this turn.

Indeed, the siege continues - they lose 3 units and are now 9 to 4 I think. In a siege, those aren’t great odds.

[11:52 AM] - Turn 2, English Impulse 3
I use my homecard to advance my marriage counter after all. I’m pretty sure that France cannot win this turn and so I can play to win instead of playing not to lose.

[11:58 AM]
As Turn 2 winds down into the popes and prots, it is clear that my gambit to throw off the French failed. France actually invaded Italy, so confident is he about the Hapsburg / English front. Let us hope that I can turn up the heat against the vile French next turn.

If there is any silver lining, it is that France used Unpaid Mercenaries (the card they drew from me) to invade Italy. This means we can buy mercs once again.

[12:09 PM]
The protestant turn alone has allowed me to get pizza, eat pizza, get a second round of pizza and a beer, and eat that too

All of this just so I can pass my turn.

[12:13 PM]
Hapsburgs draw and play Cloth Prices Fluctuate again - this time, they don’t want the card draw + mercs though.

I was momentarily delighted that I might get to do something.

But instead they use that to capture Metz after much bloodshed. This takes France down by 2 VP so I can’t be too mad.

[12:17 PM]
Thanks to France, the Schmalkaldic League is formed on Turn 2! The prots just barely qualify and this means they get some maths during someone else’s turn.

Since I passed, it’s now time to see if I can clean my basement before the end of this turn. I’m pretty sure I can - Papacy and Prots have 5 cards between them and the League will take awhile to resolve.

[12:46 PM]
Unsurprisingly, I finished cleaning with plenty of time to spare.

[12:55 PM] - End of Turn 2
The turn ends! Hapsburgs conquer the Aztec for 2 bonus VP. Otherwise the new world is quiet since the French explored all the good stuff.

[1:20 PM]
Fates be praised, I got a hand which should allow me to march on Paris this turn. I’m guessing France isn’t expecting that - I have my weaker leader Brandon in Calais instead of Henry (oops, too cautious) so I can only go in with 6 troops. However, I got Field Artillery, Landsrechts, and Mercenaries Bribed. It’ll be close.

[1:51 PM] - Turn 3, English Impulse 1
Post diplomacy I have even better odds. This great hand and the Pope’s intransigence to help out another player in last place means I can’t get a divorce this turn though – I can’t give up cards right now.

However, the Haps were willing to offer me a card draw in exchange for an alliance (something for nothing!). My plan remains - march to Paris and crush the damn French. I played the new pope in exchange for 2CP which I spent on mercs. I can’t take them with me (Brandon, I curse your name!) but they’ll be useful to hold the LOC behind me for the siege

[2:06 PM] Turn 3, English Impulse 2
15 minutes between turns is crazy fast for this game, feels like I just went! I use my home card to declare war on the French and go all-in on Paris. I march with 6 regs & Brandon. Initially it looks like a fair fight but I play an insane three combat cards to get 2 mercs (Landsrechkts), 2 dice (Field Artillery) and steal 2 mercs from France (Mercenaries Rebel) to make it 13 v 6.

I deal 4 hits to France’s 0. I’m frustratingly 1 hit shy of taking Paris right out (I would have a 64% chance to make up that hit had I brought Henry). Instead they fall into fortifications and the siege of Paris begins.

France has card advantage and can likely reinforce, but also has to defend against the Haps - let’s hope they keep the pressure up.

Greetings from beautiful Paris

[2:07 PM]
The French buildup at Rouen for a counterattack - will they be able to retake Paris?

Opposition update - Hapsburgs and Ottomans are tied for 2nd at 19 with the French at 22. Game ends at 25 so its tight. Ottomans are poised to clean up on piracy. English pose no threat of winning.

[2:20 PM]
Well that was unfortunate! France plays Haley’s Comet so I miss my next turn. I would have assaulted Paris and almost certainly taken it otherwise - not happy about this at all.

[2:40 PM]
France pulls in the Rouen forces and kicks me out of Paris at the cost of a few mercs. I retreat to Boulougne with Brandon and a large force. Paris is off the table for this turn but Rouen is basically undefended as a result. We won’t go home empty-handed.

[2:41 PM] - Turn 3, English Impulse 3 (4 for everyone else because France is the worst)
I play Charles Bourbon for 4CP. I would have loved to play him for the event but I have too many rules questions about LOC etc. Instead, I move fleets into the Channel and put Rouen under siege. I am determined to leave this turn with some French key, and I’m willing to accept Rouen as a consolation prize

In unrelated news, we’re entering hour 7 of Here I Stand and I must admit, the long stretches of inactivity are making me go a little crazy here. One of the other players note that I’m zooming in and out for no reason.

[2:48 PM]
Shoot! The Ottomans play Master of Italy, granting France a card draw. They will get to counter whatever I do next - tempo was the only upside of being skipped.

[2:49 PM] - Turn 3, English Impulse 4
I use Colonial Governor to continue my conquest - I take Rouen handily and then recruit a merc. France will continue to pass this turn but will respond eventually…

This takes France down to 20 and puts me at 13, just between the two religious powers. I am still very likely to lose but France likely won’t win this turn.

[2:56 PM]
Sigh… France plays Revolt in Ireland. Perhaps he thinks this will make me sue for peace? I want peace anyway cause I GOTTA START THAT MARRIAGE TRAIN A-MOVIN!

Henry and 4 English troops are tied up in Ireland until this is resolved.

[3:08 PM]
Mark’s “YOU’RE STILL COMPLAINING ABOUT ONE CARD I PLAYED IN TURN TWO” is the quote of the game so far.

[3:35 PM] - Start of Turn 4
Turn 4 starts and I give 1 merc to France in return for their suing for peace. It’s a weird deal - I get nothing (I’ll get 2 war winner VP but lose Rouen so it’s a net zero) and I give up a merc (I can’t do anything with it if I’m not at war, and I suspect France can’t either so I don’t care). I need to use my home card for other things though, so I need this war to end.

My deal with the Haps is better. I agree to I play Diplomatic Marriage to give Hapsburgs Foul Weather (which I would have used against the Ottoman anyway), and he guarantees to play Cloth Prices Fluctuate in my favor (also perhaps what he would have done anyway? maybe we both just think we’re getting deals?)

[4:04 PM] - Turn 4, English Impulse 1
I play Diplomatic Overture and it turns out great - I get Copernicus (6CP!) and Shipbuilding (2CP) now as well as a future TBD draw in exchange for giving up Diplomatic Overture (5CP) and Foul Weather (2CP).

[4:33 PM] - Turn 4, English Impulse 2
I divorce Catherine to marry Anne Boleyn and Edward VI is born! That’s 5VP for me even though he’s a sickly boy. In theory Edward VI being sickly is bad - he’ll die on turn 6 at which point I’ll get my worst ruler, Mary. In practice, who cares! The game definitely won’t last that long.

Now I set my sights on winning the stupid Irish Revolt.

[4:49 PM]
Good news! Hapsburgs FINALLY play their card that gives me a card. Bad news - it’s a 2CP card. I’m still happy with how that played out though.

[4:50 PM] - Turn 4, English Impulse 3
I cash that card in to fight the Irish (2 down, 2 to go) and buy a merc with the other (very unlikely I’ll put that to use, may as well set that CP on fire)

If I can clear the Irish War, that’s 1VP and another card in the unlikely event we go to Turn 5.

[4:54 PM]
Technically gin doesn’t enter the scene in England for another 200-ish years. That isn’t stopping me from enjoying the most English drink in our household.

It’s not like I need my mental faculties for this game at this point.

[5:04 PM] - Turn 4, English Impulse 4
I expend Arquebusiers for the 1CP of the card instead of the pretty decent combat effect. This gets some murmurs from the table but I know I’m saving Copernicus for next turn in case we get there. I finish off the Irish, but at the cost of three(!) units. Have I mentioned lately that I hate the French?

For no reason other than I haven’t taken a screenshot in awhile

[5:06 PM]
You’ll note a LOT of fleets in the North African Coast - Ottomans have been cleaning up on Piracy. Their version of this log would just be pure “YAAARGH, MATEYS!”

I haven’t noted much of that in this log because there is nothing I can do about it. I’ve already been going pretty easy on the Hapsburgs, and only the Haps and the Pope can mitigate the pirates.

Piracy also explains why the Ottomans are vying with the French for the win. French 24, Ottoman 23, everyone else except the Pope is tied at 19 VP (sorry Pope, you lost but that seems inevitable if the game goes this far anyway).

[5:08 PM]
As we enter hour 9 of HIS, I think it’s time to switch up the soundtrack finally after 8 full rotations of the chamber music album. My “Fantasy!” playlist is the next closest thing to historical.

[5:15 PM] - Turn 4, English Impulse 5
I spend my last card (La Foret’s Embassy) for Exploration. Since the French put out an explorer and there’s 1 exploration VP left, I have no other option. However, thanks to Hugh getting lost at sea and the French exploring the heck out of the New World already, all my explorers are 1’s and all his are 0’s. This means I’ll go first with a 72% shot at getting St Lawrence River and leaving France with nothing.

[5:21 PM]
Here’s a dilemma in that scenario - if I miss my exploration, France has a 58% chance of getting 1VP and immediately winning. If I wan to stop France, I should encourage the Haps to explore too. But their explorers are mostly better than mine and are likely to take my 1 VP.

Do I play to win or do I play not to lose? This is a classic conundrum of most 3 player+ wargames late in the game.

For me though, it’s easy – HENRY PLAYS TO WIN!

[5:30 PM]
Well Hapsburgs figured it out on their own with a little prodding from the table. There’s still a chance that they could draw their zero or -1 explorers, but there’s a 60% chance they’ll go before me.

I AM REALLY STARTING TO GET THE CRAZIES

[5:37 PM]
Ottomans played Revolt in Egypt on themselves, hoping to gain 1VP in short order. Not a bad play and will make them certain to get 25 VP the next turn.

[5:50 PM] - End of Turn 4
Hapsburgs indeed draw their worst explorer, so England is up first and rolls…

SNAKE EYES! 72% to get the VP and I blow it!

France has slightly better than coin toss odds, and of course they get it. They discover the St. Lawrence River, netting 1 VP and the victory.

France wins the 16th century by finding a river

A few closing thoughts on my gameplay.

I never mentioned my colony again because it never mattered. Nothing interesting happened to Roanoke the entire game - I rolled No Effect each turn. Turns out the New World was an entirely bad idea for England.

After most losses I ask myself if there was anything I could have done to win. I only see two major mistakes - I should have brought Henry, not Brandon, into France and I should have offered the Pope almost anything he wanted for a divorce (I especially should have offered mercs up in earnest, they were basically useless to me at that point).

A possible third mistake is not saber-rattling with France during our Turn 4 Diplomacy phase to get a better deal to end our war. One one hand, it seems unlikely that I could have gotten a card draw out of France in exchange for ending the war, and nothing else would have helped. On the other, I was definitely losing in VP so I should have been more risk-seeking. Extending the war with France would have been very bad for England (no Edward so no 5 VP) but it would have also been very bad for France.

However, I don’t think correcting any of these mistakes would have changed my game. Several of these would have helped me hurt France but the die was cast at that point – if France didn’t win, the Ottomans would have.

And that’s the problem I have with Here I Stand. There are things I love - choosing how to spend cards is wonderful agony, and all games are improved by negotiation mechanics. However, there are long stretches where two sides play their own game which is long and impossible for you to influence.

It’s a fascinating game and one I might adore if I were passionate about this time period. I’m not though, so it’s hard to overlook the flaws. There’s discussion of trying Virgin Queen or another similar game next time around - I’m thrilled and eager.


SWSheets - A New Hope

Monday, January 6th, 2020
Posted in roleplaying
and a hero was found

After years of operating swsheets.com, I finally found someone with the ability and enthusiasm to add new features. As of today, I’ve handed over all assets and ownership of the servers and domain. I posted a full announcement over on the FFG Forums and the SWRPG subreddit. I just wanted to capture some more personal thoughts here on my blog.

I started swsheets.com at a time when I had both enthusiasm for FFG’s Star Wars RPG system as well as a fair amount of free time on my hands. Both waned over the years, and by the time I joined Reverb in 2017 I had lost both my enthusiasm for the game and much of my free time.

I kept paying the bills but the site languished. Annoyingly, FFG has a habit of making small rules changes in supplements with no fanfare. While I deliberately avoided some parts of the rules (the site does not track XP spending, for instance), I always made sure that any rules I implemented were correct. Watching these changes happen was as frustrating to me as it was the site users who couldn’t build their characters correctly.

Despite that frustration and despite the fact that I’ve found a fantastic person to carry the project forward, it’s still hard to pass the site onwards. 7,800 people have signed up for swsheets.com accounts. Even the password reset feature is more widely used than any of my other side projects have ever been. People like a thing I made - letting go of that is hard.

But then the internet happens. The first response to my announcement on the FFG Forums is someone telling me why they don’t use swsheets.com, that they find the idea of it “exhausting.”

That’s hilarious, maddening, and kind of what I need to read right now.

To the site’s users and to anyone who ever provided honest feedback on it - a sincere thank you. I had a real blast and I wish I didn’t have to make hard choices about the increasingly few hours of free time I get.

To Nick, the person who is taking on ownership of the site, I’m incredibly grateful for your work and I cannot wait to see where you take it.

I hope I get the free time to make another “exhausting” roleplaying tool someday. This one was a lot of fun.


Lest I be totally unfair to the internet, the responses over on the Reddit post have all been heartwarming. I rarely received thanks for swsheets.com over the years so those small kindnesses mean a great deal.


Sam

Tuesday, December 24th, 2019

This past May, we bade farewell to our beloved dog Samwise, aka Sam. I have been putting off this post for, well, a very long time now. But it is time to memorialize this sweet creature. These are some of my favorite Sam moments.

I truly think she felt responsible for the safety of everyone in our house. Here she is on the day we moved in, already on alert.


When she was taking a rare break from guard duty, she was a pro at snuggling into blankets. This grey blanket was amongst her favorites.


That dog was serious about her comfort. I swear there’s a dog in this photo.


My wife developed a bizarre game with Sam where she would lay on her back, wait for you to touch her paws, and then gently growl at you. Strange but true.


Her favorite game though was tug-of-war, but in all our time together I never managed one decent photo of it. Chewing on bones was a close runner-up.


She was inseparable from her brother Frodo when he was with us. They were together since birth and were a package deal from Midwest Boston Terrier Rescue.


However, it was clear that Sam was the more dominant of the pair.


My favorite video of the two. You can see Sam’s independence at work here – while she was immensely fond of us, “come” was never very high on her list of priorities (unlike her brother)


I would have loved more time with her, but our eight years with Sam were a gift. So many more moments than I can capture here. I miss you so much, Sammo. I’m glad life brought us together.


“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” -Will Rogers


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