Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Six Months of Fiction

Going into the beginning of this year, I had a decent number of books to read. I made this more by taking big advantage of a Walden Books going out of business. I recently finished my fiction backlog. I know for big time readers, this is quite honestly a fairly pathetic list, but considering I squeezed these books into everything else I have going on. . I feel pleased with it. After three years of Seminary reading, I am still wanting the most basic escapist reading I can find, which is why the vast majority of the books I have read this year are licensed science fiction. Here is a description/thoughts on the books I read in the order I read them:

Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber
This book combined two of my favorite things: Star Wars and Zombies. They did a decent job getting Zombies to fit in a Star Wars setting, though the author tried to hard to create horror movie set pieces that really came off as cliche and forced. However, it was a nice surprise to find Han Solo in this book as it gives a lot of weight to his "I've seen a lot of strange things" comment in the first Star Wars movie.

Halo: Evolutions by Various authors
This book is a collection of short stories set in the Halo Universe. I read most of the books on this list in about a week or so. However, this one took me about a month. This was partially because it was a bit bigger, but also because the short story model made it hard to get really involved in the book. The stories ended to quickly to make me want to keep flipping the pages. Some of the stories were garbage (like Pariah). Some were neat side stories (like Dirt). Some filled in neat elements of the Halo Universe (like The Impossible Life and the Possible Death of Preston J. Cole) and others, like Human Weakness, are required reading to truly understand the storyline told in the video games. The biggest problem with this book is that the vast majority of the characters all died in the end. I know this makes the stories tie up really neatly, as well as helps to reinforce the hopeless struggle humanity finds itself in, but it go annoying story after story.

Plague of the Dead by Z.A. Recht
This is one of the books I got at the going out of business sale, and it is a Zombie novel. The book follows the idea of zombies being caused by a virus, and follows what happens when the virus goes global. It is a good zombie story, but it is a bit of a downer that the book was written as part of a series, but only one sequel was ever published so I know that even if I read that book as well the overall story is never really completed.

EVE: The Empyrean Age by Tony Gonzales
This is another book I got from the sale, and I bought because the front cover is awesome:
The book is based on a Sci-Fi MMO and this book was a tie in to some sort of major expansion they released for the game. The universe they have created is an interesting one, though I do find the way that they essentially explain in-game respawning in a book form. What makes sense in the confines of a game system can be a little silly when put on paper. Despite that, the story was not bad. It had four separate stories that all slowly got closer and closer together until the final mashup in the end, where the actions of one character directly impacted that of another. The biggest problem with the book is that it was a fantastic set up for an expansion to a game I am never going to play.

Agincourt byBernard Cornwall
I tip-toed closer to my goal of reading a history book this year, by reading a work of historical fiction. This book follows an archer as he goes from an obscure English village to being an archer at the battle of Agincourt. The author does a good job at creating likable characters, relaying the grittiness of history, and telling a good story. However, the author did rely a bit to heavily on Dues Ex Machima, as the voice of a Saint speaking to the main character is what drove a lot of the character's actions and thus the story. Despite that, it was a very good read and after the previous three books it was nice to have a full novel with a full ending.

Halo: The Cole Protocol by Tobias S. Bucknell
At this point I have played all of the Halo games and read the books, so I figured I should continue. The Halo universe is really a good sci-fi universe, and I much prefer the UNSC vs. the Covenant to the dryness of the Federation vs. Klingons/Romulans/Cardassians/ whoever. I also think the Halo universe is best when the stories do not have Master Chief in them. This is just a fun story that is steeped deep in Halo lore. It uses Lt. Keyes as the main character, reveals a lot about the inner workings of Elite society, and is all about fulfilling the Cole protocol. I know that last sentence only means something to a dedicated Halo fan, but those touches were the accents on a solid story.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
How in the world, have I lived 29 years and not read this book? This books was originally published before I could read, so I really have no excuse. This is an absolutely excellent book that was way ahead of its time, and in many ways still is. a Sci-fi war between Earth and an insect alien species is the backdrop for a story that explores human nature, as well as creatively speculates on the power of the internet (and this was back in 1985), as well as the use of video games in education. This book should be considered a must read for everyone.

Mass Effect: Ascension by Drew Karpyshyn
After loving the Mass Effect video game, I read the first book that served as a prequel of sorts to the first game. The second Mass Effect book serves a prequel to the second game and uses the same character as the first book. This was an enjoyable story and I am really looking forward (even more) to playing Mass Effect 2.

Now that I have read all of the fiction books it is time for me to begin reading my history book, and after that I plan on reading more books like the ones on this list from the library before reading a more academic book about video games and Christianity.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Help Fix My Rules

As you might remember one of my goals this year is to create a game. Well there is a contest of sorts, a game publisher has put out an open call for submissions, with a promise to publish at least one of them. Participating in something like this, is the kind of motivation that I need to actually complete this goal. So the first wave of this contest requires submitting rules by July 15th. Now I know I need to actually make a prototype of this game and start playing it, but I went ahead and wrote a copy of the rules out so I can start getting that worked out. So I would greatly appreciate it you would read these rules, share ideas, and let me know how I can make them more clear. Thanks :)

The Auxiliary Units

London, 1950. It has been ten years since Nazi Germany succeeded in eliminating the Royal Air Force and successfully carried out Operation Sea Lion which put the British Isle under Nazi control. For ten years Britain has been ruled by Germany, but for many the war never ended. In preparation for an invasion former Prime Minster Winston Churchill created a secret army of Auxiliary units to run a resistance movement. The Auxiliary Units have successfully fought the ruling regime, and open rebellion is close. However, over the past decade the Auxiliaries have fragmented and different factions are fighting for different things. Only one faction can have enough influence to lead the coming rebellion.


1 Board, 20 cell tokens (five of each color), 1 six sided die, 1 20 sided die, ?? Cards

In this game players control a resistance faction trying to overthrow the ruling Nazi regime. This is done by sending cells on missions to recruit, gather supplies, gather intelligence, or go on subversive acts. In doing so the resistance factions will destabilize the ruling regime until their iron grip slips and the population rises in open rebellion. Which ever faction has gained the most influence through their subversive acts will be the leading group of the rebellion and the winner of the game.

Set Up
The board is set up in the middle of the table and each player is randomly assigned a faction. The players take the cell tokens that match that factions color, one is kept in front of them, on the colored, full strength side up as active and the other tokens are set aside. The deck marked procurement should be shuffled and placed beside the board near the procurement area on the operations side of the board. The same should be done with the deck marked intelligence and the deck marked training. The deck marked Nazis should be shuffled and placed on the special operations side of the board. Finally, the deck marked crackdown should be placed below the bottom of the board. Use whatever method players want to decide who will be the first starting player and that player takes the first player marker.

Game Turn Overview

Each game turn is divided into three phases. Players will take turns going first. After a player goes first for a turn, they will pass the first player marker to their left. The three phases are:
1. Orders: Beginning with the start player, the players take turns placing their active cell tokens on the board. Players only place one cell at a time.
2. Operations phase: Beginning with "recruitment" and going down the list of possible actions (recruitment, procurement, intelligence, training, and propaganda), any players who have a cell on one of these actions may use their cell to take the appropriate action. When a player executes an action, they remove their cell from the board. How these actions are resolved is explained in more detail in the next section.
3. Special Operations Phase: Beginning with the "Airport" and going down the locations on this side (airport, internment camp, weapons factory, and government center), any players who have a cell on one of the action spots of these locations may either execute a mission or preform reconnaissance. When a player executes an action, they remove their cell from the board. How these actions are resolved is explained in detail in the next section. Once the special operations phase is complete, the start player passes the start player marker to the left and a turn begins with the first phase.

Game Phases in Depth
Orders phase: During the order phase is when the players decide what actions they will have their active cells engage in. The start player places one of their cell tokens one one of the action spots. Only one cell can occupy a given spot, thus if a spot is already occupied no other cells can occupy that spot for the turn.

Operations Phase
: In this phase the recruitment, procurement, intelligence, training, and propaganda actions are carried out if a cell token has been placed one one of the appropriate action spots. The details of these actions are described below:
Recruitment: During this action, cells can recruit members for new cells. If a player has a cell on the half strength side in play in the sleeper cell area, then they may claim that cell as an active cell token and use it beginning on the next orders turn. If a player does not have a cell in the sleeper area, then the player puts a new cell token on the half strength side in the sleeper cell area. There are two action spots for this action instead of one. A player who already has an active cell in one of the spots may not place a cell in the second spot as well.
Procurement: During this action, cells gather supplies through raids, theft, extortion, and other means. To execute this action, the player draws three cards from the procurement deck and they must choose to keep one. There are two types of cards in the procurement deck. The first type are item cards that are used for missions and the second are influence cards that are played immediately. If a player chooses an item card they may keep it secret until they choose to play it during a mission. If a player chooses to keep an influence card, they must play it immediately and follow the text of the card. If the card grants influence points they must immediately claim that number of points markers.
Intelligence: During this action, cells gather information about the orders and secrets of the ruling regime. To execute this action, the player draws three cards from the Intelligence Deck and they must choose to keep one. There are two types of cards in the intelligence deck. The first type are mission cards that are revealed to begin a mission at the various locations on the special operations side, and the second type are influence cards. Mission cards are to be kept secret until they are revealed to begin a mission during the special operations phase. If a player chooses to keep an influence card, they must play it immediately and follow the text of the card. If the card grants influence points they must immediately claim that number of points markers. There are two action spots for this action instead of one. A player who already has an active cell in one of the spots may not place a cell in the second spot as well.
Training: During this action, cell spend time training so they can effectively carry out missions. To execute this action, the player draws three cards from the training deck and they must choose to keep one. A player keeps the training cards secret until they choose to play them at the appropriate time while executing a mission during the special operations phase.
Propaganda: During this action, a cell spreads propaganda in an attempt to gain support of the people. There are six spots, numbered 1-6 in the propaganda section. Any players using a cell in propaganda must choose one of those numbered spots. During the propaganda action, the start player will roll a six sided die. If a number is rolled where any player has a cell token, then their propaganda was successful and that player gains three influence points an the destabilization track is moved down one.

Special Operations Phase: In this phase players have the opportunities to send their cells on mission or to preform reconnaissance in one of four locations: Airport, Internment camp, Arms Factory, and Government center. The two actions available in this phase are described below:
Missions: To preform a mission, a player must have cell token in one of the two action spots of the appropriate location. The player must also reveal a mission card and if the mission has item prerequisites they must reveal those as well. Any prerequisite items may be used during the mission. Every mission card list the enemy strength that the cell will have to deal with. This number is often 1 to 4. One at a time, the player undertaking the mission must reveal the top card of the Nazi deck. The cards in the Nazi deck will have a number listed between 19 and 11. The player whose cell is on the mission must roll a twenty side die and roll a number LESS than the one listed on the card. A player may use any applicable item cards, tactics cards, or reconnaissance tokens to lower the die roll after the roll has been made. If this roll is successful then the cell successfully fought or avoided the enemy threat and the next enemy card can be revealed and the process is repeated. If the roll against the nazi card is unsuccessful then the player must flip their cell token over to the half strength side. At this point, the player has two options. They may continue or abandon the mission. If they continue, then the player must face the same enemy card again and make a new roll in attempt to get lower than number listed on the enemy card. If a player fails to defeat a Nazi card by not rolling less than the listed number with a half strength cell, then half strength cell is lost (the token is put back into the inactive token pool) and the mission card and all prerequisite item cards are discarded. If the player chooses to abandon the mission, then they must discard the mission card, all prerequisite cards (even if they are unused), and move their half strength cell token to the sleeper cell area. If a player successfully defeats all of the enemy cards then they have successfully completed the mission. The player gets the listed influence points on the mission card and the destabilization track is moved down the listed amount.
Reconnaissance: To preform reconnaissance a player must have a cell token in one of the two action spots of a location. Instead of revealing a mission card, the player announces they are doing reconnaissance. To preform reconnaissance the player needs to roll a twenty sided die and roll below 19. If they are successful they get a reconnaissance marker for that location. This marker can be used on a mission to decrease a roll to defeat an enemy card. If the player rolls a 19 or 20 on the reconnaissance roll then they must flip their cell token to half strength and move it to the sleeper cell area.
Since all special operation locations have two action spots, it is possible for a single player to occupy both spots. If this happens, the player may preform reconnaissance and then a mission or vice versa. A player may also send both cells one one mission. A player may not send two cells on two different locations on the same turn.

Destabilization Track

The Destabilization track is what triggers the game's end. When this track reaches zero the game is over. Which ever player's actions reduce this track to zero gets three bonus influence points. On the destabilization track there are multiple red lines. Whenever the destabilization track is moved across one of these lines a crackdown card is drawn and immediately played. All players must comply to whatever condition the crackdown card calls for.

Broken Factions
It is theoretically possible for a player to have no active cells. If this happens then, the faction is broken but not defeated. If a player's only cell token is in the sleeper cell area, then during the operations phase, they get a free recruit action to restore the cell to full strength. If a player has no active cell tokens, then during the operations phase they get a free recruit action to create a new cell. The new cell is placed in the sleeper cell area at half strength.

2 Player special rules

When the game is being played with only two players then only one of the two action spots under recruitment and intelligence can be used.

Game End

Once the destabilization track reaches zero the game immediately ends, even if there are still cells left on the board to act. Which ever player's action causes the end of the game gets an immediate three bonus influence points. Whichever player has the most influence points at the end of the game is the winner and leader of the revolution. If players are tied then which ever player completed the most missions will be declared the winner. If players are still tied, then which ever player got more points from propaganda is the winner. If player still tied then settle it with pistols at dawn or share the victory.