Star Wars Rebellion — Labor Day Fun and Freedom in the Galaxy

This Labor Day my brother and I finally got around to playing a game of Star Wars Rebellion. We had been interested in playing a game for a while. And we had two reasons why this game looked attractive.

Freedom in the Galaxy

First, the game is a new version of the old SPI game Freedom in the Galaxy. If you aren’t familiar with that game, it was released in 1979 and features a band of rebels taking on an evil galactic empire. The empire also has a “Planetary Stabilizer” by which it could destroy planets. The rebels had a secret base and tried to use subversive missions to unseat the dastardly empire. Sound familiar?

Freedom in the Galaxy was a thinly veiled Star Wars…but it couldn’t use that name or any other direct reference to George Lucas’ movie. But we all knew what we were playing, and Freedom in the Galaxy was a good game. It captured the fun of the Star Wars movie in a great board game.

— Freedom in the Galaxy. My copy is unpunched. My brother has the more well worn version that we used in our childhood

Fantasy Flight Reimagining and Star Wars

Second, Fantasy Flight was going to redo Freedom in the Galaxy. FFG had already reimagined the great Avalon Hill Game Dune. They updated the rules, board, and components and put out the new game as Rex. FFG couldn’t call it Dune because they had the rights to the game and rules, but not to Frank Herbert’s product. Thus, FFG set Rex in its Twilight Imperium universe. The game is good, but somehow not being set in the Dune universe took something intangible away from the game.

When I heard that Fantasy Flight Games had bought the rights to both the Star Wars license and the Freedom in the Galaxy game, I knew they would get it right this time.

Star Wars Rebellion

And this game is fun! FFG streamlined the rules, primarily by ditching the world environments and different ground units, upgraded the components, and added all the desired Star Wars elements. Now you have an actual Death Star miniature, along with all the other Star Wars personalities and units. The core of Freedom in the Galaxy is still there, hidden rebel base, missions, quick combat, so this is basically the same game…but updated from a 1979 game and made into a 2010s game with all the cards, minis, and chips that you expect from a FFG game.

— Star Wars Rebellion, the reimagining by Fantasy Flight Games

So things have come full circle: a game that was Star Wars that couldn’t call itself Star Wars is now called Star Wars Rebellion. The good game that Freedom in the Galaxy was is still there…but now you don’t have to imagine that Zina Adora is Princess Leia.

Now I can’t wait to integrate the Star Wars Rise of the Empire expansion. It has all the Rogue One content. I loved that movie!

Is Star Wars Battlefront 2 Scripted Like FIFA or Madden?

I am a 25+ year veteran of playing Electronic Arts (EA) sports video games. I started with NHL in the 1990s, and then played Madden a little bit before settling into 15+ years of playing FIFA. In that time I (and many others in the EA community of players) noticed a worrying trend: the games seemed to be “scripted.” Now I play Star Wars Battlefront 2 from EA and its my belief that after the latest patch, that game is scripted too.

— photo courtesy of my TV and my iPad

Scripting in EA Sports Franchise Games

When does LeBron James miss a wide-open dunk with no pressure from any opponent? When does Harry Kane miss a tap-in a few feet from the goal while under no pressure? The answer is never. These athletes only make mistakes under pressure. Okay, how many times does Manchester United lose to Trondheim in a European match? Same answer: never.

Scripting in EA sports games creates both these absurd and unlikely events. When I played FIFA, in some games my players just couldn’t pass straight, shoot straight, or tackle. My best player would miss a tap in while under zero pressure. But….the other team could pass right around me, and in the dying minutes they somehow would score a miraculous goal.

Maybe it was bad luck? Maybe I didn’t play well that game? Okay…I would replay the game by not saving the results. Guess what happened next? I would lose the next game BY THE EXACT SAME SCORE! This my good friends is called “scripting.” EA developers have admitted that the sports games have “momentum” added to them to make some games “more competitive.” Players from all over the world have complained about the scripting.

The problem with scripting is that you are not really playing the game. The results and gameplay are not influenced at all by whatever you are doing with the controller. If you don’t believe me just google EA and scripting. Check out the discussions and decide for yourself. Many of us gamers turned away and are turning away from the EA sports games because of scripting.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Scripting

Let me preface this discussion by saying that I have played all the Star Wars Battlefront games. In Battlefront 1 I was one of the best star pilots in the world. In Battlefront 2, my brother and I play routinely. We usually score in the top 5 on our side and quite often we appear in the MVP standings at the end (you can find mine as screenshots on Xbox One–look for njesse99).

Since the last update in late spring, we have noticed some changes. One change is the major imbalance in teams. EA changed the scoring of battle points to allow players to gain them much quicker. This has led to the first team to get a hero overwhelming the other team. It works this way: we get a hero 1st, that hero starts slaying opponents, guys on our side get assist points and easier kills, we get more heroes, the other side can’t get points, the other side can’t get heroes (or gets them one at a time), we win easily. Almost all games now are blow outs: either you win quick and easy, or you get stomped.

But there is another problem: the appearance of scripting. Lately it goes like this: I set a trap that I have set a thousand times BUT now it doesn’t work. For example, I wait around a corner with my assault shotgun ready, a guy walks into my sights, I blast him, BUT he doesn’t die (like he normally would). That guy turns and shoots me once with a pistol and even though I shoot him a second time with my shotgun, I die and he doesn’t? Say what?!? Yeah, something that works every time suddenly doesn’t. LeBron missed the dunk; Kane missed the tap-in.

And it is more than that. My shots suddenly do less damage, every shot that hits me seems to kill me instantly, my ion torpedo doesn’t blow up the turret this time, etc. Maybe it was just my bad luck and/or bad game play? Nope! When the game ends and I check my stats, my meager six kills put me in the top 3 on my side. EVERYONE on my side had bad luck and/or bad game play! Hardly possible.

The problem with scripting is that you usually don’t notice it when every shot you take kills an opponent. You only notice it when you are on the receiving end. But it is real and clearly Star Wars Battlefront 2 now has it. I noticed it because of my experience with the EA sports games. The frustration of nothing going right and the impossible happening again and again is what gives it away. If Lebrun missed dunk after dunk he would guess that the rim was smaller than normal. Well in an EA franchise, the game decides when the rim is smaller or even closed.

Another Franchise Ruined by EA

EA has done it again. They have ruined another franchise by adding scripting to the game. It made some sense in Games with micro transactions: scripting makes good players lose, giving them the artificial need to buy more packs to strengthen their team. It is fake, they don’t really need to strengthen their team, but they don’t know that and EA makes more money when players buy packs.

But why put scripting in Battlefront 2? EA got rid of micro transactions early after releasing the game. Do they think the “run over” gameplay will attract new players? I doubt it. Is EA planning to reintroduce micro transactions? That’s my bet. So fellow Battlefront 2 players, if crates and micro transactions come back, you will know why. EA has been setting you up.

In Defense of American-Style Games: 3 Good Reasons to Play Ameritrash as Seen by a Grognard

With the popularity of Settlers of Catan in the 1990s, Eurogames have exploded onto the American gaming landscape. The emphasis of Eurogames on indirect competition, hidden scoring, broad themes, resource-driven game mechanics, and balancing mechanisms to keep all players “in the game” has proven to be popular, particularly with younger players.At the same time, American-style Games, often denigrated as “Ameritrash Games”, have been criticized, panned, and abandoned by many of these newer players. The critique is that Ameritrash games are either based too much on luck (think Talisman), too much on direct competition (e.g. Advanced Squad Leader), too complex (e.g. almost anything by Avalon Hill or SPI), too theme specific as to not be appealing to the average gamer (e.g. Air Assault on Crete), and too long to play (e.g. The Campaign for North Africa).

Well, as a Grognard (look it up kids if you don’t know what it means), I am here to defend Ameritrash Games with 3 good reasons you should be playing them:

1 – Direct Competition Can Be More Fun Than Multiplayer Solitaire

One of my critiques of Eurogames is that often the game is thinly disguised multiplayer solitaire (in other words, each player plays alone and the end-game scoring determines who played solitaire better). Players really cannot directly confront, impede, attack, etc, each other. Thus, each player’s “strategy” is not truly an interactive strategy, but really solitaire. Good examples are Race for the Galaxy by Rio Grande Games or Cities by Z-Man Games. Often a Eurogame adds one element of direct confrontation, such as card drafting (think 7 Wonders), that isn’t really “direct” confrontation as the emphasis is on denying an opponent a resource rather than taking it from them.

Direct competition in an Ameritrash title is more than just denial, it’s seizure! Take the classic game Dune by Avalon Hill (or the new variant Rex by Fantasy Flight Games). Your units (tokens) will move quicker if they have access to Arrakeen or Carthag. Taking those strongholds gives you an advantage and removes it from an opponent. The battles that I have seen in my 4 decades of gaming in those Dune strongholds are legendary! In a similar vein, Small World by Days of Wonder encourages aggressive acquisition of territory–at another player’s expense (much like Risk). Nothing more fun than making your opponents’ units disappear from the board.

And if you haven’t played Enemy in Sight by Avalon Hill, you are missing out on how much fun direct competition can be. There is nothing more enjoyable than screaming “Breaking the Line” to the tune of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” as you wreck an opponent’s line of ships. I have seen grudges held for years (actually it’s two decades now in one instance) over a well-played Breaking the Line card! Taking the battle to your opponent can be very fun–and memorable!

— you don’t eat the worm, it eats you!

And here is the kicker–luck is NOT involved in battle in any of these games! The common criticism that Ameritrash games are full of luck can be untrue.

2 – Randomness Can Be More Fun than Repetition

What makes Talisman work? The random discovery of what monsters, treasure, etc, lie in every space! Why do battles in Star Wars Rebellion feel exciting–because you have to chuck dice and live with the results. Let’s face it, many things in life are random, and randomness in games is a good thing not a bad thing. Now, we don’t want so much randomness that we are playing Monopoly, but adding a random element can help make a game less predictable, repetitive, and boring. Even the classic Settlers of Catan has two random mechanisms (dice rolls for resources and random bonus card draw).

The main problem with Eurogames is that they are so repetitive due to a lack of randomness. And repetition can be boring. Really good games with repetitive play (for example, Lost Cities by KOSMOS) are fantastic (much in the vein of Rummy, Solitaire, Pit, etc) but a good number of Eurogames are not fun when repetitive. In particular, I find Carcassonne to be really boring due to it being the same game over and over.

— nothing says generic, repetitive play like these components from Carcassonne

3 – Strong Themes in Ameritrash Games Make for Evocative Gameplay

Okay, one thing I despise about many Eurogames is that the “theme” seems to be an afterthought. The game is so abstract that literally any number of broad themes could fit. The classic Puerto Rico by Ravensburger or the more recent Terra Mystica by Feuerland could realistically be titled and themed anything. The games are all about the gameplay “engine”, Puerto Rico has nothing at all about it that is truly Puerto Rico–other than the tacked on place names, currency, etc.

Strong creative or historical themes build evocative gameplay. When I play Dune, I can envision that Sandworm eating my units (even if they are just little round cardboard tokens), I can see the Baron Harkonnen backstabbing me with a traitor, etc. Eclipse by Lautapelit is a rather complicated game, allowing for players to customize their spaceships. Guess what? This detail adds to the space 4X theme and gameplay. Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight is so thematic that when I play it I can actually feel the Elder Gods returning to Earth.

— Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight, a million Cards, chits, tokens, bits, etc, but well worth the hours it takes to set it up and take it down


So in short, there is a lot to love about American-style gaming, so don’t believe the “Ameritrash” label and get out there and play a dice chucking, card drawing, heavy themed game today!

How EA got Star Wars Battlefront 2 So Horribly Wrong…and Then So Right

Photo courtesy of my flatscreen TV

The Initial Controversy — Locked Jedi

By now you either are playing Star Wars Battlefront 2 by Electronic Arts (EA) or you are not. Either way you probably have heard about the controversial start of the game…and how mad Star Wars fans were. Basically, EA had locked some key heroes/villains like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker behind a wall of credits. Players could acquire credits by playing for about a year…or they could purchase crystals via micro transactions…which means via spending real money….and unlock them now. Fans revolted at this injustice and the credit cost of the heroes was slashed.

The Real Problem–Vastly Imbalanced Game Play

But I am here today to tell you the #truth! The real problem was not locked heroes…it was that the game play was vastly imbalanced by the micro transactions! Here is my story. I bought the pre-order of Battlefront 2, which allowed me 1) early access to the game three days prior to the general release, 2) to start with some good Star Cards (power ups basically) especially for Rey and Kylo Ren, and 3) the unlocking of the Death Trooper class. Thus when I started playing on November 14th I was excited to try out my new Star Cards and Death Trooper. But guess what happened? Players who used micro transactions to buy 1000s of Star Cards were wiping the battle fields with their immense advantage.

This was grim, as I was unable to get many kills and was getting slaughtered. Now you might ask, why didn’t I just use my Death Trooper to fight back? Well it’s because as you fight, you earn Battle Points. The good classes of warriors (like the Death Trooper) and the Heroes (like Rey and Kylo Ren) are locked during a battle until you earn enough Battle Points to play them. So the rich kids who bought Star Cards were racking up Battle Points and grabbing all the heroes, slaughtering everyone else, getting more Battle Points, lather, rinse, and repeat! Now I had played Battlefront 1, so I was no slouch at the game. In fact, I was one of the best Starfighters in the world, so the sort of slaughter that was being inflicted on me was mainly a product of the vast imbalance in access to Star Cards.

So all my pre-order access and good Rey and Kylo Ren Cards were useless…because I could never get enough Battle Points to play them! In short, from November 14-16 micro transactions ruined Battlefront 2. The $70 I had spent was futile in the face of the rich kids spending $100s or $1000s to basically buy victory like they were the New York Yankees or Manchester United!

EA Gets It Right

Literally hours before the general launch on November 17, EA removed micro transactions. So now nobody can spend real money to buy an advantage, everyone has to earn credits through their game play. Since then, the game play has been normal. I now can kill and be killed based on my skill and the skill of my opponents. I can earn Battle Points and get enough to play the Death Trooper, Rey, and Kylo Ren. The game is what it was suppose to be all along.EA actually listened to player feedback and made changes that fixed the problem. Now this is not my usual experience with EA, as I ditched playing the FIFA series of games because of the lack of response from EA to the communities’ complaints. But this time, they actually listened. I guess the Force is strong in the Battlefront 2 community!

May the Force Be With You

Update: edited to get rid of the darn auto-correct that keeps messing with Star Wars names

Gen Con 2017 — Photos Part II

And now without further ado, I bring you more Gen Con photos!

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It wouldn’t be Gen Con without an Imperial Stormtrooper!

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This couple clearly put a good deal of time into their costumes!

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Director Krennic.  This costume was a bit popular, I caught a glimpse of a couple other people dressed as Krennic too.

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Piper from Fallout 4.  You don’t just tell the news…you are the news!

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Now this costume must have taken some time to put together!  Very nice!

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She looks like a Magic: The Gathering card! I can’t place the costume, but it surely displays a lot of hard work to put all of that together.

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Love it! 

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In my opinion, the only really good use for CCG cards!  Some of these structures were quite impressive.  And of course, anybody could join in and add to it.

And finally….

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… your faithful narrator sitting on the throne at the Kingdomino booth.  Heavy is the crown!