State of Decay 2 – Best Tips and Tricks

— all photos courtesy of my TV and IPad. ’nuff said.

I’ve logged my hours playing the new State of Decay 2 on my Xbox One. And I’ve learned a few things. What follows are some of my sneakiest tricks to keep my community alive and jack my influence through the roof! And these aren’t the run-of-the-mill tricks that you can find all over the internet. Those tips are from reviewers who probably barely played the game. Typically they say things like, “use guns on freaks” or “use guns on plague hearts” or “be nice to enclaves, they can help you.” Yeah duh! Those aren’t tips or tricks, they are things any competent player learns in the first few minutes.

No, my tricks come from wasted days and wasted nights with my controller in my hands. So, if you listen carefully grasshopper, you too can become a SoD2 master like me!

Recruit Everybody…and then kick them out!

This trick is so obvious that you would have to be a no-brainer to not figure it out. Get it? No-brainer. Like a zombie! Hahaha! Okay, it wasn’t that good of a joke. Anyway, on those missions where some lost and lonely survivor wants you to run down some rucksack for them, it totally is a bummer when you do all the work and then hand them the loot! Well, I say do the work, get the loot, and more! After you give them the rucksack, recruit them to your community. Once you get home to your base, switch to the new character and bogart that rucksack and everything else that he/she is carrying (most likely a melee weapon, gun, and at least 1 other item), and then boot them! You don’t know what to Bogart something means? Have you been living under a rock? Anyway, this trick works with enclaves too. Recruit one of them, bring them home, loot them, then boot. Rinse, lather and repeat as necessary to fill up your supply locker.

Move Your Parked Vehicles to Your New Base Using Teleportation Pads–With all the Rucksacks That They Can Hold

Don’t you just hate switching bases and leaving all your vehicles behind? It totally blows chunks! And if you are like me, half those vehicles are crammed with surplus rucksacks. How do you get those vehicles and rucksacks to your new base all the way across town? You COULD enlist a platoon of dudes in co-op to join you and then drive that fleet to your new base. They get nothing out of it and lose 5 minutes of their lives that they can never get back. Ba-ba-ba-ba-boring! Instead, make sure your vehicles crammed with rucksacks are parked in your parking slots, drive a different vehicle (full of items and/or rucksacks of course) to your new location. Here is the important part: do NOT park in a designated parking spot. Go inside, claim the home base, and viola your parked vehicles teleport to the new base like its Star Trek and are sitting in parking spots!

— those yellow lines and that square, blue sign designate your parking spots, aka Teleportation Pads!

Load Up Items on Characters Before Completing the Last Legacy Mission

Once you start the last legacy mission the game will end when it completes. When you start the next game you can grab up to 3 characters from any previous communities. And when you start a new game, you do NOT start with all the items in your supply locker that you had before (a great, big bummer). Wouldn’t it be nice if those 3 surviving characters were loaded with .50 cal weapons, first aid kits, grenades, etc? Well they can be! Before you start that last legacy mission, figure out what 3 characters you want to use in the next game. Then switch to them one-by-one and fill up their inventory with weapons, items, etc. And don’t forget to give each a rucksack too! As an extra tip, you will need a gas can when you start the next game, so be sure to pack at least one.

— look at that packed inventory! This character has an AK-47, a shotgun, some pipe bombs, meds, a gas can, and an auto repair kit. Once I grab a rucksack, Lulu is ready for the next game!

Remember What Mr. T. Said, “I Pity the Fool Who Finishes that Fast Car/Action Movie Mission”

If you have played SoD2 at all, you know all about the fast car/action movie mission. One of your survivors will say something like “killing zombies is exciting, but not action movie exciting. I’ve got an idea to fix that.” What you might not know is that the game generates a fast car on the map so that you can complete the mission. And what you might “double not know” is that in the trunk of each of these cars are 2 to 4 slots of explosives and other cool items! And what you might “triple not know” is that as long as you don’t complete this mission, it will spawn over and over and over and over. Let it do so, go find the cars, look in the trunk, and grab the goodies!

— this fast car has a fuel bomb and fireworks. Use them to light up some zeds like the Fourth of July!

Blood Plague is Your Friend

Say what?!? I bet you think the blood plague is a scourge. Au contraire mein freund! Did you know that for a measly 3 blood plague samples you can get 15+ influence? I bet you didn’t! Let a survivor get hit by a plague zombie and then head over to your infirmary. Select “Infection Therapy.” For 3 plague samples (I am serious here, it doesn’t even cost you any meds, only the samples–which by the way you should be collecting off the pavement like discarded pennies) you not only get rid of the blood plague, you also get 15 influence (or more if you have jacked on your command center to boost your gained influence). What a bargain!

— 17 influence for only 3 plague samples?!? Yes! Don’t listen to those other tips online that say to sell them to traders for 1 influence a piece (and the occasional glitch where you get 2 influence). Why grind away like that…and get a lower return. Just go to your base and collect 5+ influence per plague sample…and cure your survivors at the same time. Oh…why you ask are my survivors “cheerful”? Because they are happy that I have been using my tricks!

See, I told you I was the #realdeal! Now you know it! So get out there and slap around those zeds with my tips and tricks! Tell them I sent you!

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Stew’s Rant Corner: Daimyo’s Fall

It’s time for another edition of Stew’s Rant Corner in which my brother Stew explains how and why a game disappointed him.

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— Daimyo’s Fall. Treasure Hunting Deck Building Card Game. Yep, that’s how it’s labeled on the box.

A Lot of Good Ideas….

Hi again, everyone.  It is nice again for me to rant about a game that I want to love, but just cannot possibly do so.  That game is Daimyo’s Fall.  Ok, you may or may not have heard about it.  But Daimyo’s Fall was Kickstarted quickly and is a deck-building card game.  It has everything that would make me fall in love with it: samurai, ninjas, leaders with cool powers, incredible card art, random cards to buy to build your deck, cards with multiple uses, deck-building, random treasurers to be had, cards with value that can be exchanged for other cards, the ability to exhaust cards, ways to duel other player’s leaders…….ok wait a minute.  How much does this game include in it?

— Some of the card art on Hero cards, some samurai and some ninja. Numbers in top left are attack and defense. Bottom left are petals (ie the timer that leads to the game ending). Victory points are top right.

…But Too Many Jammed into a Single Game…

This is the trouble with Daimyo’s Fall.  It has everything that I would want in a game, but everything sometimes means it has too much.  Every card in the game has multiple uses, which leads to stagnant delays while each player goes through the multitude of permutations of possible actions.  Every card can be used to buy other cards, or be used for its power, leading to many cost/benefit analysis decisions going on with each and every card.  It begins to become overwhelming.

….And an Objective that Doesn’t Really Work…

Another problem with Daimyo’s Fall is the objective gets lost. Ok, the objective is to supposedly replace the Daimyo who has fallen (hence Daimyo’s Fall).  In order to do that you need to get more victory points than your opponents. One of the ways to do this is to gather treasures (either Samurai or Ninja).  Oh, by the way, the ending to the game is determined by how quickly the petals fall off of a lotus plant, which happens when certain cards are played.  Unfortunately, this mechanic is there to stop the game at a certain point, since, as I will detail, there is no actual replacement of the Daimyo going to happen here.  But, as I was saying, you attempt to gather treasures to help gain victory points and make your deck more powerful.

Here is the problem with this strategy.  I played the game with two other individuals, Neal and Bob.  I got on a roll early, was gathering treasurers like bees gather honey.  Neal was doing OK with gathering treasures and Bob barely had any.  Once the last lotus petal dropped we counted victory points, expecting that I had overwhelmingly destroyed my opponents in the game, Neal had done well, and Bob had done very poorly.  You can imagine our shock when Bob’s victory point total was almost Neal’s and Neal’s was barely a point behind mine.  What?!  All of my work to gather treasures to garner victory points was for naught?  (Editor’s note here: I agree with Stew in that Bob and I did NOT have any superior strategy or gameplay than Stew’s. Yet, we were close to him on victory points. It didn’t make sense to us either.)

— Clockwise from top left: ninja reinforcement (ie the cards that you buy and sell, in top left corner is buy price=4 and sell price=2), samurai reinforcement, samurai treasure (now top left is attack and defense, not buy/sale prices; victory points at top right of card), and ninja treasure. Are you keeping up? At bottom of cards are Tanto Cuore-like bonuses for drawing cards, mon (=currency), deployments, and trades. Still keeping up? Trade points allow you to send treasures back to their piles and draw new ones. Did I mention that you shuffle traded treasures in the pile before you draw new ones? That means you can trade in a treasure and draw back the same treasure.

…Leads to Counter-Productive Game Play…

Unfortunately, this is the “everything turns into nothing” problem of Daimyo’s Fall.  The treasures are given to me randomly; and some of them hurt my victory point total.  Say again?  I was working hard to hurt my victory point total?  Yep, that’s exactly what happened.  The mechanic of random treasures meant that I got treasures that hurt my deck-building, dropped lotus leaves, and took away from my victory points.  So one must ask, why was I trying to get treasures in the first place?  I was trying to win the game by doing so.  Counter-productive isn’t it?

…Combined with too Much Randomness…

The next problem arose as several pools are set up to allow players to buy cards, either samurai, ninja, or leader.  These often contained multiple cards of the same type which led us to constantly be wasting time with actions just shuffling cards out of the pools in the hopes that the next random card would be better.  While I can enjoy a little randomness in a game, if each of the three card pools is random, each of the 3 treasure decks is random, ok what actual strategy is left in the game if everything is random?  See the problem.  Daimyo’s Fall makes winning truly random (see the paragraph above as to the hard work I did just to fall behind).

 …That Adds up to Less than the Sum of the Parts

Daimyo’s Fall is truly a case where everything leads to nothing.  The game becomes unmanageable quickly, turns stagnate as we watch each other working hard to figure out all of the combinations, randomness makes any real strategy meaningless, and working towards the goal can be counter-productive.  All of this makes me sad to say that another game that I would love to love, I will never play again.

Why Australia is the Best Power Grid Map

Okay, I really like board games that 1) have a lot of expansions and 2) have solid play testing. Power Grid is such a game. It is a classic (is is fair to call a game from the early 2000s a classic?) game that holds up well to this day. It also has multiple expansion boards that represent different parts of the globe. Expansion board rules seem well play tested for clarity, balance, and excitement.

I own all of the expansion maps, and today I am going to tell you why the Australia map is my favorite…and why it should be yours too.

— the Australia Power Grid board. In this particular game of 4 players, we omitted the yellow, central region.

The Ability to Place a House Anywhere

In classic Power Grid, to expand your network you have to place new houses close to your already placed houses due to the connect costs. Because there is no single, connected network of cities on the Australia map, you can put a house anywhere by paying a 20-Point connection cost. This mechanism allows players to strategically jump across the board on Step 2, Step 3, or any other time in order to cut off opponent networks.

The Uranium Mines

In Australia there are no nuclear power plants. Those plants are instead uranium mines. Players don’t buy resources for the mines and the mines do not power cities.

— those are not nuclear power plants, they are uranium mines!

Instead, during the bureaucracy phase the mines make money by selling on the international uranium market. The mines do not count toward a player’s power plant limit, and a player can possess any number of mines. This is a great addition to the game as it allows for a separate way to generate money (Elektros).

— the international uranium market. Players receive Elektros equal to the first uncovered space multiplied by the production of their uranium mines. In the last two photos, this player would get 20 Elektros (market price of 4 times the 5 production of the two mines).

The Carbon Tax

When Step 3 begins, Australia imposes a Carbon Tax. All prices in the energy market go up by 2 Elektros. This makes energy costs quite expensive!

— the 9 and 10 cost spaces for when the Carbon Tax goes into effect.

The Carbon Tax slows down the final progression to the game end. By making energy costs higher, it makes it more expensive to operate non-ecological power plants. It also makes those uranium mines more valuable, as they are a cheap renewable source of Elektros if a player can’t add new cities on a given turn.

The Auctions are Different

With the uranium mines being very good to get early, and the Carbon Tax looming at Step 3, bidding for ecological power plants and mines is intense! At the same time, a shrewd player can grab an efficient coal, oil, or garbage plant if other players have run out of Elektros bidding on the mines and wind turbines.

The Overall Game Play

The overall impact of the rules is to create a truly new Power Grid experience. While the victory conditions remain the same (ie power the most cities) the route to winning seems to have multiple paths. Players can opt for a traditional coal/oil/garbage efficiency route, but they better be ready for that rough Carbon Tax. Players can also try to monopolize the uranium mines. This slows down placing houses because buying a mine means that you didn’t buy a power plant with that money, but it leads to plenty of cheap Elektros that can later in the game be plowed back into power plants. Also, with the game going longer for a few turns (mainly because of the Carbon Tax), those ecological plants pay off more than in a regular game of Power Grid. In our last game by the end, two players had almost 100% resource-free power production. When do you see that in a game of Power Grid?

–Games on the Australian map can be surprisingly close. Here is the end of our recent game. My brother and I both finished with 17 cities powered. But I had only 1 Elektro in my possession and he had 6. He won, I lost. It could hardly have been any closer. Note: I was black and he was red. Can you see how he jumped from Western Australia over to the east coast? Also note the high price for resources because of the Carbon Tax. Gotta love the Australian rules!

If you have played Power Grid, or even if you haven’t, I highly recommend that you get yourself a copy of The Australian map (the Indian sub-continent) is on the back. Trust me, you will be glad that you did.

4 Things I Learned from 3 Games of Scythe

You would have to been living under a rock the last couple of years to somehow not have heard of Scythe. It has been getting rave reviews, the art is spectacular, and it seems like everyone has played it at least once. Yet, the high cost of the game ($90+) might have deterred you from buying it. I put it on my Amazon wishlist and it cycled thru my birthday and Christmas before my brother bought it for me (Thank you Stew!).

Having now played Scythe 3 times (all 4-player games), I certainly agree that it’s a great game. One of the aspects that makes it so good, is that it is a “deep” game: there are multiple layers of strategy that are not so obvious initially.

Thus without any further ado, here are the 4 things that I learned from playing 3 games. For the sake of disclosure, I won the 1st game with Saxony, was 2nd with Togawa (from the Invaders from Afar expansion) in the 2nd game, and a distant 3rd with Nordic in the last game.

1–Getting All the Stars is Not How You Win

Getting all your stars (i.e. achievements) down ends the game, but this should not be confused with how you win the game. A player wins by having the most coins, not by having the most stars. In fact, in the 2nd game I got the dubious distinction of placing my 6th star on the Triumph Track, but still I lost the game. At the end of the game coins are counted as 1) coins in hand, 2) stars placed, 3) territories controlled, 4) resources controlled, and 5) structure bonuses. So always pay attention to your opponents’ popularity and how many coins they will get in each of these categories.

2–Some Strategies Seem Good but Fail by the End of the Game

Oh man, nothing worse than thinking you are doing something right and finding out by the end of the game that you were wrong. For instance, in the third game I decided early to rush to the Factory, grab a good card, and then try to generate resources, place mechs to defend workers, and rush to the end of the game. I thought I did not have the ability to attack opponents, so I chose peace as the best way to pursue this strategy. This seemed good early…but failed in the long run. Other players gained more territory than I did, occupied the Factory at the end, beat me to encounters, and piggy-backed off my turns through Recruit Ongoing Bonuses. My initial advantage evaporated.

3–You Need to Fight like You are Voting in Chicago: Early and Often

I won with Saxony by beating up one of my weak neighbors and launching a couple of assaults on my stronger neighbor. Similar to games like Eclipse, if you attack early you can really set back your opponents…even if you lose the battle. Of note is that losing a battle provides for a free relocation of Character or Mech(s) back to your home space. All those Power points are not worth anything if you don’t use them…so get out there and smack around your opponents.

4–I Am Only Beginning to See How Many Different Ways There are to Win

After 3 games, we have had 3 different players win, three different factions win, and 3 different ways the game was won (Saxony violence, more popularity than other players, and more territorial control). I think we are only scratching the surface of the possible ways to reach victory. Much like our early assumption that Riverwalk is mandatory to get early (it’s not, but that could be another blog post), I am going to bet that there are many more lessons still to be learned.—————————-Scythe is an excellent, and fun, game. I look forward to discovering many more aspects of the game as I get a chance to play it more.

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!