Archive for October, 2013

Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition (Game Review)

Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition box

Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition

I enjoy Are You A Werewolf?, but it’s definitely not a game I can play very often. It’s long, intense, requires a lot of players, and people are kicked out frequently. “Legend” Dan Hoffman’s Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition fills a great niche, then, mixing the social game experience with more board game elements. It plays faster, supports a wide range of players, and keeps everyone involved throughout. Effectively, you’re playing a game of “meta-Werewolf“, since cards on the table stand in for the villagers and werewolves who get killed off, while the players divide up into secret teams and try to help their side survive.

The table has two cards for each member of the village, one face up with their power, and another face down and mixed up randomly with the others. During the day, every player chooses one power to use, and then everyone votes to “lynch” one of the face-down cards. This requires “voting cubes”, and the various powers will restore your cubes, give you information, or let you impact the vote. Then at night, one column of face-down cards is chosen, and while everyone’s eyes are closed, the werewolf players get to look at them all and choose one as their victim. Every time a someone is killed, their cards (and therefore their powers) are removed from the game, but remember that players are not connected to specific cards. Even if a werewolf player reveals themself, they remain in the game to sow havoc.

Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition Play

Survivors (and their powers) shown on the left, but their locations are hidden among the face-down cards on the right.

The system is simple, and I’d like to call it elegant. However, it is pretty confusing at first. It’s difficult for new players to grasp everything, with special rules about tracking villagers’ states, handling single-card columns, and very inconsistent iconography for the special powers. The mechanics for choosing the werewolves’ victim every night are a little fiddly, and make it likely that someone will accidentally reveal information during their first couple games. The rule book actually doesn’t help much, with all the information present but easy to overlook. Everything will seem natural before long, but it’s a bumpy start.

Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition CardsAfter that, though, this game is brilliant. It maintains most of the tension of Werewolf, but with activities that give players a lot more choices. Instead of one person being the Seer, everyone gets occasional chances to gain information, and your actions at the table provide more chances to observe behavior and falsify claims. The dynamics of the two teams take on more depth, since the Wolves get a lot more information (viewing columns each night), but the Villagers can act openly. Sometimes it is worth it for a Wolf player to stop hiding their identity and make a surprising move. For the rest of the game they’ll be able to participate, but the Villagers won’t trust them during the important votes. (This is handled much better than in games like Shadows Over Camelot or Battlestar Galactica, which I think let the traitors stay too powerful after revealing themselves.) It balances the social and gaming aspects well.

Being a Werewolf game, victory does sometimes hinge on a single (un)lucky move or a 50/50 choice about who to trust at the end. But if you like that game, you’ll find this one to be slightly less arbitrary, and without the length and player elimination that can make those events so painful. This has all the laughter, tension, and confusion that I would expect. My only real complaint (once every player is familiar with the game) is that there aren’t enough role cards. There are only fifteen roles available (counting the Werewolves and generic Villagers), and a few are similar to each other. I can see how this is a difficult game to balance and add variety to, but even so, I wish I hadn’t seen all the roles within a few games.

That complaint aside, this is the best new social deduction game I’ve seen in years. Take the time to get over the initial learning curve and give it a chance.

Grade: B+


Eddie Spaghetti – The Value of Nothing (Music Review)

The Value of Nothing cover

Eddie Spaghetti – The Value of Nothing

The last time I reviewed one of Eddie Spaghetti’s solo albums, I suggested that he stop doing so many covers and focus on original material. Well, he wrote all the songs on The Value of Nothing, but it doesn’t help as much as I’d hoped. He partially moves away from the country style he had been using, splitting the difference with the mature rock of Get It Together, Spaghetti’s most recent record with The Supersuckers. Get It Together was an excellent, underrated album, and Spaghetti just can’t duplicate that when playing with just a couple band members and straddling the line between country and rock. If his previous solo work suffered in comparison to the classic songs he was covering, this one can’t help but be compared to Get It Together.

This certainly isn’t all bad. Most notably, “Waste of Time” is a really fun swinging country song about being a lazy slacker. “You Get To Be My Age” is a love song with an unusual perspective, and the personal nature of songs like this make it easier to overlook some of the album’s flaws. “When I Go, I’m Gone” is a quieter version of a song that originally appeared in Get It Together. It’s arguable which is better, and they’re different enough to each stand alone, though this one isn’t exactly essential given that you should already own Get It Together.

Most of the other tracks are nothing special. With the added rock element on this album, it finally makes sense to see Spaghetti on Bloodshot Records. He sounds like yet another aging rock star playing with country sounds and unafraid to experiment, but also not necessarily aware of which experiments worked. He needed someone around to point out that the accordion on “People Are Shit” makes it sound like a bad polka song, instead of another interesting love story. And “If Anyone’s Got The Balls” is a weird, misguided attempt at bragging and some mild obscenity that sounds out of place. (On the other hand, “Fuckin’ With My Head” is a mostly successful use of over-the-top swearing. This is something that The Supersuckers have done well in the past. It may not compare to highlights like “Pretty Fucked Up” from Motherfuckers Be Trippin’, but it’s a decent song.)

Disappointingly, The Value of Nothing continues Spaghetti’s recent trend of fans-only albums that even the fans will enjoy sporadically. There are some good tracks here, but overall, this is the sort of album he can only get away with because he’s capable of doing much better things.

Grade: C


Drew Magary – The Postmortal

The Postmortal cover

Drew Magary – The Postmortal

What would happen if we discovered an inexpensive way to stop people from aging? According to Drew Magary’s The Postmortal, everyone would quickly take “The Cure” and begin to wear away at our environment and social fabric. It’s a plausible answer, but a pretty shallow one that assumes a quick read of modern American culture is all we need to predict the next century. In fact, “shallow” describes the book pretty well.

It starts off pretty strongly, with an interesting hook that fits the book’s breezy, blog-post style. (That voice is a little weird if you worry about how convenient it is that the author’s explanations and details are perfectly aimed at a reader of the book, rather than a contemporary of his. But it’s easy enough to ignore.) And when the story suddenly jumps forward ten years to a world still celebrating The Cure, it stays believable. Magary’s depiction of our modern world may be a bit facile, but it feels real and manages to spark anger, curiosity, and sympathy at the right times.

Then it jumps forward again, twenty years this time. And the narrator acts completely the same, despite the major lifestyle changes he allegedly underwent during that time. The world is devolving into chaos, but his day-to-day interactions with the supporting cast feel the same as they did pre-Cure. The occasional interruptions to deal with disasters don’t feel like they belong in the same world he’s describing the rest of the time. And really, the entire plot just flows along as if that twenty-year break had actually been a week. The story gets put on hold whenever it jumps through time (it happens again), and plot threads that should be long-forgotten keep coming up as if the world revolves around just him.

It’s sad to see a light, enjoyable book go so far off the rails. By the end, the protagonist is making sudden, hard to justify decisions about crazy plot twists that stem from events that had been unresolved for decades. The rest of the world seems just as eager to bring things to a climax, and events that were obviously foreshadowed but never made believable begin to happen at a fast pace. What was supposed to be a thought experiment about human nature closes on a big mess of coincidences, rushed plot, and side characters who don’t have agency except to support or foil the narrator.

The Postmortal could have been good. The strong part, which seems more or less grounded in reality and gives us supporting characters to care about, takes up almost the first half of the book. But it lacks the vision to keep extrapolating, as well as the ability to keep the plot developing fairly. It has its strengths and weaknesses, but maybe the most disappointing part is the missed potential.

Grade: C


IFComp 2013

IFComp2013It’s October, and that means that IFComp is live once again! It’s been two years since I last tried to play through any of this, but I’m going attempt it again this year.

A quick refresher: This is the biggest event in the IF (Interactive Fiction) community every year. The high profile and low barrier to entry means that you’ll see everything from unplayable messes to works of genius. They are all designed to be playable in two hours at the most (sometimes much less), and if there are puzzles that may keep you from finishing it in time, the game will come with a walkthrough or hint system to help you along. “Interactive fiction” can refer to any non-linear story, but in practice generally means the aesthetic that was created by text adventures in the 1980s. Don’t think that these are limited to the arbitrary puzzles of Zork, though. The best of these free works have much more depth and narrative power than most people ever imagined when text adventures were popular.

I’m excited to see what the competition has to offer this year. For one thing, I enjoyed it a lot in 2011 even though I missed the best games. For another, the community seems to be evolving quickly. Over half of the thirty-five games in this year’s competition are web-based. (In 2011, only three were.) This means that they weren’t built around the traditional engines that grew out of text adventures, and from what I hear they do bring a very different approach to interactive fiction.

The competition runs until November 15. Realistically, I’ll be happy to get through about ten games, and I may need to cut back on my blogging to make time for it. Since I’ll be submitting scores to the competition, I’ve randomized the list of games to make sure there’s no bias in the subset that I choose. Expect me to take at least a couple weeks before I start posting reviews, since I like to take some time to get a feel for multiple games before I comment on one in a vacuum.

Hopefully some of you will try out the competition as well. Have fun!