ones upon a game

I am almost exclusively a solo gamer and look at the gaming scene seen through those eyes. I also literally like alliteration. TWITTER: @onesuponagame

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Star Wars: The Dark Side and the Light Side of Recent Releases

Kevin L. Kitchens
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Been an eventful past several weeks in the world of Star Wars. We've had the movie, a video game, and a companion app all released -- but sadly no novelization.

The Last Jedi

First off, since it's the most recent, the movie The Last Jedi opened this weekend. I saw an early show on Thursday night and overall it was a good movie. Not Empire Strikes Back greatness, but not Jar Jar Binks painful. Though there were a few dreadful aspects and it was too long (one section could have been completely cut or reduced easily), in total it did what it was supposed to do. Oddly it resolves a couple of questions in ways that were pleasing and displeasing at the same time.

As for plotholes, my son pointed out something truly flawed:

Spoiler (click to reveal)
During the slow motion fleet chase (ugh), why didn't a few of the Star Destroyers light speed in front and to the side of the Rebels to cut them off? I expect "How It Should Have Ended" (HISHE) on YouTube to catch this for sure.

Also, rather than let all the ships die, transfer everyone and the fuel to the main ship so they could stay around longer.


Probably worth seeing again just to catch some of the things that went by too fast for analysis.

Downside for me is that Disney in their lunacy blocked the novelization of the book from being released. Since Empire Strikes Back, I've read every movie book (of the main storyline) before seeing the film. In the pre-internet-mania days the books were out a week or two early. With The Force Awakens, then released it digitally at midnight (with the hard copy to follow the next month). This was to prevent spoilers before the film was released. Getting books into stores for the same day requires they actually be in stores weeks before (in the backroom) where stock clerks would sneak read and release spoilers way early. So that plan made sense. This time around Disney has held the digital AND physical copies until March 2018. This clearly isn't related to spoilers as the film is out and you can if you choose (or via rude folks) find out everything online.

Reading a book is a more engaging and savoring journey through the story. It's like studying a roller coaster before you ride it. You'll still ride it, but the anticipation is so much stronger seeing that which you've read and imagined. I'd planned to wait until March to see the movie and keep my streak alive, but in the end I gave in and saw it. Now I'll probably never read the book (the book never ruins the movie, the movie ruins the book), but alas...

Another note is that I saw in the 3D, my first full length foray into modern 3D presentation (I'd seen some test Tron: Legacy footage years ago). Have to say it was amazingly good. I liked that most of the previews were also in 3D. Gone are the too obvious IN YOUR FACE 3D moments of the past and it is simply a realistic depth of field presentation. Very nice. My wife was bugged more by wearing the glasses, but as I wear them anyway, I didn't notice the discomfort. Highly recommended.


Battlefront II

One reason I gave in and saw the movie prematurely was that I'd picked up Electronic Arts Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017) and already played through the pretty good single-player mission. They just released content related to The Last Jedi (somewhat) and I figured I wouldn't avoid that content for long.

The game itself is excellent and the dogfights are everything we filled in the blanks for with Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter back in the day. I'd love to see more Wing Commander (1990) type campaigns with that engine though. Some odd choices however. I understand some people like 3rd person views and were happy they weren't completely replaced with first person. But since the game has first person characters, it seems odd they chose not to allow all characters to be played first person. It's a bit (jar)jarring to play a feature character (Han, Leia, etc.) and be forced into 3rd person for no real reason, when the other main characters give you a choice.


Legends of the Force

The companion app for Star Wars: Imperial Assault was finally released last month and despite not fulfilling implied promises to let you play the real game coop/solo, I've been pleased with what they do offer. Not being a fan of the fantasy title on which SW:IA is based, I had no experience with that app and that it too failed to allow the base game campaigns to be played. So when Fantasy Flight Games announced they were releasing an app to allow SW:IA to be played cooperatively, I (to my shame) took them literally.

So while the base game campaign is not compatible with the app (yet, one can hope), it does allow you to use the components and play a third variation of the game. In addition to skirmish mode and physical campaign mode, you can play special Legends of the Force missions that are mostly the same rules as campaign mode, but with some necessary modifications to let the AI control the Imperials.

And it does that well!

Not since Too Many Bones have I been so hesitant to remove a game from my table. I'm having that much fun with it. Of course some of it has to do with owning it for three years and buying expansions galore (in hopes of using them with the app) and finally getting to play it.



Fortunately too for those who want to play the base game campaigns solo, there are a few different options.

Redjaks' Automated Emperor Variant (v2): RedJak's Automated Emperor Variant V2 (no longer being updated)

Redjaks' Automated Imperial Variant: RedJak's Automated Imperial Variant (RAIV) V1 - Under new management (more streamlined, still being updated)

Imperial Directive app: Imperial Directive, a solo/co-op campaign web app

So lots of Star Wars lightness (amid a little darkness) for fans of the franchise.
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Sat Dec 16, 2017 4:32 pm
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Kevin L. Kitchens
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Thank you.
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Mon Nov 20, 2017 6:09 pm
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The Index is a door to finding treasure in the dark...

Kevin L. Kitchens
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Over the past nearly three years, lots of articles, reviews, tips, images, etc. have appears on this blog... I was starting myself to get lost trying to find something!

So to remedy that I've created a new geeklist: Ones Upon A Game: Reviews, Mods, Images and Videos Index to refer to find the potentially helpful diamond in the rough.

I welcome you to subscribe to the list as a whole or just to games that are of interest to you... if such a thing is of interest to you.
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Thu Nov 9, 2017 3:24 pm
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Eclipse 2017... Be Careful!

Kevin L. Kitchens
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Allegedly there is a total solar eclipse that will be viewable in a large swath of the United States on Monday, August 21, 2017.

I had planned to take photos (safely) during the event, but after a few test shots today, I just don't think my gear and filters are up to task. So I'll just enjoy it like most people. Besides, it will be the most photographed event in quite some time. And NASA and other science agencies will do a much better job than most of us could.

Just remember to NOT look directly at the sun. Make a pinhole device from a shoebox or look at the dappled light on the ground through leaves. I'm not sure I'd risk "eclipse" glasses picked up at a local store either, but that's just me. And keep your PETS inside as well. They are curious and if they look up to see why it's getting dark, they could very easily suffer the same blindness!

Finally, for those of you "in the know" about the realities of such things, here's some beta footage from Monday's big event. Looks like they might be getting things ready for release not a moment too soon!

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Fri Aug 18, 2017 5:11 pm
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No Bones About It - CTG Customer Service Nails It!

Kevin L. Kitchens
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You may remember the issues discovered when I acquired a secondhand copy of Mechs vs. Minions and trying to get (nay BUY) a replacement set of cards from Riot Games (Caveat Emptor! Avoid Buying "Mechs vs. Minions" from a Third Party). A happy footnote to that story. The member I bought the game from saw that post and immediately contacted me, offered to get the replacement deck via the Riot Games obstacle course, and mail them to me. This he did and I greatly appreciate all his efforts! Thank you!

A few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Too Many Bones in a BGG auction. All was great except that the encounter and tyrant cards all had a weird bend to them. They would not lay flat and as they are already slick PVC, they would not stack well either. The Loot cards of both varieties were just fine. I asked in the forums and some suggested heating them in the oven (!!!) with a weight on them and then letting them cool. While this would most likely work, I wasn't very keen on the process.

Fortunately designer Josh J. Carlson saw my plight and directed me to email Chip Theory Games support about it. I did and they immediately offered to replace cards, no questions asked (well except for a picture of the problem). Like Riot, they do like to verify the purchase, but had no issue sending the replacements directly to me. And not only were they sending the bad cards, but the entire set of cards from the game.

Well done CTG! Well done!

Since I'd already ordered the v2.0 Upgrade Kit and the three expansion Gearlocs, I was happy to find the replacement cards tucked into the shipping box when all arrived yesterday.

For those of you that may not yet know the second printing of TMB is now shipping (and selling out fast). For those of you, like me, who want to upgrade your 1.0 to 2.0, they are selling a nominally priced Upgrade Kit ($9). This kit includes errata for rules, chips, reference cards, cards as well as a replacement top tray and two nice tuck boxes for the cards.

As with all CTG games, the only way to get these new is via their online store (https://chiptheorygames.com/store). Which is a little bit of a shame. In terms of gameplay and component quality, this is hands down the game of the year for 2017 (barring something really great in the last four months). But the limited availability (quality over quantity) means fewer gamers get to experience this dice-based, puzzle, brain-bending RPG.

And all without resorting to a "magic" based theme!

Here's my unboxing of the v2 upgrade kit as well as a representative component view of one of the three expansions (Ghillie)...



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Thu Aug 10, 2017 6:40 pm
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Mobile Online Play: Prefer Real-Time or Asynchronous?

Kevin L. Kitchens
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Setting aside the possibility of hot seat, same device play. When you're playing an online digital game, specifically on mobile which experience do you prefer?

Real-Time: All players must be connected at the same time throughout the entire game.

Asynchronous: Each player submits their "turn" at their leisure, getting notified via the app/platform when it's their time to play. This allows players to do other task and essentially pause games when life interrupts.

Poll
Which online multiplayer architecture do you prefer?
Real-Time
Asynchronous
No Preference
      173 answers
Poll created by klkitchens


After you answer, check out some disturbing views of Asmodee Digital in this recent interview. Seems they want to ruin online gaming the same way Asmodee is trying to ruin boardgame distribution and retailing. "Our way or the highway" should be their new tyrannical slogan.

EDIT: Asmodee has since walked back some of their clearly stated comments as being unclear... so hopefully that means they are listening to the gaming community a little more now.
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Thu Jun 8, 2017 6:39 pm
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Lost Battalion's Sergeants First Class Customer Service

Kevin L. Kitchens
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In light of my recent customer service debacle (in resolution as we speak, I should add), I was pleasantly surprised that my next encounter with a group of front line folks went so smoothly.

I recently picked up in trade a copy of Sergeants Miniatures Game: Day of Days, a tactical, card-driven, minis game that I'd been eyeing for some time. It was a first edition copy from 2011 though (fair enough since I traded a first edition of D-Day at Tarawa, without the cool new mounted board). In 2013, the game was updated with a new rulebook, smaller borders for housing the puzzle piece style map, and included two additional miniatures (now 10 vs. 8). In order to protect customers who bought the game previously, Lost Battalion Games offered a free upgrade kit to bring your 1.0 to 2.0. You simply needed to ask when you placed or order, or order the kit directly and pay the shipping.

But that was in 2013 and surely four years later that offer would no longer be available, right?

Wrong.

I emailed their customer service, explained I'd gotten the game used and it had never been upgraded and would like to make sure I was getting the full current experience before buying any additional expansions.

Did they say "Go away!" "You're not our customer!"

Nope. They very kindly replied that while no one had asked for an upgrade in some time, they would get one assembled right away and sent out to me for the cost of shipping. And they did. And 2-3 days later I had everything I needed to bring the game up to date.

NICELY DONE LOST BATTALION!

That kind of positive customer service goes a long way toward building brand and company loyalty.

So how's the game?

In the middle of playing the first scenario. The starter kit is made easier since there are fewer soldiers to choose from. So like playing the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game starter kit, you have decisions on building your squad, but at the same time it will make you hungry for more.



But so far, I have to say I'm really enjoying it. It's a diceless system, everything is resolved through decks of action cards and a story deck that can produce some interesting events. The miniatures game uses a hybrid of true measuring (closer range) and estimating "squares" (longer range) between units. But it works pretty seamlessly.

While not designed for solo play, it's definitely soloable. You lose some hidden and surprise information, but the experience without those factors is still one worth playing.

The downside of the Miniatures game is the cost. While it's definitely a value for what you get in the fully painted pewter miniatures and nice laser cut counters (though unlike my VPG experience, I did find these sooty and in need of wiping), like X-Wing you can sink a bundle into building up armies. For a solo player that cost would double.

Fortunately, Lost Battalion offers Sergeants D-Day as well, which is the "board game" version of the same system. While you lose the pewter miniatures, they are replaced by nice laser cut standees. The board also gets reduced in size, thus requiring far less table space. Distance measurement solely becomes square counting instead of inches, so there is no toggle between the two systems. But even better, you get more bang for your buck. The same great gameplay, but you get over twice as many soldiers included at a much reduced price.

I hope to get a copy of this version soon and do a full unboxing video and review, but until then... battle on!
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Tue May 30, 2017 5:48 pm
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Caveat Emptor! Avoid Buying "Mechs vs. Minions" from a Third Party

Kevin L. Kitchens
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As noted in my full review (I'm in a Mechs-ican Rodeo -- a Ones Upon a Game Review), Mechs vs. Minions is an amazing game full of fun and replayability. The production values are incredible and the game is sure to be a classic. Fortunately, Riot Games appears to have many copies in stock of the second wave and at an unbelievable price, so getting your copy (for now) should not be too hard.

Unfortunately, I bought mine during the lull between waves from a third party here on BGG only to find out that Riot will not provide support for the game sold by anyone but them.

Here's the deal. After winning my copy in a BGG Geekbay Auction, I finally set out to play it. It was in great condition, only the first mission had been unsealed and everything was fine. Until I went to shuffle the cards. I didn't anticipate how thick the cards actually were and when shuffling the command deck riffle-style, the last card in line snagged and bent about a quarter-inch.

It was my own fault of course, but I'd never had this happen before. Now the card was marked. I tried to straighten it out, but if you look close enough, you could still see the problem.

Argh!

In general, the marking is not really relevant. You cannot see if from the side and only if it were the top card on the deck would you know it was coming up -- and the odds of that are not that great. And even then, you're still getting 5+ cards dealt each round.

Being a purist though, I didn't want the card to be marked while playing. So that left me with three options:

1. I could just buy some sleeves with opaque backs and use those for the command deck. Problem is, I've outgrown using sleeves for most games. They really just aren't worth the hassle and expense. But still an option.

2. I could just ignore it. As I said, it barely affects the play of the game.

3. I could reach out to Riot Games and see about buying a replacement card or deck. Based on past experience with other publishers, this option made the most sense. I didn't want the game to be "damaged" just in case I didn't like it and wanted to sell it or trade it down the line.

I've bought wargames before where the previous owner had hacked off the corners of counters with fingernail clippers or X-Acto blades and bought new sheets of counters so they could be rounded more cleanly. I've had damaged components (miniatures, counters, etc.) replaced free of charge. Certainly Riot would be able to sell me a card or deck to resolve this dilemma.

Right Riot? Wrong Riot.

I navigated their cryptic system to submit my request (you have to use the League of Legends support system as there is nothing direct for MvM). But I found the right path and sent in the details of my problem.

They responded very fast too (very nice! Well done!)

Riot Games Player Support wrote:
Hey Kevin,

If you give us your order number I can go ahead and reorder a replacement for the cards as a whole as I can't just send one by itself. This would be free of charge but it would also be a One time exception. Meaning we may not be able to help with future problems of similar variety.

Um, OK. I don't have an order number since I bought this second hand... Maybe I should tell them this. And I did and offered to get the order number from the person I bought the game from if necessary.

And they replied... and upped the ante.

Riot Games Player Support wrote:
Hey Kevin,

Yeah I'm definitely gonna need that order number to go further. Also I can't change the address of where it will be sent to.

Well what good does that do me? I mean I *could* ask the guy for the order number, have them send the cards to him, and then pay him to send them to me. Of course I COULD do that. But that seemed a bit silly when they could just send them to me. I'd even pay for them (they aren't much good without the game anyway).

So whaddya say, Riot?

Riot Games Player Support wrote:
Hey Kevin,

We generally can't and don't support anyone that didn't purchase the game directly from us and we don't sell replacement parts directly. If you are able to get in contact with the original owner. We can send them the replacement and you can get it from them as they are the original purchaser from us directly.

If you are unable to get in contact or reach them for any reason. We can't actually help you in this regard as is stated in our policies.

Unfortunately we can't help you further otherwise.

"We generally can't and don't support anyone that didn't purchase the game directly from us and we don't sell replacement parts directly."

Giving one last try, I replied again that this was not a very helpful policy.

Riot Games Player Support wrote:
Hey Kevin,

Sorry for the inconvenience. As we are the original and only official seller of Mech vs Minions. We only offer our assistance in regards to replacing parts and orders to those that bought our products directly from us in official channels (our merch site). We can't offer support to those who buy from third parties as we have no records of their orders and can't properly put in reorders or replacements for them with out that.

If you have a question on mechanics or rules of the game we are able to help you and gladly will.

Once again, sorry that we can't help further,

It's a pretty common practice to trade or resell games. And if there are problems with the game, the publisher will usually stand behind them for a reasonable time without requiring any sort of stipulation on where it was purchased. (I've bought counter sheets years after the game was released, for example)

I do know that some owners reported damage to some of the components which Riot promptly and happily replaced (good!). But if someone buys an unopened copy from another gamer, then opens it to find there are missing or damaged parts, the new owner is pretty much out of luck getting the stuff fixed (apart from the circumlocution route required by Riot).

So the moral of this story of course is to pretty much avoid buying or trading the game from a third party unless you're 100% sure it's in excellent condition with all the requisite parts. And even then, you run the risk of causing damage yourself or in shipment that cannot be (with any sense of ease) restored.

As stated though, the good news is that Riot has MvM available, so there is no need to look to the aftermarket to get a copy.

For now.
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Sun May 21, 2017 6:32 pm
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Well Done Gears of War!

Kevin L. Kitchens
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Even though before my return to boardgaming I considered myself and avid PC gamer (even running a gaming website for several years), somehow the Gears of War series just never crossed my path. I think it seemed a little console-like with the 3rd-person action, etc. and I was part of the PC Master Race (and still am as far as that goes -- until consoles provide a mouse/keyboard and get rid of that silly controller, I have no place for them).

So anyway to boardgames, one of the better solitaire games was and is Gears of War: The Board Game from Fantasy Flight Games and designer Corey Konieczka. Sadly FFG lost/let go the license to the IP and it's gone out of print -- so grab a copy when you can, it's really good. Hopefully we'll see the game released again with a new IP in the future.

But this game exposed me to the world that is Gear of War, it's characters, it's enemies, and it's weapons. So much so that when the Microsoft released for the Xbox One/Windows 10 the most recent Gears of War 4, I now had a connection to make me want to explore the digital version of this world a little more.

Unfortunately there were two issues.

1. The price. Being a console game, those usually are very cost prohibitive.

2. The rating. Given the mislabeled rating of "M" for "Mature" (it should be "I" for "Immature") due to among other things "Strong Language", this presented a stumbling block for me enjoying the game. I just don't want to hear potty mouth language at any time... and while it's sadly becoming increasingly common in work and other forms of entertainment (as well as very distressingly our kids lives), it certainly doesn't have to be. If a game or movie does not have profanity, no one will miss it. But adding it is going to alienate someone -- even if it's only us aging holdouts of decency and good manners.

Fortunately problem #1 was solved via a recent sale on Kinguin. However I was not sure how to remedy the larger problem #2. I figured I would simply have to turn off the voices in the game and ignore the closed captioning when it displayed the unneeded F-bombs that were sure to happen.

So I went ahead and grabbed a copy of the game.

And boy was I pleasantly surprised!

In a classy (and classic) move, Microsoft Game Studios and The Coalition added a "Mature Content Filter". Still misnamed, but I'll take it! While not perfect and a few slips get through the filter, all the voice and CC profanity is lifted from the game in a nearly seamless way. When videogames were first coming into the modern age in the early 90s, games did not have such content included, respecting their audience. But as they started added more mature themes, the immature language would be included. But it was typically optional and had to be turned on or at least could be filtered out.

A very nice nod to the way things used to be. And a great idea for games that kids (even under 17) are still likely to get their hands on, but that parents can at least keep things a little more civilized.

WELL DONE!
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Fri Feb 3, 2017 8:54 pm
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Two Wrongs Never Make a Right -- No Place for Sexism in Gaming

Kevin L. Kitchens
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Recently a game was released (which out of respect will not name) that made the odd decision to include only female characters. This was not done for any thematic or historic purpose, but apparently only to "get back" (in a lighthearted way?) at games in the hobby's male-oriented past that had previously only included male characters.

But do two wrongs ever make a right? Of course not.

Here in 2017 I was under the impression that the gaming community wanted inclusiveness and open games to wider audiences. As we've seen to be the new and positive trend, most games include either a selection of characters of all genders and races or they simply include a fixed number of characters that can either be played male or female, with opposite sides of the cards being equal.

For a long time the cry was that it was not right for girls to be forced to play only male characters -- they needed female characters they could identify with. And again, outside of historic or thematic context, that makes complete sense. (We should not portray Harriet Tubman as a male or Robert E. Lee as a woman for example just to be inclusive.)

So having all male characters is considered a bad thing. Check.
Forcing girls to unnecessarily play male characters is a bad thing. Check.

So great strides have been made recently to make games open to all.

Until this game took a huge step backwards.

If making characters all male is bad, then making all characters female is equally bad. Common sense.

If making girls play male characters is bad, then making boys play female characters is equally bad. Common sense.

"You can twist perceptions, reality won't budge."
~ Neal Peart "Show Don't Tell" (Rush)


No victory was scored for gender equity by this designer's decision. The reality is that each game exists on its own and has no effect on what other games do or did -- except in the example they set. The problem here is one of pragmatism: "the end justifies the means". This causes so much more trouble than it ever helps. While the designer had good intentions I'm sure, they took a wrong course to arrive at that goal. They set the bad example that it's ok to be sexist for the "right" reasons. And as we see from the unbiased definition of sexism, their choice demonstrated a "prejudice...based on sex". The motive does not change the reality of the action.

Consider that last year Detroit had water quality issues. Not discussing how they happened or whose fault it was, but the fact was, the water was (is?) tainted. The only solution was to fix Detroit's water. No extra processing of the water in Chicago, Des Moines, or Cleveland was going to do anything for Detroit. Those cities had their own quality and Detroit had theirs. You couldn't change Ann Arbor's water to all treatment chemicals to fix Detroit. All that did was make Ann Arbor's water just as bad.

Likewise consider a bullying situation. If a bigger kid is oppressing and harming a smaller kid, that's wrong. But is it right if another small kid decides to "correct the bullying problem" by taking a baseball bat to a different bigger kid? Of course not! Both actions are wrong and the second attack did nothing to correct the first one.

Hopefully this is an isolated mistake and that most game publishers will continue to follow the positive examples made by many great games that provides options that include everyone and allow them to play as they see fit.

Except for orange meeples. Do we really need those?

(I apologize to all orange meeples who took offense to this)

Edit: Please note that nowhere have I ever said nor implied that I personally would have a problem playing a game as a female character.
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Wed Jan 11, 2017 1:03 pm
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