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Subject: Dresden Files Card Game: I Wish Arkham Horror LCG Was This Good rss

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Denis Maddalena
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I'll start by saying I have no particular love or hate of the Dresden series. The game was demo'd awhile ago at my FLGS, but I didn't get a chance to play then. A gaming buddy of mine is a massive fan; I'd asked him, "I've heard of the series... wasn't it a tv show or something?" Well, his death stare lead me to downloading the audiobook of the first title in the book series, but the way James Marsden kept accentuating "soul gaze" turned me off, so I was done after an hour of that mess.

From a totally gameplay standpoint, I'm okay with coop games. I like theme, but at the end of the day I want something that makes me think a bit. What with all the investigatory themed stuff coming out recently, especially the pairing of occult and clue gathering, I was totally prepared to blow it off. Mansions of Madness 2E felt fantastic to me, with tension and decision making where to focus efforts, the unclear path to solving the mystery stretching ahead of you... the Dresden Files card game is a small box with a few cards in it, seemingly quite expensive for the 40 USD price tag.

Never underestimate Eric Vogel.

Dresden Files is, much like the FFG Lovecraft games, an "investigation in progress". As it turns out, I didn't know what Mansions and the others were really doing wrong, I was so caught up in the flavor of it all. This, at least as an abstraction of an investigation, is superior in that you're presented all information upfront, but need to really think (!) about how to use everything at your disposal instead of throwing Jenny Barnes' fabulous guns at the problem and hoping you don't roll like crap.

Gameplay is, as I'm appreciating more about the best games these days, simple at its core. You're just attempting to solve more mysteries than there are villains left on the board at the end of the game by playing cards. Each game's deck is composed of varying numbers of these two types of cards (villains and mysteries), plus two others that provide advantages to gain or obstacles to overcome, all told totalling 12 cards plus a Showdown card. Each character deck is a set of ten cards, each one of four types that interact primarily with one of the four types in the game deck, plus a once-per-game (usually) Stunt and a continuous perk to round them out.

Setup, like the game itself, is incredibly fast. All counters go into a pool clearly marked on the board, with starting resources dependent on the difficulty setting you want to play at. The Showdown card for one of five core box missions or the randomly generated Side Jobs is placed it its space, and the matching deck shuffled and dealt amongst the twelve spaces, two rows of ranges 1-6. Advantage and Obstacle cards that are dealt into the range 6 spaces swap places with the highest ranged enemy or mystery in that same row. This step takes about a minute, or less if you're playing a few games in a row. Missions are nicely varied, and after setup played are advised to familiarize themselves with how things came out; some cards affect others, often effectively locking them out of the game but causing a hindrance. The frog demon in the first mission can't be attacked until a particular card is dealt with, for example, but he eats up a space, causing you to maybe try to get the Advantage that pushes him to the back of the row. In the same mission, killing a guy will remove clues from a particular mystery, and killing another will add clues to a different mystery.

Character setup is variable. At 3-4 players, each player gets one character deck. At two players, two characters for each are shuffled together, and solo, you get three character decks all separate from each other. This is the single largest difference in gameplay, and each player count feels different.

On a turn a player can either use a card for its effect by paying its cost, discard it without any effect to recharge the shared resource pool by an amount equal to the cost and trigger their character's persistent ability, use their Stunt, or pass, which costs one resource. Cards may only target things within their range, so players are often trying to tweak the ranges of their own cards or bring cards on the board "closer" to affect them.

Characters are all very unique. Their cards are quite different, either due to unique effects, variable range, damage, or cost. Harry himself shines when rows are full of mysteries or enemies, and manipulates where Advantage or Obstacle cards sit on the board. The werewolves are good at doing things at longer ranges than most, but with some extra randomness or higher cost.

Randomness is used very well in Dresden Files. The character decks are bigger than the number of cards you'll draw at the start of the game, so you won't have access to everything you might want or need, and with no set draw phase, you'll have to work out how to use card abilities or gain Advantages to draw more cards. How the mission deck is distributed also makes a large difference in the difficulty, or how to approach, the scenario; Obstacles at range 5 will often require Harry to bring them closer so they can be dealt with early. Finally, the game includes some apparently exclusively colored Fate dice used to modify certain cards. If you're not familiar, a Fate die (or rather, a fudge die produced for the Fate system) is a six-sider with two '-', two '+', and two blanks. If a card value has a number in a square next to it, you roll that number of these dice and modify the value by the end result; that is, if [2]3, you'd roll two dice and modify the 3, resulting in a potential spread of 1-5. This results in some tough decisions, but you roll the dice after playing a card but before picking a target, so the times you have no effect are up to you. The potential for variable resource cost, however, is one way to trigger the endgame automatically.

The Showdown phase is the final bit of the game, triggered either at-will or when a player can't pay a resource cost fully (variable cost cards that reduce the resource pool to -1 or less or being forced to pass with 0 resources in the pool). This is the last stand against the game, which you might have already won handily by this point; however, if cards in hand are ineffectual on board state, and you're in a losing situation, filling the resource pool and relying on the Showdown to win the game is possible. The Showdown card itself indicates a number of resources, a value, and a variable number of Fate dice. For each mystery and villain still on the table with at least one token on them, players can choose to spend a number of resources from 0-4 depending on the Showdown card, to add extra clues/hits, potentially solving mysteries or killing villains. Generally speaking, the more resources you spend, the better chances you have of adding tokens to these cards. These numbers change based on the mission, and have very different odds of actually doing something beneficial; in the side mission Mano Y Mano's Showdown, mysteries only have one option, which is a 0 cost, 0 value, 6 fate dice test, meaning given even chances of all faces of the die, you're unlikely to come out ahead. In other missions you might be able to pay 4 resources for a 4 value, 4 fate dice test... which has won the game for us a couple times.

The players only win if they solve MORE mysteries than there are villains left on the table. This didn't seem very thematic to me, at least knowing a particular demon is still running loose but we still "won", yet when all is done, it's all nice and tense the whole way through. Requiring absolute victory would be insane.

To package it all up for you: the game itself is pretty incredible... at least with 2+ players. As a solo game, you have completely open information and slightly less cards than you would in a standard three-player game, and it all feels like you're just solving a math problem. It's not terrible, but it kicks the soul of the game in its spiritual teeth. No, the core of Dresden Files is in its cooperative, limited information structure. You don't know what's in other hands, and can only ask and state general things, like "Are you good on clue gathering?" and "Is it okay to eat up some resources on a big attack?" This keeps players involved, cussing as the resources dwindle, agonized over whether they should ditch this high value attack card to fuel their friends because they should be able to handle it. They SHOULD, but maybe they can't, because they still have cards in their deck. Maybe Harry, who should be great at shooting things with fire, is staring at a ton of cards in his hand but the attacks are the last three in his deck, and there's no obvious way to retrieve them right now. It all feels a bit like Beyond Baker Street for me, wishing you could just scream the values and numbers of cards so everyone is on the same page, but knowing all you can do is trust everyone else to do their job and help out.

To this point, then, the initial hand makes for the largest change in gameplay, as mentioned earlier. At three players, each character will likely see everything in their deck, save maybe one card. At four, and especially two, players this goes out the window. More cards between the players means more resources, but without dedicated card draw, every single card has to count.

Component-wise, it's a mixed bag. Art is good and design is clean, but the art is mostly rehashes of the same thing (Marvel Legendary style). Tokens, cards, and the board are all good quality, and the box is your standard not-too-thin-but-not-Eagle-Gryphon quality. If you're a sleever, you might have an issue. Evil Hat has never been good about sleeve-readiness, in their board games line, but in this case it was absolutely ridiculous. At a glance I was quite excited to see they finally left room for sleeving, and tossed on a couple Ultra Pro Mattes... and the edges bent. So I tried KMC Perfect Fit, my de facto solution to this problem in most cases, and still no luck. So what happened here? I have no clue, but the insert itself leaves about 5mm of wiggle from the box edges on all sides, a shallow taper that could have easily been used to allow for sleeving. Bah. Anyway, the card dividers are at least great and informative, displaying the number and a rough "quality" of cards in each character deck, as well as the number of cards types in each mission.

Expansions will add two new characters, missions, and a few side missions each, but if you're waiting on them to get the "full" experience, don't. There's a ton to do in the base game alone.

I absolutely have to give this game a resounding stamp of approval. Even with the sleeving concerns (kind of a big deal for me), Dresden Files is an incredibly well-done game, with tight economy, great reliance on teamwork, and plenty of variability to keep it on the table for hours, even if a single game might last only a half hour. Going into side missions keeps up the variety, with a large pool of pretty dramatic cards and a good number of Showdowns that really tweak the endgame. Maybe it all feels a bit euro for some, but I kept thinking back to the fun I had in Mansions of Madness and the Arkham Horror LCG. These games do story and theme pretty well, pushing me to go explore, but Dresden Files really makes their gameplay feel very dull to me. Rolling dice or pulling tokens to discover something isn't nearly as satisfying to me as pulling together a string of cards with some shared struggle and thoughtful maneuvering. While Dresden is missing that "what happens next?" story moment of the FFG games, it feels a lot more like INVESTIGATING, with careful analysis and relying on your coworkers to pull their weight at the fore instead of yet-another-scary-story with movement and a good amount of luck being your constraints. It lacks in overt atmosphere, but it's hard to tell behind the furrowed brows and concentration, the weighing of odds of a dice roll against the dwindling pool of resources you're expected to protect. It also feels meatier and volumes more thematic than the paper-thin atmosphere and very restrictive variety of Beyond Baker Street.

Ransom side note: My Dresden fan buddy did warn me there are major spoilers in the missions, the "who is this guy?" factor maybe causing an issue for some of you out there. I don't really mind, myself... I just wanted a good game, and Dresden Files delivers.










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Chris Hanrahan
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As a quick note, KMC Perfect Fit 'Hard' sleeves, (some of the best on the market) fit the cards perfectly and still fit quite nicely in the box. It's a shame the sleeving community isn't more in tune with the much better alternatives out there than just Mayday and FFG wich leave stupid room at the tops of cards.
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Denis Maddalena
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pennman42 wrote:
As a quick note, KMC Perfect Fit 'Hard' sleeves, (some of the best on the market) fit the cards perfectly and still fit quite nicely in the box. It's a shame the sleeving community isn't more in tune with the much better alternatives out there than just Mayday and FFG wich leave stupid room at the tops of cards.


Hmm... not sure how to take that. It read a bit like condescension. Surely you also know KMC doesn't make board game sleeve sizes, Ultra Pro are actually taller and wider than FFG, and Swan is the only other company who tends to do anything as consistent as FFG with their sleeves? I've actually had some KMC Hyper Mattes miscut by 2mm. Curious about the Arcane Tinmen sleeves, but they ain't really available that cheap around here. Frankly, I'm just happy if people sleeve their cards at all, even if it gives me the creeps touching penny sleeves on single cards.

KMC Perfect Fit are actually tighter than Hard... and they didn't fit, as I noted when trying those after the Ultra Pro.

Must be just the local copies that had the issue with the insert I guess.
 
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Matt Tucker
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Great review. I'm super excited to play my copy. Some people think the game comes down to Hail Mary rolls in the showdown. What did you think about the luck factor in the game?
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Eric Vogel
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KMC "Perfrect Size" sleeves are the ones that fit, and will still go back in the box in the normal orientation, not "perfect fit"

I sleeved One of my sets using days. There's another thread on sleeving.

Thanks for doing the review :-)
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Christian Kløve
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While I cetainly agree with you, that Dresden files is awesome, I don't really see the comparison with the Arkham files games. For me they scratch completely different itches, and I've loved each of them (Dresden, Arkham Horror the card game and Mansions of Madness 2nd).
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Denis Maddalena
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Mahuloq wrote:
Great review. I'm super excited to play my copy. Some people think the game comes down to Hail Mary rolls in the showdown. What did you think about the luck factor in the game?


We've found mostly, if we did our job right, there really isn't a hail mary going on at all. It can be used as a tool, the thing that likely gives you the very last point you need, or if we really got slowed down, it's a shot in the dark that ain't hardly gonna win you the game. Luck is definitely a factor like practically every coop, though it feels more contained to me. As it stands we've got a 70ish percent win rate, and two games were won during the Showdown. Each time we needed to solve one mystery or kill two monsters, though margins were very different. We've also lost in the showdown, obviously, even if all we had to do was kill one dude with a couple more points of damage.

I guess what I'm saying is, yeah, it's a bit random, but it's applied very well.
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Denis Maddalena
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erichv wrote:
KMC "Perfrect Size" sleeves are the ones that fit, and will still go back in the box in the normal orientation, not "perfect fit"


Yeah, these are the ones that failed me... the insert totally had room to grow on all sides, but I'll have to do the ol' foamcore box in mine.

Thanks for designing the game, though! Your stuff is practically auto-buy for me at this point.
 
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Denis Maddalena
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Kløve wrote:
While I cetainly agree with you, that Dresden files is awesome, I don't really see the comparison with the Arkham files games. For me they scratch completely different itches, and I've loved each of them (Dresden, Arkham Horror the card game and Mansions of Madness 2nd).


It's really just theme that pairs them together. All the games are supernatural investigation coops, but my main point in calling out the others is that this is the first of the investigatory genre besides Consulting Detective I've played that's more thinking and careful application than a thinly disguised dungeon crawl. I guess there's one mission in MoM that forces you to put the pieces together yourself or totally fail at stopping a ritual, but mostly you're just clicking a button and gathering arbitrary evidence before punching a goat spawn in the face.

I keep referencing MoM, but AH LCG is similar, just has those awkward situations where you need to draw a Physical Training to help with the situation but you totally forgot you went to the gym last week so it hasn't come up yet. It's ultimately just another story-driven dungeon crawl rather than thoughtful and tense.
 
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Christian Kløve
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eypyeash wrote:
I keep referencing MoM, but AH LCG is similar, just has those awkward situations where you need to draw a Physical Training to help with the situation but you totally forgot you went to the gym last week so it hasn't come up yet. It's ultimately just another story-driven dungeon crawl rather than thoughtful and tense.


I (obviously from my previous comment) don't see it that way. For me, it would mean that the version of the character, you are playing, didn't go to the gym. In AH:tcg the deck represents the posibilities for the character, the hand is what she or he actually has at her disposal. Yes, there are less thematic situations (allies showing up in locked locations for example), but since these are supernatural stories, they can be explained (away).

The situation you describe is the same as Harry forgetting how to case Pyrofuego. This can be explained by him being too exhausted to cast the spell - or can be seen as unthematic, how would he not know how to?
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Michael D. Kelley
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Agree with Christian. I'm loving Dresden, but Arkham LCG is a very different game, and wonderful in its own way.

I've had incredibly tense finishes in both games: Crazy showdown rolls in Dresden, and last-chance bag draws to defeat a GOO or complete the investigation in Arkham.
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Eric Vogel
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Kløve wrote:
The situation you describe is the same as Harry forgetting how to case Pyrofuego. This can be explained by him being too exhausted to cast the spell - or can be seen as unthematic, how would he not know how to?


Or maybe Queen Mab made him forget he knew how to cast it, that happens sometimes

Seriously though, the more streamlined a game is, the more a single mechanical element needs to represent multiple facets of the theme simultaneously. So Harrys drawing or not drawing his pyrofuego card represents more than his possessing the ability to use it. Characters being externally constrained from using their abilities by a variety of circumstances is a huge element of most Dresden Files plots. The laws of magic, the need to protect bystanders, deals with Mab, etc all tie Harry's hands at one time or another. If the game gave you tons of options, I don't think that would represent the feel of Harry's experience well.

If DFCO were a much longer game, with more materials and more chrome, like AH, them those things could be represented separately by different mechanical elements. But if I want the game to be fast, and easy to learn the basics, then I need to find a way to collapse those as I did here. However I'm still thinking about where each thematic element is represented.

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Denis Maddalena
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Kløve wrote:
eypyeash wrote:
I keep referencing MoM, but AH LCG is similar, just has those awkward situations where you need to draw a Physical Training to help with the situation but you totally forgot you went to the gym last week so it hasn't come up yet. It's ultimately just another story-driven dungeon crawl rather than thoughtful and tense.


I (obviously from my previous comment) don't see it that way. For me, it would mean that the version of the character, you are playing, didn't go to the gym. In AH:tcg the deck represents the posibilities for the character, the hand is what she or he actually has at her disposal. Yes, there are less thematic situations (allies showing up in locked locations for example), but since these are supernatural stories, they can be explained (away).

The situation you describe is the same as Harry forgetting how to case Pyrofuego. This can be explained by him being too exhausted to cast the spell - or can be seen as unthematic, how would he not know how to?


I suppose you're right, at least in terms of things being able to be explained away. Physical Training not coming up over the game could just represent physical exhaustion, illness... Daisy's Tome an aversion to using it.

But it still does nothing for me in terms of real problem solving. AH scenarios are pretty linear, and feel like little more than more interesting dungeon rooms. So far Carnevale has been my favorite AH scenario, but even that felt like being on a ferris wheel that would occasionally teleport you across the frame.

It could obviously be argued that Acts are just a more varied version of solving a mystery in Dresden; instead of just dropping clues on a card, you're trying to get to this location and have X things when you do it. But I think the tension is different, since AH uses the modifier tokens (way better than dice, by the way) and your deck of ways to cheat the system, and Dresden is incredibly refined.

To be honest, I rarely looked at the card titles in Dresden, I was so focused on the puzzle at hand. Maybe that's the real key to my issue; Arkham and Mansions are both SO thematic, and Dresden more abstract, it feels more "off" when the Lovecraft games make concessions. I remember fondly the fiery death of the party in Mansions when one investigator talked the other into throwing dynamite next to him to get rid of the Cthonian. I know Conversely, I never really get those "ah-HA!" moments either like I did with Dresden.
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Christian Kløve
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erichv wrote:
Or maybe Queen Mab made him forget he knew how to cast it, that happens sometimes


Exactly my point. Both games can be viewed as bland abstractions - which they are to a point, since they're games - but both also provide plenty of thematic ways of explaining why stuff happens.
 
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nicolas murphy
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Do you feel it is necessary to play with the limited info rule?

My roommates and I have played the game 3 times now, and we've played completely open info, with cards lied out and openly discussing. None of us are huge fans of the limited info mechanic in general, and my personal favorite part of coops is the discussions that take place, particularly in puzzle-y games like this one. In the rulebook it says that the limited info is to cut down on game time and to keep people from discussing endlessly, but it didn't seem to bog down the game at all. And every game came down to the wire so it was still very difficult. I'm sure we will try it the way it's supposed to be played soon just to try it out, but since game-time isn't an issue with open info, I don't see the point of being limited and vague with info.

What does everyone think?
 
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That's probably the rule I'm going to ignore the most.

...If I ever convince my gaming groups to play it. c.c
 
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Fred Hicks
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Open hand will make the game easier, and introduce a risk of an alpha player emerging, but you will not break the game by doing so.
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Denis Maddalena
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My personal opinion... the limited info itself introduces the real set of unknowns into the game, and are what make it interesting. With an open hand you're basically playing solo mode, which is really just a math puzzle with some fate dice for variables. Since the board state is static you could effectively preplan every move before committing. To me, that ain't fun.

You could try a toned down version of info limiting, though. Keep your hand hidden, but say things like "I need five Fate points to throw five clues on this thing". Or maybe reveal a single card in your hand every turn? I dunno. I enjoy it so much as it is, I can't truly justify cheating it like that.

I guess I'd compare this to playing Pandemic with open hands, but also playing with the entire Virus deck revealed. You have randomness in the travel deck, but the rest of the game at that point is just math. Would you enjoy that?

Every group is different in what they enjoy. The additional tension caused by players attempting to pick out what others can and will do to assist is really fantastic, I think. I wouldn't recommend this as a solo game, but if doing it open-handed because you might like that variant, reducing the initial draw to 6 in a 3-player (mimicking solo rules) or 5 in a 4-player could at least make it properly tight. A full hand with open information would be too much.
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nicolas murphy
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eypyeash wrote:
My personal opinion... the limited info itself introduces the real set of unknowns into the game, and are what make it interesting. With an open hand you're basically playing solo mode, which is really just a math puzzle with some fate dice for variables. Since the board state is static you could effectively preplan every move before committing. To me, that ain't fun.

You could try a toned down version of info limiting, though. Keep your hand hidden, but say things like "I need five Fate points to throw five clues on this thing". Or maybe reveal a single card in your hand every turn? I dunno. I enjoy it so much as it is, I can't truly justify cheating it like that.

I guess I'd compare this to playing Pandemic with open hands, but also playing with the entire Virus deck revealed. You have randomness in the travel deck, but the rest of the game at that point is just math. Would you enjoy that?

Every group is different in what they enjoy. The additional tension caused by players attempting to pick out what others can and will do to assist is really fantastic, I think. I wouldn't recommend this as a solo game, but if doing it open-handed because you might like that variant, reducing the initial draw to 6 in a 3-player (mimicking solo rules) or 5 in a 4-player could at least make it properly tight. A full hand with open information would be too much.



Interesting thoughts, we might do a half-way variant of the hidden info like you suggested and that might work for us. I think the full limited info would just annoy us. But your Pandemic comparison is a fair one, so we'll play around with it.
 
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nicolas murphy
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fredhicks wrote:
Open hand will make the game easier, and introduce a risk of an alpha player emerging, but you will not break the game by doing so.


Good, as long as it doesn't break anything. Great job on the Dice Tower interview at Gama.
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Chris Merritt
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ClimbingInEriador wrote:
Do you feel it is necessary to play with the limited info rule?


Alpha player dictating everything would be my strongest concern with open hand play, but if you and your friends keep that reined in, then go for it. Though as Fred mentioned, the game will be easier.
 
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Graham Zaretsky
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eypyeash wrote:
Well, his death stare lead me to downloading the audiobook of the first title in the book series, but the way James Marsden kept accentuating "soul gaze" turned me off, so I was done after an hour of that mess.

My sister-in-law also listens to audiobooks, but for the life of me, I don't get the attraction. I'd rather just sit and read a book (well, my kindle). For one thing, it forces you to focus on the story, and second, yeah, you can imagine the voices anyway you want them to be -- the way you imagine it is always going to be the right way. And if you want Orson Welles as narrator, you don't have to raise him from the dead and pay him. He's there in your head. And based on what I know about distracted driving, it really bothers me that she listens to the books while driving.

That said, Jim Butcher who wrote the series, started out kind of rough as a writer, but he got better as the series progressed. And even the early books are worth reading. There are better writers, but his books are just fun.
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I struggled to fit reading in once I left high school. I had a huge list of 'books I'll get to eventually.' Then a couple years back I was visiting a friend in another city and as he drove me around he had Harry Potter playing. And I had like an epiphany "Stephen Fry is reading me Harry Potter!". From that point I switched my commute from music to audiobooks. And since then I've got through every Harry Potter, Dresden Files, Discworld, Peter F. Hamilton Commonwealth novel, Good Omens, and The Long Earth series is up next. It's been amazing.
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Denis Maddalena
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Haldurson wrote:
My sister-in-law also listens to audiobooks, but for the life of me, I don't get the attraction. I'd rather just sit and read a book (well, my kindle).


I very much prefer reading... but with four hours of commute each day (driving, not public transport), audiobooks have the potential to be awesome. I don't absorb info very well aurally though, even if I can get past a weird reading cadence. In the grand scheme of personal priorities, reading is often under everything else. Too many projects, too easy to get distracted. Probably why I can deal with Lovecraft so well... a lot of mythos stories are only a few pages.
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Dreadknot Knotdread
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I am thoroughly enjoying listening to the audiobooks again before playing each book in the game.

If I were to try actually physically read the book, I wouldn't have even finished half by now. Simply no time. But listening on commutes or while I'm doing house chores, going for a run, etc, allows me to knock out a book every few days.

It also is much more enjoyable to have story fresh in my head while I'm playing the game. I get to enjoy the card names and interactions/dependencies more that way.

Speaking of which... Thank you Eric and Fred and whoever else made this game. Thank you for giving me an excuse to dive back into the world of Dresden again. Thank you for making such a great, tense, puzzly card game that even someone like me can win once in a while.
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