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Bios: Megafauna» Forums » Sessions

Subject: I love randomness, but ... rss

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David Hailey
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I really, really wanted to like this game. I figured it would be a good choice for three players and was able to coerce my gaming buddies to give it a try. Our reactions were mixed. It feels like the randomness contributes greatly to the replay value, but how often will an epic tale be told? Were our plays atypical duds (near duds)?

The learning curve was pretty steep. It took me the better part of a day to sort out the rules and run enough solo tries to feel like I had the hang of it, but I then felt it would be easy enough to teach. I feel strongly it is one of those games that playing through a few turns quickly allows most options and game play to be revealed and then a restart makes sense.

After five or six turns, I suggested a restart, but the guys were willing to keep going with what we had. In hindsight, I see this may have been foreshadowing what became our greatest criticism – the game plays you more than you play it. This is a common concern for us, but one that can be overcome by a compelling story. Sure the Atlantic Rift cuts adrift a few species, immigrants and competing species can make life difficult, but the greenhouse effects feel odd. I get that they, along with catastrophes, drastically alter the planet, but the difficulty to prepare for these random events combined with unrecognizable ‘new’ planet amplified the feeling of having no control. I am the guy with the strongest affinity for randomness in the group, but it was a little much for even me. The map also feels a little more abstract than I might hope.

Game #1 – John - white, Joe - orange, David (me) - red

Land was scarce as were mutations with only one M available. I picked it up, but was stymied by surrounding MM biomes. The temperature dropped quickly through Erosion and then ended with a solar flare before we got out of the Jurassic period. Allowing the second Erosion is an error undetected at the time, but John was running away with the game at that point. I was erased from the map out by immigrants and extinction and Joe was hanging on by a thread.

The consensus was that the game not worth a replay, but I pushed for another try, hoping that our first game was an anomaly. I convinced them to play 30 minutes into another game and then we could access whether to continue or trash it.

Game #2 – John - red, Joe - green, David (me) - orange

We started with many more mutation options this time, but again only one M early. John snatched it and controlled the seas. We had a much more populated earth this go ‘round. I had freedom to roam to the northeast happily eating trees, BB, until Joe evolved a flyer that started hassling my species. After 30 minutes, we were more than half way and decided we were engaged enough to see it through. The greenhouse effect initially went up aiding John’s sea expansion, then fell again, but not before new tiles and Milankovich events targeted my biomes once again erasing me from the map. John won again easily, but it still seemed he did little more than play the hand he was dealt. However, I must admit that we struggle to give John the credit he deserves for his decision making.

Final thoughts – Joe felt it was one of the worst games he had played in a while. John liked it okay, but did agree the decisions were rather limited, mostly obvious, and thwarted by randomness. I share these criticisms, but am hanging on to a belief that there is more to this game than we uncovered in our two plays. Last night, I packed it up with a sadness that it would never return from the shelf, but writing this session report combined with my waking up with thoughts of habitable biomes has me anxious to give it another try. I will have to find a different group of players. It will be like waiting for the draw of a volcanic tile to stem the glacial creep, but the opportunity will surface – hopefully soon.


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Justus
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yeah that was the feeling I got from the game. Its a highly variable area control game where you better get used to managing the fact the world is GOING to f' with you the whole f'in time.

Fortunately I enjoy tactical games and don't mind losing games if I get a good story. That said, I do think there is plenty of room for skill in managing the craziness around you, so as long as the cards don't totally hose you, you should be able to do well, even if you need a little luck to end up on top.
 
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John Watts
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dhailey wrote:

The learning curve was pretty steep.

.....what became our greatest criticism – the game plays you more than you play it. This is a common concern for us, but one that can be overcome by a compelling story. Sure the Atlantic Rift cuts adrift a few species, immigrants and competing species can make life difficult, but the greenhouse effects feel odd. I get that they, along with catastrophes, drastically alter the planet, but the difficulty to prepare for these random events combined with unrecognizable ‘new’ planet amplified the feeling of having no control. I am the guy with the strongest affinity for randomness in the group, but it was a little much for even me. The map also feels a little more abstract than I might hope.



Thankfully i was taught the game but i would certainly agree with it having a steep learning curve (particularly they are 'typical' Phil Ekland rules - loads of information, but not necessarily written to help the game get to the table easily).

I think your session report does an excellent job of summing up what is great about the game, and also what many people will also find worst about it.

Sometimes the game system does take over and it can be very frustrating to have little (and sometimes no) choice what to do. But i think you hit the nail on the head when you say that this 'can be overcome by a compelling story.'

Hope you get to play again.
 
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Vasilis
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We had the same experience. Fortunately Phil Eklund is pretty open-minded about player feedback and he immediately took notice about such issues.

You should check with the yahoo group and download the living rules. There have been 2 additions already, new optional rules that drastically alter the play experience. We implemented them immediately and the game was a totally different experience.
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Gunther Schmidl
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Are you using the living rules, which address the randomness problems?
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Steve Carey
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dhailey wrote:
It feels like the randomness contributes greatly to the replay value, but how often will an epic tale be told?


Randomness in BIOS is reminding me of similar comments often being made about URBAN SPRAWL. In US, we learned that experience and skilled play were able to mitigate much of that randomness, and URBAN SPAWL ended up being my top game of 2011. Hoping the same for BIOS in 2012.

dhailey wrote:
The learning curve was pretty steep.


It certainly is. I've invested a lot of time in BIOS the past few days, but it's actually been a compelling experience as I find myself being entertained by the rich theme and history the deeper that I explore it.

dhailey wrote:
Last night, I packed it up with a sadness that it would never return from the shelf.


Like you, even now I wonder how often BIOS will hit the table but I do appreciate the designer's efforts to make his games more playable (as I've mentioned elsewhere, HIGH FRONTIER ended up being just too much for me and was very reluctantly shelved).
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Roger Taylor
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There are some little things you can do to help yourself.

1. Note the climax numbers of the biomes. If a biome has a low climax number it might not be worth expanding to it, as it might be replaced by a new biome, get rolled over by a higher climax biome in a Greenhouse change, or get removed by a Milankovich event.

2. Giving your predator at least one P DNA will make it safe from most immigrant predators. Giving your herbivore a niche DNA will make it safe(r) from immigrant herbivores.

3. The more species you have on the board, the more able you are to acquire genotypes directly into your fossil record and bank points. That's the least messy way to do it. (You don't have to replace a map animal and possibly drive its species extinct.)
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David Hailey
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It is interesting to think about the comparison to Urban Sprawl. I also consider Urban Sprawl one of my favorites of 2011. There are two key differences for me:

1) The significance of the catastrophes is quite different. They add great flavor to both games, but it is much easier to adapt and recover from the events in Urban Sprawl.

2) I also find in Urban Sprawl that the placement of unique buildings, while not significant once on the board, sticks with me. I remember that a certain tile represents the bakery or courthouse. This helps the development of the story. I try to care about the particular mutation to my species or what specific plant is dominant in the biome I'm in, but I'm not there yet. Everything is still more abstract in my mind when playing Bios.
 
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Tom W -
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Caveat: I have only played 5 games thus far.

Im in agreement with the OP. I find myself wanting to like the game, but it almost feels as if player decisions have minimal effect on who actually wins.

As in the OP, the choice of DNA is often obvious when its your turn. Meaning you might as well play against a solitare bot than a human player. This seems to be primarily driven by a lack of choices. It is not uncommon for the card row to be filled up with A's without any DNA that lets you feed on a new biome.

Finally from an game-ist perspective, the game has no (but really needs a) catch up mechanic. The only way to 'dig' for fresh DNA cards hastens the end of the game, brings more catastophies, and in general benefits the player in the lead.

It is extremely easy to shake off opponents carnivores with a random buy of some roadrunner DNA from the card row. The carnivore slot seems less a way to actually compete, and more a way for the player in the lead to just double his points by custom crafting (and then not shaking off) predators for his own species.

All 5 of my games went like this:
1. Reptile player buys a 2-gene M and then start immediately spreading to the multitude of sea biomes around him.
2. Mammal spends most of his genes to get the one I or B on the card row. There are no M tiles next to the mammal.
3. Reptile continues to use all of his actions to spread new children species through adjacent M's
4. Mammal spends most of his actions trying to increase size and migrate to the only other B biome nearby
5. Reptile custom crafts a MPP predator and starts doubling all his points on the board
6. Catastrophe takes out the herbivores B biome leaving only I's and BBs nearby.
7. Reptile scores gobs of points
8. Mammal looks for an I card but none come up
9. reptile makes an MM and colonizes an MM or two
10. Mammal gives up on cards and makes a M herbivore as he is finally next to an M. At this point the reptile player has such a point lead the mammal cannot catch up.
 
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John Watts
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Believe me Torn, there is far more variety in the way the game kills off the various species than the one you describe here. I guess you must have had a bit of bad luck with the randomness.

Just two weeks ago I had a first. We had the delightful experience, in a 4 player game, in which every species on the map was wiped out because of a single event - an average of about 4-5 lovingly created and diverse creatures each.

Marvellous.
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