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TOPIC: The Perfect Campaign

The Perfect Campaign 02 Mar 2017 16:40 #244738

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The Perfect Campaign 02 Mar 2017 16:42 #244739

For 18 months, I rented out part of my house to an old gaming buddy going through a rough stretch. Despite our common interest in boardgaming, we almost never played any boardgames together during that whole stretch. The main reason was that he disliked AmeriTrash and preferred Eurogames from the '90s. Another reason was that he specifically didn't want to play RPG-lite boardgames because he greatly preferred playing actual RPGs. He was one of the regulars in my D&D group at the time, and ran his own D&D campaign on opposite weekends.

I personally love RPG-lite boardgames. Generally, when I am playing a game and have a mini character sheet in front of me, I feel more engaged in the game. This character is a proxy for me, and the successes and failures of this simple boardgame avatar become my own successes and failures for the duration of the game. It gives me a stronger sense of a narrative to the game, which elevates a game above mere tedious adherence to a set of procedures and rules.

And yet, my renter made persuasive points, the best of which was that RPG-lite games, by design, will never do RPG things better than RPGs. And the structure of a boardgame is always going to be claustrophobically small compared to even a halfway decent RPG campaign. So I feel like no boardgame answer will satisfy the OP because all of his requirements are better met by an RPG than a boardgame.
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The Perfect Campaign 02 Mar 2017 18:57 #244746

I tend to agree with Michael on this one. I liked Pandemic Legacy a lot, but not because of the story. In fact, the story had a real lack of player agency I think. All of the same story beats come out at all the same times. Even some kind of branching narrative would be cool, though I can't begin to conceive how difficult that would be to design. But in a game where the stakes of failure are literally the end of the world, it comes off feeling a lot like a safety net. There's not a lot of danger in it.

Is that an unfair assessment? Maybe so. It's a very polished, well-designed game, and it made me play another 20 games of Pandemic, which I never thought I'd do. But I don't think it's good because of the story. If anything that's a liability.

I confess, getting into D&D 5e has effectively killed my interest in ever doing another campaign-style board game. If I'm going to commit to that many sessions together, I'll just put in a little extra time as a DM and play that instead. The only exception is something that is shorter, like the Warhammer Quest ACG. Too bad we never got more content for that.

One thing I HATE in campaign games is having to replay stuff. It's not so bad in something like Silver Tower, where you can play things in a pretty loosey-goosey order. But it pretty much killed Voyage of the Beagle for me.
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The Perfect Campaign 02 Mar 2017 20:00 #244750

I am pretty sure there is a correlation between never having played RPGs and being impressed when a board game pretends like it is telling a story when Red Scorpion gets to keep her +1 sword next game.

Crusoe creates a better sense of an actual story than most other board games because of those consequence cards. Likewise, Eldritch Horror with events that may trigger later and have good or bad consequences. But ultimately, it is not that holy grail of a serial, continuous narrative that some people seem to want.

Newsflash. You will never be attached to a character or setting in a board game as the Elf ranger you rolled up in 8th grade and played with your buddies through a summer or throughout high school. You will never get that level of engagement in a grid-based dungeon crawl that lets you keep a +1 sword for next week's game.

Imperial Assault has some things where the outcomes and rewards distributed have direct impact on the fluff text you get to read. Win a scenario and you get to read different fluff text than if you lose. Wow.
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The Perfect Campaign 02 Mar 2017 20:44 #244755

Damn lots of stuff to unravel here.

I fully understand that the best way to do any sort of campaign style of gaming is with an RPG. I don't care if it's D&D 3.5, 4th Edition or 5th...it's all going to provide more than a boardgame ever can in a campaign setting. Hence why I wrote the article...to see if it's even remotely possible. To see if someone can make some sort of game that is a campaign in a self contained box that totally blows me away.

Also, I tend to fully agree with Barnes when it comes to story and I briefly touch upon that in the article. The real story comes from the gameplay and time you spend with your friends. The fluff and window trappings of the game need to be JUST interesting enough, but the gameplay itself needs to be addictive. And that is where most campaign style games fail. Even something as robust as the Descent App tends to fall apart because it's too goddamn combat heavy. The game punishes you for not charging full steam ahead into danger, and the search tokens barely offer any rewards worth a damn (unless they've since patched it).

As for Pandemic Legacy, I've played it and I'm just not a fan. I think Pandemic as a game sucks and all the Legacy shit just tries to hide that. To be honest I had a whole paragraph titled "To Legacy or Not to Legacy" but I cut it because I didn't want to article to be too long winded. The gist was that I essentially thought the whole Legacy thing was far too gimmicky and not really what I was looking for.

So far the only campaign game that I think gets it mostly right is Arcadia Quest. It's a 6 quest campaign, the leveling up is done through the purchasing of cards/abilities where you have limited slots available. The real kicker is that you get to play as an entire guild instead of one hero. So it satisfies multiple itches. You can be the hardy dwarf and the magic missile tossing wizard. Where it lets me down is that it all comes down to the final quest, and despite having a cool leveling system you don't really have much sense of ownership overt the heroes of the guild. Sure you get attached to a particularly powerful one, but it's nothing to write home about. Honestly, it's a game where I'd rather draft heroes, draft weapons and powers and simply play a one off game.

I REALLY need to try my copy of Shadows of Brimstone. I have a feeling that it will totally nail the ownership of character and leveling up aspect that I'm seeking...but I think the combat-centric gameplay might cause it falter.
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The Perfect Campaign 03 Mar 2017 10:30 #244769

There are some things that an RPG-lite boardgame will do better than a regular tabletop RPG. Although a tabletop RPG can deliver some amazing and unforgettable moments, those are rare unless you have a good gamemaster and/or good players. An RPG-lite boardgame will deliver a lower but more consistent level of entertainment. And most tabletop RPGs include long stretches of nothing interesting happening because the group is having a long discussion regarding the division of loot or an overly complex plan of action. To be honest, the reason why I am usually the DM is because I tend to doze off when I am just a player and one of those long loot discussions gets going. When I run a game, I try to get players to handle those long-winded discussions via emails in between game sessions.
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The Perfect Campaign 07 Mar 2017 22:01 #244938

So the past couple of weeks I've been playing in a D&D campaign and it got me thinking about this article again. While I absolutely adore playing a RPG I'm more convinced than ever that a great campaign style boardgame CAN actually exist. More than that though, both can offer a COMPLETELY different type of experience while not actually overlapping too much..

The two big things that you get out of RPGs that cannot be easily replicated in a boardgame are:

1) In depth character development. From rolling up a character, coming up with a background, determining a play style for your decisions, and personality based on the group and encounters...it all adds up to an experience that is wholly unique to RPGs. Like Barnes says, modern boardgamers get jazzed over a +1 sword simply because they can carry it to the next adventure. It seems laughable by comparison.

2) Robust combat and adventuring options. If you can think it and the DM allows it, you can do it. This level of freedom flies directly in the face of most modern game designing ethos. Yet it provides laughter, group interaction, thinking on your feet etc... Why cut down an orc with your blade when you can cast Mage Hand, use the ghostly appendage to pick up a lantern off the wall and burn it to death instead?

It seems like most boardgames cannot easily replicate this two very core ideas so they instead focus on tactical combat that feels more like a poor man's XCOM, fluff text/story that reads like Tolkien Cliff Notes for Dummies, and quests with very strict goals and ways to go about achieving success.

However, there are few things that RPGs do, that kind of suck and I can see an actual advantage to playing a boardgame instead.

- The level of freedom comes at a price. Depending on the situation there can be heated discussions between players and the DM about what they can do. Or sometimes players will take forever formulating a plan. The more opened ended nature of RPGs means it's so much easier for crucial moments to "go off the rails". Where as a boardgame has a very narrow and strict set of rules that make sure players are on track and having fun at all times.

- While the stories in RPGs are much more memorable because you and your friends are essentially handcrafting the tale to amuse you, the seemingly endless narrative can actually be disappointing. Sometimes RPG campaigns end because they're just not interesting. Unless you're strictly following modules put out by a publisher there is a very real risk of things just petering out. Or sometimes the DM just isn't all that good and the story hooks/ideas just don't go anywhere interesting. It's all up to the players really.

- What one person wants out of their RPG might not be what another person wants. Player A might want to be a hero. Player B might just want to see the world burn. You might hate a character or NPC in Descent but the rules never allow you set fire to the good guys castle or punch your friend in the face because they're being a dick.

I think in order for a campaign style boardgame to be successful it needs to stop trying to mimic the things RPGs do best and focus on the unique things that boardgames bring to the table. More varied and interesting mechanics are the first ace in the sleeve of boardgames. Competitive play is another thing that I'd considered a strength. Finally, easier bar of entry for players is usually the main selling point. Most people don't want to play RPGs because they're TIME CONSUMING. If you're really into an RPG it can take up hours and days of the week. I think people keep chasing the campaign dream because they want a boardgame that scratches a similar itch, while offering it's own set of perks.

I'm not gonna lie...all this talk has actually gotten my wheels spinning and for the first time in my life I'm actually thinking about whipping up a prototype for a game I've thought up in my head.
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The Perfect Campaign 08 Mar 2017 15:34 #244976

How is playing an RPG campaign more time consuming than a boardgame campaign?
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The Perfect Campaign 08 Mar 2017 15:46 #244977

Instead of only increasing power and loot, I think adventure/campaign board games can explore more in the nature of ongoing consequences. The injury, madness and mutations in Shadows of Brimstone add a lot to the personalisation of the player characters for me. They also provide motivations beyond the acquisition of more power & wealth. There's an "artifact" card you can pull that's called a Soul Parasite. You draw it as loot, and it confers some benefits (increased Initiative and Lore stats) but it also wounds you sometimes. You might save up to try and get it removed by a doctor in town (I think) or if you go on the basic "Swamps of Jargono" mission there's a chance at the end that you find a well-spring that can cure mutations, parasites etc, so it provides an extra motivation for the adventure.

I think there's a lot to be gained, narratively speaking, from the accumulation of negative traits and consequences in both adventure board games and role playing games.
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The Perfect Campaign 08 Mar 2017 16:42 #244978

JEM wrote:
Instead of only increasing power and loot, I think adventure/campaign board games can explore more in the nature of ongoing consequences. The injury, madness and mutations in Shadows of Brimstone add a lot to the personalisation of the player characters for me. They also provide motivations beyond the acquisition of more power & wealth. There's an "artifact" card you can pull that's called a Soul Parasite. You draw it as loot, and it confers some benefits (increased Initiative and Lore stats) but it also wounds you sometimes. You might save up to try and get it removed by a doctor in town (I think) or if you go on the basic "Swamps of Jargono" mission there's a chance at the end that you find a well-spring that can cure mutations, parasites etc, so it provides an extra motivation for the adventure.

I think there's a lot to be gained, narratively speaking, from the accumulation of negative traits and consequences in both adventure board games and role playing games.

I really like this, and I think this is where Pandemic Legacy excelled. It's hard to create a sense of character development over a campaign board game. But board games do have an unambiguous game state, and that is something where the impact can be felt more acutely. The decisions we made in the second game are now being felt several games later.
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The Perfect Campaign 08 Mar 2017 16:44 #244979

quozl wrote:
How is playing an RPG campaign more time consuming than a boardgame campaign?

You know that part in the heist movies where they show the plan going smoothly while the smart character gives a voice over, up until the surprise twist? In an rpg, replace those minutes with a two-hour discussion by a half dozen earnest nerds about how the party should obtain the mcguffin. Also, when something exciting happens in the heist movie, it takes seconds, maybe minutes to happen. In an rpg, that exciting event will take an hour or more to resolve. Some players and game masters are willing to play quickly, even if mistakes are made, but the overall tendency is to slow the pace down so that each role-player can try to make the best decisions.

In a boardgame, the rules tend to restrict all imaginable actions down to a very limited list of playable actions. The debate about which actions to take each round of play are likely to be much quicker.
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The Perfect Campaign 10 Mar 2017 19:06 #245036

I don't have much to say beyond the picture attached to this article is always what I think of when playing games. Its presence on the front page has made the week much more enjoyable -- we should just create a permanent spot for it somewhere.
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The Perfect Campaign 11 Mar 2017 22:10 #245058

Shellhead wrote:
In a boardgame, the rules tend to restrict all imaginable actions down to a very limited list of playable actions. The debate about which actions to take each round of play are likely to be much quicker.

I can see that. I might be blessed that I roleplay with people who don't take 2 hours to figure out what to do.
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The Perfect Campaign 12 Mar 2017 12:48 #245062

I've been seeing some good reviews about the newest war hammer quest iteration. Maybe that might strike a chord with you, Egg Shen?
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The Perfect Campaign 12 Mar 2017 20:44 #245064

I think a lot about this. While these days I simply don't have chance to play campaign games, I like the concept, and those that I've gone through to the end are simply a blast.

But I think I like them better fully co-op. I love Descent, but there are lots of gripes coming out from having a DM player. I'm not talking about being a DM is boring/challenging/etc. Lots of the worse aspects came from having a DM player. The race nature of scenarios, balance issues, repeatedly used monsters... these are indirect results of making the game more interesting for the DM.

These games' core (tactical) part should be only as complex as it needs. Numbers need to be toned down. Tactical positioning should matter more. There should be a good amount non-combat content in the tactical part. It should not always become a meat-grinder. Scenarios should have crescendos (like Pandemic's epidemic), climax or simply starts with a bang.

On character upgrades, I do agree that there needs to be fewer skills, but they should be more interesting. +1 damage isn't that much fun. If anything, please *upgrade* existing skills instead of adding more.

Story needs to go away. I should be able to make up story from the mechanisms. Sure they will be somewhat rudimentary tales, but they're MY story, and they happen organically.

(the funny thing is, the bit about story going away came up when I was having discussion with a friend on the new Zelda game. Both of us haven't played it, but we talked about it conceptually, particularly about "having interesting encounters". The main pitfall to this issue is that if you make encounters very interesting (i.e. scripted), they're simply not replayable. If you make them semi-random, it's going to feel samey over time. Anything between those will be some uninteresting half-assed encounter.)

Finally, the game needs to remember more. There should be villains making come back (or like RC, actions having repercussions).

So yeah, Pandemic Legacy... I'm a fan of the original game, but I really don't feel like trying it...
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