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Jarenth Plays Starships — Episode 3: First Contact

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Starships, I spread the first tendrils of my influence throughout the galaxy. Normae 28, Columbae 43, and Doradus 24: all three planets were suffering from unaffiliated pirate attacks, and the United Federation fleet arrived thrice in the nick of time to dispense our particular kind of laser-fisted help. In return, the citizenry of each planet showered us with rewards and admiration: credits and technology were gifted outright, and generous trade routes and promises of future resources were promised. Our little United Federation isn’t any larger yet, but if I keep this up… Impressed as I was by Normae 28’s Food production capabilities, I even pre-emptively decided to invest my own resources in their infrastructure. I have good hope this investment’ll pay off in our favour in the long run.

I also encountered no less than two opposing empires during my initial outing: the Supreme Galactic Empire, and the Second Galactic Alliance. Language barriers meant I couldn’t figure out how to communicate with them the first time around. But the march of scientific progress is unrelenting, and after a year of stationary consolidation, ADVISR tells me we should be able to open communications any moment now. In fact, I think ADVISR is trying to get my attention right this moment…

After the break: Talks are had. Talks are boring. Action is had! Action is never boring!

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Indie Shortieland: Please, Don’t Touch Anything

Heya, readers. Due to a planned temporary outage of the Jarenth Content Creation and Delivery System — i.e. because I knew I was gonna be drunk and hungover this weekend — you get a shorter Indie Wonderland this week. Specifically, I’ve been meaning to write a few words about Four QuartersPlease, Don’t Touch Anything. I stumbled over this game on Steam a few weeks back; the interesting name caught my curiosity, and the rad pixel art style evident from the Steam page caught my attention, to paraphrase Leonardo DiCaprio.

Please, Don’t Touch Anything is an interesting little game. But its short length and spoiler-sensitive nature precluded the full Indie Wonderland. As such, I’ve been sitting on this game for a while, waiting for an applicable rainy day. Or booze-y day, as the case turned out to be.

After the break: How many things do you think I touch? Three guesses. First two don’t count.

Tabled For Discussion: Microscope

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This is an unusual one. Part tool, part RPG, this game is certainly unique and might be my favourite one-shot to put on the table. What is Microscope? Simply put, Microscope is about building a timeline… no, wait! Don’t leave! I swear this isn’t a trick to get you to do your history homework. Microscope is a game about building a fictional timeline. Any genre or tone can be accommodated in your attempts to remake history in your image. Or you would if it wasn’t for those meddling friends, why did you invite those guys anyway?

After the break: how alternate history building can be fun in and by itself. Sort of.

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Jarenth Plays Starships — Episode 2: Lay Of The Land

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Starships, I took my first careful steps on the road to social galactic domination. I upgraded my ships, used my Science to advance some technologies, and took on a hit contract to take our some thugs. Sorry, sorry: I mean I ‘defended the helpless planet Normae 28 from an encroaching Marauder fleet lead by a fearsome advanced dreadnought’. Whatever makes you sleep at night, Normae 28 government. The resulting improved relations between Normae 28 and my United Federation mean that the people from that planet now give me half of all resources they produce, so I certainly won’t be confronting any moral dilemmas.

Oh, and I also ran into a purple border on the stellar map. And I’m pretty sure this means ‘enemy territory’. The game just got more interesting, and we’re only one episode in.

After the break: It’s a small universe after all.

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Indie Wonderland: This War Of Mine

Near the tail end of 2014, quite some hubbub was raised by the unexpected appearance of This War Of Mine. Made by 11 Bit Studios, a development house previously best-known for the Anomaly: Warzone Earth game series — one of my favourite-ever games that I almost never actually play, incidentally — This War Of Mine was repeatedly praised for providing an interesting, alternative civilian-centered look on the horrors of modern warfare. As well as slammed, I’ve been told, by actual modern war survivors, for turning the experience into an exaggerated Hollywood-style Man Is The Real Monster story. Either way, it made an impact.

I didn’t cover This War Of Mine at time of launch, even though I kinda wanted to, because I was still caught in the Visual Novel hell of my own making at that time. And directly afterward, the timing didn’t feel right: what good would throwing new opinions on the still relatively fresh pile do? But I kept wanting to play This War Of Mine, sometime. Sometime. And given that we’re already half a year away from initial launch, a belated This War Of Mine ‘fresh look’ to lead in the summer of 2015 felt like as good an excuse as any.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium-high. Mechanical, medium.)

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: will I really go into this game with no prior expectations? Of course not, I’ve heard everything about it from everyone. But pretend you don’t know that.

A Light Sprinkling Of Site News

Heya, readers. Two small updates for you:

1) You may have been wondering why there was no second Tabled For Discussion this Thursday. I don’t think I was clear about this in the announcement post, so to clarify: the current posting schedule for this feature is one Thursday every two weeks. Lostclause has indicated that this is a schedule he’s comfortable with.

2) The Ninja Blues Patreon just surpassed fifty monthly dollars. This is super rad. So, as an open message to everyone supporting us financially: you’re all amazing people and your support means the world to us. And as an open message to everyone supporting us with traffic and exposure: you’re all amazing people too.

As yesterday’s Yomi stream has shown — and as a side note, we hope to have that stream archived and uploaded soon for those of you who couldn’t make it — we’re already hard at work converting your financial contributions into site content. And that one was only the tip of the iceberg. All I can say is, stay tuned.

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Yomi stream on Thursday

Hi, Internet! Ninjustin here, and Jarenth and I want to stream again. Been awhile, huh? We decided to spend some of our Patreon funds to buy two copies of Yomi, which sells itself as “a fighting game in card form.” Sounds very amusing! We hope it will be amusing for you to watch us virtually flail at each other.

We’ll be streaming on Thursday the 14th, at 19:00 GMT. Here is the time on a handy time converter site. Hope to see you there!

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Jarenth Plays Starships — Episode 1: Into The Void

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Starships, it turned out that victory in Terra Atlantea wasn’t quite the high road to galactic conquest that I was hoping it would be. The galaxy is vast and rich with wonder, apparently, and full of more human-colonized planet than you could shake an entire arboreal planet’s worth of sticks at. My ersthwhile planetary competitors have all gone on to usurp and lead nascent interstellar empires while I was out ‘upgrading’ the citizens of Old Earth. And if I want to have any shot at staying on top of things, I have no real choice but to follow their leads. Time for a new galactic season of fashion: open warfare is out, careful diplomacy is in!

After the break: open warfare is out *now*. But how long do you reckon this diplomatic fad will last? Pretty dang long, as it turns out.

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Indie Wonderland: Savant: Ascent

Like one or two games I’ve reviewed before, Savant: Ascent (from here on out: Savant) is the kind of game that serves as a perfect example for the gaming times we find ourselves in: a game I totally don’t remember buying. Collateral of some capital-b Bundle purchase or another. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you what bundle it was: cursory Gmail study reveals I’ve received no less than four bundle email offers including it. And while I think I vaguely remember buying a particular Humble Bundle mostly for Savant, I also know enough about memory to accept that half-formed retroactive dream-thoughts have less predictive value than tea leaves.

Savant is a game by D-Pad Studios, a small international development studio that seems to love their pixels. And looking at the website reveals very little about the game itself, save that Savant’s main elements appear to be pulsing music, space samurai, and the colour purple. How do those things a game make? Beats me, readers. Let’s find out together.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, almost nonexistent. Mechanical, high.)

(Game source: Purchased it myself. I think.)

After the break: Savant: Ascent. Return of the rise of the resurrection of colons. Does it feature a singularly, preternaturally skilled character, continually going up? The answer MAY SURPRISE YOU.

Tabled For Discussion: Lords Of Titania

Hello and welcome to a new guest series on Ninja Blues, where we review tabletop games. I’m Lostclause, occasional commenter and frequent lurker, bringing you RPG reviews focusing on indie games and one-shots. We want this series to be as accessible as possible to those new to tabletop and help you find something that’ll bring variety to your games. I hope you enjoy it and please leave any feedback for what direction to take this series.

Lords Of Titania:

So if you were asked to come up with a game themed around Shakespeare, what would you come up with? Would it be a feuding bunch of relatives? Possibly. Would they be on a spaceship? Probably not.

Lords of Titania was an entry for the 2011 Game Chef and is free to download here. This game nicely fills an evening as a structured one-shot for three to five players. Each player is a member of the ruling family of one section of the spaceship Titania. Each is in sole charge of a vital component of the spaceship, including one person controlling the oxygen. I’m sure nothing could go wrong with that…

The setting of Titania is deliberately vague beyond that, as most one-shots tend to be, but there is a preset arc that each game will follow. The game is structured in five acts, each with a pre-determined trigger for the end, and from the word go you’ll know that one of the characters will be murdered by another. You’ll spend the first few acts introducing the characters and maneuvering into a position of power. Finally, one person feels either confident enough, or desperate enough, to strike against another. All of this is done via roleplaying scenes that you set up and play out. The person in charge of the oxygen might attempt an act of brinkmanship to gain concessions, the person who controls the power grid might secretly undermine his opponents, or the weasley cousin might successfully gain a favour out of sheer social embarrassment.

There’s a real advantage to the inevitable murder that will tempt you. Remember those vital components you’re in charge of? Those represent your influence in Titania’s society by giving you dice in conflicts with other players. Much of the first acts maneuvering is about stealing these precious dice from others or protecting your own. When someone successfully murders someone else, they gain control of their component, including of all of their dice. Suddenly the murderer is catapulted into a position of ungodly power over the rest of the players, with a newfound ability to throw their weight around that everyone is sure to resent.

But where player death in other games brings the action to a halt, Titania already has a trick up its sleeve. The murderer is now the ‘Hero’, while the murdered player quickly creates a new character called the ‘Exile’. Their sole purpose is to be the avenger of their own death. The rest of the game is now devoted to the Exile’s arrival and attempts to build an alliance with the remaining players in preparation for a climactic showdown with the Hero and his cronies.

Lord of Titania is not without its problems, of course. Being light on details, the tone can vary wildly from comedic to Shakespearean melodrama, depending on who you’re playing with. If you go in with specific intentions, there’s a good chance that your friends will subvert them and turn the game into something other than what you expected.

But probably the biggest problem with the game is simply the rules, or perhaps the lack thereof. While the game is easy enough to learn, there are enough gaps to drive a truck through. This means you’ll almost certainly have to resort to patching by the players around the table. In one playthrough, we managed to break the game simply by attempting to murder a second character, something that never seemed to occur to the author of the game. There’s neither a prohibition against it or a contingency plan. There’s some clever stuff in here, including a fast and elegant character creator and an interesting way of representing social influence, but there are also many blind spots.

At the end of the day this is a free RPG, so it’s worth giving a go. I’d recommend it for more experienced roleplayers, or at least people who have played together for a while. Sooner or later you’re likely to have a problem in rules interpretation that will require negotiation between the players, especially since there’s no GM. That always goes better if you know and trust the other people around the table.

Despite these significant flaws, this remains one of my favourite one-shots to bring out. No preparation means that you can bring it out at the drop of a hat. It can be a welcome break for whoever is the regular GM and you simply don’t know what you’re in for the next time you bring it out. Either dark comedy, some serious melodrama or a bit both can be the result of putting this one on the table and I’d certainly recommend you give it a go.