#151: The Deck

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Not a beach deck, this time we’re talking about decks of cards. And not any normal type of cards; today, we’re discussing magic the gathering cards. Yes, I’ve discussed this topic before, and I’ve also made posts about collectible card games such as Hearthstone, but recently Alex and I decided to get into this particular card game again. We’ve had a lot of fun slinging spells at each other and moving through main phase to combat phase, playing planeswalkers and destroying each other’s graveyards. It’s been a blast so far.

Magic the Gathering is pretty complicated at first, and the amount of new information and words you need to be familiar with in order to play the game is pretty stressful and intimidating. I give props to Alex for sticking through that initial beginner’s phase and persevering despite the stress and complications. For example, in order to play the game correctly, you need to be familiar with the movement from phase to phase. Untap, upkeep, draw, main, combat, main 2, end phase. The progression from phase to phase is difficult to grasp at first, especially given all the complex triggers you need to be aware of for each of your cards.

In Boston, Alex and I went to a hobby shop in Quincy just to walk around. After looking at board games and other collectibles, I asked her if she wanted to maybe try to learn how to play magic. We both agreed that it would be fun, so we bought some starter decks with planeswalkers from the recent Ravnica set and played on the hotel bed when we got back home. It was a small guilty pleasure. It’s much better now that we’ve decided to play in our apartment, where there’s a solid surface to play on instead of playing it on the bed.


#135: The Card Expansion

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When I think about collectible card games, the first one that comes to mind is always Hearthstone, and for good reason. First of all, you can’t trade cards in this game, but you just collect them by opening packs. Secondly, it’s available on smartphones and computers and tablets, so it’s incredibly versatile and useful. When you open packs, it gives you five cards, with at least one being rare quality. There are other qualities of cards, though, such as epic and legendary, but those have a less likely chance of appearing when you open packs and they aren’t guaranteed, either.

The reason I bring all of this up is because a new expansion for Hearthstone has been announced, titled “Rise of Shadows.” It features lots of homebrewed villains from the Hearthstone universe forming an evil league to take down Dalaran, the city of magic in the sky. I have no idea what will actually take place in the adventure portion of this game, when the story is actually relevant to the gameplay, but I’m interested regardless. Whenever a new expansion is announced, I always look forward to the spoilers season, when new cards are slowly trickled in and unveiled by the development team through publishers. I always get caught in the hype and am interested in what’s coming next to the game. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype when things are getting exciting like this!

My favorite time is when the legendary cards are revealed, as they usually have the most ridiculous, over-the-top effects and abilities. Those are usually meta-defining and absolutely shape and warp the way the game is played in standard and wild. The past few sets haven’t been that impactful, but with there being a rotation in standard with it being Year of the Dragon now, this new expansion set is bound to change things up.

#125: The Second Return

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After a long absence without playing Dungeons & Dragons with my friends, it’s finally made its return and I couldn’t be happier.

Now, you might be thinking, hasn’t Anthony written about D&D before and doesn’t he currently DM a group? The answer to that is, of course, yes, but it’s more complicated than that. I am currently DMing a group of friends through my own self-made campaign, but I am also a player in another campaign with a different group of friends, and the latter campaign is what I’ll be discussing briefly in this blog post.

So, in case you don’t know, Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons are both owned and operated by the same company: Wizards of the Coast. As a result, the developers of D&D published a guidebook recently that allows players to explore and create a campaign using one of MTG’s most fabulous and interesting locations: Ravnica. Because all of our friends used to play MTG to some degree, it fits that we would decide to return to D&D using an MTG setting.

The DM is one of our friends who hasn’t DM’d much in the past, but his lack of experience allows us to fill in the gaps and explore options through the story. The story still has a definitive beginning, middle, and end to it, but we are allowed to make our own story out of what’s available.

I play a centaur cleric named Cassio Stormbringer, and my friends play a multitude of other races, such as minotaur, half-elf, and human. The variety of races allows for some interesting interactions in our party.

Overall, I’m super happy that D&D has made a second return in my life. It’s one of the most consistently great things going on.

#92: The Tournament

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Apologies in advance if this comes off as super confusing to anyone unfamiliar with Smash Bros. I’ll be talking about a video game I’m super interested in, and how it felt watching it over this past weekend. I know I talk about video games a lot, but they’re important to me!

So, instead of watching the Super Bowl this weekend, Alex and I decided to try something different: we watched, on our brand-spanking new 4k TV, a super major Smash Bros tournament, featuring both Melee and Ultimate competitors. The Melee tournament went late and lasted about three to four hours, about the same time as the big game itself, and we were able to watch a jigglypuff player take the entire tournament by the end. Alex was cheering for him, while I was cheering for the Yoshi and Shiek mostly. It was interesting to watch two characters I was pretty unfamiliar with take it to the grand finals against each other. That’s always an exciting twist.

Also, over 2.1 thousand people entered the Ultimate tournament, and it was ultimately won by MKLeo, a Mexican player and prodigy who plays primarily Lucina, Ike, and Cloud. Alex and I watched it together pretty much throughout the weekend, from top 64 all the way through to the top 8. It was exciting, thrilling, and worthwhile for us to watch. The tournament was called Genesis 6, considered by many to be the beginning of the Smash Bros competitive season for the year, and the apex of smash bros tournaments. That can only mean that more weekends will be filled with more streams in the future.

Also, considering the super bowl turned out to be pretty boring for many, I may have made the better decision to watch this instead! It is, after all, the pinnacle of competitive smash. I was excited to get the chance to watch the best in the world face off against each other. Here’s hoping there’s more to come, and I bet there is!

#88: Fire Emblem

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Since I started playing games as a young kid, I’ve been fascinated with blazing swords, fiery dragons, and relentless warriors of the fantasy genre. It’s something of an obsession, as I still play World of Warcraft from when I was in 7th grade and still write fantasy campaigns for Dungeons & Dragons when I have the time. If you read my most recent book review, you also know I love The Witcher and the book series that accompanies it, too.

So let’s talk about something new. Fire Emblem: Heroes is a mobile game I play from time to time, mostly at the gym or in the bathroom. It’s deceptively strategic, full of skills and knowledge you have to know in order to compete at the highest level of Arena play. There’s also, of course, a high bar for entry marked by money. If you have money and are willing to spend it, you can achieve as high as possible in this game. It’s a “pay-to-win” game if I’ve ever seen one, and yet I’m fascinated by it, too. I don’t spend money on it, at least never very much, and I try to limit how often I play. Considering my dad is (or was, I’m not sure any more) obsessed with Candy Crush and has spent hundreds of dollars trying to pass through all the levels, I’ve definitely learned my lesson from my elders. It’s not a good idea to go too overboard with games.

This game features everything great about fantasy games: dragons, deep lore, fascinating characters, and unique combat. You set up a team of four heroes (whoever you own) and you charge into battle against legions of other heroes, sometimes villains, sometimes not. My favorite mode is the Tempest Trials, when your group of four heroes needs to fend off wave after wave of randomized enemies for powerful rewards. Needless to say, that’s my kind of mode.

#73: Water Castle

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We’ve got to beat the water castle. We’ve got to beat that damn thing.

Let’s talk about Mario games, and their addictive multiplayer possibilities. Though I prefer other platformers over New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe, such as DK: Tropical Freeze, it’s been a worthwhile purchase and a fun addition to my collection of Nintendo Switch titles. It’s provided us with hilarious moments, goofs, and gaffs, and it’s another adventure for Alex and I to complete together. Because it offers six playable characters with different properties on their jumps and power-ups, the game allows you to choose to play at your own speed. Certain characters are easier than others, such as Toadette and Nabbit, and they help players like Alex (who aren’t experts in Nintendo platforming games) gain some familiarity with the controls without intimidating them much. The feature is smart and adds a level of accessibility to the game, similar to a carefully crafted lesson plan including ample differentiation for all players and participants. It’s similar to how Mario Kart 8 Deluxe added the rail feature, preventing karts from falling off the edges with an easy button press on the options menu. We also split the price for this game, so it feels like a group purchase, rather than me buying a game and hoping Alex likes it.

But the water castle. Ugh, the water castle. When this post goes up, hopefully we’ve beaten the damn thing by now. I might write another post later about this game, to provide some updates for people who care. But at the present moment, we are struggling to beat the damn water castle, because we haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and beat it together. The current plan is to finish it tonight (Thursday evening), despite all odds.

#58: Multiplayer & Solo

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Continuing the spirit of talking about things that I talked about a long time ago but want to dedicate more thought to, here’s Overwatch again, but in a different context! (The enclosed picture is not related to Overwatch at all, but that’s because there aren’t any free pictures on the internet of the logo, so this will have to suffice.)

In case you didn’t read my last blog post on this subject or are living under a rock, Overwatch is a first-person shooter (fps) video game for the PC, Xbox, and PS4. It features quick movement, a massive pool of heroes with different niches and styles, and solid, reliable run-and-gun gameplay built around teamwork and cooperation. Six heroes make up a team and have to complete a single objective in order to win a match; however, opposing them is another team of six heroes with the sole objective of making sure the first team does not succeed. It’s a back-and-forth, chaotic, fun multiplayer game built for pre-made teams to dominate together. When I find myself hanging out with my friends, we always end up playing at least one or two games of Overwatch before the night is over. Bringing our laptops or computers together to play games is a classic tradition of ours, to complete the LAN party atmosphere, but venturing online to Battle.net to play some Overwatch is almost an inevitability.

Despite all this talk about the game’s multiplayer prowess, I also enjoy playing solo from time to time. The Quick Play mode is painless and, as its name implies, quick, a simple way of entering a game with like-skilled players but without any major competitive stakes attached, except for a small bit of experience gained at the end of the match for the winning team. There are different virtues to extol while playing the game online with friends versus online by myself, and I’ve learned to enjoy both. The fact that every match is multiplayer does not necessarily mean I have to play with other people I know in my party to have fun.


#55: The Witcher

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Since leaving my teaching job, I’ve had a lot of time to return to my hobbies, such as journal writing, blog writing, and of course, video games. It’s not a day without touching at least one game, whether it’s on my phone, the computer/laptop, or television. One such game I’ve taken an interest to recently is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Considered by many to be the game of the year in 2015, this game features a sprawling open world, a dark, unrelenting morality system, and the opportunity to slice, slash, and slay nearly anything you want to, whether it’s ruffians at the tavern or ghouls at your campsite. The Witcher 3 has helped me find new interest in open-world RPGs, especially modern, western-developed ones. I don’t think I’ve played a WRPG this consistently since beating Fallout 3 years and years ago. I’ve plugged 15 hours into it so far, and although I hope to beat

Speaking of witchers and witching, I’ll likely make a separate blog post about this sometime in the future, but I’ve recently gotten into reading the witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski. Spectacular battles and raging warfare abound in the books, as Geralt of Rivia slays many a monstrous foe. So far, I’ve found The Lash Wish to be a wonderfully easy, digestible fantasy read, which is what I was looking for upon buying it a few afternoons ago. Whether or not it lives up to the hype by the end, I can say for certain that it captures the feeling of playing the games well.

Yes, I know the books came before the games, and yet the games gave the books popularity, in the same way A Game of Thrones had a cult following before bursting into the mainstream thanks to HBO’s hit TV show. I am a fan of the mantra, “the book is always better,” but in some cases, the book is not where my experience with the media starts. For those who have had that privilege, that’s wonderful for them.

#43: The Mythic

Mythic dungeon runs in World of Warcraft are stressful, nerve-wracking, and high stakes. They can sometimes take an hour or more to complete, and their completion insists and relies upon five people and their ability to coordinate with each other through dangerous obstacles and trials. One healer, one tank, and three damage dealers join together as a makeshift team to take down bad guys and delve far into some of the most deadly places you can imagine. Often, the obstacles in the way test the stability and patience of those brave enough to venture inside. Bosses, which are difficult enemies that require more intense coordination and mechanics to triumph over, line the path to the dungeon’s exit. Trash, which is what the nameless enemies you face between bosses are called, can test your patience too, if you’re not careful enough. Trash often is grouped up and has to be aoe’d down (aoe = area of effect, which are spells or moves that deal damage in an area, affecting multiple targets, rather than just a single one.)

The difference between a mythic dungeon and a regular dungeon is that mythics are timed. Each mythic dungeon has a specific, preset timer that your group needs to overcome in order to progress through your key. If the dungeon key is a high enough level, you might even face against certain “affixes” that make it even more difficult, such as quaking, which makes it so that every 20 seconds or so, your character exudes a large area move around them that deals friendly fire damage to the team. The strategy for dealing with this, ultimately, is to keep separate so that the area doesn’t overlap with anyone else’s before it spawns. Accidents happen, as they often do, and strategies can dissolve in an instant if the unexpected takes place. The truth to overcoming a mythic is complete trust between group members: trust that they won’t screw each other over, and that they will do their best to avoid making other people’s lives miserable.

More often than not, the dungeon has a clear path from beginning to end, leading through all the aforementioned baddies. But, sometimes the dungeons have branching paths, and sometimes there are efficient shortcuts that skip certain packs of trash, if you’re careful enough to avoid their sight range. Sometimes, the trash is as powerful as a boss, and there’s lots of trash to clear on the way to the end. There are, however, some common strategies that help you take down these threats. It’s the tank’s responsibility to “tank,” or command the attention and aggression of, all the enemies you face, while keeping the rest of the party safe. The healer’s responsibility is to cure any wounds the party faces along their journey, while the damage dealers are glass cannons: especially weak to damage, but especially good at dishing it out as well.

Now by this point you might be thinking, this sounds stressful (remember that they are timed, too). And it is, no doubt about that. But the rewards are often worth the stress that goes into it. Mythic dungeon runs are repeatable, and each new difficulty level (+2, all the way through +25) has a chance to award new levels of gear for completing it. If your character wants to progress at all, they’re probably doing some manner of mythic dungeons.

#32: The Sleepover

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In seven days, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate releases, and my friends and I already have plans to celebrate in an all-night smash bonanza. Snacks, party favors, comfy couch seats, and lots of blankets. We become depraved party animals with no regard for ourselves or the time of night, and the light of the TV mounted on the wall provides all the brightness in the room.

This is tradition for us. When new smash games release, it signifies a new generation of party experiences. Our usual party fare — board games, Overwatch, Destiny, and/or WoW — are exciting too, but the smash series brings me back to my high school memories, of late-night sleep overs spent mastering Brawl and waiting for the Adam West “Batman” series to come on TV. Most of my experience in Brawl came from Lucas, who you should never get above during a match, apparently. I also played some games as Mario and Ike, even though Ike originally was considered overpowered when the game first released. That would change once people figured out how Meta Knight worked! Brent would play Snake and Zelda, and Alex would play MK or Ike. This continued into the earliest hours of the day.

The last time this happened, when Smash 4 came out, we were all apart and weren’t frequently hanging out like we do nowadays. Hence it’s easier to organize and look forward to these plans, knowing that our schedules will allow for some flexibility to suit the game’s release. However, we still managed to play a lot of Smash 4 while it was current. I remember crushing my friend Steve’s roommate during my senior year of college, when they said he was being a jerk about winning all the time. I felt like I vindicated them through beating his characters a bunch.

I’m incredibly ready for this amazing night, and I can’t wait for it. It’s the little things that help keep you going!