The Case of the Missing Publisher or How Ammobox Studios got their game back.

An Interview with Jeremy Choo, CEO of Ammobox Studios.

Last week, a really interesting Reddit post caught my eye. It was by a smaller game development studio from Malaysia called Ammobox Studios. The post was a warning about how their game had almost been stolen by their publisher, and how the fraudulent publisher was potentially back in business. 

While everyone has heard stories about shitty publishers, one of the surprising things for me was that Ammobox was able to actually recover their game, and continue development. I wanted to know more, so I reached out to Ammobox, and was able to talk to Jeremy Choo, their CEO and Founder. 

(F) John “Fritz” Wallace: Hi Jeremy, just wanted to say thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. To start, can you tell us a bit about yourself and about Ammobox Studios?

(J) Jeremy Choo: Well, I’m Jeremy Choo and I’m the founder and CEO of Ammobox Studios. Ammobox was started back in 2008. My game development background actually started with modding, with stuff like Warcraft and Starcraft. When we were first founded, we started with doing some outsourcing work, and this project [Eximius: Seize the Frontline] has always been a bit of a passion project for us.

It’s a garage project, something we’ve done in our spare time and I’d say we’ve been thinking about it for almost 10 years. Development actually started in an entirely different engine. We started full time production in 2018. And as part of this, we started looking for a publisher. 

So, this is where Eduardo Monteiro and his company, TheGameWallStudios comes into the picture. How did you meet him, and end up publishing with him? 

(J) When TheGameWallStudios first approached us, they weren’t the type of publisher we were looking for. Another member of the team, our business developer, an experienced guy who had worked in industry, was handling our publisher discussions. And one of the people he brought up was TheGameWallStudios and Eduardo Monteiro. 

Our business developer came to me and said, “Look, I’ve found someone we might be able to work with. He’s really keen, he’s got a publishing background, he worked with big companies before, and you can check out his background, his LinkedIn looks good. He’s got funding, they’re doing things bespoke, one title at a time.” It sounded very convincing! But even at the end of his pitch, some of the other co-founders didn’t really like it. So, GameWallStudios was not the type of publisher we wanted to go to. 

Sometimes, because of what happened, I think people will take the wrong message from our experience, which is to never go for a small publisher. I want to go on record and say “That’s not the case!” 

There are small publishers that do really well, even with small teams. I have several friends with teams about that size who do well. I want to mention this because the moral of this story isn’t “Small Publishers are Bad.”

In either case, at the end of the day, I ended up letting our business developer make the call. The thought was, “Since we don’t have another publisher, and this guy is promising a lot, but doesn’t necessarily have the reputation to prove it, let’s structure the contract so if he doesn’t keep his end of the bargain, the contract automatically terminates.” So we got what is called a performance-based contract, and drafted it out with a lawyer over here in Malaysia.

So the lawyer comes back and says “This looks pretty standard”, and we go forward with it. 

It never really occurred to us to think about the ultimate end: “What if this guy just doesn’t care about the contract? What if he just vanishes?”

You’d been careful: talked with lawyers, drafted a contract that would protect, but had trouble finding a publisher. So at this point, you decided to take a risk with TheGameWallStudios. 

(J) In our mind, we had nothing to lose, right? We didn’t have a publisher, and if things go wrong, he takes his cut, we go our separate ways.

This next bit is sort of personal for me, but at this point we’d been rejected by a lot of big publishers. Most big publishers will never really want to take a chance on a first time team. They say things like “there’s too much risk” or “you’ll never be able to execute.” And even if they are interested, they’ll want to wait and see how the game does in Early Access.

So we thought, if big publishers aren’t interested, let’s go after the small guys, let’s find an underdog. Someone like us. We didn’t really tell him that, but we were thinking about it. We thought, “He’s small, but so are we.” 

We were a four man team trying to build a first person shooter/real time strategy hybrid. We were trying to punch above our weight class. And it felt like Eduardo was the same way, in trying to publish and work with these smaller indie games. He was like us. 

In hindsight, we definitely made the wrong choice there. 

Just as a quick aside, do you have any idea why you might have had such a hard time finding a publisher?

(J) So, Eximius was our first major title. We’d published smaller stuff before, but when we met with publishers, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. And I think that was kind of a turn off. What we did know is we wanted our publisher to get more copies of the game out and get the word out. What wanted strong Esports support, strong influencer marketing, and tie-ins, people to do write ups on sites like Kotaku, Destructoid, stuff like that. Very cliche stuff and regular stuff. 

I think the Esports support is probably the most unusual thing there. And of course Eduardo did mention that he was very much into Esports competitive gaming, that he knew how to get this and that. It’s all a bunch of lies at the end of the day, but we thought it would all work out.

Back to the story at hand. You have your contract, you’re getting ready to launch into Early Access on Steam. When did it start to feel like something was wrong?

(J) So we were going to try to get a write up from Destructoid, and we were going to reach out to some specific influencers. So, the game launches, we’re expecting to see a write up, some ads, something. And none of these promises are followed through! 

I reached out to the Destructoid employee we were in contact with to ask if Eduardo ever followed up, and he says “No, he never did.” So the game launches, and I find that we have no write ups, no marketing, no ads. And this was when we realized that something is really wrong here. Then all of a sudden, Eduardo starts becoming harder to contact, and starts to disappear.

What do you mean by started to disappear?

(J) Well, I say he disappeared, but it was actually a pretty long time before he fully vanished. So right after we launch, we ask him where the marketing is. And he goes “Don’t worry, it’s coming, it’s coming.” And around the same time, we had a tournament planned with a company called Triforce Tokens, that does some crypto-currency stuff. So we were putting a lot of effort into the tournament, recruiting teams, putting up marketing.

So about two months after release, we’re talking with him, asking for the money, asking for money from sales of the game. He keeps buying time until he can’t anymore. He keeps making up excuses. First he tells us there was a problem with the bank, then he tells us he was in a car accident. At some point I went to my co-founders and said “What’s the contingency if he just disappears?” And then finally, right in the middle of the tournament, he vanishes. 

That sounds pretty rough, to say the least.

(J) When this whole thing took off, it was very chaotic for us. We had a larger team, we were backed up on salaries that we weren’t paying, and we were thinking “Okay, well if we don’t get the money out, we’re gonna be dead.” Like, in a month. We’re still in active development on the game, we’re still running this tournament that we have to pay out prizes for, and we haven’t told the community anything. It was just too much going on all at once. 

And people are still buying the game! But we’re not getting a cent. We’re supporting the game, we’re pushing out bug fixes. People are asking about the price and such, when the game will be on sale, and we’re thinking “We don’t actually have any control over this!” So we had to keep our game faces on.

So at this point, he’s dropped off the face of the earth. You’re in the middle of a tournament, you don’t have access to any of the money from your game. How did you go about getting your game back?

(J) First thing we did was find an indie friendly lawyer in the UK. [Ed Note: Eduardo Monteiro and his company, the TheGameWallStudios does business out of the UK, which is why Ammobox had to do this.] This person tells us to wait for the termination clause in our contract to kick in, and when it does, we’ll send him a letter to terminate the contract. He also gave us examples on how things could go if Eduardo responded. So for a pretty nominal fee we had him send that letter. 

At the same time, we had been reaching out to Steam. We were lucky enough to have had a contact at Steam that we had just met. Steam had just come to Malaysia around the time we launched. So we met some of them and asked “Hypothetically, let’s say all this is happening, what could we do?”

They told us “Well, we can’t actually just take the game from his account and give it back to you, we can only do it if we get a court order.” 

But they did tell us that we could put out a DMCA so that he couldn’t sell the game anymore. Because at this point, not only is he stealing the game, he’s also stealing the money from the game sales. So this Steam contact told us “If you can’t get the money, don’t let him have it.” So that’s what we did. 

A DMCA is pretty easy to do. The content owners are obligated to take the offending content down, and then decide what to do with it. It’s shoot first, ask questions later. It can definitely be abused, but in our situation it was a bit of a lifesaver. Steam had to take the game down immediately. We sent the letter on the 23rd of December, and they took it down from sale at the start of the new year. 

Then I realize that I can see his strategy. He’s trying to get as much money out while he can, so he has the game on sale at other storefronts as well. We had to DMCA them too. And finally we were able to get everyone to stop selling the game. 

Honestly, a lot of the law stuff felt very pay-to-win. If we had the money, we could have gotten an injunction and gotten the bank accounts that the various digital storefronts were sending money to locked. If we had won the case, we would have gotten him to have to pay our lawyers fees. And because he was using his home address as the address for his company, I think it would have been possible for us to seize his assets or something, even if he declared bankruptcy. All the clauses in the contact say he’s in the wrong. He can’t argue his way out. This isn’t a case of “Well, we got screwed by the contract” or something. He just took the money and ran.

I think he probably knew we couldn’t afford the legal fees. 15,000 pounds (Just under 20,000 USD) may not sound like a lot, but it’s two years’ salary for a single artist in Malaysia. 

So, you finally get your game back after talking to Steam, and using the DMCA to block sales of it. This was a while ago at this point. Where is the game now, and what brought all of this back up?

(J) So since then, we’ve gotten much farther. We were lucky to be able to move on. It wasn’t a natural position, I think he expected us to be dead and buried. He tried to crush us to get away with maybe… $100,000? It’s unbelievable to me. But we got out, because of some lucky decisions, and some helpful parties. We got a lot of support from our community, we had some influencers cover it, people bought the game to support us. We did try to run a gofundme to sue him, but we didn’t raise enough money to have it go forward. I think it came in a bit too late, after interest in what was going on died down. 

Alright. So, that’s all the mildly depressing stuff, but the story has at least a bit of a happy ending with you getting the game back. I actually wanted to try Eximius, but it wasn’t for sale on Steam. When is it coming out?

(J) Right now we’re close to our launch date, and we’re aiming for Q1 2021. Hopefully, we’ll finish the game in time. No more sleep for us! [Laughs] But I’m feeling confident we’ll hit our schedule. We wanted to release at the tail end 2021, but I think we’ll have a higher quality product if we release it early next year. Right now we’re focused on getting it to 1.0. We’ve restructured our marketing strategies, to get better results. We want a successful launch, and to put this behind us. 

Few quick questions, and then I think we’ll be done. What sort of game is it, and given your background, do you have any plans for mod support for Eximius?

(J) Eximius is what I would call an FPS+. It’s a first person shooter, with a real time strategy game also added on.

Regarding mod support, we want to, but it will be post 1.0 if it happens. Right now our systems are constantly changing, and every time it changes, it would break any mods that existed. I want to make sure stuff is really solid before we work on that, I don’t want to break peoples mods. And Steam auto-updates means you break stuff easily. We’re all really big into modding, and if it becomes something we can do, we want to. But right now, we aren’t planning for it. 

What are your goals for the game, like after all of this struggle and work, what will make you feel like it was all worth it? 

(J) We want to make something that is timeless. Something like CSGO 1.6, Renegade, or Natural Selection. Something that people will be playing for years. Something that there is nothing else like. 

How much will the game cost?

(J) Releasing at around the same price, maybe a bit higher. I don’t have an exact price yet, but what for 1.0 is more than double what we have in EA [Early Access] now. Our 1.0 is actually on a separate branch that we aren’t pulling into EA, because it’s a semi-separate game where a lot of systems are rewritten. We’ve released maps/weapons, and 1.0 has double the content of EA. Customizations, squad mechanics, etc, stuff people have been asking for. 

Just one last question, one I like to end these interviews with. Anything you want to say to your players?

(J) I would want to say thank you. The games industry and gamers can be harsh these days. 

It’s very easy for someone to just buy the game, decide they don’t like it, leave a bad review, and refund it. But our community hasn’t done that, even as we have struggled. So I’m grateful to the people who bought our game and didn’t just refund it. To everyone who has stuck with us as we’ve been on this journey to 1.0 release. We keep these people in mind, and we want to make a high quality product and not disappoint them.

In addition, there were a lot of people who bought the game just to support us, back when this whole thing started to come out, and when people learned what had happened to us. We had hundreds of people buying it just to support us, not even to play the game. We wish they would play it! But we’re still very thankful for them, and want to thank them from the bottom of our hearts. 

Thanks a ton for your time, and best of luck with Eximius. I’m looking forward to seeing it when it comes out!

Editor’s Postscript – Eduardo Fernando Teixeira Monteiro is the full name of the scammer mentioned in this article. If you do a few searches, you’ll find that he’s been up to this sort of bullshit since about 2014, and Ammobox isn’t the first group of people he’s done this to. Like any scam artist, he operates at his best when people don’t talk about him, his tactics and what he’s done, so I want to give a huge shoutout to Ammobox for sharing their story, and hopefully making it harder in the future for him to do business. 

A Mortician’s Tale

Short, interesting content, more akin to a visual novel. Very little gameplay or player agency.

I picked up the Racial Justice Bundle at least in part because I wanted to expose myself to a bunch of stuff I wouldn’t otherwise play. I also started this blog mostly to recommend games to other people. (And to like, pretend to be a game journalist, but same difference.)

This puts me in a bit of a bind regarding A Mortician’s Tale. Aspects of the writing for the game seem extremely strong and well thought out, but as a game, I’d say it’s far closer to a visual novel. The gameplay, at least as far as it’s present, has almost no player agency. I’ll talk about why I feel this way in a moment, but my overall verdict on the game would be this:

A Mortician’s Tale as a game is likely to appeal to individuals who like short, experimental things. The game took about 45 minutes to an hour for me to complete, and that was while reading most of the in-game emails from NPC’s. It has very little replay value outside re-reading text. Unless you have an curiosity for the subject matter (death and funerals) or experimental indie projects, I don’t think you’ll enjoy it.

Despite all that, it’s worth noting that I didn’t put the game into a “Didn’t Make The Cut” article because I did find it fairly interesting and thought-provoking. Let’s talk about that, and also, a brief warning: this article is about to sorta reach that point that most online recipes do, where it says very little about the actual thing you came to the article for (game stuff) and a lot more about the author of the article.

There are three main sections to the game: Preparing Bodies, Attending a Funeral, and Reading Emails. I’m just gonna go through em real quick in that order.

Preparing Bodies is the majority of the “gameplay”-like aspect of A Morticians Tale, and it’s pretty similar in execution to something like Trauma Center: Under the Knife or maybe Cooking Mama. You have a variety of tools that you use in order to accomplish things, but the main kicker is that you actually cannot screw this up. Like, the game will not let you use a tool incorrectly, or at the wrong point in time.

On the one hand, I get it. If you make a death-positive game about the importance of what happens with people after they die, letting the player poke a smiley face into the body of a teenager who killed himself might not fit the tone.

On the other hand, it means that the extent of actual gameplay in the game is limited/non-existent. While being guided through the actions of preparing a body is interesting, the fact that there is no real need to focus or learn anything. After the first body, I more or less just clicked and went as fast as possible, because you don’t actually have to learn anything, and the game doesn’t let you screw up. Anything interesting in this section of the game is limited to learning about the process that is used to prepare a body to be displayed.

Next we have Attending the Funeral. I found this to be a weaker part of the game, as it mostly consists of listening to 4-5 people talk in discussions that are less than a paragraph, and then leaving. Here’s why I’d consider it weaker.

I’ve been to maybe five or six funerals, most of them before I was 18. Almost all have been generally Christian as far as funerals go, but the people in them are fairly different. Off the top of my head, here’s a short list:

  1. Grandparents
  2. Classmate
  3. Family Friend
  4. Tutor/Neighbor
  5. Family Friend Relative

I mention this because the reasons for these deaths widely varied. Some of these people were very old. One had a long term fatal illness. One was a suicide. Another was in great shape, went for a run, and was killed by a heart attack.

My point would be this: regardless of the death, or the expectation and preparedness for it, funerals are incredibly emotional. A Mortician’s Tale never captured any of that emotion for me. Regardless of who has died, it’s hard to not end up overwhelmed at least a bit, whether it be from loss, or from empathy for those who have lost of a loved one.

This brings us to the last part of the game, reading emails. I would say that this is one of the strongest parts of the game in terms of writing, but again, it doesn’t actually allow any interaction or choices. It’s more like a neat sort of creative writing.

There’s a bunch of interesting stuff here regarding the death business, the up-sell of funeral packages, and the whole concept of as death as an industry. But none of it is actual gameplay.

I already gave my verdict on it up above, but while I wouldn’t recommend the game to people who are solely looking for a game, it’s still interesting as an experience. Also, I’m pretty sure it took me longer to write this article than it did for me to beat the game. So, yknow. Not sure what that means.

Until next time.

Quadrilateral Cowboy

I started Quadrilateral Cowboy on Sunday, and finished it Tuesday. “Well then,” you might be wondering, “If you finished the game so long ago, why don’t you have a post about it up?” To which I would replay “Great question, theoretical fictional person who most likely does not exist outside of my head, but also somehow reads these posts and has an internal sense of how many articles should be posted on this blog per week. I’ve been wondering that also.”

I really like Quadrilateral Cowboy. I think you should play it. However, I’ve had a very hard time trying to figure out how to tell you that, because Quadrilateral Cowboy is supremely weird.

Quadrilateral Cowboy is made by Blendo games, a smaller indie dev that has an aesthetic of strangeness, and a catalog of other games I haven’t played. I’d say this aesthetic might honestly be the biggest thing that would prevent you from picking up the game, because it gives off a very “indie” vibe which I honestly sometimes confuse with entries in the “Move Around and Look At Things That Tell a Narrative” genre.

Some people call these walking simulators, but honestly, I don’t think that’s realistic. Death Stranding simulated walking, as did QWOP and both those games were hard.

So, if you get past the aesthetic and into the game, congrats! The game only has one other small ask of you: to learn a semi-fictional command line programming interface along with a variety of other programs/mild programing, and to be able to execute these with speed, precision, and accuracy.

As such, the game’s primary audience appears to be the coveted overlap of “People who are comfortable engaging with narratives and designs featuring non-traditional protagonists and stories” and “People who are willing to learn fictitious scripting languages and solve fairly tricky and convoluted puzzles.” I’ve provided a visual aid below in the form of a Venn Diagram I’ve titled “QuadCowboyMarketShare.png”

It’s the bit where the circles are touching. I should also note that I’m most definitely in that overlap.

Okay, so you’ve survived this extended intro bit. What is Quadrilateral Cowboy, and why should you play it? Well, primarily it’s a puzzle/heist game. But it has some of the most fun tools I’ve ever seen in a game like this, and they are some of the most satisfying things to use I’ve ever gotten in a video game.

You’ll unlock additional bits and pieces as you go through the game, but the primary way of interacting with the world short of just walking around and grabbing things is your Deck, a portable laptop-esqe chunk of hardware that allows you hack open doors, turn off guard lasers, and other functionality. And when I say hack, I don’t mean some lame minigame. I mean “telnet door2.open(3)” style stuff. Hope you like the command line!

There are other tools you’ll get as time goes on, but I’m gonna focus on the two other big ones. The Weevil, a very small remote control robot that can be used to sneak into areas that you can’t fit through, and the Autocase, the most satisfying gun to use that I’ve ever seen in a video game. More on the Autocase later. Let’s talk about the Weevil first.

Just like above, you don’t get a remote control for this thing. You’ll need to plop it down, pull out your Deck and micro-cctv monitor, and then use a series of commands to find and connect to it. Then, you’ll be able to instruct it to walk around, again via the command line, turn left and right, and jump. You might be thinking “That sounds difficult and mildly frustrating,” and you’d be right! Which is why getting it to do what you want is so satisfying.

On a side note, of the two minor gripes I have with the game, one is related to the Weevil, and more specifically, the fact that many situations where you use the Weevil feel a bit too “designed” to be solved in that manner.

Of course, then there is the Auto-case. What is the Autocase you might ask? Why is it great?

The Autocase is my favorite item in the game, and I feel like could sell the entire cyberpunk theme to the game on it’s own. It’s a command line controlled, remote deploy-able, briefcase packaged gun. And it is awesome.

The Autocase doesn’t feel like it suffers from the same problem as Weevil of being designed to solve specific problems. To give an example, sure, you can use the Autocase to just shoot things open, but you can also use it set off triggers and various other things that you would be able to do by hand, but remotely. And this sets up some exceedingly satisfying moments where you remotely can remotely blast buttons to open doors, shatter glass to jump down and escape from an airship, and remotely trigger an emergency release to launch something skyward.

If I have any gripes with the game, it’s that it feels short. I want to play more in this world, and more with these tools. But it also means that the game only feels like it drags a little toward the end, where it introduces a few new mechanics, only to more or less throw them away afterward. These levels were some of the least interesting, at least for me.

Quadrilateral Cowboy is a short game, and I still couldn’t quite tell you the plot, but it’s a fun game, and more importantly, it is a game. You can buy it on itch.io, here, or on Steam here. It looks like the normal price is about $20? The price does feel a little high, but its fun, weird, and worth playing. And if you don’t want to pay that much, wait for a sale. It’s definitely worth $10.

Helltaker – Short and Sweet

This review is more in the form of a rambling recounting essay than anything else, but as per Gametrodon editorial standards (i.e. my own self enforced and designed standard that applies to myself), I’m gonna save some reading time. Helltaker is really neat, and it’s free. You can get it here. Now, back to the stories.

In Ye Olden Days, otherwise known as the 2000’s, I did not have a computer. Or to be more precise, I did not have a computer you could play games on. My family had a desktop mac, that eventually succumbed to the ravages of time, but even if the operating system had been compatible with PC gaming at the time (it wasn’t), I still wasn’t allowed to use it to play games.

Instead, any computer gaming I did at that point in time either took place at my friend’s house, or the library. And in both cases, I mostly ended up playing various weird random flash or other web browser games.

Looking back at it now, I suspect that most of the sites that I played on were primarily rips, and copies, stealing games off other sites, and then uploading them on their own. But at the time, I didn’t know this. All I really knew is that I could go to those websites, find something, and then just play it for hours.

When I see people talking about independent games these days, I don’t often hear people mention those early flash games and weird browser hybrids. Things like Minecraft, Binding of Issac, and Cave Story are pretty easy to point at. But for me, there was a massive amount of weird shit that I played that is more or less lost to time, and the fact that I can’t remember their names.

I say all of this as a lead-up to discussing Helltaker, because as a game it reminds me of those small, strange little flash games. It’s short, sweet, and polished, with a few hidden secrets. You won’t be playing it for years to come, and you’ll finish it in a day. But it sticks with you.

There’s not much point in talking extensively about Helltaker’s gameplay, as it’s a fairly simple/straightforward puzzle game where you need to get to the exit (Demon Girl) before you run out of moves. There’s also another part of the game that subverts that a bit, but most of your time in the game will be spent on the puzzles.

Also, Modeus best girl.

One of the demons from Helltaker.

BULLET ♥︎

Yes, the ♥︎ is part of the name. I honestly have to wonder how that will impact discoverability.

(Ed Note: At time of writing, BULLET ♥︎ is currently live on Kickstarter. The version reviewed is an excellent implementation on Table Top Simulator. You can play that here. In addition, I ended up backing the game at the premium level, which is like 60 bucks, and the Kickstarter has been funded. As you might guess, I like the game, so if you’re coming in here expecting a totally non-biased opinion, you’re not gonna get it. I will include a few of my friends’ criticisms of the game, to try to provide a slightly more balanced view, but a neutral post this is not.)

I like Bullet♥︎. For anyone wondering, yes, the heart is apparently part of the name. No, I don’t know why either. Lets just talk about the game shall we?

Bullet♥︎ as a game is intended to be modeled after shmup style games like Touhou or Jamestown. While it does this at least aesthetically, I’d say the actual gameplay sometimes ends up feeling closer to a fighter, but I’ll talk about that in a bit.

The game is played in 3 minute rounds. Each player has a board representing their character, with a grid of circles on it. At the start of a round, you have a bag full of incoming bullets with numbers and colors on them. Your goal is to not let any of these incoming bullets hit you by reaching the bottom of the grid.

While you have basically no ability to control the placement of individual bullets, you do have the ability to clear them off your board using patterns, and to move them around using actions. This is the meat of the game: trying to set up efficient patterns, and make decisions all while on a fairly hard time limit.

This of course brings up one of the first complexities with Bullet♥︎. The game requires players who are used to playing games. It can be very easy to mess up and misplace, and the fact that everyone is playing at once means that pausing to ask questions about how something works, or to consult the rulebook can’t really happen. This makes it easy to misplay. (It also makes it easy to cheat, but let’s be honest, if you’re playing board games with cheaters, you need new friends anyway.)

In addition, because of this simultaneous play, Bullet♥︎ doesn’t have a large amount of inherent player interaction, especially in multiplayer games. While we never tried out the boss rush mode, Bullet♥︎ is mostly categorized by silence and quiet. This may or may not sit well with your play group.

If this all sounds like I’m being harsh on Bullet♥︎, the thing is that despite this, I’ve convinced multiple people to play it with me. I’ve played the solo mode, something I have never done before for a board game, mostly because I wanted to get better. There are very few board games I want to be good at. I like winning, but I almost never try to get better at them. Bullet♥︎ is a game I want to be good at.

I called the game a fighter up above, and that “I want to be better” is why. There’s another reason, and it’s playing the game 1v1. In 1v1, Bullet stops being purely a chaotic frenzy, and instead turns into a slightly more balanced duel. I found myself trying to predict what sort of bullets would mess with my opponent, saving patterns and bullets to set up bigger attacking rounds, and generally playing the game more like a fighter than a puzzle game.

Overall, I really enjoy the game. It won’t be a match for everyone. The game doesn’t have a huge amount of interaction between players in a way that feels massively meaningful, and the rules can feel intimidating at first.

But Bullet♥︎ is fun, and really, that’s what matters to me.

How much does Runeterra really cost?

Not expensive for a CCG, cheap for a digital CCG, still a lotta money.

Update 5/24/2020 – The initial table has been updated to clarify that this is the maximum a deck could cost you. This was how we intended the table to be read, but we can see that the wording was unclear, and so it’s been updated.

Hiding the conclusions about things at the end of your article is for people who need clicks, pageviews, and ad conversions. I have no ads, no clicks, and still haven’t set up google analytics. So let’s give the conclusion right here.

Cost to buy the base set if you start with nothing$450
Cost to buy the base set counting cards earned for free progression after about a week~$310-$330
Cost to buy the full first expansion~$210
MAXIMUM Cost to netdeck any Runeterra deck from scratch~$60
If I don’t put text here, the chart looks ugly. So, how are folks doing?

I’ve talked about some of the things I liked about Runeterra in a previous post, and one of the things about it is the fact that you can just buy the cards you want instead of boosters. It also makes it much easier to figure out how much it would cost to buy Runeterra.

So, that’s what this article is gonna be about. Figuring out how much it costs to buy Runeterra.

There are a few things we need to know first, so let’s just jump into it. I was gonna write a whole bunch of stuff, but that seems excessive. So instead, let’s just look at how much a card costs in actual US Dollars, at each of the price points that Riot sells Coins.

Card Rarity / Cost of Package of Coins4.999.9919.9934.9949.9999.99
Champion$3.15$3.00$2.93$2.88$2.80$2.73
Epic$1.26$1.20$1.17$1.15$1.12$1.09
Rare$0.32$0.30$0.29$0.29$0.28$0.27
Common$0.11$0.10$0.10$0.10$0.09$0.09
So, for example, if you buy a 4.99 package, it costs you $3.15 overall to buy a single Champion card. But if you spend 99.99, it only costs you $2.73 per champion card. Except you also already actually spent $100, and unless you have $99.99 worth of cards you want to craft, I’m not sure the .50 cent discount is that great.

Cool. So with this chart, it’s pretty easy to figure out how much it would cost to buy an entire set of the cards. For right now, we’re gonna just look at the base set, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment. A few quick maths later, and we find this.

Coin Cost4.999.9919.9934.9949.9999.99
Base Set Playset$512.45$487.31$475.66$467.62$455.80$443.41

Still, this assumes we could purchase coins at any amount we want. That isn’t the case. We can only purchase them in the amounts defined above. So instead, let’s look at what the cheapest we can get it.

I went through a few quick scenarios which assume that you need to buy all the cards, and each time I did my math, it worked out to about $450 to buy a playset of all base set cards of Runeterra. (Because you can’t buy half of a package or anything, you need to buy four $100 bundles, and one $50 bundle.)

However, this assumes you had to buy in to Runeterra, and that you had to buy every single card you ever got. And I don’t think this is super accurate either. I’ve been playing for just about two weeks at this point without spending any money. So I punched in my own collection so far, and what it would cost to complete it. And when I did, I came up with another number: about $320, maybe give or take about $10.

This is all well and good for the base set, but lets take a look at something more interesting: The first expansion for the game, the Bilgewater themed The Rising Tides.

After more QUIK MATHS, I ended up with about $210 to buy a full playset of the expansion, starting from nothing. I’m gonna write about whether or not I think that’s a fair price, but it’s good to know that for each future expansion, that’s how much it might cost you to keep playing, assuming each expansion is about the same size.

So, we have two numbers so far. $350 to finish the base set after you play for a bit, and maybe $210 for an expansion. So we’re all good right?

I say “No.” Runeterra is a card game. Ultimately the thing that matters with card games is how much it costs to play them, and for some people, that means the cost of making a competitive deck.

Decks in Runeterra have a maximum of 40 cards, and can only have 6 champion cards in them. So lets assume you needed to netdeck the new hotness, and it was a 40 card deck with 34 epic cards in it, and 6 champs. This runs us a total of about 5880 coins.

In order to buy that many coins, you’d have to spend just about $60.

That was a lot of math, and I was planning to discuss how I felt about this at the end of the article. However, since I now have done too much math, I think I’m gonna save that for another day.

Until then, stay safe my dudes.

Nimbatus: Drone Constructor

Nimbatus is a “Meh” game, but a fun toy.

Cowards hide their opinions at the bottom of the post. I’m not a coward, so let’s get into it. I’ve played about 10 hours of Nimbatus. It don’t think it’s a very fun game. I do think that it is a fun toy. Let’s talk about Nimbatus, the difference between games and toys, and then I’m going to randomly share some related anecdotes.

The primary draw of Nimbatus is building and constructing drones. The mode you choose to play changes which parts you get to do this with. There are two primary modes, multiplayer, which is kinda badly named, and singleplayer. Within single player you have sandbox and survival. The gameplay of both of the singleplayer modes is pretty similar, the only actual difference being in sandbox, you have all the parts and can do whatever you want. It’s more or less like creative mode in Minecraft. I’d say this makes it pretty boring. In survival you do the same thing, except you start with only a few of the parts, and you have to earn more by doing missions and such.

I didn’t find either of these modes very fun, because the primary draw of Nimbatus is making drones. And neither of these modes actually requires you to do that. I found that for survival, I made a single basic drone that I slowly updated with with new parts that I got, but none of the missions ever required me to seriously redesign the ship. Most of the missions were fairly boring, and boiled down to one of the following: Kill a Thing, Shoot a Thing, Find a Thing, Pick Up a Thing and Bring it Back. That’s it. These are the primary missions you’ll be doing. When you complete a few missions, you’ll open up the ability to warp to the next solar system. At the end of the solar system is the next galaxy.

The loop is fairly simple: try to reach the next galaxy. You have a threat meter at the top of your screen, and if it gets too high, you get attacked by an enemy ship. However, this isn’t actually a fight or encounter. Instead a small cutscene plays, and you lose a life. Your ship has a maximum of five of these, and they can be repaired at junk stations. I’m assuming if you run out of lives, it’s game over.

In addition, because each time you deploy to a planet increases your threat meter, you don’t really want to waste effort deploying multiple times. So instead of making bunch of multipurpose drones, I primarily found myself making one big drone with drills, resource collectors and weapons.

Okay, so now that we’ve talked about singleplayer, which I found really dull because it didn’t actually require me to make interesting drones/ships, let’s talk about the multiplayer which I had a lot more fun with.

One big thing: none of the multiplayer modes are actually “Multiplayer,” at least in the sense that I expected. Instead, all of them require you to design automated drones that meet various requirements, and then pit them against other players’ automated drones. You will never actually control a live drone against another live human opponent. Personally, I think this is kinda lame.

There are 5 multiplayer modes, and they are as follows: Timed Racing, Sumo, Brawl, Race, and Catch. Of these, I spent the most time on Sumo, and a bit on Brawl. Personally, I think Timed Racing is pretty pointless. The other four modes all pit you against another player’s drone, in some sort of challenge. In Sumo, you try to be the last person in the ring. In Brawl, you try to destroy the enemy core before they destroy yours. In Race, it’s a race, and in Catch, you both try to touch a target before the opponent.

This is where I’d get into my core argument about Nimbatus being a fun toy, and a bad video game. Nimbatus plays like a toy, which is to say if you don’t enjoy interacting with it, it isn’t actually all that fun to use. The actual single player wasn’t interesting to me, because as a toy, it was like trying to use a single set of Legos to build something. While there’s some fun to be had in that, it feels very limited, especially knowing there are all these other great parts you could use.

The fun part of Nimbatus is having access to all the parts, and trying to build interesting or funky drones. Just within Sumo mode, I saw 8+ different general design patterns, all with different plans for how to win and different strategies. But everything about the single player mode discourages doing that. You are penalized for experimenting. You don’t have all the parts. The best part of the game, building drones, is more or less actively discouraged, and you’re expected to not take risks.

I’d also like to quickly note one other system in place. In the trailer, I saw a variety of ridiculous and crazy looking drones. There’s a part fee that gets applied to deploy a drone, based on how many components the drone has. So yeah, deploying your insane crazy super snake build in Survival will bankrupt you, at which point you might as well just go back to the simple jack of all trades ship I mentioned above.

As a toy, trying to build clever autonomous drones for the multiplayer modes is fun. Seeing other players’ clever strats, and trying to figure out both how they got their drone to do something, while also how to beat it was fun for me. But actually piloting drones in singleplayer was boring.

I have one other big gripe with Nimbatus, and it has to do with some of the parts. In Nimbatus, you have a variety of parts to use, including a large set of weapons, and set of items called “Factory Parts” that I think can actually print out additional parts and ships while a drone is displayed.

I say “I think” because you can’t use any of these parts in any of the multiplayer modes. You can use a small subsection of the weapons in Brawl, but you can’t use any ranged weapons, and you can’t use TNT. So, of all the blasters, lasers, shotguns, beams, and so on? You can ONLY use them in singleplayer. Same thing with factory parts. I get that for balance sense, it’s reasonable to not want to give access to those parts in multi. I really do wish though there was a unlimited or open mode that allowed me to send my bots against my friends with no locks on what could be deployed. I think that would be great.

Okay, so now, story time. Long ago in Days of yore, back when I was in middle school, I participated in a thing called Lego League. You were given a set of Lego Mindstorms robots, and then you were given a set of tasks and problems to solve. I only ever did one year, but I remember it quite fondly. I also remember our team, Deep Mind (named after the super computer in Hitchhikers Guide, which I was a bit obsessed with at the time).

One of the first things that we discovered early on while preparing for our challenges was the following: it is possible to complete a very large number of the tasks that were scored for points in the challenge by simply having the robot drive forward, push something into place, and then drive backward. Because WINNING, we decided to accomplish as much as we feasibly could via this system, and instead of spending our time programming the robot and making clever solutions to problems, we instead mostly just created add-on attachments that quickly and simply solved the given problem. Then, we pointed the robot in the right direction, and ran our brilliant “Go Forward and Then Come Back” program.

Overall, I don’t remember doing very well at the end of season competition. I do remember spending several hours on the way down trying to catch Girantina in Pokemon Diamond in the car.

The reason I include this whole anecdote is that the singleplayer parts of Nimbatus remind me of Lego League. Instead of focusing on experimenting, the constraints of the format led us to find the most efficient and rather boring way to solve the problems, and then apply it to as many other situations as possible. Instead of focusing on experimentation and creativity, we focused on WINNING. I think that was to our detriment. Nimbatus singleplayer survival feels the same way to me.

On the other hand, I also remember doing something rather similar to Sumo with Mindstorms at a day long camp/workshop/drop your kids at the library and then go do something you enjoy style event. In that one, there was one really good robot that someone had brought in, that was really well made and clever. I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to beat it, by trying strategies like “making part of our bot detach,” or “having contain a spinning windmill like shape that would, in theory, yank out of the some connecting wires on the opposing bot.”

I don’t remember beating that robot. I do remember having a lot more fun. For me, this is what the Nimbatus multiplayer modes feel like: trying to make something interesting and out-think the other bot designers. You need to understand what you want to do, and you also need to look at other drones and try to learn what they’re doing, and how they do it. For me, this was what made Nimbatus fun.

Nimbatus is on Steam for 15$. If you like building drones, trying to out think people, or simply just building lots of ridiculous crazy contraptions, you’ll most likely enjoy it for at least a bit. But the single player aspects of the game never clicked for me. It also bums me out that a decent portion of the parts and weapons can only be used in singleplayer mode.

Nimbatus is a fun toy. I can see myself coming back to it every now and then, and building something, much like legos. But there is a lot of effort and space that feels wasted, I wish the multiplayer was actually multiplayer, and it would be cool if there were more game modes. And I really wish there was true free for all, or actual multiplayer.

~JFW

I’ll be the roundabout.

Secrets Of Shirakawa Castle – Review Part 2

An RPG Module Review

Module NameThe Secrets of Shirakawa Castle

AuthorsRCG Harlow/Rosemary CG (Same person. First link goes to her stuff on DM’s Guild, second link goes to her twitter.)

System/Character Level – DND 5E for 4-6 Level 4 players

Price – $4 (We were given a review copy for free.)

Well, there was a three week gap between this and our part one review, which is… sub-optimal. But life happens, things go on, and most importantly, we did finish the adventure!

If you want to read the first part of the review, you can find it here.

If you want to read our DM’s thoughts on running the module, you can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Two brief notes before we really dive into this article.

This article will contain spoilers for the module. We’re reviewing it, and we can’t review it without talking about the content. Which means spoilers. You have been warned.

There’s also one part of the module that’s not quite fair for me to review. I’ll go into why later, but to put it simply things went a bit off the rails as the end. Who’d have thunk?

Overall, my opinion on Shirakawa remains more or less the same as it did part one: it’s a strong module where the NPC’s are written well, and it has a bunch of interesting monsters that are outside of the traditional fare of role-playing games.

The module’s primary weakness is that it gets a bit linear near the very end. It also feels like most of the combat gets a little less brutal as things go on.

I say ‘most of the combat,’ because my players didn’t actually do the final fight. They mostly just surrendered to become slaves/concubines of the big bad. So yeah, guys, I love you, but god damnit. I even made custom tokens for the fight and everything. And then you all just surrendered into slavery to quasi-immortal fox demon in the shape of a women.

Really?

Really guys?

Even after she told you that she EATS PEOPLE? And was going to eat the 13 year she had taken hostage?

This is why I don’t feel super confident assessing the combat: because it’s quite possible that if your players don’t fall head over heels for this fox lady, it’s going to end up being a brutal battle.

I wouldn’t know because mine offered to be her slaves and/or concubines. I think a lot of stories have a hero who falls to the dark side, but I don’t think many of them have heroes who just fall for the dark side.

In either case, everyone enjoyed playing the module. If you have a few bucks to spare, I’d highly suggest picking it up. The ending is well written, as long as your players at least like… try to defeat the final boss, but I wouldn’t know. It does set up another one shot, Return to Shirakawa Castle, where I’m gonna make them face off against their old PC’s.

Other then that, I don’t have too much else to say. I’m gonna close out this article with some uploaded images of the maps I made for some of the fights. Feel free to use them if you end up running the module on your own.

Central Castle Area
River running through small forest with bloody footprints
Large destroyed house in middle of grove, with dead trees above it, and alive trees and a path leading to the house below.

Running Secrets Of Shirakawa Castle – DM Thoughts Part 2

We finished Shirakawa Castle! Here’s where I screwed up running the game.

Whoof. Secrets of Shirakawa castle, finally finished. While the module is strong, there are a few places where I feel like I massively screwed up, or could have run things much better. Our actual review is up over here, but lets talk about running the module shall we?

This post will have specifics on running the module, and spoilers. While the other post talks about the module as a whole, this post is just talking about things that I wish I had done differently.

#1. Sei – The Friendly NPC
One of the things I feel like I really suck at the most is having NPC’s with the party, and Sei is a fantastic example of this. Sei’s role in the adventure is to be sorta guide/hint source to the players, while also providing flavor, a bit of lore, and in one situation, combat backup.

However, because I was afraid of using Sei too much, I didn’t actually use them in a single combat encounter, which meant there were multiple encounters where they were just sorta…. standing to the side, and then going “Oh yeah, that thing you just fought. It was a X/Y/Z.” I think that if I wanted Sei to be a more active part of the game, I needed to include them in combat, and to actually have them be a critical part of the team, so that their reveals of their backstory and other such things feel meaningful.

What would I do differently? I think I’d try to have Sei help the party more in certain situations, and decide how they’d react to various things in advance. The players need to care about Sei for some parts of the story to be meaningful, and that means including them in combat. It might even be possible to turn them into a semi-PC if I was to run the module again. I don’t know if this would solve the problem, but I think it might be better.

#2. Managing the NPC’s
Being a social deduction module, Secrets of Shirakawa Castle has quite a few NPC’s, and they’re written quite well, including a very strong list of relationships and such at the back of the module. Each of them has information, secrets, and other such knowledge….

So when I forgot about two of them that was a problem. A big problem, when they’re supposed to be used as a key part of revealing the last bit of the mystery.

Whoops.

What would I do differently?
There are a lot of NPC’s. If I was to run the module again, I’d would make sure to introduce all of them, and for the ones that the players don’t encounter, have them run into them either at the bath house, dinner, or some other point. The players need to meet them. And since there are only a total of seven NPC’s, it wouldn’t be that hard. I’d want to give the players more time to investigate, meet them, and actually get to know them. So when they die, it feels worse.

#3. Running the Module with a Three Week Break

This one wasn’t really my fault, but it was something I failed to consider, and led to some pretty…. rough parts near the end. The module is built on making you care about the NPC’s, and it uses the first half of the module to do this, building up them, their relationships, and their secrets. The last quarter or so is more combat, encounters, and fights, and the weight of those encounters relies on you caring about those who have been murdered.

What would I do differently?
This one is simple. Secrets should be run as either a 6-7 hour one-shot, or if split into parts, the DM needs to find a way to bring the players back, and make them care about the NPC’s again. This might mean improvising or filler, but not using the NPC’s is a big waste of potential of the module.

Final Thoughts – Running Shirakawa well requires the players to buy into the story and the world. As the DM, if you screw up the people, you screw up the module. If I were to run the module again, I would want to focus on the people, their stories, and make sure I don’t miss anyone. Running a game is always a learning experience, and I hope next time I do a better job.

Take care of yourself folks.

Tiny Towns – More Board Games!

A simple looking and enjoyable board game about making a better town then everyone else.

Another week inside, another board game! I actually ended up playing Tiny Towns about a week ago at this point, but it was a bunch of fun, so it’s still worth talking about. You can find the game here.

So lets talk about the game. Why is Tiny Towns fun? Well, at part because everyone is on the same playing field. In Tiny Towns, each player has a 4×4 grid, and on your turn, you choose a resource, and place it on a square on your board. Each square can only have one resource, and you’re trying to use this to complete patterns to make a building. When you finish a pattern, you remove the resource squares from the board, and place a building on one of the squares that you removed resources from to make the building.

Which is all very simple, except for one little thing: Whenever any player selects a resource, every other player takes one as well. And you will almost always have to immediately place it. So all of a sudden, two things are happening. The board is a lot smaller, and the selection of building material becomes very important. What are your opponents going to take? Does it look like they need wheat, so you can grab stone? Will giving them brick let them finish another building?

Now, if you’re thinking “Why doesn’t everyone just build the same exact thing?”, I was wondering that too. And that’s where a mechanic I haven’t mentioned yet comes in: Secret Buildings.

Each player starts the game with a single secret building. On the whole, theses buildings can swing the balance of the game quite a decent amount just based on their point value, which is pretty good. Even more importantly though, you can use them to throw off your opponents on what you’re planning to build, and what resource you might be choosing on your turn.

So, that’s your overview of the mechanics. So why is it fun? Well, in part because it’s straightforward. I’ve mentioned I like systems where you make a simple choice with complex outcomes. On your turn, you will pick a building material, place it, and then build buildings. And that’s it. There is no upgrade phase, there are no special materials that act as wildcards, just three simple actions. In choosing your material you have to deal with both what you’re trying to build while figuring out what it gives your opponents. At least for me, a lot of the fun of the game is in trying to read other players boards, and figure out what material they’re going to pick.

Oh, and the game is quite fast. I think the round we played was under 30 minutes? I enjoyed it quite a lot. Thanks for reading, and if you have board game suggestions for stuff to play while we’re all locked up trying to not die, please feel free to hit us up on our Twitter!