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Why an Asymmetric Board Game Pissed Off Me and My Friends



It’s Game Night and you know what that means: booze, board games, and belligerency (in that order). What better way to bond with your friends than by spending two hours in heated arguments, combing through rulebooks and forum posts to prove your points?

Modern tabletop gaming has reached a level of complexity that rivals video games. What that means, however, is that tabletop designers have had to adapt numerous mechanics and systems in order to support increasingly dense rule-sets. Due to its physical, player-driven nature, tabletop games have an inherently high learning curve.

Balance is already a messy can of worms. Throwing in asymmetric gameplay turns that can into a bucket. Balancing asymmetric tabletop gameplay turns the worms into rabid wolverines. That is to say, shit’s hard yo.

Fig. 1 – The proper reaction to a competitive asymmetric tabletop game.

Symmetry is for Chumps

Everyone knows the game “Tag”. One person is “It” and everyone else needs to avoid them. Whenever someone gets tagged, they become “It”. Simple, right? This is asymmetric gameplay in its most basic form: different mechanics for different players.

Asymmetric gameplay is typically any sort of multiplayer game where opposing sides use different mechanics and playstyles within the same rules and boundaries. One of the best examples is the Left 4 Dead series. On one side you have the humans: they have guns, can revive each other, and use a number of different items. On the other side you have the infected: they possess unique abilities, choose where to spawn, and have a comparatively shorter respawn timer. 

While both sides have the ultimate goal of “winning”, those conditions are different for each side. The humans win by reaching the end of the level, while the infected must prevent the humans from doing so and win when they all die. The different playstyles and mechanics reflect these opposing objectives.

If Left 4 Dead has received popular and critical acclaim, why haven’t more people tackled asymmetric gameplay? The answer: it’s freaking hard to balance. Power imbalance is already a large enough issue in normal competitive games. Effectively balancing completely different mechanics and playstyles requires massive amounts of work on the developer’s part.

Left 4 Dead’s well-balanced design resulted in a robust competitive scene that’s still active to this day.

“It’s a game that needs to be balanced, but fundamentals of the game are imbalanced,” said Adam Sessler in regards to Evolve, a game where four hunters  must chase down one super-powered beast. “You’re looking at a lot of variables. I think asymmetry at that point is doing a disservice, because it’s almost a cacophony of options of how this whole thing can play out!”

Developers for other games have expressed similar concerns. Crawl is a more recent asymmetric game that has one player dungeon-diving while the other three try to kill him and take his place. Powerhoof Games has said that “balance really is the hardest part of development on Crawl.” “We have a lot of tweaking to do!  … to make sure it isn’t frustrating for the hero or the monsters. There are a lot of possible ways to even the playing field a little.”

What’s nice about balancing for a digital medium is the ability to push updates and hotfixes with relative ease. The same can’t be said for tabletop games.

To the Table With You!

As a huge fan of tactics games and Star WarsImperial Assault seemed like a must-buy. Not only is it a classic Star Wars premise of daring rebels fighting the Imperial juggernaut, it also features Fire Emblem-like gameplay and progression. The novel idea of pitting four Rebel players against one person controlling the Imperial Army promised interesting and exciting combat. On paper, Imperial Assault was everything I ever wanted in a board game.

When ‘Star Wars’ meets ‘Fire Emblem’

In practice, however, Imperial Assault made it easy for me and my friends to get pissed off. The game tries to replicate the Fire Emblem and XCOM experience of objective-based missions by implementing scripted events. If a certain number of turns has passed or certain conditions are met within a mission, specific events will trigger.

While an interesting premise, scripted events and strategic asymmetric gameplay don’t exactly mix. There are three big reasons for this:

1) Perceived Player Agency
(or: “Well, what the hell do we do now?”)

Throwing curve balls at your players and keeping them surprised should be one of the goals of good game design. Players shouldn’t feel limited in their choices when they run into these obstacles. Tactics games like Fire Emblem use scripted events well because the AI will usually play at a set difficulty. You as the player have an idea of what to expect.

In the case of Imperial Assault, however, scripted events will usually give options and resources to the Imperial player. This presents a huge problem when the single Imperial player is more skilled and can leverage the most out of those events.

As a Rebel player, it’s frustrating to hear the Imperial player say that he suddenly gets to deploy five Stormtroopers and close off doors around you. Because the Imperial player is operating with hidden information, the Rebels have to take him at his word that he’s playing by the rules. Naturally, when shenanigans like that happen time and time again you’re bound to feel like everything you do is useless.

2) Balance

Imperial assault is brutal. A lot of the missions feel imbalanced because they actually are. After the end of a mission, we tended to look up what people were saying about them online. Most of the time we found people agreeing that certain missions heavily favored one side over the other.

The hard part of competitive asymmetric gameplay is that there are so many systems and mechanics to balance. Both sides need to have a unique feel to their gameplay while still being balanced enough to provide a fair challenge.

Oftentimes, the side with fewer players will have so much more to work with by virtue of playing against a team of unique characters with powerful abilities. The big AT-ST or the beefy bounty-hunter droid are powerful adversaries that give notable advantages to the Imperial player. 

3) Competition
(or: “y u heff to b mad?”)

For a game that’s so rich in flavor and lore, Imperial Assault misses the mark by being a competitive game. While it’s a neat idea to have a 1v4 scenario, it simply creates too many opportunities for negativity and bickering. The imbalance and lack of player agency work directly against a game that’s supposed to be competitive. Rarely does it feel like both sides are on a level playing field.

Asymmetric gameplay in tabletop gaming requires a massive amount of balancing and fine-tuning in order to not feel frustrating. The sheer amount of mechanics and rules in Imperial Assault took weeks to get down; even at our quickest games we were still referring to the rulebook. While the physical, tactile medium of a board game helps with the learning process, Imperial Assault reached a certain point where it was more frustrating than fun to manage. We spent more time arguing about the game than we did playing it.

‘Imperial Assault’ suffers from a hefty amount of rule-dependent scenarios that make a slow, tactical game even slower.

Leniency and You: How to Not Be an Asshole

Asymmetric gameplay has vast amounts of potential as a game design framework because it offers unique systems and mechanics not seen in traditional multiplayer games. However, it requires one of two things: finely tuned balance or some degree of leniency. As Imperial Assault proved, the former is hard to achieve (at least for a tabletop game).

Leniency is key to making asymmetric gameplay work. Competition between two sides is only fun when it’s on a level playing field. You can’t exactly have leniency when only one side can win. It’s for that reason that tabletop RPGs create the best asymmetric tabletop gameplay experience possible.

In tabletop RPGs like Shadowrun or Dungeons and Dragons, you have two groups of people: the players and the DM/GM. In Imperial Assault, these were the Rebels and Imperials, respectively. However, the big difference with TRPGs is that they’re collaborative, not competitive. The ultimate goal isn’t for one side to emerge as the victor: it’s to create a story together.

‘The Adventure Zone’ is a highly popular ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ podcast because of the stories that the players and their DM have crafted. The flexibility and leniency in using the rules have created a host of memorable and entertaining encounters. (Art by Carey Pietsch)

Hand-waving certain rules for not being conducive to fun is one of the best parts of playing a TRPG. The DM is there to create challenges for the players to overcome, but if every encounter were a life-or-death scenario gameplay would quickly get tiring. It’s easy to manipulate these challenges as the DM in order to create an experience that’s difficult but not punishing. The orc barbarian can “conveniently” roll a critical miss or the players can happen upon a helpful item when they’re bruised and battered. It’s up to the DM to decide.

Games Should Be Fun?!

The problem that Imperial Assault has is that the scripted events and pre-planned scenarios mean that the players are operating with the developers’ intended design. You can’t easily be lenient with the rules because everything is designed without much wiggle-room.

TRPGs allow for a healthy amount of freedom and collaboration that still brings out the best of asymmetric gameplay. Both sides play with unique and varied mechanics, so when they meet in the middle the result is fun and memorable gameplay. It might not necessarily be the most balanced, but that’s not important.

Kyle grew up with a controller in one hand and a book in the other. He would've put something else in a third hand, but science isn't quite there yet. In the meantime, he makes do with watching things like television, film, and anime. He can be found posting ramblings on or trying to hop on the social media bandwagon @LikeTheRogue

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Game Reviews

‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming



Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.



max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter

On November 17th, 2004, ‘Metal Gear Solid 3’ was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.



Metal Gear Solid 3

“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”

On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.

The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.

Taking the Narrative Back

Metal Gear Solid 3
“Snake, try and remember some of the basics of CQC.”

Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.

Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the PatriotsSnake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.

Revolver Ocelot’s gun-slinging pre-boss cutscene was completely animated through motion capture footage.

Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.

Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.

A Whole New Meaning to Survival

When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.

Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.

On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.

The Beginning of Product Placement

Fun Fact: Kojima has gone on record saying that Naked Snake’s favorite CalorieMate Block is the chocolate-flavored line (rightfully for promotional reasons!).

The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.

The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”

When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.

A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank

At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.

Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.

Snake Eater 3D Limited Edition Bundle included a ‘Snake Skin’ themed standard 3DS (only released in Japan).

2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collectiona compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.

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