Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Let Slip the Dogs of Chore Wars

Chore Wars
 My family has started a Chore War!  For those unfamiliar with this game, it is a fun way to encourage yourself and your family members (or roommates) to get on top of doing the chores.  Basically how it works is that you can set up different "adventures" which amount to different chores. You can set experience points for each adventure which usually amounts to 1XP per minute the task is likely to take with really annoying tasks getting some bonus XP for encouragement.  It's entirely customizeable, easy to set up, and has been incredibly motivating for myself and my family.

For my famliy, we have been way more productive on our chores in the last two weeks of doing Chore Wars.  Above all, it has made it more fun for me to focus on getting the chores done.  There are three main ways I have found it motivating.

1. It Helps Me Keep Track of Chores.
By having every chore in the house on a fun "to do" list I am much more aware of what I've done and what needs to be done.  The XP also represents time so it's much faster to identify something I can do if I only have a spare 15 minutes.  Just getting organized has helped a lot.

2. It Encourages Competition For Cleanliness.
It may seem silly, but it bothers me when my wife is ahead of me on XP.  It makes me want to get more.  It's a friendly competition but I'm competitive enough of a person that it sparks my interst to try harder and stay ahead.

3. It Help Us All Understand the Value of the Chores.
This is the biggest boon of Chore Wars.  One of the frustrating things about the chores (for me) is that I never felt like my wife really recognized how much work I put in to the house.  Additionally, I realized she did a lot around the house that I never really thought about or gave her much credit for.  Chore Wars keeps track.  In addition to sparking a spirit of competition, it's just nice to know that your good deeds will be remembered.  It's nice to look at what my wife and daughter have done.  It helps me recognize the work they put in to keeping the household running.  It's a fun way to make sure you pay attention to the effort everyone in the family puts forth to help the family function.

The unfortunate part of Chore Wars is that you really only get out what you put in.  It's up to you to make those experience points mean something.  You can have quest let you fight wandering monsters, get gold and get treasure but it's all entirely text based.  Your treasure pile only means something if you decide that it does.  None of the "loot" shows up on your character as anything other than some text saying that you have it.  You do level up and you're stats do increase but the net effect is just numbers going up.  For example, my first level barbarian looked like this :

1st Level Barbarian
He's a pretty cool demon looking avatar.  However, I've leveled all the way up to a level 5 fighter.  Now my super awesome avatar looks like this:
5th Level Fighter

See the difference!?  Yeah that's because there is none.  The lack of graphical update is a bit of a bummer.  Chore Wars gives the impression of a great idea that had a great start and is now maintained with a minimum of updates.  The last update seems to have been February 2011 in which they fixed some kind of experience bug.  The update before that was September not a lot of improvements in the last 2 years.

The XP, because it represents real time spent that goes on a permanent record has some intrinsic value.  I could not, for the life of me, figure out the point of random monsters - so we don't use them.  The gold we earn we haven't figured out how to use yet.  However, we've discussed using to bid on who gets to pick a movie or an evening activity.  I think we'll find a fun way to spend it.  We set up a shop for my daughter (on a piece of paper) so she can buy more computer time, a treat from the store, or some other fun prizes.  The "treasures" seemed meaningless until we decided to avoid goofy treasures and have them represent real things.  Rather than a random chance, we always set it to 100% and only put treasures on big quests.  So, for example, my wife earned the treasure of "15 minute foot rub" for making me a huge batch of salsa.  She can turn that treasure in at any time to get that reward. 

Like I said, Chore Wars can be incredibly motivating and fun.  I don't know how long we'll keep doing it, but for now it's definitely been worth it.  Unfortunately, it is up to the user to make something motivating out of the game.  Its lack of graphics, animations, or even sound effects means that Chore Wars really only has meaning if you and your family decide that it does.  However, with a little imagination and willingness to go along, Chore Wars can help your family turn the everyday drudgery of chores into a very rewarding competition.

If you give Chore Wars a try or you've already tried it, please feel free to leave a comment about your expereince with the game and any tips you have to help others succeed.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Defenders of the Realm: My New Favorite Adventure Game

Defenders Of The Realm
To be fair, I must state upfront that I am writing this review after only a single play of the game.  That said, I have been searching long and hard (or questing you might say) for a solid adventure game that I could enjoy playing over and over.  I have played many and found few that I love.  Defenders of the Realm, however, has inspired my adventurous spirit.  I wish I was playing it again right now!

Defenders of the Realm does almost everything I want an adventure game to do.  The character classes are powerful and diverse.  The combat mechanic is simple but satisfying.  The sidequests are motivating and useful.  Above all, it’s a cooperative game.  You and your friends are actually allies working together (like in every adventure story ever) instead of trying to save the realm before the other hero does it. 

For those experienced with co-op games (especially Pandemic) there will be some familiar devices.  Each turn, your hero takes a number of actions to move around, fight monsters, accomplish side quests, or gather power.  At the end of your turn, you draw 2 hero cards (that can help in a variety of ways) and then advance evil.  When evil advances, minions are added to at random locations around the board.  When there are too many in one location they break out (like a Pandemic virus) to neighboring locations causing more monsters and more problems to appear.  Additionally, there are 4 generals of the monstrous hoards that move ever closer to the capitol city and leave more minions in their wake.
Good art and components enhance the play

Winning the game involves defeating each of these generals.  Generals feel sufficiently different from each other and epic in their scale.  They make for a very satisfying fight which you can attempt all on your own or team up with any players that want to get in on the action.

There is a light competitive component which amounts to little more than Legolas' and Gimli's competition to see who could get the most orc kills in the Lord of the Rings movies.  You get victory points for every side quest and general you defeat.  The person with the most victory points is awarded "best defender of the realm" or something like that.  This amounts to making you the MVP of the game and NOT the winner so it’s a fun incentive to try to be the best without getting in the way of the cooperative spirit of the game.

All in all, it was an amazing first play and I am excited to play again.  Despite its high price tag, Defenders of the Realm has been added to my list of "must own" games.  Its awesome gameplay, beautiful components (Larry Elmore art is a big plus in my book), and solid co-op mechanics have won me over completely.  I suspect it will top my list of adventure games and cooperative games for some time to come.