Weekly Little Big Planet: the thin ruled line

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Maybe it’s the jaunty Toy Story music juxtaposed against my little stick dude getting splatted by a speeding car doodle. Or maybe it’s the fact that the designer gives me the option to instantly become a cat in order to avoid being blown up by a cannon. Or perhaps it’s the part with the jumping truck doodle where you blow the horn and scare away the giant. Or the part where the notebook page tears away (pictured). Whatever it is, Paper World 2: Doodle hit the spot this week. It scratched a similar itch as last week’s community level, where I just needed to try something different.

Speaking of something different…

After the jump, I’m in the shit

I’ve never gone all in like this with military power. It feels a little weird, but once I start, it feels a little intoxicating as well.

I promise not to spend several paragraphs gushing about my favorite iOS game Ascension, yet again, but I can’t resist talking about it for a little bit more. The game has dominated my daily gaming in a way no other game has. I play turns all day long when I can, and when I can’t I play a bunch of turns right before bed. I then dream about the turns I’ve taken and the ones coming up all night long. In addition, I spend all week thinking about Thursday night when I get to go to my buddy’s house for gaming night and hope somebody will be up for some tabletop Ascension. I can’t help it. I’m just in love with this silly thing.

But, again, my intention is not to gush about it for pages on end, again. This time all I want to do is highlight what happened in one specific match, and how that led to me totally misplaying a turn in a later match against someone else.

Some time ago I wrote a column about losing Samael, the biggest baddest monster in the first Ascension expansion, Return of the Fallen. Samael, the titular Fallen, is an eight point monster. This means he is really tough to defeat, but when you do you acquire him instead of sending him to the void like other monsters, and he sits there next to your deck mad-dogging your opponent. As if this intimidation, and the fact that you’ve just glommed eight points in one swipe, weren’t enough, every time you defeat a monster from then on you have the option of acquiring that monster and putting him in your deck, where his power adds to your military might.

The first time I wrote about Samael I did so in the service of wishing for a replay feature in Ascension. You see, Samael the Fallen had been stolen from me, defeated by an opponent I knew for sure did not have the military might to do so. Or at least I thought he didn’t, not taking into account a totally cheating and unfair card called Adayu. Stupid Adayu. I hate you. Anyway, my opponent totally snaked Samael by totally cheating and while I ended up squeaking by in that match on points, that smarted. At least until I read a comment after the piece by a reader going by the name C Miller:

That said beating Samael is overrated. I’ve probably pulled it off 7-8 times in my ~120 games. Not once have I been able to draw a monster as military power. Sure I’ve put a few fire tyrants in my decks, even a lowly Mephit just to try and get one into play. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Avatar of the Fallen is way better IMO, at least you know his bonus will come into play.

What C Miller said certainly resonated with me. I’d gotten crazy excited about the fact that I was going to be able to take down Samael. I always do. This near panic of adrenaline starts to spin up in my head as I watch my opponent’s turn unfold, as happened this time. When he stole Samael I basically just sat there looking at my iPhone and spluttering away nonsensically. I thought for sure that was it for me, and then I ended up winning the match. So what C Miller said in the comment section seemed true.

But then, a couple of days ago, Samael the Fallen showed up at the beginning of a game.

There he was. Just sitting there. My opponent, a different one this time, had spent his first two turns clearly going for buying power. I’ve played this guy a lot. He’s not fickle. He’s not one to switch strategies. A couple good purchasing cards had fallen to him early, and I knew he was going to stay the course. I looked at Samael, looked at what I had on the board, and started buying Heavy Infantry like it was on sale. I kept this up for a couple of turns, and soon I had the power to take down Samael, this time with a good amount of time on the game clock. Basically I went all in on testing C Miller’s contention that Samael is overrated.

The very next turn after taking down Samael I defeated and acquired Fire Tyrant. Six points of power in one fell swoop. Oh yes.

Turn after turn I concentrated on monsters, since all I really had to work with in my deck was the Heavy Infantry I’d amassed in order to pull off my initial gambit. However, as the turns went on I was getting mostly junk, three-point monsters that gave me a little honor but weren’t really going to be able to do much for me in the endgame. In the meantime, my opponent was racking up his deck points. I had a boss military hand. Not a monster could have stood against me. But what good was it going to be ultimately against my human opponent? I was acquiring monsters indiscriminately, not considering the ultimate deck clutter they represented. Those monsters had already given up all the honor points they were going to. No matter how juicy their numbers looked sitting there in my deck, in the final tally they were going to yield no more. As my opponent collected construct after construct I began to see nothing but folly in the shock and awe with which I had opened the game.

And then something beautiful happened.

I’d spent a couple of turns beating up on the lowly Cultist, the default monster you go after when no monster in the center row is available and which only gives you one point of honor for the two points of military power spent to whack him, when what was probably my final turn came around. And what to my wondering eyes should appear? The Avatar of the Fallen. Oh Avatar. How I love thee. And no, I’m not talking to you, James Cameron. Go back to pre-counting your three-dimensional Titanic dollars. I’m talking about the seven-strength, four-points-of-honor monster that lets you pick whatever you want from the center after you defeat him. I looked down at my hand. Well, now. Fire Tyrant. So nice of you to finally show up.

Thus was C Miller’s thesis disproved. For a time. If Samael the Fallen shows up early enough, and you can ramp up to get him, and the other monsters fall your way, he can be a powerful ally. However…

…the power can go to your head. Which is what happened in my next game against a different opponent.

See that turn above? I totally engineered that, and I was so proud of myself. Samael the Fallen showed up much later in the game, a game in which I’d again gone military heavy probably as a result of being driven mad with the power of that previous victory. Not as heavy as in that game, but pretty strong. When Samael showed up this time my hand consisted of two Heavy Infantry, a Temple Librarian, a Militia, and an Apprentice. The Temple Librarian enables you to discard a card, and if you do you draw two cards from your deck. Goodbye Apprentice. Hello Heavy Infantry and Arha Sensei.

With that draw I now had seven power in my hand. Actually, I had a virtual eight, and the imminent defeat and acquisition of Samael, for the Arha Sensei lets you banish a card in your hand and immediately acquire a Mystic (two points spending power) or Heavy Infantry (two points military power) to your hand. Not your deck. Your hand. Goodbye lousy Militia. Hello Heavy Infantry. Hello Samael.

And boom goes the dynamite.

Except that it didn’t. While I’d thought that my earlier game had proven C Miller wrong, what it had actually done is provided an example of the exception that proves the rule, an idea I’ve never fully understood until now. I got Samael later in the game, but that was all I got. Oh I pulled in a couple other monsters. A three-point Mephit. A Sordid Asp. They did nothing for me but help me harry that poor Cultist. In the end, this was not nearly enough. My opponent ended up with a deck full of forty-five points. Me? 14. Yes, I doubled him up on honor thanks to all my monster smacking, but in the end that hardly mattered since he more than tripled me on deck points.

So heed C Miller well, my friends. Gunning for Samael the Fallen early makes for an exciting, butch, testosterony match. You can win it. I only won it by five points after taking just about every monster in the field, but I won it and hooped and hollered for a good couple of minutes. If he shows up late, or mid-to-late, though, don’t go crazy to get him. This will be hard. He’ll be sitting there taunting you, and all you’ll be thinking is, “I’ve got to get that monster first. If that jerk across the table/screen from me gets him, I’m toast.” The greater likelihood is that Samael won’t be worth it. Stick to your strategy, work your deck economy, and hope your opponent goes monster crazy.

I think there’s some kind of real-world analogy to be drawn here, something about terrorism and foolish wars, but I don’t think I’m going to make it. It would only get me in trouble, and besides, I’ve got six people waiting for me to take turns. Chime. Oops…make that seven.

Oh and sorry about when I lied up there about gushing about Ascension again.