Friday, March 22, 2013

Tea Time with Conclave

My astral self has been to prison
and she ain't afraid to go back.
Have you ever wistfully stared at your phone or tablet while your friend dismantles you in Words With Friends? Were you dreaming of repeatedly stabbing that triple score they just made because screw you, since when has sacbut been a word? What if I told you that instead of playing Scrabble with the serial numbers filed off, you could be a cool kid and play Dungeons & Dragons with the serial numbers filed off?

For this week's tea time, we're playing Conclave: a mobile-friendly multiplayer game that will allow you to finally reveal to your friends that you've been a treeperson wizard on the inside all along. Like always, it will have just two hours to impress us. In this case we're being nice and not making those two hours continuous.

"Hey, text James and tell him to heal me."

Conclave is a fantasy strategy game by indie developers 10x10 Room. It takes its cues from tabletop roleplaying (specifically Dungeons & Dragons) and mobile-focused, non-synchronized games. This combination is extremely potent.

Most people with experience in tabletop games know the exasperation that comes with involved combat systems. Turns can take so long that you might as well bring something to occupy your time while you wait for the next person to carefully consider the most efficient way to harass a goblin. It took a surprising amount of time for someone to say: "Hey, isn't Words With Friends kind of the perfect setup to make that less annoying?"

conclave battle
Character portraits come in both "screaming" and "not as cool."

If you're not familiar, the premise is this: you can log on at any time during the day, move your archer over, take a shot at a goblin, and then put the game away until the rest of your party has taken their turns and it's come back around to you. It's all the fun of fantasy wankery with none of the prancing about in the woods with a $200 wall-hanger of a sword that you've affectionately named "Bl├╝dseekyr."

Reactions to Conclave around here have ranged from "Why hasn't anyone done this before?" to "Wizards of the Coast is going to steal this the second they find out," and "That's cool. Can I be an elf?" That's really the game's strongest endorsement. It's an idea that practically everyone can see the merit in.

Now that we've properly kowtowed at Conclave's feet, let's dig into the specifics of the game. Conclave is still in development, so we'll be examining it while keeping in mind that this is an unfinished project.

Realistic Murderhobo Simulator: Now on Tablets

Conclave is meant to be a multiplayer game, though the introductory mission is easy enough to solo. There doesn't appear to be any difficulty scaling, so this tea time was undertaken with three additional players to compose a full party of four people.

After creating your character, choosing between five classes and five races, you are given access to the game's main interface: a map of the region, upon which quests pop up once they are unlocked. A painless invite system allows for easy party creation, and the party is continuous until someone specifically leaves or is kicked out by the leader.

Actions in Conclave happen in a "stack" setup. When you log in, you are still exactly where you left off. Anything that has happened since then occurs step by step as you click the next button, be that someone in your party selecting a new quest or a monster waddling over to kick you in the face. There's also a back button for people with weak reading skills and a skip-to-end button for the impatient. The default solution to people being too busy to maul a kobold is a 24 hour time limit, after which the computer will decide their next move for them.

conclave choices
Is it roleplaying if I just pick whatever sounds the most irresponsible?

The adventures all come with pre-written narration of your party's actions as they are approached by lazy jerks who will pay you to do violent things for them. Occasionally, your group is given a selection of choices, upon which each player has a chance to vote on the course of action. These often include options that require skill checks - currently, skills like "Persuasion" and "Stealth" are class-specific, so you're further encouraged to have a diverse party.

Inevitably, something or someone decides you need a good once-over with the pointy end of a what-have-you and it comes down to fighting. The speed of Conclave's combat is off-putting at first. Most characters can only move two squares a turn if they forsake all other actions. It feels more natural if you commit to treating Conclave as a game that you briefly fiddle with and not something that requires your full attention. The full-fledged RPG trappings definitely trigger that "I must obsess over this" feeling in some people.

As you complete quests, living in the woods and stabbing wolves, you gain Renown and level up.

At Level 4 You Learn "Stab Someone Twice"

Conclave's character customization hits all the standard tabletop areas. Leveling up will give you additional stat points and allow you to choose from a variety of new abilities with their own prerequisites.

The different classes all feel suitably unique. They all encourage different play styles from the get-go thanks to their abilities and equipment. The runecasters are going to screw around with wacky spells and the rogues are going to use stealth because come on the button is right there. This only increases as leveling continues. Two people playing the same class can comfortably end up in different roles.

conclave armory
I call it a catch blade because I keep catching it on people's kidneys.

One rogue might dump more points into agility and select powers focused on stealth, allowing her to deliver a single powerful strike and then fade away. Another may choose to raise her fortitude in order to wear armor and a shield, becoming a hardy but mobile attacker. Currently, you can freely rebuild your character at any time, implying that there will be some method of respeccing in the finalized game.

The equipment system follows this philosophy of flexibility. Currency is replaced with Renown, earned by completing quests. Each class has their own specific armory filled with things of interest to them, though there is overlap with more generic items. Every item has a Renown value attached to it. You may freely take and drop off items, but you may never have more items in your inventory than your current Renown can accommodate. It's always heartening when a game makes it easy for a player to experiment.

No Whammies No Whammies No Whammies No Whammies

If this tea time has sounded a little bit like an advertisement, you'll have to forgive us. Conclave is a genuinely interesting game idea. It caught quite a few imaginations when we passed it around here. With proper support, it has the potential to be really big. That is assuming Mike Mearls doesn't reveal that Wizards of the Coast has been bio-engineering dragons and that he has decided to take vengeance on 10x10 Room.

Conclave has a lot of distance left to cover. The scenarios are disappointingly non-varied in some regards, though mowing down a wave of identical monsters is more tolerable when you're only clicking a few buttons every couple of hours. I can imagine that things like difficulty options and further expansion of character customization are already on the things-to-do list. It's difficult to be critical when they just added sound effects last week.

Our tablet tester found that she couldn't create a character, though the interface worked fine once she went through creation on a desktop. Another of our testers discovered that the back button could be used to scroll all the way to the world map before a quest was taken, where you could visit the armory and re-equip in the middle of a battle. Yes, he's the type that plays Baldur's Gate with a full party of handcrafted custom characters to "beat the game properly."

Obviously, they need more active testers. Sound interesting? Play-test and support something neat at Check their forums to find groups, post about bugs, and pitch ideas!

Want to suggest a game or genre for the next tea time? Email me at
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