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August 28, 2003

A Birthday Blast from the Past

That's my old "Face File" from my CompuServe days (there was a color version later, but this is the original in all its badly cartooned, eyeball-dangling glory)... Today, I found a copy of it in my email inbox thanks to a college roommate who thought it'd be a nice little gift.

And he's right... In fact, just a week or so ago I'd decided I needed to search the old thing out, to consider adding it here or starting to use it on AIM.

I think he's probably been hiding these psychic powers all along.

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August 24, 2003

Another Boston Visit

The end of Jeanne's vacation visit this week brought me another chance to brave Mass. Ave. and the resident game stores...

It was a most fruitful trip...

RPG Finds:
Gorilla Warfare, the Jammer sourcebook for Feng Shui, which looks from a quick read-through to be one of the better sourcebooks, thanks to sticking close to the Shadowfist card game for additional characters and to adding new non-archanotech cybernetics (long needed).

Talent Operations Command Intelligence Bulletin No. 2 is a mock US Army publication for Godlike, detailing both the Allied and Axis talent forces, including full details on the Allies standard training methods, for use in games where the PCs are trained commando-style units. This is going to be very handy for the game I'm still working on.

Board/Card Game Finds (already read or at least skimmed):
Attack and Attack Expansion are Eagle Games' new WWII board game. As is standard with Eagle (I had picked up their Sid Meier's Civilization earlier in the week and already owned their Napoleonics, American Civil War, and Victorian Era games), the pieces are very impressive (massive amounts of reasonably high quality soft plastic figures and huge boards) but the rules are somewhat less impressive. By trying to keep the rules closer to Risk than to Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (though there is quite a bit more here than there is to Risk), they manage a game that seems like it will be fun to play, but that won't really simulate WWII all that much. The expansion moves a good bit further toward simulation, albeit highly randomly, with Technology cards, politics-influenced minor powers, and less abstracted navies. Kinda feels like Axis and Allies done over from scratch.

Mini Fomula De is a nice small re-working of the fantastic Formula De. The rules are simplified, the tracks are fast and easily maneuvered, and everything is a bit smaller (so it will fit on more tables). The two tracks provided are a bit silly and simplistic (no sharp turns, making downshifting unlikely), but the base idea is sound and this game will be a lot easier to carry around than the original.

Troia is a game of archeologists competing to uncover the ruins of Troy. Game pieces are piled up in roughly historic order and must be drawn from the jumble and assembled into sets for optimal publication. Publishing quickly maximizes points, but each player gets only a limited number of publications, so you can't waste them.

Wheedle is Knizia and Out of the Box Games doing a quick, light trading game of the Pit style, with some Rummy flavor as well. Players trade cards representing stock in companies in a rapid-fire, turnless fashion. You can stop trading when all your cards score points (i.e., when they represent all majority-holdings in non-bankrupt companies). Stopping trading is worth bonus points, but stopping incorrectly (i.e., with worthless cards in your hand) costs points. At all times, one company is face-up as Bankrupt... but any player can trade with the table to switch which company that is. It looks to be a great, fast-paced game, easily learned and quick to play.

Other Board/Card Game Finds:
King's Breakfast
Kung Fu Samurai on Giant Robot Island (and expansion/sister game to Grave Robbers From Outer Space and Cannibal Pygmies In The Jungle of Doom)
Reiner Knizia's Amazing Flea Circus
Nobody But Us Chickens
Munchkin Fu

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August 20, 2003

Role Call 28 - It's Not Unusual

What's the most unusual setting in which your game has been set, and what makes it so unusual?

My personal taste runs strongly to unusual settings... So much so that I consider them fairly common.

Passions of the Tide? A great setting, and lots of unique potential, as James already wrote. Bunnies and Burrows is a longtime fave, as is Teenagers from Outer Space (which, particularly when GMed by designer Mike Pondsmith or by complete loon David Handy, can be amazingly weird). How about Amber re-casts (my own Nine Princes in Hong Kong or others, such as wild west or pulp adventure ideas)? There's the much-lamented Sandman, a game where even the GM doesn't know who the PCs are (it was a secret being leaked out over several planned releases, of which only the first actually happened). Cynosure (of Grimjack comics) or Bugtown (of Savage Henry and Those Annoying Post Brothers, among other titles) are multiverses where the extremely unusual is commonplace (out-of-favor gods are sitting drunk in the gutter or playing with the band, depending on which source you use). And, speaking of gods, there was a game where we played mythic gods returning to the modern world; I played an NYC art scene groupie who became the incarnation of the muses (all of them in one, which was quite confusing for her).

I like things weird.

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August 19, 2003

Favorite Games - Appendix

This was suggested by a reader... I am going to list the prior entries in the Favorite Games articles and add a note on number of players, with particular attention (boldface) to those that work especially well for two-player play.

I'll even add extra emphasis (!!) on those two player games that I think are paricularly good. Which will be most of them... They are my favorite games, after all.

En Garde - 2 Player only (!!)
Settlers of Catan - 2-4 Players (2-6 with expansion set), best at 4+
Ursuppe - 2-4 Players (2-5 with expansion set), best at 4+
Kill Doctor Lucky - 3-7 (or more), best with lots
Lord of the Rings - 2-5 (2-6 with Sauron set), best 4+
Lord of the Fries - 3-8, plays well at any
Battle Line - 2 Player only (!!)
Munchkin - 3-6, best with lots
Lost Cities - 2 Player Only (!!)
Cosmic Encounter - 2-4 (or more with expansion sets), best 4+
Samurai - 2-4, plays well (but differently!) at all numbers (!!)
Bohnanza - 2-7, best with several
Apples to Apples - 4+, best with lots
Gold Diggers - 2-6, very different (more strategic) game with fewer players
Kingdoms - 2-4, more strategic with fewer players
Dog Eat Dog - 2-6, fighting dogs useless at low number of players
Wiz War - 2-4 (or more, depending on expansions), best with several
Tigris & Euphrates - 2-4, dramatically more strategic at 2 (!!)
Family Business - 2-6, poor at 2, best with 4+
Courtisans of Versailles - 3-6, best with several
Who Stole Ed's Pants - 3-4 (played in teams at 4 for a different game)
Money - 3-5, best with several
Buttonmen - 2 (variants allow for more)
Ra - 3-5, best with several
Abalone - 2 (3-6 with expansions), best (by far) at 2 (!!)
Illuminati - 2-6, best with 4+
Brawl - 2
Galaxy: The Dark Ages - 2-5, best with more
Diceland - 2 (or more with website rules), best at 2 (especially Diceland: Ogre) (!!)
Carcasonne - 2-5 (6 with expansion), much more strategic at 2 or 3
Kahuna - 2 (!!)
Titan - 2-6, best with more
Nuclear War - 2-6, best with more
Ceaser and Cleopatra - 2 (!!)
Formula De - 2+, best at 3+ (in teams) or 5+ (running single cars)
Formula Motor Racing - 3-6, best with lots
Space Hulk - 2 (more in certain scenarios)
Talisman - 2+ (best with several)
Ameoba Wars - 2-6, best with several
Merchant of Venus - 2-6, best with several
Quirks - 3-6, best with several
Kings and Things - 2-4, best at 4
The Awful Green Things From Outer Space - 2 (!!)
Warhammer Quest - 1+ (expect to die lots playing solo), best with 3 or 4 and no GM

Additional Note for 2-player games: Lost Cities, Kahuna, and Caesar & Cleopatra are part of a series of 2-player games published by Kosmos in Germany and released by Rio Grande Games here in the USA. Several of the other games in this series (Odin's Ravens, Balloon Cup, Hera & Zeus, Babel, and Hellas) missed my "favorites" list only because I haven't played them enough to assure myself of my opinion. It's rather hard to go wrong with this series, as the games are reasonably priced (mostly under $20), have high production quality, and are cleverly themed.

Posted by ghoul at 08:48 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 18, 2003

WISH 60: Frame-Up

How do you use different frames of reference or mindsets in your games? In what ways do your characters or NPCs in games you GM think differently from the people around you? What sorts of things make them different (societal, mental, physical, etc.)? Do you feel that you’re successful in incorporating and showing the differences?

Some degree of this is pretty much unavoidable, at least if you manage to make the NPCs attitudes differ from yours (and I do hope any "bad guys" you GM are this). Most of us simply aren't the sort that would do what the worst of our antagonists will do casually.

But, also, some 'leakage' is inevitable. Several ideas commonly accepted in historical settings (slavery, arranged marriage, murderous xenophobia) are rejected by or even abhorrent to the modern-day American/European mind. Also, modern military, economic, medical, and social theory revolutionize basic assumptions of, say, medieval life. Finding a player willing to line up in ranks against cannon fire, or to subject to bleeding for treatment of a fever, or to simply acknowledge that class mobility doesn't exist is a severe challenge, and remembering that NPCs should think that way is just as much a challenge.

I actually work with this as a source of story and conflict in my bronze age fantasy setting, as I have three distinct cultures (well, two full cultures and one "border" group that tries to mix the two, picking and choosing when they conflict), each of which follow rather distinct reasonings to get to their "cultural norms". The two major cultures end up at opposite extremes often enough that conflict is inevitable.

Day-to-day, I try to have this impact even little things... For example, the casual domestication of small animals as pets is not practiced in this setting (for reasons I won't go into here). This tiny difference has all sorts of ramifications in behavior and attitude, not to mention linguistic influences (describing people with animal-like traits is rare) and economic impacts (preserving grain rodent-free is more difficult without cats, for example).

The hardest part about being alien, though, is being consistent. I have problems myself with slipping up and letting a modern assumption color a decision, and I'm still in the world-design phase (with only 3 people having actually played any significant time at all). Being appropriately alien is great, and it gives the game a good feel... but it's also work.

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August 17, 2003

Whale Watching Time

And all went reasonably well...

One member of our party was stuck in NYC thanks to the blackouts, but the rest of us managed our trek out 25 miles from the NH seacoast to where the whales spend their summer.

The first whale was a shy and unpredictable mienke, pretty much what I'd come to expect in August whale-watches (this being my fourth). Pat didn't even manage to catch a glimpse, looking over just too late every time. We expected this to be repeated for the rest of the time watching (around 90 minutes), but were very surprised.

The naturalist was amazed at our luck, and all of us regretted that prior experience had led us to leave our cameras behind, because this time, rather than occasional and unpredictable whales, we were able to follow a half-sleeping finback for a good 20 minutes. The white stretches of the whale's body were visible just under the surface the whole time, and as he (or she, as it's difficult to tell without getting a good bit closer than we were willing to) surfaced to breath, the patch of greenish-white became notably larger, so plenty of warning was to be had. Those with cameras no doubt got some great shots. Apparently, whales sleep with only part of their brain at a time, leaving just enough active so they can float just under the water and surface to breath regularly, behavior our naturalist called "logging" (behaving like a floating log). She said it was rare to catch this.

After our slumbering finback, we followed a smallish pod of playful dolphins for a dozen minutes or so. Lots of jumping and play was observed, and they clearly outpaced our boat, swimming circles around us quite literally. Finding dolphins is just a matter of luck, as they move so quickly, so again, our naturalist was telling us how fortunate we were this cruise.

Our last whale was a rather energetic finback who all but lept clear of the surface with each breath, and then offered us a brief but memorable glimpse of tail-fins as it dove deep after the last pass.

Julia was picked to do a before-and-after survey by the student-naturalist on the cruise, I'm thinking to show if people listen to the facts given over the speakers and retain any new information. Of course, she had most of the answers right in the "before" quiz (with some help from Lou and I).

Plus, thunderstorms held off until the drive from the harbor to dinner, so we had a perfect watch and perfect weather... If we hadn't been Jeanne-less and hadn't gotten stuck for 20 minutes on the drive back due to an accident that blocked the whole road, I'd say it was a perfect day. Even as it was, it has to score quite high marks.

I'll catch up on RP-memes tonight or tomorrow... right now, I'm going to nap for a bit.

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August 16, 2003

Whale Watch Day

Despite this (thanks, ***Dave!), today is Whale Watch Day (aka WhaleCon). Four friends and I are off to Rye Harbor, NH, and the Big Blue Boat to see if we can spot any (hopefully non-flatulent) aquatic mammals.

Back tomorrow!

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August 15, 2003

It's Fair and Balanced Day!

This explains it all...

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August 14, 2003

Ars Gratia Pecuniae

This article promises several things I hope can actually come to pass... Particularly the "An Evening With Stan Freberg" stage show, which I would gladly travel rather far to get a chance to see.

(My step-father had no idea what he was unleashing when he first played the albums that excerpted skits from Stan's radio show for me... I've been nuts for this man's uniquely dry satire ever since.)

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August 13, 2003

New Games!

Just arrived yesterday, thanks to the friendly FedEx and USPS delivery folk...

The exceptionally cool-looking PitchCar, the well-reviewed Puerto Rico, a very nice looking Wild West card game called Bang!, ice-age fun with Mammoth Hunters, plus the three newest Cheapass Games, a highly abstract timetravel game called Timeline, extra Diceland spaceships in Diceland Extra Space, and a delightful look at 19th century space travel in One False Step for Mankind.

Boardgame bliss! And a nice pre-birthday present for myself!

Posted by ghoul at 09:43 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Favorite Games XXVII

One entry today, which straddles the line between board games and roleplaying games to great effect...

Warhammer Quest is the end of a fairly short series of games from Games Workshop (sometimes in cooperation with Milton Bradley). These games played on the popularity of Dungeons and Dragons, but instead of being roleplaying games themselves, they were made up of pre-set adventures with pre-determined characters, then supplemented with low-cost but reasonably high-quality miniatures and detailed board art. Heroquest and Advanced Heroquest (which actually had very little in common as games went) were the first real generation, and they found a bit of a market, but were flawed in their implementation and required lots of repeat purchases (or home-brew game design) to expand the options of play beyond the published adventures (some of which never made it out of the UK, much to the disappointment of US-based fans). AHQ introduced a detailed random dungeon generation rule set, but suffered from several clumsy rules and limited expandability.

WQ was a second full go at the idea and was much more successful at achieving its goals. This time, rather than just giving us game-mastered adventures with rules balancing play (as HQ had done... the GM role was very thankless), a heavy emphasis was placed on GM-less adventuring, with random tables, card decks, and monster behavior rules serving to replace the "creative" portion of the GM's role... and with surprising success! There were 30 plots provided (6 each for 5 objective rooms), and the rules randomly generated the dungeon from entrance until the objective was found. And, with that many plots before you started repeating, it was fairly easy to replay several times without boredom setting in. Add to this a "Roleplaying Book" that expanded the monster lists, spells, and treasures, plus adding wilderness events and town events for things to do between dungeon adventures, plus options for even more once you add a GM (a GM is needed to open the possibility of doing things there aren't specific rules for, as that takes an intelligent arbiter... and the GM can design custom adventures rather than just using random ones!). Characters were thin, based around a miniature and progressions of abilities by level, but numerous expansions added more and more interesting options (including a delightfully comic Ogre PC in one of GW's many magazines). Expansions also added even more treasure cards and other fun variants.

Warhammer Quest isn't really a full-featured roleplaying game, even with a GM (it's too limited in what it provides mechanics for, so it remains just more than a miniatures game with pretensions... but, then, Dungeons and Dragons was originally rules expansions on Chainmail, so there is a precedent), but it's great fun to play, and completely addictive. It can also serve as a good stepping-stone from board games to full RPGs, particularly if you start off with the simple game, slowly (over several adventures) add more and more complex rules options, then a Game Master... In the end, you're almost all the way, and you've been having fun at every step. Is there a better way to learn?

Sadly, GW found far more of a market for their miniatures battle games than they did for this delightful hybrid product, and so it's been out of print since the late 90s, with pretty much only fan support (of which there is quite a bit, if you look).

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August 11, 2003

Role Call 27

If you were somehow forbidden from playing with your favorite system, genre or setting, what would you substitute?

A complicated question. I don't really have a "favorite system", but rather a set of favorites for each purpose. I guess this is somewhat an advantage to being a system collector...

For fantasy action/adventure (read as "dungeons"), it's Dungeons and Dragons (3E or 3.5, nothing older please!), but if denied those I could make do with Warhammer Quest (only barely an RPG, but very strong at what it does and nice even without a GM for lazy evenings), Tunnels and Trolls (aged and shakey rules, but fun to play)or even to the just-recently-discovered RuneQuest:Slayers.

For fantasy drama/epic stories, it's Hero Wars/Quest (name depends on the edition... I don't have Hero Quest yet), but I could slip to Ars Magica, pre-HW RuneQuest or even to GURPS or BESM (selecting based on the desired "power level").

For modern/near future action, Feng Shui comes first, and after that d20 Modern likely leads the pack, but Spycraft, GURPS, or Cyberpunk 2020 could fill in in a pinch, as could digging out the old James Bond RPG.

For supers, I would tend toward Blood of Heroes (the Mayfair DC Heroes game de-branded), but the new Marvel Universe Diceless (with patches) or Champions or Godlike would all work.

For goofy comic action, I prefer Teenagers From Outer Space, but I can easily convert to the more failure-based humor of Toon or to various specific products.

So, I think this is an area where a wide base is valuable.

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August 10, 2003

Temporarily Lost...

Neverwinter Nights for Mac finally came out... And so, you may well find I have vanished for a while.

And, to make matters worse (or is that better?), The Lord of Castle Black arrived in the same box, so when I'm not at the keyboard, I have other things to distract me.

But I'll be back.


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August 08, 2003

WISH 59 - Games For New Gamers

Name three games you might use to get someone who has never roleplayed before into roleplaying.

I think the goal here is mechanical simplicity and setting/character familiarity. Simple mechanics so you can get done teaching quickly and familiar characters so the players (who aren't used to roleplaying) can get into them with minimal work. In other words, something that puts at much of the work on the game and the GM and as little on the players as can be done... and, if possible, most of that should go to the game so the GM is free to also be helpful to the players!

Three choices, ehh...

Feng Shui comes first. If carefully focused on the modern-day action archetypes (that is, away from archanotech, magic, and fu powers, all of which are a bit complex for beginners), this game is elegant and simple to learn. And the characters can, pretty much, do exactly what you'd expect from the source movies (HK or US). Plus it's very easy to get someone into the role of an action hero... they aren't generally known for their complex personalities.

If I knew they were fans of the show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is another game that smoothly and cleanly replicates a familiar source. Players can take on the familiar cast and will already know what their abilities are; the game just nicely provides a mechanical structure to insure this. And, again, taking on familiar roles makes it easy for new players to "find their character".

And, for a third choice, I'll go with my own home-brew Harry Potter diceless system, which can be seen here. This is an ultra-light mechanics game, very much focused on the story and the characters. It's also most structured than some diceless systems, so the player has a bit more than instinct on from which to guess their abilities and limits. Character creation is turned into a simple writing exercise and the math is kept as simple as possible. Plus I've been very happy with how it has played at the AmberCons where Jeanne and I GMed it.

Honorable Mention to Toon, Teenagers from Outer Space, and even the mostly-forgotten Rocky and Bullwinkle game, all of which are quick, light, and fun.

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August 07, 2003

Favorite Games XXVI

Whoops! I missed putting up a Favorite Games entry on Monday! That means today, I'll provide two titles, both by the clever designer Tom Wham...

(By the way... my list is coming to an end. I've had a request or two for follow-ups that will keep me going for a bit longer, then I may take a break through the end of the month before starting a new series. If you have a request or suggestion, feel free to drop me a note!)

Kings and Things is an odd game of almost-random armies in combat over a very random board. The board is built randomly of hexagons of various terrains, upon which you build castles and send around armies to conquer your neighbor's land. The "things" of the title are numerous creatures (plus a small number of income-enhancing terrain modifiers, special characters and magic items), drawn at random as you recruit each turn. Some are tough, some are weak. Some can fly, others barely walk. And most require a specific terrain to "support" them (forest creatures require you to control a forest, for example). However, in a delightful twist, you can bluff your army bigger with unsupported counters... Counters are moved around face down, and a large stack can trick enemies into giving up when they really could have won. Of course, as soon as an unsupported counter is revealed, it goes away, so bluff carefully. The object is to build a citadel then either prevent others from building one to match you or conquer an opponent's to give you a pair. Play with several players (4 is the full complement) and expect a bit of complex silliness. Games with fewer players must use a smaller board and are, in general, less interesting. This game went through several versions, from "King of the Tabletop" in Dragon #77, though an edition printed by West End Games in the USA and Games Workshop in the UK (which, in a much-used state, is the one I own), to the current edition from Germany (with much nicer bits, as one would expect from a German edition). Look this one up for your local gaming group; it's best near its full complement of players.

The Awful Green Things From Outer Space is a wonderful game, originating in Dragon magazine (just like Kings and Things above, though in a form much closer to its current one). It's a two-player game with distinctly asymmetric positions. One player is the crew of the Znutar, an exploratory ship that just picked up something unpleasant. The other player is that something, a quick-reproducing alien life form that wants the ship for itself. The crew (who are odd little cartoon aliens themselves) use weapons that are unpredictable when employed against the Green Things (you draw a random effect the first time you use each weapon), and some make things worse, so you have to experiment carefully and optimize what you learn; never experiment with an area effect weapon on a crowded space, just in case it decides to be beneficial to the Green Things this time around. Try not to let yourself get cornered and do NOT let the Green Things cut off a section of the ship to use as a breeding ground... you won't like that one bit! Meanwhile, if you're playing the Green Things, isolate the crew away from good weapon sources (for easier munching) and find a nice defensible corner to grow reinforcements in. The current edition (from Steve Jackson Games) has some expanded rules to let you take the fight out the airlocks and onto the outside of the ship... but it also has rather disappointingly average counters, not up to quite the abuse repeated play will put them through. Of course, at under $15, you can just buy a second copy when this one wears out.

Funagain Purchase Links
Kings and Things
The Awful Green Things From Outer Space

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August 04, 2003

Role Call : DIY

Can you summarize two campaign concepts you'd create for player with identical tastes to your own?

Two concepts, ehh... let me give it a try, then...

I'd love a good Western, particularly one where the PCs can live the dangerously on-the-edge life of an Eastwood character in a Leone film. Perhaps even one where the PCs try to keep up the free-wheeling desperado style but progress closes in on them over time (ala The Wild Bunch). I expect Dust Devils would do this one justice.

A big space opera with anime tendencies would be fun. I once half-designed a game with a Star Trek style exploration/investigation ship, but packing Mecha suits rather than shuttlecrafts and transporters. But, most of the way into it, I decided I'd much rather play that game than GM it, so it's sat untouched for several years. Giving each player dual roles might even work here... Bridge Crew and Suit Jockey, since most stories would deal with one or the other.

Hmmm... both of these avoid magic and fantasy trappings... I guess I've been doing enough of that sort of thing lately and my "wish I could" games are, naturally, moving in other directions.

Posted by ghoul at 08:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 03, 2003

WISH 58 - MetaMess

What do you think of metaplots (plots developed in the rules and supplements published by the game company)? Are they good, bad, or indifferent? Have you played in a game with a metaplot? What was your experience?

I'm not a fan of Metaplot, to put it mildly.

Publishers do not know how my game's dynamics work. They don't know which NPCs touch our PC's hooks. They have no idea what plot twists will be surprises to us nor which ones will be dull and predictable. They don't know what changes we've already made that will contradict what they will do later. They simply can't know that (even if they do something like TORG's odd player-voted metaplot progressions).

And, worst of all, since they don't know these things, they are left to write their own plot, one driven by the NPCs they picked and moving in the directions they prefer. But a game isn't about the NPCs, it's about the PCs. Which means that metaplot is always wrong because it always takes the focus away from the PCs.

And, to make things even worse, they cripple the GM. If I'm stuck in a game with metaplot, anything I try to do with the NPCs will potentially contradict things the publisher has planned to do, or will do between when I start my game and when I'm done. And so I have to either not use their world to avoid contradicting them or I have to ignore what they do in metaplot once I start... which means, either way, it's not helping me any more.

And why should I want something that hurts the PCs (by taking the focus off them) and hurts the GM (by limiting their options and creativity)?

Posted by ghoul at 08:03 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 01, 2003

Favorite Games XXV

Another sadly nigh-forgotten classic today...

Eon games gave us Cosmic Encounter, but that wasn't their only product; pretty much every game with their simple "Name in a box" logo on it was a treasure. Near the end of their existence as a company, in 1980 and 1981, they produced Quirks and its two expansion sets, their last product (if memory serves) and, excepting CE, the one I enjoyed the most.

Quirks is, at heart, a simple game. Players compete to assemble plants and creatures to occupy the ecological niches of the game world. The most successful plant, herbivore, and carnivore rule the "top niche", and the object of the game is to have your creations in all three top spots, and to successfully defend against a challenge. Plants and creatures are assembled from 3 cards, representing a top (A), middle (B), and bottom (C) for a plant or a head (A), body (B), and tail (C) for an animal. Each card you can use has a trait or feature, a picture of an animal or plant that exemplifies it, and a few letters from a name. An assembled plant or animal, then, looks like three bits grafted clumsily into one, and their name will be the same (Tawsock for a long-toothed creature with furry paws and an electrical shock tail, for example). As a bonus, if the head of the Herbivore matches an icon on the top of the plant, it gets to "eat" the plant and is stronger. The same is true of the head of the carnivore matches the icon on the tail of the herbivore.

Play proceeds, with players trying to fight their way into the lower niche with an incomplete creature... just (AB) or (AC) rather than (ABC) or use their incomplete creature plus a new card from their hand to challenge for the top spot. Each card has a code, and each code translates into a point value. The highest point value in total wins, the loser is driven into extinction. Since three extinctions will cause you to have to leave the game, most players will back down if victory doesn't seem likely. If you don't feel like challenging, you can "mutate" your creatures in play, replacing one of its cards from your hand or the deck to try to improve it.

Adding to the uncertainty is an ever-advancing Climate Track. Every trait is strong in some climates, but weak in others. Fins are great in the ocean, not so handy in the desert. Each turn, the acting player can advance the climate track one or two spaces, either to linger in the current climate a bit longer or to rush forward as quickly as possible.

And that's pretty much it... A simple, straightforward game in rules, but with countless new and unexpected combinations that will show up in play. And the expansion sets added even more cards, and thus even more traits and creatures. Too much repeat play could result in players who knew the score values of various cards too well to ever mistakenly press their challenge (the rules don't allow you to check your score prior to deciding if you're going to withdraw), but if played occasionally and casually, this game is quick, easy-to-learn and great fun.

The market could use more games like this today, and it's style is very much like many Euro-games (such as Ursuppe). So why isn't this getting reprinted?

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