July 08, 2007

The Black Road 2007

OK, The Black Road was last week, but better late than never!

I took a break from gathering papers and signatures (except for one phonecall and email exchange with the realtor) to spend the weekend with others interested in Amber and Indy RPGs.

Slot 1 was Michael Curry running Afraid, which proved quite interesting, if less than completely scary. It was a lot of fun, if not exactly what Vincent probably means the game to be like. If I had to guess, I'd say it needs to be GMed with the gloves way off, though I'm not sure how enjoyable that would be.

Next, I was the GM for a game of Agon. I miss-estimated the time a minion-heavy fight would take to run and how interesting it would be (overestimating the first and underestimating the second), which forced me to compact my story. The good thing was I'd designed Act 2 of the story to be unnecessary (though desirable). We reached a fairly solid ending, with Jenn coming out at the lead of the Legend total, quite possibly taking the lead right in the last contest, which only she succeeded at.

The next morning was Michael GMing again, this time Fortune's Fool, air pirate action using Spirt of the Century (which was the most used non-Amber system of the con with 3 games). Lots of fun and unlikely stunts, and a game that ended with my character caught up in the unraveling of his web of lies. Well, one lie, really, but since it was of the 'do what I want and there'll be lots of loot for us to share' when, in fact, there was no loot at all, I was certainly not Mr. Popular.

That evening was my second GMing, another chapter of Nine Princes in High School. It was, as expected, rather silly, but Amber was saved from accidental near destruction at the angry hands of the Gods of Metal. OK, you probably had to be there.

Sunday, it was back to Spirt of the Century, but this time with Carolyn Lachance in charge and the earnest but low-buget SciFi of Nine Princes in Spaaace! The crew of the SPSS Unicorn somehow overcame the constant sniping of Eric and Carl and the sneaky plotting of the Draconis lizard-men (well, stunt-men in lizard masks and gloves, really). Some nifty action and over the top characterization that made for lots of fun as the con came to a close.

Then, after the last slot, a half-dozen of us watched the last episode of the third season of the revived Doctor Who, which offered a nice punctuation mark before we all started on our many ways home.

Amber gaming wasn't plentiful in my schedule (two recasts, three non-Amber games), but it was all fun! And it's always great to see all the folk I only see at AmberCon or TBR each year. It's too long until the next one!

Posted by ghoul at 09:59 AM | Comments (1)

March 30, 2007

Odd, Sad Coincidences

Last Saturday night, as part of John Schippers's Justice Legion Militia: Lengthening Shadows game at AmberCon, we were handed pictures of a semi-fictitious, bankrupt Christian amusement park that was the site of some suspicious and unpleasant activity. One of those pictures was familiar to me. In story, they were in South Carolina, but I was pretty sure immediately they were actually taken in Covington, KY, at the Garden of Hope (page down; it's the third item in the article... I can't find the nice color pictures John found for the game).

Why did I know this?

Well, because my grandfather was part of the churchgoing workmen who built the Garden of Hope, back in the late 1950s. He mixed the paints into the concrete to give the faux-stone the proper color and aged appearance, among other tasks. My mother was very proud of that, and told me about it regularly, particularly as the family made roughly-Easter-Sunday visits to the site. I've stood right where the picture used in the game was taken a dozen times, at least. And, even today, there aren't all that many replicas of the traditional Tomb of Christ in the USA. Until very recently, there was only this one, tucked away in its hard-to-find corner of West Covington, KY.

So it was a rather odd coincidence, to say the least.

And was near the top of my mind when, yesterday afternoon, I got the call that my grandfather had died, after a long battle with Parkinson's, a severe stroke, and several minor heart attacks, plus a recently-discovered large tumor in his throat that made swallowing difficult. It wasn't completely unexpected; there had been talk of transferring him to a hospice among the options under discussion for the better part of a month. None of which makes it any easier, really. As I mentioned in a quick post yesterday, I'm flying back to Cincinnati for the services, and to help out however I can.

And, if time allows, I may well even try to wiggle up the back streets in West Covington, refresh some memories. They'll be all decorated for Easter next Sunday. It seems right.

Posted by ghoul at 08:05 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 26, 2007

Quick AmberCon Summary

I'm home and essentially whole (though I wouldn't actually want to insist I was actually awake enough to drive home from the airport safely if I hadn't just proven that by managing it).

Good times were had. A couple of great times were had. Folks were seen I don't get to see and chat with nearly often enough. New folk were met (or met for real after brief glimpses at earlier gatherings). Characters were put thru wringers or set up for future wringing.

More details to follow, perhaps, once I've caught up from general sleeplessness.

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January 13, 2007

Adventures In Improvisation

It happened six days ago, but I owe a bit of a report on the Spirit of the Century game mentioned last post.

Quick Summary: it went well. Quite well.

Oh, there are things about the system I need to know better before I run it again. I really hadn't gotten the balance of NPC abilities to PC abilities in my head, so my opposition was way too weak. And I didn't do a good job of explaining what sort of characteristics should be Aspects and what should be Stunts (partially the fault of the system, maybe, but mostly me). But I was very impressed with how the "guest star in their novel" character generation built common background elements for the PCs and even as I made up new difficulties on the fly so the characters were challenged, the game ran pretty darn seamlessly.

Hence, the title of this post. If SotC has a strength I hadn't noticed in reading, it would be that it is very easy to change or add things on-the-fly that can make the story the players participate in match their PCs more closely than the one the GM walked in with. And that's a very good thing.

I won't be commenting on detail of the story, as I may use this plot outline (with more effective NPCs and different improvisational additions) as a pick-up game somewhere else along the line, but I had a good enough time as GM and the players say they did as well that I'm hoping we can schedule a next chapter in their story. I've already got a plot in mind, this time more directly matched to who the PCs are, and maybe that'll let me see how well the system works when the improvisations are less crucial to the flow.

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

January 05, 2007

Less (and More)

So, for those who might have wondered what happened to the boardgaming club reports... I haven't stopped doing them, but I also haven't made it to a Wednesday night gaming day in almost two months. I'm hoping work will lighten up a bit and let me resume attendance soon!

My bi-weekly RPG was called on account of GM cold this week, which would make this nothing but a message of "no gaming" except...

This Sunday, I'll be heading up to Geeks and Gamers and giving a trial run to Spirit of the Century, an RPG I've been looking forward to giving a try to since I spent the drive down to T'Con reading it. If this goes well, I'm hoping it lead to more opportunities to try small-company and Indy RPGs. I've put together what I think is a solid little intro episode (lacking only because I don't have PCs to directly hook plot points to) and printed up character generation aids... Should be a great day!

With any luck, you'll be hearing more about this soon!

Posted by ghoul at 04:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 01, 2006

TurkeyCon Days 6, 7, and Departure

Late morning Saturday was offered to the World of Warcraft cult, as the adults of T'Con went off on some virtual project or another. I remain at a safe distance, lest all my freetime (and much of my other hobby time) fall into the infinite sink of the WoW.

I do, however, set up a couple of board games while the instancing occurs, for future consumption, one of which got played today. Details below.

Saturday night is given over to Luc's Call of Cthulhu d20 game. Modern-day setting, so I generated a nifty just-back-from Afghanistan soldier scratching out a living as a mechanic and handyman at old Miscatonic U. One haunted theater later, and we were all suitably freaked out and looking at the smoldering remains before scattering before the cops arrived. Well, it was an out-of-the-box solution...

Sunday had the normal melancholy of the last day of TurkeyCon. Where did all the time go? As a pre-emptive measure, I set up a Command and Colors: Ancients scenario for play, and packed away most of my other games. It ended up being a fairly full gaming day, in fact... More below the cut.

And, as I type this early part (game summaries will be done later on), I'm on the train to Greensboro and the better (or at least longer) part of a week of home office time before finally returning home on Thursday.

Much fun was had, and it was over much too soon.

[Added note from later... the week at work was a week at work, and I'm home all in one piece. Cats are likely to forgive me soon if I can wait them out and keep with the treats.]

Saturday gaming:

Shear Panic is a game I brought as much to show off the pieces as to play, but we did get a game in. Lou, Grant, and Ryan joined me in pushing sheep around, and after a bit of fumbling with just how moves work, we were quickly into the spirit of the game, trying to optimize our own moves while pushing others into impossible situations. I took a slight early lead, but wasn't able to hold on (especially since it's easy for 3 players to block 1 from scoring if they really want to), so we ended up at 25/24/21/20, with Grant in the lead and me a point behind, with Ryan and Lou close behind.

Sunday gaming:

First was that C&C:A scenario, facing off against Grant. We'd both played Battle Cry and Memoir '44 before, so the learning part was just the unique rules for this version, which are few but very significant. We played the simple first scenario, the Battle of Akuagas, which lacks terrain and elephants, thus keeping the rules to a minimum, primarily just an overview of the units, evasion, and battling back. He took the weaker side (the historical loser), if only because that chair was closer to the side of the room he entered from, but the cards made it so his strong right flank and my weak left flank were the focus of the battle, with me trying to shift attention to my strong center line but managing this a turn or two too late to keep him from turning my flank before I could march my heavy infantry to victory. A close 5-to-3 win for the Carthaginians. Time wasn't available to re-play with opposite sides.

Then we decided to give in to another of FFG's re-designs, putting the new edition of Warrior Knights on the table. Luc and Grant were both experienced players of the original game, and Ryan joined us in our afternoon of hard-fought war. The rules are just a little on the extensive side, and we made some mistakes (we were too aggressive in removing troops when a battle was lost due to a margin of 2 or more Victories), but it was a hard fought game for most of its length. Unfortunately for me, I got hit with a "traitor to the crown" declaration, which made me a favorite target for Grant and Ryan to attack (as they got a reward for doing so). In the end, I lost my Stronghold two turns running, and Luc lost hers the last turn as well (likely in large part because of that troop elimination mistake, which advantaged aggressive play against a target that should have only been slightly bloodied rather than crippled), so the game was between Grant and Ryan, and Grant won by the narrowest of margins, 15/14/6/6. I was the tail end at 6, since you can't score any points on turns when you lose your Stronghold. Fun was had, but we all agreed there was a bit of a "hopeless position" problem and a bit more time needed than the fun value of the game really supported (though more players and/or less rule confusion might fix that). Still, not nearly as bad on this count as the painfully over-long Order of the Stick Adventure Game.

Fearsome Floors had been set up on the table from mid-day Saturday, a cue from me that I really wanted to get a game in, so Grant and Lou gave me the chance after dinner. The game is a delightful series of puzzles, trying to maneuver your pieces so they are not in the path of the hungry monster. Or, rather, so they are just slightly less in that path than are other players' pieces. There was a good bit of maneuvering, and we all got at least one character munched (mostly in the first round of the game, where it just means starting over rather than permanent death), but in the end Lou and I were racing for the exit, and I was enough in the lead that I took the win.

And, as a rule, it simply isn't TurkeyCon if we don't wrap up by playing Formula Motor Racing, complete with terrible accents and the traditional "Lou gets exactly the worst cards imaginable". This year was no exception, as the non-player Orange and Purple racing teams scored as well or better than the humans in the early races. A ton of luck (and this game is little more than luck) gave me two powerful cards in my color at race-end for both of the third and fourth rounds, so I managed a win. To which the others replied I must be cheating, since I was actually "trying to win". Bah! 25/16/13/10 in the final score, with the non-player colors scoring 23 and 17, since when we don't have cards of our own color, we traditionally pick sides between the Orange and Purple "Robot Masters" for who to help win. And it's all too common to not have cards of your own color. So, yes, the nonplayed racers beat all but one player... As always, this game can be a sad day for living humans, as fun as it is. BTW, thanks to a 10 point final race, Lou was not at the back of the game... he had the 13 to Ryan's 10.

And, sadly, with that game, everything had to be packed up for the return home.

Posted by ghoul at 07:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 25, 2006

TurkeyCon Days Five and Six

No gaming on T'Day proper, which was given over to friends and food. Yum! (The food... not the friends. Honest.)

On Friday (day Six), we made our trek to the last game shop, where I found Vampire: Dark Influences and a couple older RPG books. Then we got home and set up some gaming...

First was the Order of the Stick Adventure Game, with Grant (Durkon), Lou (Belkar), Ryan (V), Luc (Haley), and I (Roy), so only one NPC (Elan, in this case). Unfortunately, what happened was just what I had feared from reading the game and online session reports and reviews, which is that the game took too long and was too random for its own good. In the end, we called the game at dinnertime, just after entering level 3, when we realized there was a least 90 minutes of game left and we weren't really interested enough to play thru that. As Roy, I had a significant lead, though Belkar and V were close behind and quite able to catch up (Belkar by ambushing me, V by fireballing rooms full of monsters for extra XP). Not a success, however. Especially since Luc hadn't read the comic, so didn't get most of the jokes.

To "cleanse the palate", as it were, we returned to Trendy, with Ryan leaving after the first hand. This game was a good bit more aggressive than the first play, with lots of use of the "Out!" card to undermine trend attempts. In the end, Luc won a solid victory, with the rest of us clustered many points behind her, 160/137/137/140, with all scores a bit distorted by the 5-player first hand. Still, a fun game.

Lou and Grant then asked to try another short-duration game, and I offered King's Breakfast, a game of claiming cards, but making sure the king has at least as many cards of each sort as you. It takes a bit of getting used to, but we managed to play well enough, in fact ending with none of us out-consuming the King (which, perhaps, meant we weren't sufficiently aggressive). Grant managed a slight win, 101/96/94.

And then we called it a night, with plans to perhaps try another mid-to-long game or two on Saturday.

Posted by ghoul at 09:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 23, 2006

TurkeyCon Day Four

And the rains continue. It's been pouring down here for long enough we're considering what we'd need for an ark.

But, instead, we mostly settled in and played some games. Well, that an grocery runs. I think Grant ended up making four, thanks to the inevitable "oh, one more thing" of Thanksgiving pre-prep.

Luc, Ryan, and I took a crack at Transamerica. Not as strong at 3 players as it is a 5 or 6, but still enjoyable. And, while I won the first round, the next three went solidly against me, one by a whopping 8 links, and solidly for Ryan, who won all three. So it ended up 10/3/-1 in his favor.

Luc headed off to the grocery for the main prep run, Lou joined us and we switched over to Easy Come, Easy Go for two rounds, which Ryan and I split. Then Lou decided it must've been bad luck the night before and settled in for a couple more rounds of Pickomino, doing much better but still losing to me 9/7/6 and to Ryan 10/8/6.

After dinner, we had considered playing the Order of the Stick Adventure Game, but it was late enough we knew that wouldn't end before midnight, so instead Lou, Grant, Ryan, and I gave a go at Mission:Red Planet. This is a newer game (in English, at least), pitting the players against one another as late-1800s Robber Barons trying to industrialize Mars. Players choose each turn from 9 roles, manipulating rockets to Mars in an effort to control majorities in each sector. In the end, a bit of luck for me (I had just exactly the rocket I needed) and especially poor timing for Lou (he held no regional majorities at game's end) won this one 56/35/35/15.

Luc took Ryan's place as we turned to a few rounds of No Thanks!, and after a win for me 29/36/45/51, she got the hang of it and played Lou to a very close 15/16/27/73 round, with me at the ultra-high-scoring tail. Grant came back with a vengeance for the next game, 12/30/41/42, but Luc won the last round of the evening in a 12/18/30/76 trouncing of... yeah, me again.

To end the evening, Lou and Grant joined me in another round of Pickomino, and this time I was on the bad end of the luck curve while Lou and Grant traded the lead right up to the last roll, ending the game at 11/10/2.

Tomorrow... way too much very good food and perhaps OOTS.

Posted by ghoul at 08:06 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 22, 2006

TurkeyCon Day Three

Day Three was dominated by a mid-day game of Fury of Dracula and dinner at Ruth's Chris, either of which make for a good day. Together, it's hard to beat.

I was tasked to play Dracula and teach the game, with the good fortune that 3 of the 4 hunter players (Lou, Grant, and Luc) had played the original edition, so only Ryan was completely fresh. Then, when play started, it went immediately south for the Undead side. I managed to move one city before an event card let the players pick 2 cities to scout remotely and, by good luck, they picked my starting city. Two moves into the game, they were on my trail in northern Germany, consecrating the ground in Prague so I couldn't escape into Eastern Europe. A good railroad car later and Dr. Seward (Lou) was ambushing the Count in broad daylight. I took three vicious knife hits over a series of encounters, dropping from 15 to 3 Blood Points before I managed an escape just after nightfall. Things were looking very bad for Team Vampire (i.e., me).

Fortunately, by escaping as a bat, I was able to move 1 or 2 cities away, which let me slip pursuit for a bit, and by amazingly good fortune for me decided not to explore the city I'd left an encounter in, which a few turns later matured into a Vampire for 2 points for me! Two turns later, however, they were back on my trail, this time on the border of France and Spain. Again, I managed to arrange the encounter to after sunset and escaped as a bat to northern Italy. A fortunate event draw let me move to Venice and to see in one turn, and a slight miss-count by the players meant they had me in the wrong sea zone. It only have me one turn's lead, but it did mean they spent an event card that would've stopped me on the wrong target.

Back aground in the more friendly climes of Eastern Europe, I started to make my way toward Castle Dracula and a good chance to recover some Blood. That was when fortune really smiled on me. Van Helsing (Grant) went to sea from southern France to chase me, and I used storms to send him off to Ireland instead, well out of my hair. Then Mina, deciding that she had the event card support she needed to take a badly battered Dracula, moved herself to confront me. At night. With every advantage, including Garlic and Sister Agatha with me a 2 Blood Points, so my only way out was victory. It came down to one roll. If I won, I could Mesmerize her, turn her into a Vampire for 2 points, then on my turn the timer would tick past dawn and I'd score my 6th point on the clock for the win. Or, if we tied or she won, her stake would wound me, almost certainly enough to end the game.

I rolled a 4, she rolled a 2.

And, against all odds, a dark cloud settles over Europe.

A lesson in the ever-important "never give up" rule. I was on the ropes from the 3rd turn, but in the end a bit of luck in event draws met a couple overconfident opposition moves and one lucky die roll was enough for the win!

After cleaning up and dressing for dinner, Lou, Ryan, and I filled some time with a couple rounds of No Thanks! (without question the hit of the con so far), Ryan winning the first 33/49/56, and me taking an incredibly lucky second game 7/39/58. Yes, 7. I had the cards 23-30 and 16 chips at the end. I don't expect to manage many scores that low in the future.

After dinner, in the grip of near meat coma, Grant, Lou, and I tried some Pickomino. I initially got the rules confused in explaining them, but it was quickly obvious I was wrong, so we stopped and started over correctly. The game is one of rolling dice to match target numbers, with rewards if you get higher numbers but penalties if you push too far. And this game, we watched as Lou's luck went from bad to worse. Everything he captured, I took away. Sometimes by making the least likely of rolls (such as a roll of one die with only one possible good result... which I got). In the end, I edged past Grant 11/9/0. Much silliness ensued, and after laughing ourselves to the point of pain, we called it a night.

Posted by ghoul at 08:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 21, 2006

TurkeyCon Day Two

Day Two was primarily our game shop crawl, hitting three local gaming shops and purchasing much that is nifty and new.

For me, that means Gloria Mundi, Leonardo Da Vinci, Jungle Speed, Jericho, Blue Moon: Buka Invasion, Silk Road, Axis & Allies: Battle of the Bulge, Hollywood Blockbuster, Nottingham, Ave Caesar (new edition), Vampire: Prince of the City, and Monkey Arena.

And there's still one more store we didn't make it to, which specializes more in RPG books. That may be on the schedule for today.

With all the driving and shopping (and the watching of Heroes), there was less time for playing, though we still found a bit.

The only new game introduced was Trendy, with me introducing Grant, Luc, Lou, and Ryan to the joys of predicting the world of fashion (or is it just playing cards?). It was a well-fought game, with everyone catching on quickly to how it's done. But, in the end, everyone had one (or more) low-scoring (less than 25 point) hand except Grant, so we took a solid lead in a 161/139/132/129/114 game. I was dead in the middle there, because my one low-scoring hand was a painful 13 point collapse.

Then, to burn a bit of time while dinner finished, we zipped through another game of Easy Come, Easy Go, adding Luc so we had 5 players, nominally one too many, but we used the "recapture a trophy you have and it is protected from theft" rule, and that let Luc hold on for a win.

Then we taught Lou how to play No Thanks!, which took almost no time at all (the game being what it is). The first game didn't go well for him, landing him at the back of a close-fought match between Grant and Ryan, 41/44/64/74. But, after Heroes was watched, Ryan, Lou and I returned to the table for three more plays, which we split evenly. I took the first 35/50/85 (Ryan having no luck at all), Lou the second 26/38/54 (thanks to a late draw that connected two mid-20s card runs), and Ryan the third 47/83/84 (neither Lou nor I could connect anything, mostly because we sabotaged each other to our mutual destruction).

Posted by ghoul at 08:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 20, 2006

TurkeyCon Day One

There is far too much World of Warcraft presence here. As the only non-player (which I will remain so I have time for other hobbies), I must protest!

Anyway, everyone else left their monitors for long enough to get in some other gaming. Actually, quite a bit...

We played Masons to get started, this being the sort of game Luc likes a lot (building and pattern-creation). The game is one of placing walls that eventually enclose cities and of placing towers and houses of random colors near your new wall. Scoring is by matching patterns or combinations on the board to those in your hand of cards when a city is enclosed. Luc spent much of the game in last place, but was just creating a false sense of security for the rest of us, as she rocketed to a late lead, bounding past Lou, Ryan and me to win 104/102/96/90. I was the 102, and so was the most surprised by her late surge.

Next, I got out Easy Come, Easy Go, which I think is best described as a fast, competitive version of Yatzee. You roll for certain combinations, claiming trophy cards if you get them, and the first player to acquire and hold 3 such cards wins. Grant, Ryan, Lou, and I raced through 4 plays in maybe 30 minutes, the last couple using a "protection" alternate rule I found here, which speeds up the endgame a bit and adds more options. In the end, we all won exactly one game, so we'll need to unpack this later to decide which of us is really the best.

Luc called for dinner, but I insisted No Thanks! could be taught and played in the "a couple of minutes" she said we had, and Grant and Ryan took up the challenge. And, of course, that was true. Ryan ended up chip-poor early, so was forced to eat some unpleasant cards, but Grant and I ended up VERY close, with him edging out a narrow win. 44/47/87.

After dinner, Luc and I played a quick game of King's Blood, which I'd actually gotten out just to show Bridget the card are (she's a big anime art style fan). I won the quick teaching game, then Bridget joined us for 3 more plays. I slightly mis-taught the rules for playing extra cards following a child's birth, but we fixed that for the last game. Of the three games, we each won one, but when it comes to points, Bridget only had 7 left over in her 2 "losses", while I had 26 and Luc 57, so there's no question who won.

We then considered a longer game, but decided we were all more in the mood for light and quick, so played two rounds of Cloud 9, one with Lou and one with Julia against me and the Gaineys. And, this time, it was solidly my night, as I won both rounds, even with the same score. 55/50/36/36/13/13 was the first round as I edged our Ryan and 55/51/49/37/33/30 the second, sneaking past Bridget on the last flight.

With that, we called it a night, with me assigned to review the more popular longer games for probable play the next evening. But first, there's the traditional game-store crawl, which will start around noon on T'Con Day Two (which, as I type this, is very soon).

Off to a good start in my book, with 5 different titles played on day one. At that rate, we could play almost everything I brought (around 40 titles) by the 8th day... though that assumes no slacking off and no "must play" new purchases, both of which are likely to occur, and it ignores that only one of the games played on Day One was of a longer-than-quick-filler play length.

Still... a good start!

Posted by ghoul at 11:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 19, 2006

Turkeycon Travel Day

The drive down was nicely uneventful, exactly as it should be, barring a couple bits of traffic and one closed road segment with a seriously backroads detour. But a relatively simple one that cost us little time.

On the drive down, I spent most of my time reading Spirit of the Century, a wonderful FATE-based pulp RPG that nicely mixes traditional and modern NAR-style game mechanics. Also nifty is a "pick up" concept for the game, which allows play with minimal prep time, even most of character generation left to develop in-play. This is one I certainly want to get a chance to try out!

So, anyway, we're arrived, and with some work all connecting to wireless 'net and nicely up and running.

Also, the boardgames are unpacked and interest surveying begun. Play will start around noon on Day 1 (a little more than an hour away as I post this).

Posted by ghoul at 10:41 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 15, 2006

TurkeyCon Prep

I'm starting to pack games for T'Con this year.

I'll be doing my standard re-packing, replacing the air that fills all too many game boxes with other games as best I can manage. After all, I'm limited in volume I can bring along.

UPDATE: Well, the list below does manage to fit into my space. And I even managed to add a couple more titles (Palazzo and Caylus, with the later making it by sharing a box with Blue Moon City once the unnecessary insert is removed) and have some space left in case something captures my attention in the next four weeks (which is when I'll have to actually take the tubs to be packed into the van). My next step is to create some priorities...

Here's my early list of new (to T'Con) games going into the tubs. Small games are the easiest picks, as they will usually end up easily fitting inside other games!

Trendy (small)
Twilight Struggle (promised)
Command and Colors Ancients (must play!)
Shear Panic (too pretty, also fun)
World of Warcraft Boardgame (with expansion set; everyone else at T'Con plays the MMORPG)
Order of the Stick Adventure Game (long, but funny and OotS, so it comes along)
Great Wall of China (small)
Fairy Tale (small)
Thurn & Taxis (SdJ winner)
Easy Come, Easy Go (smallish)
Piccomino (small)
The End of the Triumvirate (how can I not?)

One advantage is that many of these games have rules available online, and with luck I'll manage to get someone to read them in advance (especially Twilight Struggle and C&C:A, both of which have rules at the GMT Games site). I'll also be trying to assemble teaching and play aids where I can (say, for WoW, as FFG games often become quicker with the addition of a decent play summary or turn flow aid).

Now, WoW doesn't actually fit into the tubs (too long by an inch or two), but I already asked for special dispensation to allow it to come along.

On the cusp are a few others, mostly a problem because of their box size, though sometimes it's length, number of players, or complexity to teach/learn that keeps games off the main list. Or are games I brought in the past but never got into the table (for various reasons).

Fury of Dracula (a bit long, but a classic)
Warrior Knights (another classic, surprisingly different this time, but maybe only appeals to 2-3 of us)
Masons (large, by just a bit)
Bolide (quite large for what it is, long)
Louis XIV (didn't make table last year, but now I know how to play and it's simpler than the rules look)
Pizza Box Football (didn't make table last year, two player only)
Blue Moon City (oversized box, but a very good game IMO)

And that's about where I stand. Old favorites and mandatory bring-alongs (like Formula Motor Racing and Cloud 9) will of course be in the boxes automatically. Though I'm hoping Incan Gold, the US version of Diamant, will be out by or at T'Con and it does a pretty good job of being better than Cloud 9 at almost everything Cloud 9 is good at (except the minimal bluffing element).

And that's where I stand. Advice or requests are welcome.

Posted by ghoul at 07:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 26, 2006

Catching Up On Gaming

It's been just over a month since I last posted a boardgame club report, but since I still have my notes, I thought I'd catch up and add things since then.

So below the cut are two club meeting reports (I missed two meetings as well, one while at GenCon and the other trying to catch up on sleep missed at GenCon), as well as a brief comment on a GenCon demo and some casual gaming on a Friday afternoon.

The 7/26 club meeting had me play 4 games. (By the way, I've now asked and I'll be using names not just initials in these reports.)

Beowulf was played for the 2nd time with the club, this time with the unfortunate "everything falls apart" happening to Eric. It turns out after-the-fact that we may have been a bit overly generous with Risks, allowing players to take a risk, fail, and then supplement their bid anyway from their hand, which is OK if the risk gives you something but not enough, but not OK if the Risk completely fails. The rules specifically say if a Risk fails completely, you're out of the bidding. This led to a lot more random play than the game intends. Anyway, final result was Matt winning in his first play of the game, Adam in 2nd, my in third, Dave in 4th and Eric at the back. 30/27/21/15/-15.

Eric brought out Don, a game none of the rest of us were familiar with, for a short fill while we waited on Rich's arrival (Jim had already joined us near the end of Beowulf). This is an interesting little bidding game, with winners claiming numbers which, when they appear as the final digit of someone else's bid, means you pay THEM, not the bank. It takes some time to get the hang of things, and I wasn't alone in getting caught over-bidding then going several turns without getting paid, which means several turns effectively out of the game. In the end, Eric dominated and I was a surprising (given my big mistake) 3rd place. 10/9/7/6/4/2.

Formula De was next. This one is a favorite of mine, one of the classics of a genre I very much enjoy (race games). Rich had arrived, so we had 7 players, which means the field was crowded enough this game got to really shine, and we used Track #2 (Nederland - Zandvort No 1), which I find much more enjoyable than the much slower Track #1 (Monaco). There were the normal problems (bad luck can eliminate a car, and in this case took out Adam barely into turn 4, then another driver a couple turns later), but that's the nature of the game (and of Formula One racing). We had a real neck-and-neck finish, with me 1/2 a space ahead of Dave at the end. By the book, I moved first and so won the race. However, by an optional rule I actually prefer which makes the tiebreaker the number of movement points left over after the line, Dave beat me by rolling a 30 over my 27, so was 2 1/2 spaced ahead. So I don't know if I call that a win or a 2nd place (we hadn't expressly said we were using the optional rule, after all), but it was a great ending either way.

I sat out a Linkity game when dinner arrived, as did Ethan and Erin. It was Erin's birthday, which was also celebrated. With 10 players, we then turned to a party game, in this case Time's Up. This is a nice little variation of Charades, played in progressive rounds where the limitations on the type of clues you can use become more and more restrictive. But since the answers are from cards and are the same in each round, the 'secret' is to learn to recognize them when they re-appear. Adam and I teamed up, but only managed 3rd place in the end, while Jim and Eric absolutely cleaned up on everyone round after round for their win. Final score was 32/25/24/21/18. And that 32 was achieved as 11 points in each of the first 2 rounds and 10 in the final. Only one other team ever got into double digits for even one round, and they came in 2nd in the end due to their 2nd round score of 11. As Charades games go, this one's very nice!

At GenCon, I played in several demos, none of which really qualify as a full game, so I won't report any here. The only one of real significance was a demo play of The Order of the Stick Adventure Game, which I found to be a lot of fun, but clearly far too long for its strategic depth. We only played 3 turns per player, but it was quite obvious how this would drag out, and the rules admit to the game's playtime. Oh, it has some interesting bits and frequently HILARIOUS cards, so I'll probably find some people to play it with, but I much prefer my 3+ hour games to be a bit more weighty. The explanation that the game was designed to take the place of a D&D session when critical players can't make it doesn't persuade me, I fear.

The Friday after GenCon, I was early down to Fall River for the GURPS campaign, so I pulled out a filler game at Stillpoint to pass some time. King of the Beasts - Mythological Edition is one of many Knizia games that looks very simple, and is in terms of rules, but not necessarily in terms of strategy. Like Trendy, cards are played until one suit (here representing dragon, unicorn, or other mythological beasts) gets enough points to win. But the trick here is that, every time you meld a set of 3 to 6 cards, you put some forward toward that suit and keep others toward winning. The creature that reaches 6 cards first wins and scores 2 for every card kept, and the 2nd and 3rd place creatures each score 1 point per card. Simple? Yeah. (Though posters on BGG point out that the rules lack a statement of what to do if the deck completes without a winner... that never happened in our plays.) We ended up playing 4 hands, each with different players. The first Pat won over me and Kurt, 6/5/4. Then Pat and Kevin split a win over Kurt and I 4/4/2/0. The third game was a win for me over Kurt, Pat, Kevin, and Nick 4/3/2/1/0, and then Nick got his revenge over Kevin and I 7/4/4. Everyone seemed to enjoy the game, particularly for a 10-15 minute filler.

This week, I was back at the club, this time up in Laconia. We started with El Grande, using the nice new 10th anniversary set though playing with only the base rules. I've only played this once, and that years ago, so I wasn't that embarrassed by my 4th place finish, as the game really was tight. Eric won, then Adam, Dave, and myself. 112/108/96/94.

We broke out my GenCon purchase of Knizia's Great Wall of China, but a mistake by me in the rules meant we barely got started before we mistakenly stopped. Rather than refreshing each wall section after it was scored, I somehow decided the initial 5 sections were the whole game. Dumb. Eric took an unassailable lead, and without additional scoring tokens entering play, we all just stopped playing. I hope we'll put this on the table again with the RIGHT rules, because I think there's a good game here, spoiled by my mistake. The score when we called the game was looking to be 12/8/7/5/3 (I had the 7), but easily twice, if not three times that many points were left undistributed by my mistake.

China was brought out while we waited for pizza and 3 others to arrive. I'd read (but never played) Web of Power, the original game this is an update of, so again I wasn't expecting much from my performance (as it's a fairly subtle and unforgiving game). Apparently I looked harmless and unfocused enough that everyone let me got unchecked, building a chain 8 houses long that really should have been blocked. Not that it was enough to do me any better than a tie for third, because Eric was going to claim his 3rd win in a row pretty much from the start. 31/29/28/28/26.

Pizza arrived, but was badly overcooked (to the point of burned for one, and just below that for the other), and a surprising degree of drama was necessary to get that corrected. Not surprisingly, this distracted us from gaming for a significant time. Set had come out to occupy the three late arrivals while China was completed, and then we re-assembled into two foursomes. Ticket to Ride - Europe was played by one group while I joined Eric, Ethan, and Adam to try out Blue Moon City (which only Eric had played before). I'd read the rules (I had picked up a copy just before leaving for GenCon), but I still happily listened as Eric explained them (he's VERY good at that), then we set to play. The game is an odd mix of competition and cooperation, as you try to re-build the titular city structure by structure. Each building requires certain efforts to be re-built, most several different steps. Multiple players (as many as 4) cooperate to achieve this, then share in rewards. Collect enough rewards and you can buy into the victory objective, with the game going to whoever buys 4 steps first. Essentially, this game split into two pairs, with Eric and Ethan working one half the board and Adam and I the other. This proved to be my downfall, as Adam was one step ahead of me in turn order, so was able to dive in for the win the turn before I claimed it. Still, a very close game, with Ethan also just a turn or two from the win in the end. 4/3/3/1. A future re-play will probably see a bit more competition, and Eric observes that a 3 player game may have significantly better competitive dynamics.

Replacement pizza arrived (though it wasn't all that much better), and then Eric, Adam, and I headed back to Concord.

And, with that, I'm caught up on gaming reports.

Posted by ghoul at 08:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 15, 2006

GenCon Acquisition Summary

Yes, it's all listed before, but this is mostly so I have it in one place if I manage to find time to try (as I tried and failed last year) to do some cursory commentary as I read through all this...

Sorting is now Board/Card Games, RPGs, and Other Stuff, alphabetical rather than by selling company and rough order of purchase (as previous listings were).

Final count is around 112 items (counting the whole pitcher of dice as one item), at least one of which I plan to give away.

Board and Card Games

  1. aBRIDGEd
  2. Aqua Romana
  3. Battleground dwarven army starter
  4. Battleground dwarven army expansion
  5. Bison
  6. Blink
  7. Buccaneer
  8. Darkness Falls On Sevinpold
  9. Dead Man's Treasure
  10. Dead Money
  11. Drakon
  12. Easter Island
  13. Emira
  14. Figaro
  15. Funny Friends
  16. Gamer's Quarterly magazine with a mini Settlers of Catan expansion
  17. GoDice
  18. Grand Tribunal
  19. Hey That's My Fish
  20. King of the Beasts
  21. Knights of Charlemagne
  22. Knizia's Great Wall of China
  23. Mag*Blast
  24. Masons
  25. MiniMonFa
  26. MiniMonFa fairy expansion
  27. MiniMonFa undead expansion
  28. Oltre Mare
  29. Ostia
  30. Palatinus
  31. Pieces of Eight: The Cursed Blade
  32. Pieces of Eight: The Maiden's Vengeance
  33. Recess
  34. Reef Encounter
  35. Rigor Mortis: Aye, Dark Overloard
  36. Robber Knights
  37. Rum and Pirates
  38. Shear Panic
  39. Space Station Assault
  40. Take Stock
  41. Tempus
  42. The Arkham Horror Dunwich expansion
  43. The Great Space Race
  44. The Order of the Stick Adventure Game: The Dungeon of Dorukan (including "Zombie Gamers" promo card)
  45. Times Square
  46. Tombouctou
  47. Toppo
  48. Under the Shadow of the Dragon.
  49. Vapor's Gambit
  50. Villainy (all 3 decks)
  51. Wings of War expansion deck: Recon Patrol
  52. Wings of War expansion deck: Top Fighters
  53. World of Warcraft boardgame Shadow of War expansion

RPGs

  1. Agon
  2. Carry
  3. Cyberpunk v3
  4. Cyberpunk v3 GM screen
  5. Cyberpunk v3 character dossier
  6. Don't Rest Your Head
  7. Drowning and Falling
  8. Faery's Tale
  9. GURPS Mysteries
  10. Hero's Banner
  11. Hollow Earth Expedition (with modified d8s)
  12. inTERRORgation
  13. Lacuna
  14. Mortal Coil
  15. Paranoia Little Red Book
  16. Play Dirty
  17. Primetime Adventures
  18. Push Volume 1
  19. QIN: The Warring States
  20. Run Robot Redux
  21. Runequest
  22. RunequesGM screen
  23. Runequest Rune of Chaos intro adventure
  24. Seven Leagues
  25. Shock
  26. The Princes' Kingdom
  27. The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men
  28. Wilderness of Mirrors
  29. WWE Know Your Role

Other

Posted by ghoul at 02:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

GenCon Day Three PM and Day Four

More ShadowWorld, and this time a mission that looked overwhelmingly impossible until the pieces started to come together and, in the end, seems to have gone quite well. Some very scary scenes for me, such as when Starchild had to be the voice of cold, harsh necessity when others wanted to save some soldiers caught in our mission crossfire (she'd Precog-seen that any attempt to interact with the soldiers massively increased the chance of disaster for all parties; ignoring them meant they all died -- which was likely anyway -- and we got away). Very uncharacteristic of her... but I think the right reaction.

That only went to around 3:30, so I was back in my room by 3:45.

The next morning was a sleepy breakfast, loading up the car, and checking out of the hotel. But that still left time for more dealer's room! I happened to meet up with Dan and Alex, two of my college roommates. Actually, Alex was easy to run into, as he works for Mayfair games (I mentioned him before), and Dan I happened to cross paths with while checking out the Paizo booth (mostly for new Cheapass releases). We agreed to not be out of contact until next GenCon and exchanged email and other contact info.

I managed a return to a sight of an earlier minor setback, the Pizza Box Football booth, where I'd missed the drawing for their nifty free dice boot on Friday by about 2 minutes stuck in the human traffic outside the dealer's room. This drawing, I was the only one who showed up, so I now have the nice, useful tool for future use. I also have a couple of very nice card-game assistance racks which I'd seen being used for the Order of the Stick game demos. I think I'll be giving these quite a bit of use!

After 4 PM and the close of the con, Julia, Lou, and I ate a fantastic steak dinner at Ruth's Chris and I set off to Cincinnati to spend a night with my family, another GenCon in the books.

Last day purchases are under the fold.

Your Move Games gave me a copy of Space Station Assault after I played a quick demo of Battleground (even though I already own and like Battleground).

Paizo sold me Dead Money, the new Cheapass release, and gave me a Dr. Lucky miniature and a pack of Gamemastery item cards when I also bought the deluxe Euro-style Kill Doctor Lucky (pre-order only; I won't get it until October).

From Chessex, I got a whole pitcher of random dice. That's around 20 ounces of new dice. Because you can never have too many!

A visit to the SJG and nifty Cthulu-themed stuff corner of the booth shared with Atlas Games got me GURPS Mysteries, The Unspeakable Vault of Doom cartoon collection, a Cthulhu bumper fish, and Under the Shadow of the Dragon.

Innovatium sold me two Hold-iit! card game organizers and a set of nice plastic Settlers of Catan frames.

Hyperion sold me Vapor's Gambit, an interesting looking hoverboard race game.

For Pizza Box Football, I got the logo-engraved dice boot, as mentioned above.

From Exile Game Studio, the very cool looking Hollow Earth Expedition (pulpy action goodness with some cleverly-made d8s to let you replicate huge numbers of d2 with a smaller number of d8s).

Firefly Games sold me Faery's Tale.

I returned to Mayfair's booth to pick up some of their Italian partner's games, Rigor Mortis: Aye, Dark Overloard, and MiniMonfa with its undead and fairy expansion sets.

And I picked up a few (4) Gen-Con logo-emblazoned items to wrap up the con.

And that's about it.

Posted by ghoul at 10:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 12, 2006

GenCon Day Three AM

Up again with barely 4:30 of sleep (I don't really sleep well after about 8 AM unless I'm really tired). Minor annoyance with the hotel, which seems to think I'm checking out today, but it is quickly cleared up.

Back over to the con proper to find that, yes, we "They Might Be Llamas" has advanced in NASCRAG!

I then make my way to the dealer's room and encounter one of my college roommates, now an employee of Mayfair Games. We catch up a bit and he advises me on titles worth considering from their new releases (I'd held off their booth until I managed to find him). A quick visit later and I have the Gamer's Quarterly magazine with a mini Catan expansion, Palatinus, Hey That's My Fish, Figaro, Bison, Shear Panic, Ostia, and Emira, plus a free University of Catan t-shirt (I already own one from a while back, but a 2nd isn't a bad thing).

Then it's a quick TFOS visit. Mike Pondsmith was just getting the strangeness going when, unfortunately, I had to bail after an hour to join NASCRAG round two. That went quite well (we required but one substitute player, and we got two of the NASCRAG front-men as GMs. A bit of a walk to their distant hotel (the next one past where ShadowWorld ran last night), but another fun game of slightly silly but tricky puzzles/riddles, and this time a bit more actual D&D rules, as I even got into a couple of fights! When old man Innis wasn't catching his breath, he was putting the Greatsword smack down on beasties, including a flying spaghetti monster (clearly not THE flying spaghetti monster, as it went down to a few well-placed blows).

We fumbled with a few of the puzzles (one early and long puzzled-over), and got a nice silly result when the two married couples lost on a Newlywed Game pastiche to the two unattached guys in the party. We might not make it into the next round, but I'm hopeful (even though it'll mean missing ShadowWorld) and it was certainly fun either way!

UPDATE: No Advance for the potential llamas (well, two of us did advance as alternates... the victorious unattached guys, in fact!). So it's ShadowWorld tonight.

Posted by ghoul at 06:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

GenCon Day Two PM

Played in a wonderful Dogs in the Vineyard game, where 3 new players were absolutely wowed by the system (understandable). Very cool stuff, as expected. I played a very straightforward, rather flawed "Guns Solve Problems", "Act Now, Think Later" sort and ended up in a nasty fight midway through the game, but came out reasonably well in the end. The town was cleansed, with fire in the more critical parts. Great fun!

I made one more purchase (the lovely QIN:The Warring States) and played a Order of the Stick board game demo (though the game sold out around 2:40 on Thursday; I did get a copy!) before heading to dinner (with an acquaintance from The Black Road and several of her friends to an italian place I found wonderful, and will be enjoying leftovers from today), then off to ShadowWorld play which went until 4:10 (4:30 including the walk back to my room).

ShadowWorld was tense and dangerous, as it tends to be, and we learned lots of unexpected facts, even if they don't quite form any appealing theories as of yet. Starchild didn't do too much (she's trying to be careful with her oft-unexpectedly uncontrolled powers), but where she did participate, I think it mattered.

Today, I check for NASCRAG advancement (which could override other plans), perhaps (if not overridden) play in a 50+ person Teenagers From Outer Space game, and then look for less obvious-at-first-pass purchases before (again, if not overridden) heading back for more ShadowWorld.

Fun, fun!

Posted by ghoul at 10:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 11, 2006

GenCon Day One PM and Day Two AM

Well, I'm successfully and completely moved to the new (and both slightly nicer and much closer to the con and connected via skywalk so less exposure to the wet and humid world) hotel.

NASCRAG went well last night, but after last year I won't even try to predict if "They Might Be Llamas" (my team) advanced. We had fun, though. I was playing the grumpy old widower fighter and ended up (as an over-zealous step in our disguise) married to the dotty Druidess. Which led to more grumpiness.

This AM, I loaded bags into bags and headed to the dealer's room again, this time not distracted by an hour in the OotS line...

I still haven't actually seen any of the ShadowWorld players, which suggests last night's game went late.

Purchases below the fold.

Human Head Studios sold me all three Villainy decks, because I just can't decide among an evil monkey, a mad scientist, and a creepy teenaged witch. Though I took a button as a minion of Mugga Mugga, the evil monkey.

Z-Man sold me Tempus, Reef Encounter, and Take Stock, plus game me a Take Stock t-shirt.

Atlas Games sold me the first two Pieces of Eight sets (and I now have 2 of the con-special captain coins), Recess, and Grand Tribunal.

I found a copy of the WWE d20 RPG Know Your Role that I've wanted for some time.

Kenzer and Company took my money for The Great Space Race.

A con-discount convinced me to by a 30% discounted Darkness Falls On Sevinpold.

Mongoose sold me their new Runequest (with GM screen and the Rune of Chaos intro adventure) plus the Paranoia Little Red Book (a player-creation and basic rules guide for newbies).

At Crystal Caste, I picked up the 2006 GenCon dice set

And, lastly, I stopped by Wicked-Dead and acquired several new (and old) John Wick and Annie Rush RPGs et al, including Wilderness of Mirrors, The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men, Lacuna, Run Robot Redux, Play Dirty, and inTERRORgation.

At that point, my bag started to tear, so I hoofed it back to the hotel to unload.

25 more acquisitions.

Posted by ghoul at 11:22 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 10, 2006

GenCon 2006 Day One

OK, so I'm still behind a Boardgame Club report (from 2 weeks ago), but I'll jump ahead to today's activity instead of doing that.

I'm in Indianapolis, at GenCon!

I've done some game-playing (a very fun Four Colors Al Fresco session) and have more planned tonight (NASCRAG with Julia and Lou).

I've done some shopping. Today's list of purchases is under the break.

UPDATE: Oh, and I've been moved from my original hotel to another due to a water pipe break. Which meant carrying all my things 2 1/2 blocks in the humid August evening. No fun.

From the Giant in the Playground booth, the new Order of the Stick collection book, the Order of the Stick boardgame, 4 new OotS t-shirts, 2 new OotS character pins, 2 OotS Christmas Tree Ornaments, and the 2 OotS Give-aways (another pin and a fridge magnet).

From Playroom Entertainment, 3 Knizia titles, Dead Man's Treasure, Knights of Charlemagne, and King of the Beasts (and 3 promo cards for their other games, which I don't really count).

From the HeroScape booth of Hasbro, this year's give-away figure, Sir Hawthorn.

From Fantasy Flight Games, the new editions of Drakon and Mag*Blast, the Arkham Horror Dunwich expansion, the World of Warcraft boardgame Shadow of War expansion, Knizia's Great Wall of China, and two Wings of War expansion decks.

From R. Talsorian Games, Cyberpunk v3 (with GM screen and character dossier) and GoDice.

From Rio Grande Games (at the Out of the Box games booth), Rum and Pirates, Masons, Oltre Mare, Funny Friends, Tombouctou, Toppo, Times Square, Buccaneer, Robber Knights, Aqua Romana, and (from Out of the Box) aBRIDGEd. And was given a copy of Blink in a can for my prodigious purchase.

From Molniya Miniatures (which turns out to be run by an old friend of mine), a nice Golden Horde horse archer.

From Twilight Creations (which, I discovered, is run by someone who went, for a year, to the same high school I did), Easter Island.

From Your Move Games, the dwarven army starter and expansion decks.

And, from the Forge collective booth, after accidentally semi-insulting Luke Crane by rejecting Burning Empire even as he was ringing up my order of games NOT made by him, there's Mortal Coil, Shock, Primetime Adventures (the newest edition, as I have only the first), Carry, Drowning and Falling, The Princes' Kingdom, Seven Leagues, Agon, Don't Rest Your Head, Hero's Banner, and Push Volume 1.

That's 53 items purchased or received so far.

Posted by ghoul at 06:28 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 31, 2006

A Bit Of Bad News

It is announced here (rightmost column a page down) that Guardians of Order is, indeed, out of business. GoO made quite a splash with numerous licensed products (mostly anime, including Sailor Moon and Tenchi Muyo) using their house Big Eyes, Small Mouth system, which had a major revision nearly done. Apparently (and this is based on conversations no more recent than April and mostly from last year or earlier), the financial woes caused by a booming Canadian dollar (very bad for a Canadian company that mostly sells in the US) hit hard. In case you don't know (and most Americans don't), the Canadian dollar has increased in value by about 25% against the US dollar over the last several years.

But I mostly knew them from various Ambercons. In particular, AmberCon North was started by GoO founder and president Mark MacKinnon, back before founding GoO. (Eventually, that con passed to me, and I ran it or assisted in running it for several years before the same dollar shift, coupled with the difficulties of arranging a con in a city 7 hours away, got to be too much for me.) GoO also had an arrangement (to my knowledge, never finalized) to do a new edition of the Amber Diceless RPG, which has most likely died with the company. However, last time he talked about it to me, at AmberCon 2005, Mark actually said the death of GoO as a profitable company would free up MORE time to work on ADRP... we'll see.

Anyway, I have to call this bad news. I was looking forward to seeing Mark at GenCon next week.

(News heard on the Amber Mailing List and then from Michael)

Posted by ghoul at 06:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2006

Boardgame Club II

Before the leg injury, whatever it turns out to be, several games were played, many of them new to me. And pretty much all fun, though I was really uncompetitive for several of them, sometimes because I was learning the ropes, sometimes unlucky, sometimes just plain off my game.

Game-by-game details below the fold.

Beowulf - The Legend was my copy and my teaching E and J (no, I didn't ask about names yet). And while I was the experienced player (by one training game at GenCon), I was definitely the loser here, falling behind early and struggling to avoid total embarrassment. Final score, 44/31/18 with me far in the back. And I would've been MUCH worse without winning 3 of the last 5 auctions, which removed 3 Wounds. With them, I would've been 20 points lower for an ugly -2 score.

Trendy was a surprisingly fun game of fashion trends (not normally a point of interest). Cards are numbered 3 to 7, each representing the fashions of a fictional designer. Players play one a turn and if the total number of, say, 4s or 6s equals the number on the card (4 or 6), that is the trend. Trend cards score their value in points, all other cards are discarded. Complicating matters are Supermodel cards (count double toward establishing a trend, single for points) and Out cards (immediately discard all cards matching their number as totally out of style). Yes, it's a Knizia game; it has that just-themed-enough-to-hide-the-math feel, doesn't it? I had a great first hand (tying for the lead at 30 points) and a good 4th hand (28 points), but was at the back of the 2nd and 3rd so ended up in 4th place overall. We had added M and L and played 4 rounds until someone broke 100 points (M and L were at 95 and 94 at the end of the third). Final score 132/128/101/95/85. I like this game quite a bit, and it's made my "purchase soon" list.

Linkity was the one game that didn't quite work for me. Players are dealt cards with letters (and meaningless but cute drawings of bugs). One player plays a card and says a word that starts with that letter. Others then try to play a card of their own with a word that relates. Bad choices or repeat words are challenged and you must draw cards. When one player runs out, everyone else scores their remaining cards as penalty points. Even though I ended up winning (tied with E at 5 penalty points), I really found the game less than inspiring, especially since there is no adjustment for harder letters, no real encouragement to be creative, and all the normal problems of "speed" games (judging who really played first, etc.). Not a bad game, but not really to my tastes. Final score 5/5/6/7/9, and L swapped out after the first round for E2 when E2 and E3 arrived along with their son C. (This initial thing is getting bothersome. Next time, I definitely remember to ask!)

Bohnanza was the next game, of of my faves from several years back. Unfortunately, I was off my trading mojo early and took too long to get it back. I'd forgotten how unforgiving this game is when you don't trade aggressively, and so I ended up having to cash a couple of fields of very sub-optimal payoffs. Also, this was a crowded game (7 players), which leaves little room for forgiveness. I ended up in the back while M took the win with E2 and E3 sharing second, final score 11/10/10/9/9/8/7.

Attribut came next, a game described by some as "Apples to Apples but Fun". Now, I actually like A2A quite a bit, but I can see the appeal of this game as well. Players have a hand of cards with Adjectives and are each dealt a Sheep card, either White or Black. One player says a Noun or Name (their choice, not a card), then everyone selects a card to either match (if a White sheep) or to distinctly not match (if a Black sheep). Players then QUICKLY try to claim any card they believe is a match. If you pick a match correctly, you and the match's player score a point. If you pick a non-match as a match, you lose a point, as does the player. If you play a match but no one picks it, you lose a point. If you play a non-match and no one picks it, you gain a point. Play goes around the table twice. I liked the game, but for whatever reason I was painfully blank on good Nouns in my turn and also got my white and black reversed one turn. In the end, L won by a significant margin, 18/14/13/11/11/11/4. I was one of those 11s. L then retired for the evening, having earned quite the triumph.

Fearsome Floors was next, a game I own and have wanted to play but hadn't gotten the chance. Players control prisoners in a dungeon trying to escape and the rules control a monster who chases them. The monster moves by a set of programmed rules, so the heart of the game is to position things (yourself, your opponents, and movable terrain bits) so the monster chases down opposing player's characters and not yours. This was my moment of glory for the night, as it is a game that really plays to my strengths (rapid prediction, quick ability to update based on changes, ability to count ahead). I didn't get the first character to the exit, but I got the 2nd, 3rd and, if I had needed to, the 4th as well, as I'd managed to move all three of my characters to within a single move of the exist. But victory comes once you have 2 characters out, and this game Victory was mine! It was to be a short-lived moment of glory. E2, E3 and C now left us (it getting late for the young'n) and M2 arrived. Which meant it was time for E to bring out a trickier game.

Aladdin's Dragons is a game I had tried at TurkeyCon in the past, but we were sufficiently unimpressed with the base game to never try the full game, which adds numerous rule-bendiing magic effects. It turns out those effects add a ton to the game, but were more than I could manage, it seems. The game consists of all players blind-bidding with tokens numbers 1-9 (except no 3s) on several locations on the board. Then each is resolved in order, with the highest bid (and sometimes the lesser ranks as well) getting rewards. Treasures earned in the Dragon Dens are used to purchase Artifacts in the Calif's Castle, with a town in-between the two where game-changing effects (spells, trades of some treasures for others, future turn order) can be won. My fate was to always be 1 or 2 points short of payoffs, and when I did win to be sufficiently short of resources to capitalize. M2 took an early lead, buying 3 artifacts on the 2nd turn, but E was able to pull off a comeback via good use of spells and artifacts (including one spell played by M, which threw M2's plans to defend his lead into total chaos). Final score, 8/7/6/5/4. I was the 4.

On that note, I decided to call it a night, which led to events already recounted.

Posted by ghoul at 05:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 18, 2006

Spiel Des Jahres 2006

Okay, this site is in German, but I think the point is fairly clear. Thurn and Taxis is the winner!

I haven't played most of the nominees (most aren't available in English just yet), but one play of the winner told me it is a deserving choice.

Posted by ghoul at 06:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 17, 2006

RPG Play Preferences

Based on the method presented here and on some GM questions from a not quite completed conversation a week and a bit ago, let me present a list...

Posted by ghoul at 03:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 13, 2006

Boardgame Club

Thanks to noticing a message on the BoardGameGeek discussion boards, I made contact with a local gaming club, 6AM Gamers. Last night was my first chance to meet them (what with all the travel and other distractions recently). Wednesday night is their regular local meeting, either right here in Concord or a reasonably short (~35 minute) drive away in Laconia. This week was a Laconia week, and I offered to drive the other Concord resident, E. (I didn't ask other players if they minded names being used on my blog, and while I don't expect anyone has a problem with it, out of courtesy they are initials only. I'll ask next time.)

Fun was had, and I think I may be playing (rather than just reading and fiddling with) several more board games in the future!

Details of the gaming are below the fold for those interested...

When we arrived, it was just the host, D, and the two of us, and we decided on Louis XIV for the first game. This sounded great to me, as I love the look of the game but was sufficiently intimidated by the rules that I didn't try to teach them based on just a reading last TurkeyCon. Now I have a better idea how the game flows, and it's significantly simpler than it looks (though still a bit fiddly here and there). But it was certainly a learning game for me, and I was thoroughly trounced, scoring barely more than half what the winner scored, the game ending at 59 - 44 - 36). But I'm pretty sure I can identify three or four mistakes I made (such as not having a strategy at all, just playing via short-term tactics), so another game should show improvement.

Two more players, J and R, arrived while we were settling the affairs of the French royal court, so it was a 5 player game of Rheinlander next. Rheinlander was, you may recall, on my list of "really want to play this soon" games, and I'm quite glad we put it on the table. It was a bit more quickly aggressive than I'd expected from the rules (though that may be a function of having 5 players; with 3, there would be more development time before confrontation begins, something E confirmed from his prior experience with the game), but it was a good, fun game. I had a vicious looking combo of cards in my initial hand, but the way the game developed I never got a chance to use them. Instead, I stuck to steady development, avoided most conflict, and was just ahead of the pack on points when, as a game-ending move, Ray swallowed one of my small duchies. Yes, I was paid 2 points in compensation, but that duchy would have been worth 6 points at game's end... Even with that late -4 point turn of events, I managed a tie for the win (32 - 32 - 28 - 23 - 22). My suspicions about this game are mostly confirmed... I know I like it, and possibly a lot. And, having now seen both the original European and the recent American release... Well, I'm not sure which I prefer on that count. Both have their advantages.

Next, Ra was brought out. I hadn't played Ra since a couple of games at a TurkeyCon at least 4 years ago (because I know it was at the old house, it has to be at least 4 years ago), despite it being on my Favorite Games list, so I needed a slight rules refresher and worried that I'd made a big fumble early on (the move certainly wasn't what people at the table expected). But, in the end, I squeaked out a 1 point victory (in a very close 32 - 31 - 31 - 30 -22 game), so it mustn't've been that bad. If I had to ID my strategy, it was to establish early and maintain throughout a Pharaoh lead (or at least a tie for the lead), snatch one Civilization tile each Epoch to avoid the penalty for having none, snatch other cheap points when available, and otherwise just look small and insignificant. But, I have to admit, it was more luck inhibiting other player's final round scoring options than real skill on my part.

Next, the hot new game Thurn and Taxis was offered, though since it was only 4 players, one of us had to sit out. Fortunately, J had come to the meeting with a set of new purchases and offered to read them over while we learned T&T. All I knew about it was that several comments say it's too similar to Ticket to Ride, but I find the relationship superficial, at most; both games allow you to draw from either an exposed set of cards or the draw pile to build your hand and both feature building routes from city to city, but otherwise they are completely different. Thematically, you're developing postal routes in 17th century Germany; practically, you're trying to meld out longer and longer runs (with adjacency established via a map rather than by numbers) of cards (cities) with a managed balance among concentration and distribution of color (region). Bonuses are paid for performing several tasks (establishing a base in every city of a region, establishing one base in each sub-region, melding a route of longer lengths), with said bonuses decreasing in value for each player who achieves the goal. The base structure of the game is draw 1 card (from face up cards or from deck), play 1 card onto either end of your route (it must be linked by a direct road connection on the map), then optionally score the route (if it is at least 3 cards long). But there are 4 "special actions" and you can (and usually should) play one each turn, those being to discard and replace all 6 face-up cards, draw 2 instead of 1, play 2 instead of 1, or score your route as if it is 2 cities longer than it actually is. I devised a strategy fairly early on and stuck to it, that being to try to bag some quick points and then push as fast as I could toward ending the game (using the "score route longer than it really is" action to progress toward the endgame trigger, scoring one route each of at least length 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 in sequence). This was an option I had because I was the last player... The rules insist that all players get the same number of turns, so if anyone other than the last player triggers the end of the game, the remaining player(s) get one last turn. As last player, I alone could end the game immediately, so I decided to use that "power", such as it is, to my advantage. No, not the most subtle or sophisticated of strategies, but it almost worked. I did end the game with two of the three other players right on the verge of big scoring plays, but I hadn't socked away quite enough and so came 3 points short, but a reasonably solid second place. Final score, 18 - 15 - 11 - 0, but don't be deceived... that 0 was about to become something much higher on the very next play, probably 12 or more, as he had a major scoring route on the table needing just one more card to complete it, and I'm fairly sure he already had in his hand. This game now hits my "pick up a copy" list (at a fairly high spot), as it is compact, is reasonably quick to teach and to play, offers numerous tactical options, and is fun. A powerful combo!

It now being 11 PM, E and I called it a night and headed back to Concord. I had brought Beowulf and Bolide as potential games to play (and had stuffed Street Illegal, No Thanks, and Pickomino into the oversized Bolide box, just because there's room), but Bolide is a longer game than fit the evening and while E wanted to play Beowulf, he wants to learn it with only 3 players not 5, so it will wait for a future meeting.

Which I'm sure I'll be attending.

Posted by ghoul at 03:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 09, 2006

Board Games At Stillpoint

Four more games played today, before I had to pack up and head home.

Carcasonne is a favorite of mine. We didn't use any expansions (it was a new game to 2 of the players, and I hadn't packed any along anyway), and the final sore was VERY close (only 12 points from 4th place to 1st). The winner, in fact, was near the back of the pack for most of the game, but won out on a huge Farmer score.

Next I taught Ticket to Ride, and I got a little lucky in my initial ticket draw (NYC to LA plus Philly to Denver, which let me use every link of the second ticket to also count toward the first). This one went well for me, and I even managed to end up with all 45 of my trains in a continuous route (thanks to a very fortuitous final placement).

I pulled out Pickomino mostly as a joke (based on a "surprise" found in dinner the night before). The rather silly "chickens fighting over BBQed worms" theme is pretty thin, as this is really just a "roll dice and capture prizes" game, much like Easy Come, Easy Go in practice. We initially got a couple things a little wrong (the rules are, if anything, a bit over-written and sometimes spend longer on trivia than on important issues, in my opinion), but were able to recoup reasonably well. And a second dominant win for me, which rarely happens when I teach a game.

With only 15 minutes to go before I was wanting to leave, we shuffled up the No Thanks deck and played two quick games (each takes around 10 minutes). I almost won the second (lost by only 3 points), and this with us playing by the right rules (we'd previously miss-read who has the first chance to take a newly-turned card).

A fun morning to early afternoon, then a nicely uneventful drive home. If only DiskWarrior had actually been able to recover any useful bits at all on my G5's hard drive, it'd be a perfect day. As it was, still pretty good.

Posted by ghoul at 09:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 08, 2006

Dogs And Other Games

My first go at GMing Dogs in the Vineyard was a reasonably successful one.

Being me, I'd made some character sheets of my own, complete with rules references and a one-page character creation summary, all slightly modified (for clarity) from those provided with the first edition rules. And with larger type, as I've found sheets get a bit crowded in play. These helped me through explaining the rules to a slightly large group... I started with three players, but two more arrived just as I finished the first walk-through of the dice scheme. I was a little nervous with that many players in a Dogs game, but I pressed on an was able to steer everyone toward unique character focuses, which let me give everyone a chance or two to shine in the spotlight.

In the 4:30 playtime (30 minutes over the scheduled slot, but no one was complaining), we got well through character generation and the town, with only minimal compression toward the end. Lots of neat scenes, some nice surprise as players realized how capable they are in this system (both their characters and them directly), and some nice worry when I pulled out all the stops on a crazed demon-ridden bad-guy at the end. Especially fun was one character who was directly focused on the demon-smiting and another a doubting rationalist, unwilling to accept that demons were more than symbolism. Watching the two differ in how they interpreted scene after scene was great fun!

I need to do more of this!

Afterwards, we played some Tsuro and Winner's Circle until we decided it was time to call it a night.

Board gaming starts again at 9 AM tomorrow and goes until I have to leave to get home at a decent hour.

Posted by ghoul at 11:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 05, 2006

More Gaming Plans

Just back from The Black Road, but I'm not done with special gaming plans just yet.

This coming weekend features an in-store gaming event at Stillpoint Comics, with full details here.

I'll be running Dogs in the Vineyard, which will be my first time running that system. I've played at GenCon and at The Black Road. I'm really looking forward to it!

And it's just a little over a month to GenCon!

And then Sunday I'm packing along a big crate of board and card games, all chosen to be quickly taught and played. And probably including a couple from this list as well as some proven successes from the last Stillpoint event.

Posted by ghoul at 08:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 02, 2006

Unexpected...

Some AmberCon games get a quotes list.

Apparently, one of mine gets a tribute album.

Which is very, very cool. And records only a fraction of the silliness that game achieved. Great, great fun! Thanks go mostly to players who found the funny in nearly everything tossed their way, even the bits that weren't really very funny originally!

Posted by ghoul at 07:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 19, 2006

Unplayed Boardgames

I've been acquiring boardgames at, if anything, an accelerated pace during the last few months, assisted by my discovery of an excellent store in southern NH, Myriad Games. Such acquisitions have vastly exceeded my time to PLAY new games, so I've got quite a list of "try to play this one sometime soon" games backed up. Here's a few major highlights...

Fury of Dracula is a re-design of an older game we used to play to death back in the day. Most of the changes seem sound. There's an extra player (Mina, complete with her psychic link to the Count), a card-based hidden movement system for Dracula (rather than the original screened-off map) and, in general, a greater use of cards (cards being far easier to custom design and print now than they were pre-Magic). I've seen a few complaints online about some odd places on the board where Dracula can accidentally corner himself and be unable to move without triggering the "cheating" rules and I expect the balance is still closer to by-player than by-side (that is, Dracula will not win half of the games, but closer to the 1-in-5 ratio that he has to the other players), but I really want to try this one out for myself. It looks to be far less disappointing than the cluttered-up and overly lengthened Arkham Horror re-do by the same company. I'm also pretty sure their other Games Workshop re-do, Warrior Knights, will also make my "must try this one soon" list if I let myself read through it again, but it hasn't quite made it there yet.

Twilight Struggle is an intriguing entry into the "card-driven wargame" style that its publisher, GMT Games, has been impressing with for some time now. But this entry isn't really a wargame, it's a Cold War game. As such, it isn't troop movements you need to manage but rather political influence. Oh, wars are important, but they're abstracted, usually to just a quick die roll. What you manage in this game is your political resources, and in particular the game forces you to deal with good and bad news, both anticipated and unanticipated. It does this via cards, each of which has a political point value (which you can use to fuel the basic actions of the game) and an event. When you play a card, you can play it for either purpose if it's biased toward your side (USA or USSR, if the sides in the Cold War aren't obvious to you) or neutral, but if it's biased toward the other side then you MUST let them have the "good event" it represents. The balance of power clearly shifts through the game, as the initial deck is somewhat biased toward the USSR but over time additional cards are added that are strongly USA-biased. Knowing what might be coming and preparing for it is a critical skill, and being completely prepared is well beyond the limited resources either side has to deploy, based on my reading, so it looks like there's always somewhere you'll be vulnerable. The game has a definite political bias (for example, I think it credits politics and, in particular, certain politicians too much and simple economics too little for the eventual result of the Cold War) and it's littered with annoying typos and unclear verbiage, but the underlying ideas are very solid and quite interesting. I really, really want a chance to give this the several plays it looks to want before it's understood.

Command and Colors: Ancients is also from GMT Games, but it couldn't be more different from Twilight Struggle. This game is a third design based on a very clever, reasonably simple tactical wargame system previously used for the games Battle Cry and Memoir '44, covering the US Civil War and WWII, respectively. This take focuses primarily on the Punic Wars, Rome vs. Carthage (with a forthcoming expansion which will add other armies of the broadly-defined "Ancient" era, including the Greeks and the Persians). Deceptively simple rules control movement (units are activated by cards which indicate the part of the battlefield or the type of unit the commander may select units from this turn) and combat (roll lots of dice, look for the icons that hit with the unit you're using), but the real meat of this game seems to be in the features of each particular type of unit. Some offer ranged attacks, some speed, some durability, all by very slight changes in the movement and combat options. Unlike its two predecessors, which used plastic soldier figures, this game uses dozens and dozens of wooden blocks, to which stickers with illustrations of the appropriate unit are applied. A unit on the battlefield is made up of multiple blocks, which lets the game indicate casualties in battle by slowly removing the unit, block by block. And after the hours spent applying the hundreds of stickers, I really want to put this one on the table and fight out a few battles!

Rheinlander fills out the all but mandatory Knizia entry on this list. This game casts players as factions of the nobility along the Rhine River, slowly building and combining kingdoms. Cards are played to control where you can place your knights, either on the number you play (there are two land spaces and a river space for each number, with the river space available only if both land spaces are already occupied) or next to any other of your knights (in which case the number played doesn't matter). Groups of two or more knights create a duchy, ruled by the majority faction. Cities, castles, and cathedrals modify the scoring, defensibility, and political influence (respectively) of the duchy they abut. If a new knight changes the majority faction in a duchy, the old duke's player gets points before he's kicked out, but most points come from holding duchies at game's end. Sounds simple, but thanks to the subtlety of castles and cathedrals, a map that is deceptively simple and that has cities, castles, and cathedrals shuffled randomly each game for variety. This looks like a very solid game of abstract strategy.

Battleground: Fantasy Warfare is the last on my current "priority" list. This clever game takes the essentials of miniatures games but replaces the expensive and hard to transport miniatures with very reasonably priced and easily carried cards. And, for a nice additional touch, designs and coats the cards so important game notes can be written right on the surface with the appropriate tools (wax pencils or dry-erase markers). Also, all ranges used in the games are expressed in card sizes (half or all of a short or long side, or a combination of several), which is quite convenient. I've looked through the four armies currently in print and I'm quite impressed with the variety and range of the armies. And the Undead army looks quite fun to play, which is always a plus in my book.

There's half-dozen others I'd like to get onto a play table as well, but these are the heart of my current priority list.

Posted by ghoul at 08:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 18, 2006

Black Road Prep

In other recently overcome laziness, I sent out my character creation suggestions for my two games at The Black Road this weekend. Just barely in time, since the Con is in two weeks. And I've already heard back from one player in each game, proving that they are far, far less lazy than me!

For those somewhat interested who won't be at the Con, here's a brief summary...

I'm running another iteration of my Teenagers from Outer Space/Amber crossover "Nine Princes in High School" which promises to be a lot of fun. I can admit that right now I have only the vaguest of ideas what will happen in the game, but I'm sure it'll come together as I start seeing what characters I'll have. I really love GMing TFOS, and this gives me a chance to inflict that on semi-suspecting Amber players.

I'm also running a game I dedicate to all the "first chapter purists" in the Amber community. "On the Job" casts the PCs in the role of investigators trying to work out the escape of one Carl Corey from the Greenwood Private Hospital. Just what they'll find isn't certain. I'm using the InSpectres system, which means a lot of what we find will be up to the players. Also, since this game follows the first few chapters of Nine Princes in Amber, it is set in 1970 (the year the book was published). Which offers a very different style of investigator than the InSpectres norm.

As a player, I'm going to get a shot at the Shab-al-Hiri Roach and Dogs in the Vineyard for my Indy games fixes and a bit of Zeppelin Pirate fun in Fortune's Fool: The Ebony Hand.

It'll be a fun weekend, I can tell already!

Posted by ghoul at 05:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 13, 2005

New Responsibility

As has been announced elsewhere, I have taken on the role of treasurer for The Black Road, a Marlborogh, MA based AmberCon.

Or, rather, semi-AmberCon, particularly with the new Indie Games track being added this year.

Always great fun, and if you can make it this coming June/July, you should consider it!

Posted by ghoul at 08:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 27, 2005

T'Con Day Eight

Game shopping happened at noon, finally getting to the shop closest. There, I found several products I was looking for, including Hansa, Technowitches, and Wings of War - Burning Drachens, plus Knizia's Pickomino and King Arthur.

Shadows Over Camelot was played, though to two losses. First time, we fell behind early and didn't quite make it back, then the second time we suffered from a traitor in the form of Lou, showing himself only at the last minute, just in time to place the 12th siege engine out and cause the lose.

Beowulf was the last of my major list we could get to (Descent had already fallen off the list for lack of time), but it was not to be as we made time for Formula Motor Racing, a regular fave. Of course, the game is highly random, more noise than anything else, and this game proved no exception. In the end, Ryan decided to maximize his score with his last play, putting me into a win over Lou, who would have managed a 2 point lead over me before Ryan's last play.

And now, it's all over... tomorrow morning, I have to get to a 7:15 train toward Greensboro and the working world...

Until then, I have to pack.

Posted by ghoul at 09:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 26, 2005

T'Con Day Seven

Another game or two today...

Several games of Cloud 9 were played, as none of us are good at refusing this random brinksmanship play. Then Luc, Grant, and I sat down to try Caracasonne - The City, a stand-alone Carcasonne game with new rules for building a wall around the city starting around 1/3rd of the way through the city tiles. I took an early point lead, then Luc caught up. Grant was convinced he was all but out of it (at one point, he had barely half the score Luc and I had), but when we reached endgame and scored all the things that only score then, we ended up at 134 for Luc, 129 for me and 127 for Grant. It could barely have been any closer.

Then we went out to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse for the traditional "as if you aren't eating enough Thanksgiving week" steak dinner. Yum! Now, we're all going to succumb to meat coma and perhaps be awake for some games tomorrow.

Shadows Over Camelot and Beowulf remain atop the list to come next, with Descent slightly behind because it both will take longer and is more familiar in its nature (if still unique, pretty, and updated in its mechanics). We'll see what actually happens over the next 26 or so hours, before we have to give up and admit that T'Con 2005 is ending...

Posted by ghoul at 10:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

T'Con Day Six

And, two of the big games get rolled out...

Battlestations was played to a very successful conclusion, an Outstanding Success by the crew on their Boot Camp mission, which everyone succeeding quite regularly (with a couple fumbles, since they were fresh from the academy, not experienced crew). Everyone was surprised how successful characters can be with proper planning, preparations, and assistance. Everyone seemed pretty happy with the results, though it was a bit dry on the RP side for for Luc (who was the pilot, which is one of the dryer roles, doing the same thing over and over).

Arkham Horror came out later, with printing of aids starting around 8 PM and actual rule training starting around 9 PM. We did know the game was long, and that proved true, with a long grinding "figure out what we're doing" phase, then a sudden rush to try to make up for lost time. In the end, we did a great job of monster management, keeping Arkham to only a Terror Level of 1 before the Doom Track filled, which meant Hastur was relatively easy to fight when he did arise (his combat strength is the Terror Level). In the end, it was almost a 5 hour game, ending just before 2 AM. And while everyone had fun, it's just too long. I really worry what this game will become when its expansion set (announced for next year) is added!

Descent still lurks in our plans, with Grant offering to play Overlord for us since I reffed Battlestations. Once he's read the rules through, that is.

Posted by ghoul at 09:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 24, 2005

T'Con Day Five

Yum. Turkey!

And, after turkey and digestion, we set up a game or two. Run For Your Life Candyman was a silly, highly random sort of lark, with Luc and I taking early leads, but quickly dragged back to the rear for Candy Cage Matches before Lou rocketed to a win by more than half the track.

So, looking for something still light but with a bit more meat on its bones, I pulled out Niagara. We got one rule wrong (we didn't charge a gem to buy a canoe back after going over the falls), but everyone still had a good time. Lou won again, but this time it was quite close, with Ryan just a move away from a VERY early win before I stopped him. The sliding disk "water" caught about one move in 10, which was annoying but seemed to become less so with use. And all of us are now sure we know how to "do it right next time". Which we probably won't manage this year, but we'd all like to.

Beowulf, Descent, Shadows Over Camelot, and Battlestations remain atop the "try to play these" list, with Descent and Battlestations probably needing to play tomorrow or not likely to get table time (both are fairly rules-heavy and longish). Of course, since we're not mad enough to venture out of doors on Black Friday (not after the "quick visit to Wal*Mart to snag a Zelda game" two years ago), there'll be more gaming density on the next couple of days.

Posted by ghoul at 11:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

T'Con Day Four

A couple of games of Street Illegal and a trip to see the new Harry Potter filled the day.

The list of main "want to play" titles remains untouched.

Posted by ghoul at 12:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 22, 2005

T'Con Day Three

Another day of game shops and good food.

We did 3 more game shops, with me purchasing only a handful of things (mostly discounted RPG titles, though I also picked up Berserker Halflings From the Dungeon of Dragons and Let's Kill!), including one store where I bought nothing (only because I was tempted only by things too large to easily get home) while others did buy things... and I'm not sure that's ever happened before!

We did set up Santiago for a play, just Grant, Lou, and I, and had a great time. The end was fairly close to a casual glance, though Lou had a clear advantage and, indeed, won by more than a dozen escudo. I had worried that 3-player play would not have the delightful water shortages of the 5-player game, but that was unfounded, and also ignored the cutthroat bidding that you get at only 3 players. This is a very solid game, getting stronger with each play. It may just get pulled out again, though there's a lot of titles still on the stack to play.

My personal list for the near future... Beowulf, Run For Your Life Candyman, Descent, Shadows over Camelot, and Battlestations (which we already made characters for; I'm re-familiarizing myself with the rules before we try playing for real). Several other titles lurk in the next tier.

Posted by ghoul at 11:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 21, 2005

T'Con Day Two

Quiet, rainy day.

We made a trip to Chapel Hill and Cerebral Hobbies for a quick game store stop, and I picked up Igles, Dungeonville, and Vegas Showdown. Then we came back and napped away the gloomy day. I also spent some time learning how this program works and how to get my character for Lou's new bi-weekly game coded in.

After dinner, we made characters for Battlestations (we have a full 4 person crew of pilot, engineer, scientist, and marine. We'll actually play the game tomorrow or Wednesday...

Other than that, not much to report. We'll be doing 2-3 more game stores tomorrow during the day to finish that part of the week, then probably playing a game or two in the evening (the first where no one has to be up for work or school the next day).

Posted by ghoul at 11:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 20, 2005

T'Con Day One

I was a late arrival this year, but my games mostly arrived before me with Julia and Lou...

Even though the first day is traditionally a slow, relaxed one, I made a push to get at least one game in, so Grant and I played Dungeon Twister. I lost 5 to 0, but it was fun.

We've also assembled a list of all the games, with everyone encouraged to sign on where they would. So now we know what to unpack from the tubs tomorrow...

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Leaving The Wedding

David and Melinda are now married (actually married again, because they'd done a civil ceremony for insurance purposes earlier), and I should have a link to photos before too terribly long (many were taken, and much of that digitally). I must complement the couple's taste in tux styles... I think the groomsmen looked quite snazzy despite having me as part of them. Thankfully, David was unable to burn down the church, though not for lack of trying.

The after-party consisted of games. Ahh, gamer weddings! While there were Jenga, Apples to Apples, and The Great Dalmuti games played, my role at the party was the bring and teach new games, so I focused on that.

(Details of gaming lurk under the fold.)

Then I spent some time re-packing, asking to ship some things home rather than bringing them along (including my copy of Web and Starship, an astonishing game David had borrowed from me around 8 years earlier, at last on its way home). However, I still failed to get under 50lbs on the main suitcase, so I paid extra again for the 2nd flight... But, as I type this at gate D4 of the Indy airport, I'm ready to head to Raleigh for TCon!

Santiago won first try, after many people had heard me rave about its elegant structure (and this Indy crowd are fans of that sort of game). And no one was disappointed. Subtle bidding and location strategy took the first 3 to 4 turns to settle in, but by the end of the game we were carefully calculating each move. I likely made a 2-4 pt mistake on the last turn, but it would only have made the difference between 3rd place and 2nd, as the Groom won with 102 (mostly from one huge banana plantation), followed by a 98 (who gained 2 by my mistake) and my 96. It's nice to have a game that tight (though the other 2 players were 75 and 64 pts). This game certainly lives up to the hype with which it was sold to me at GenCon and to my own hopes for the game after reading it. Don't miss this one!

Shadows Over Camelot came next, initially with 5 players but another needed to do some packing (he'd be leaving right after the game and driving homeward overnight) before joining in around the 4th turn. Fortunately, this game allows this! I took the Tristan role so I'd be able to jet off to quests cheaply, and was quickly on the Grail quest, but stymied by a very bad run of cards that hammered away all my progress then trapped me in the Black Forest, unable to progress. While other knights came to my rescue (Galahad and Palamides having fought off the Picts while Kay handily defeated the Black Knight in tourney), Gawain fought a losing battle of attrition trying to rescue Excalibur. We were able to save the Grail, and thought we'd have an easy time recovering Lancelot's armor, but a terrible turn of cards meant the armor slipped our grasp. With only one artifact collected and 5 black swords on display (the Black Knight had regrouped himself unchecked), hope was fading. Arthur had joined the quest (the late player), and he sent valuable cards around to allow us regroup. We focused on slaying the great dragon, realizing that success there would be just enough to edge out a victory. Arthur went to face the regrouping Picts, but they overwhelmed him and we were at 6 black swords and 9 siege engines (7 black swords and 12 engines would mean our end). Arthur and Galahad stood in Camelot fighting back the besieging forces while the rest of us marched to the dragon's lair. At game's end, we had 6 knights only one of whom had more than 1 life point left (Galahad had 2), we were at 11 siege engines, and we played the final card to slay the dragon. But even with an enhancer that made the Dragon worth 3 white swords rather than 2, we were just at an 8 to 6 score, so if there was a traitor, we would still lose (as the score would change to 6 to 8 when he was uncovered). But, to our amazement, the Traitor was one of the 2 unused loyalty cards, and the battered knights emerged with the honor of Camelot intact. Huzzah! I've heard tell of runaway games that are obviously wins or losses early, but this one was a perfect nailbiter.

We'd hoped to play more (I'd wanted to try Beowulf with this group, and Dave was interested in Formula Motor Racing based on how popular it is with the T'Con gaming crowd), but getting pizza, enjoying old jokes with new people (which is almost the same as new jokes), and the massive tension of the end of that Camelot game (we were all sure we were going to lose, and would have done so had we needed to take just one more player turn to slay the dragon; we turned over the next card to see and it would have completed the siege), we decided to call it a night.

Also a plus of the weekend... my groomsman gift is a copy of the new Knizia release Palazzo, a great looking game of bidding and building. A quick read of the rules during breaks suggest it's going to take a spot on my "let's try this" primary list for T'Con this week as another very elegant Knizia design.

Posted by ghoul at 10:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 17, 2005

Gaming Beats Sleeping

Got up fairly early (given how late we called it a night last night) and turned to gaming to get the blood flowing.

Won 2 out of 3 Duell (aka En Garde) matches, including a solid 5 to 0 middle game. Dave had played Duell before but really hadn't internalized its strategic complexities (because it really looks so simple). A true fave and a nice way to start the weekend.

Then we took to Dungeon Twister and Dave more than paid me back for that 5 to 0 match. He leapt out to a rapid 4-0 lead (the game is played to 5), but had over-drained his combat cards. I caught one of his characters carrying out a wounded character within a fireball, then blasted his warrior with the other fireball wand to get to 3 points, but just as I started to close in and take advantage of his drained combat deck (mine was still quite solid), he found a route that exactly took his Cleric off my side of the board, scoring his last point by a hair. My next actions would almost certainly have killed that Cleric, his only character advanced at all toward the exit, but I never got the chance. I like this game, but I wasn't prepared for just how carefully you must manage resources. Wasting an action is irrecoverable (and I wasted several).

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November 14, 2005

Almost Packed And Gone

The tubs o' games are in Fall River now, with just a couple of additions from the prior posting (Boomtown and Street Illegal were added and the Mare Nostrum Mythology expansion set arrived and fit easily into the original's box). And yes, space was made for Descent even though it's too big for the tubs.

Meanwhile, I've added Pizza Box Football and Five-Dragon Ante to the case going to Indy, primarily because I didn't have them in time to find space for them in the tubs (since I picked them up on the drive down to Fall River last Friday). PBF looks to be a surpisingly fun and quick football game (I'm only somewhat a football fan, but I'm betting I'll get Alex to play this one) with a focus on a rock-paper-sissors play-calling mechanic to influence some rather random (but not too complicated) resolution.

Now I need to find a minute or two to create a priority list for these games, since that worked quite well last year, and to gew the last half-dozen tasks done before I can be absent from home for 15 days or so. You know, stuff like make sure the cats will be OK, mail won't stack up, etc.

As with last year, I expect I'll end up posting more when I'm away than I do when I'm home.

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November 07, 2005

First November Trip Completed

And I'm back.

It was a crowded weekend, but great fun. I've never gone to U-Con before, though since it's in Ann Arbor, there's a lot of overlap with the AmberCon crowd. This year, I was lured out by the offer of ShadowWorld gaming, and in particular the chance to game face-to-face with the two characters mine is closely linked to (Gail and John), which had actually never happened before this weekend.

Friday, I was out of work early and on a (crowded) flight to Detroit. A quick drive in (thanks again, Malka!!) and one more phone call for directions than I really should have needed to make and I was dropping in late to my first ShadowWorld game. It wasn't really a mission that called for Starchild's skills overmuch, but there was some interesting interaction, particularly with a couple of major agents I hadn't previously met.

Friday night was time for a GURPS-based Firefly game, and I got to play Kaylee (and a bit of Wash later on). She was easy to drop into after Starchild, and had plenty of chances to be sweet, charming, and see the good in people. And, when it was over, I was tied with another player for the prize, so I ended up with another set of the DVDs. Shiny!!

As is only appropriate for a Gail-Stella ShadowWorld weekend, I was staying with Rain, so we headed to the apartment, I met Cynthia the roommate, and I took to a surprisingly comfy cot. Of course, it helps that I was really, really tired.

Didn't get up too early on Saturday, since I wasn't doing anything before 1 (and, as I said, I was tired). That was a chance to play some Formula De, this time with enough players we could actually get a good feel for the game (which really wants to be on a crowded field). I made a few mistakes, but had managed to break away to a lead toward the end of the first lap, only to fall victim to an ill-timed roll that blew out my engines, leaving me dead in the water just one player before I was going to shift down to 4th gear and out of risk for engine damage. Still, it was great fun.

And than, Saturday night, more ShadowWorld. In fact, this was the fateful Starchild, Gail, and John together for the first time game, though there were 5 other players, and none of the three of us were in charge. We were given missions, and we chose to all but ignore them and chase after one of John's personal goals (with permission), which meant a lot of what happened here was story-important for the three of us. Many secrets were uncovered, a couple seriously bad choices were made, and we just barely managed to hold things (including John) together. But we learned quite a bit (I think), both about John's background and about the potential (and dangers) of the powers and connections Gail, John, and Starchild share. Tons of interesting potential new actions were revealed!

Still very tired after, the cot still surprisingly welcoming.

A slightly earlier morning on Sunday because we had to get Cynthia to an early game. Rain and I puttered around the dealer's room. I didn't have the luggage space to take back too much, but I found two discounted board games I just couldn't pass up (Tom Jolly's Camelot and Vanished Planet for a total of $15). Rain picked up a light zombie footrace game that proved to be more fun than I'd expected, and we played a couple rounds while waiting for... you guessed it, yet more ShadowWorld!

Third ShadowWorld game (fourth for Rain, who had played in a non-Mainline ShadowWorld game while I was playing Firefly), and we still had the missions from the previous night on the table, as John's personal quest hadn't resolved them. The mission took us back to Australia, back to the place that, on her last visit three years earlier, had proven the seed for a very bad period of Starchild's life. She avoided any of the problems she'd have had then this time, but they managed some all new ones. And things got unexpectedly large-scale, when an investigation in a barren Australian desert ended up leading to the re-discovery of Atlantis, the final destruction of the same, and the sealing of the Bermuda Triangle. Oh, and a couple very interesting additional facts (or suggestions of the same) about the more personal issues as well, including some powerful new information that Starchild's Dreaming power is more complex than I'd though.

Rain and I had plenty to talk about for Gail and Stella that night and all day Monday, with a few breaks to talk about some cool indy RPGs (including my own concept-project, exposed to another player in detail for the first time there; no hints here as of yet, sorry). As usually proves true, no amount of ShadowWorld is enough, and there's a ton of new things we need to start investigating as a result of what we've now found.

A ton of new, interesting, and certainly dangerous things.

My gaming-heavy month is underway, and starting off strong!

Posted by ghoul at 11:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 23, 2005

Preliminary Packing

All right, I'm not getting those mini-reviews done on pace at all... And, given how busy the next six weeks are, I'm not sure just how it's going to happen...

And right now, I'm starting to pack for my active November... That's two overlapping trips, one to a wedding in Indy and another to the T-Con gathering in Raleigh.

Pass on by if you're not interested in my game packing. If you're going to be at either gathering, please look in to make suggestions!

To Indy, I'm hoping to manager room for Santiago, Beowulf, Shadows over Camelot, Louis XIV, Tutankhamen, and Dungeon Twister. Also a tightly packed blue "game saver" box that holds Axis and Allies D-Day, Paranoia Maximum Bonus Fun, Formula Motor Racing, Battleline, Relationship Tightrope, Kingdoms, and Citadel.

Meanwhile, to Raleigh, I can add the games I can fit in the back of my friend's van (which I'm not going to be in myself, this year, since I'm flying to Indy and from there to Raleigh, then taking a train to Greensboro for a week there before flying home)... Run For Your Life Candyman!, Niagara, Einfach Genial, Parthenon, Amazonas, Buy Low Sell High, Caribbean, Fist of Dragonstar, Queen's Necklace, Ticket to Ride Europe, Pirate's Cove, and Fearsome Floors fill one tub. Empyrean Inc, My Dwarves Fly, King's Breakfast, Saboteur. Carcasone the City, San Juan, Attika, Blue Moon (with expansions), Battlestations (with expansion), Arkham Horror (new edition), Kung Fu Fighting, En Garde!, Baloon Cup, Cloud 9, Cthulhu 5000, Coloretto, Wooly Bully, Cargo, Mare Nostrum, Flea Circus, Wheedle, and Magna Grecia fill the other. Descent is too large to fit into the tubs, but I can't see it being left behind. so it'll find its own way. And, yes, there's a fair bit of repackaging that goes into this process, since many games are more than 50% air thanks to attempts to fit product into similar box sizes even when it's far from necessary (for example, the first 4 games listed in the 2nd tub are all comfortably nestled within the box of the 5th).

How does a game make this list? Well, being a game I really want to play with the folk I'm visiting is a major part, but another is being small (or easily re-packaged; Axis and Allies D-Day looks huge but is actually quite compact when necessary), having been popular at previous gatherings (I'd be lynched if I arrived without Formula Motor Racing, for example), or simply being intriguing (I really want to try out Battlestations, for example, and the Raleigh crowd is a nice blend of board and RP gamers that should be perfect for it.)

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October 03, 2005

Happy News

Couldn't happen to a better face-to-face RPG-related web-comic.

(Because I'm not sure there is a better face-to-face RPG-related web-comic.)

Posted by ghoul at 06:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 24, 2005

Birthday Followup

This was the exceptionally cool cake brought to the ATD game session back on the 10th. Val would, of course, gladly have defended the castle (he does showy, kinda-heroic things like that), but it promised to be too yummy to only look at, so we shooed him away and had at it.

I've been pretty quiet since just before then, I know... Lots of reading, a bit of online gaming, but too much typing at work (we're catching up on several months of documentation) to really want to sit down and type out comments on new games during my off hours. I'm hoping the mood will strike this weekend and I'll get through the board games and on to the RPGs (since so many more people seem interested in those).

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September 09, 2005

Reviews and Comments (Part 4)

All right, as promised, the theme this time is Historical (or nearly so) games.

And the games are The Prince, Alexander the Great, Conquest of the Empire, Roma, Camelot Legends, 7 Ages, En Garde!, Kung Fu Fighting, and Heroscape Expansion Series Two - Utgar's Rage.

Okay, some of those are only distantly related to the Historic grouping, but it's my Staircase... I make the rules!

The Prince (subtitled The Struggle of House Borgia) manages to be the first real clunker in the Phalanx Games line, or at least the first I've encountered. The game claims to be about the political struggles within the high ranks of the Catholic Church of powerful and corrupt Italian families during the renaissance, but it's actually more about who can get a little lucky early and then run away with things while everyone else sits around wasting time. Also, for a game named for Machiavelli's famed book about cold-blooded, anything-to-win politics, this game is painfully polite and open. Nominally, you can make deals over each turn's Papal election, but since there are very few things you're allowed to trade, little can come of this. Add to this some really ill-thought game pieces (the VP track run from 0 to 96, then wrap around to 97-193 on ONE family's card, but to go from 0-108 and 109-217 on the other 4, for example; was 0-100 too outrageous to even attempt?) and you've got a game well worth avoiding.

Alexander the Great, however, serves to remind me how good Phalanx titles can be. This one is quite a surprise, since most of the games Phalanx has put out in the larger box size have been military, but this is a game of resource allocation and area control only vaguely modeled after Alexander's campaigns, here presented as 6 campaigns, in Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt, Persia, Parthia and Bactria, then India and the failed return toward Persia. The game is played in several rounds, and in each of these players set up a secret allocation of their resources among four categories (turn order, armies, city building, and temple construction). These are revealed and compared, at which time the winner for turn order can pick where they go in the turn (usually, they will want to go last); other players move in order by their current score. When it is your turn, you place your armies on the starting point for the campaign, then move them one, two, or three areas (perhaps leaving some behind, perhaps paying some extra cost due to rough terrain; costs come from either your city or temple building resources), then announce any temples or cities you'll try to build. Other players do the same. When all have acted, the player with the most armies in each area gets 2 points and someone builds any temple or city attempted. By "someone", I mean the player with the most resources allocated to that sort of building who moves to the area and announces an attempt. Completing a build costs that player 1 more than the 2nd highest number of resources (which might be 1 more than 0 if no one else tries). Success is worth 3 points for a temple and 5 for a city. If no one moved to the area marked as the campaign's end this turn, any unspent city and temple resources can be re-allocated (resources spent on turn order, used to pay for buildings, or still on the board as armies cannot be re-allocated) and another round is played. Eventually, someone will move to the last area and this round will end, especially since the longest campaign only has 7 areas in it. At the end of the game, bonus points are awarded for whoever built the most cities and temples in total and in each region. Each campaign is different, with more or fewer choices in movement, differently-placed city and temple locations, etc. Play for every point is quite competitive, and numerous options are offered. You can try for points from armies, from cities, from temples, from a mix. You can even (in the first 5 campaigns, but not the last 2) attempt to cut off some development by doing a rapid move to the campaign-ending space, leaving the other players positioned for future rounds that don't happen. All in all, a very nice game, and well presented with reasonably quality playing pieces (including nice little stand-up screens to hide allocation at the start of each round).

Conquest of the Empire is a huge game, from the 46"x36" map (covering the full geographical range of the Roman Empire, plus a bit they never got around to conquering) and some 350 player pieces, 50 neutral pieces, and 75 delightfully oversized coins (especially since most games are given to miniaturizing such pieces), not even including the cardboard counters (of which there are numerous) and a deck of cards. And, as if this wasn't enough, there are actually two games here, one the "classic" form, only slightly changed from its original 1984 Milton Bradley release, the other an all new game. The Classic form is just that, a classic. It's not a terribly realistic game, and it suffers from the fact that players must be eliminated to get to the endgame, which means some players will be sitting out the latter half of the game. Elimination is necessary, too, because without it you can have at most 5 active armies (4 under generals, one directly under your Caesar). Once you eliminate another player, you take over their 4 generals and thus expand your ability to act dramatically! Other than that, this is a fairly good game of conquest, development, and expansion. The new game, Conquest of the Empire II, is about as different as two games sharing the same pieces can be. This game is much more political, with armies used to defend or assault influence, but money and influence being what decides the game. Here, influence markers are purchased for each important region of the empire, with several available in each location. Majority means you get more points each scoring, so you want to keep up your influence. Also critical is an interesting alliance system whereby you can bid to form alliances among the players, forcing someone else to not attack you until the next round! Numerous action cards add lots of flavor to the game, and there's a nice little "Chaos" mechanic that costs you VP if you get too far outside acceptable Roman propriety. These are both really nice games, though I'd give a significant edge to the newer rules if only because they avoid elimination and have a certain time limit to victory. But they also emphasize politics over military, which is more to my taste. Someone who likes simple crunch and grind military games (ala the classic Risk) will likely find the Classic form of CotE more to their liking. Anyone who likes big, sweeping conquest games will like one or the other, if not both.

Sticking to Rome for a bit, we have Roma, a fairly straightforward little card game of two factions head-to-head in a political power struggle. Cards represent resources, either people of influence (merchants, senators, legates, or Emperor Nero, for example) or valuable structures (temples or the Forum, plus military hardware such as onager). The playing area is made up of 8 spots, each marked with a disk from "take cards" on one end, through spaces for die faces 1 thru 6, to "take money" on the other. Players will play their cards aligned with the die faces. Each turn, the player rolls three dice and then takes 4 actions, which can be 1) to play a card from their hand onto one die spot (either filling an empty one or replacing the current contents), at a cost in money; 2) taking money equal to the amount rolled on the die used; 3) taking cards equal to the number rolled on the die used, though only one is actually kept and the rest are discard; or 4) activating a card at a location the die roll matches (that is, a roll of 4 lets you activate the card played on your side of the "4" space). Each card has a different effect, some score victory points, some attack opposing cards, some allow additional card draws, or various other effects. When all victory point tokens are given to one player or the other (or if one player is drained dry of points), the game ends in victory for the player with the most. It's fairly simple, fairly quick, and a nice mix of random and strategic (a bit biased toward the random side). I'd be happier if it played about 10 minutes faster, or was a bit less random, but it's still a very nice game. One caveat... in an attempt to be as multi-national as possible, the cards are named in (roughly) Latin and are marked with fairly meaningful icons to indicate their power, but you'll still be checking to rulebook to identify effects more often than you may like. Still, a very nice, light game, bearing almost no resemblance to the big, heavy Conquest of the Empire despite the similar setting.

Camelot Legends isn't exactly a historical game, as the Knights of the Round Table are far more fiction than fact, but it's my blog, so I make the groupings. This is a nice little game, with lots of research behind it as nearly every significant character and storyline associated with Camelot makes an appearance, which is very impressive given the simplicity of the base game system. In effect, it's just this... There are 3 game locations (Camelot, Cornwall, and the Perilous Forest). Each player's turn, an Event is drawn, which might be placed on one of those locations or might be resolved immediately via a special rule, mostly commonly a bid. Then you check to see if you can complete any of the location events currently in play (usually achieved by summing up attributes from your knights and beating an objective printed on the event). Then you take two Actions, such as draw a character, play a character from your hand to any location, or move 1 or 2 characters from one location to another. Continue until the game is over (either all events are resolved in the simplified beginners game or a single difficult "final event" placed at the bottom of the event deck is resolved in the standard game). Whoever has the most victory points (won by completing events) at the end is the winner. Simple, yes. But wait, there's a complication... You see, almost every knight and almost every event has special rules, some simple, some quite complicated, that modify the standard play format. It's not a new idea (and hasn't been since Cosmic Encounters), but here it's taken to rather an extreme. Almost no two characters have even similar abilities, and by game's end there may be two dozen characters and events in play. Keeping track of everything is a challenge. But, I think, a challenge worth considering. This is an attractively produced (card are ranges from good to great) and well designed game, marred only by its potential for excessive complexity in practice. Maybe I'd play Shadows over Camelot before I'd play this, but it wouldn't be by a long margin!

7 Ages is an odd mix. It's an ambitious game, trying to do all of recorded history within one mechanic without getting silly, overly complex, or boring. It does a surprisingly good job at this, but it has one of the steepest learning curves I've ever seen, particularly for a game with so few rules. Opening the box is a decidedly old-school feel, as there are nearly 900 cardboard counters to be punched out and sorted. The map is huge, but just paper not a mounted board. And the big split that cuts right across the Fertile Crescent (i.e., the region where early play is very likely to focus) is just a wee bit annoying. In fact, graphic design is a major mixed back for this game. Play aid charts are astonishingly detailed without seeming cluttered, various terrains are reasonably distinct, and most spaces are large enough to allow play, but at the same time some spaces are amazingly tiny despite their possible importance (a problem caused by the real world not always making important places large, for certain, but no attempt is made to ease the problem via distortion or special play areas to expand on the undersized base location) and the cards are just astonishingly busy, to the point that many are tricky to read. This game is an interestingly lesson in elegance, which is that even that gold standard of game design can be taken too far. This game is often elegant to the point of confusion. Players control Empires, bringing them into play via cards then slowly expanding and developing them until they peak out and are taken out of play, to be replaced by a new Empire. Actual available actions at each turn are few (in fact, 7, plus a "wild card" that lets you defer choosing until you activate, but at a cost), and you select one action for each Empire you have in play each turn. Most of these actions are fairly easy to describe, and fairly easy to do. But the subtleties of their interactions... Wow! And add to this some very odd design choices, such as making each color of playing pieces slightly different (in number of each type of combat unit, or in the abilities each unit has), or the way some Empires naturally cannibalize others if they come into play in the right order, or the way some spaces on the board are specially valuable to some empires while almost worthless to others... In effect, if you don't spend a long time studying them game before trying to play, you'll miss out on just what many of the decisions you're presented with actually mean. This is a very complicated game presented in a form that is almost too simple to contain all its complexity. I'd love to really get into it, but I have a feeling it would take a half-dozen plays to get good enough to really enjoy its richness, and I can't imagine playing it that often at the frustratingly confused level it defaults new players to. Still, big points for taking an aggressive goal and doing an amazingly good job of it. Compare this to games it is similar to (say, History of the World or Vinci) and there's no contest; this is by far the richer and more worthy game. But I'd still probably pull down Vinci first. (Also, you have to take points away for one huge oddity of this game... if the first player has one of the right cards in their initial hand and chooses to play it, the game could start in Age 4 (the Renaissance), 5 (the age of Exploration) or even 6 (the age of Colonialization), ignoring the vast majority of history, which is to say ignoring just what the game is all about! There is an optional rule forcing the first empire to be Age 1. Why this should be an optional rule is beyond my understanding, as I'm sure several other things about this game are. I really, really want to like it... but I can't tell without spending hours of playtime with it I just don't expect to ever manage.

En Garde! and Kung Fu Fighting are going to suffer from being reviewed together... they're from the same publisher and share the same basic structure (draw cards, play attack to damage opponent, move to next player), but they really aren't the same game at all. KFF is martial arts combat the way the movies tell us it was (that is, nothing at all like it was). Players play cards to attack one another, or to enhance an attack, or to shift into various stances, or to draw weapons, or to block attacks, or to recover Chi (life points). Many combinations feed one another, such as Crane Stance giving a bonus to Fast or Kick attacks (and thus a really big bonus to fast kick attacks). Players play cards until there's only one standing. That's all. That's all you need! this is a fast, fun game and not to be ignored. It's only weak spot is that you discard unwanted cards and fill your hand at the beginning of your turn. This means you can't spend other player's turn planning your move and thus slows the game down (though it also means you're far less likely to have a Block card handy). En Garde! takes the same essential structure in a whole different direction. Here, instead of Chi you have Poise, and Poise is used both to record damage and to make attacks. A clever rule makes this slightly less dangerous than it might be... As long as you have at least 1 Poise when damaged, the worst an attack can do is drop you to "No Poise". You're only eliminated if damaged when already at "No Poise". And if you are at "No Poise", you can play any card you want for free! A cornered man is very deadly... Also, En Garde! expands dramatically on the simple attack/block pattern, allowing complex exchanges where the block leads to a riposte which itself needs to be blocked, back and forth until one player can respond no more, and only then is everything resolved. It's quite pretty, and offers a very decent simulation of cinematic swashbuckling fencing. What's that, you say? Kung Fu movies and Swashbuckling movies aren't history? Bah! If history can't make room for things this fun and interesting, who needs it?

Heroscape Expansion Series Two - Utgar's Rage... Well, I really like Heroscape, and more variety is a good thing. For the historically minded, this set adds a quartet of armored Knights and their commander, Sir Denrick, plus 4 members of the 4th Massachusetts Line. Yes, knights in shining armor and Revolutionary War soldiers. Heroscape is an odd history-and-fantasy-in-a-blender sort of game. The knights are reasonably tough and unyielding (and especially nasty to anyone who tries to disengage once in combat with them), their leader is especially good at smacking down Huge figures (you know, like Giants or Dragons), and the 4th Massachusetts lay down withering fire if they don't move. But those are the historical bits, and serve under the relatively "good guy" Jandar. The set is called Utgar's Rage, so most of the figures are on his side. Marro Drones offer us ultra-cheap, barely effective figures whose strength comes if you swarm the battlefield with them (which would require buying several sets), while the Minions of Utgar are bat-winged demons ready to swoop down and do some serious harm (especially since they deal double damage, 2 wounds per hit rather than the usual one). The Anubian Wolves and their leader Khosumet the Darklord are unpredictable werewolves, perhaps the deadliest things imaginable but perhaps accidentally killing one of their own each time they activate (you have to roll a die and find out!). Me-Buro-Sa is a mounted skeletal Marro-type with a 25% chance of paralyzing a nearby enemy at the start of each turn. Krug is a big bruiser who, just to be fearsome, actually has a tougher attack the more damaged he is! And, lastly, there's the Swog Rider, an Orc on a sabertooth tiger who gives a nice bonus to nearby orc archers but isn't actually a leader, so is fairly easy to take down. At GenCon, they were giving out a ranked-up repaint (same figure, different paint job) of this figure, Nerak the Glacian Swog Rider, who actually is a leader (3 life points), and who grants extra defense to nearby orcs, plus having a bonus while standing on a snow space (though, so far as I know, they haven't released any snow terrain pieces yet). All of these figures are attractive and well made, with special points to the bestial Krug and the shining armored knights. Heroscape is getting better all the time, and from the amount of space Hasbro gave it at GenCon (and the future products they displayed), it has no sign of dying off soon. In fact, I've already seen rumors that the next series has started appearing in stores, and it promises Highlanders and Shaolin monks!

And those are my comments. Do with them as you please.

Posted by ghoul at 05:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 05, 2005

Reviews and Comments (Part 3b)

Whoops, missed one!

Quicksand was lurking behind a stack of other games, and what is quicksand but fine sand and water?

The next set of games will be Historical (mostly) and should be posted by the end of the week, then a grab-bag set to wrap up the lot, hopefully by next Sunday.

Then I'll get into the RPGs.

Quicksand is a quick, easy board game for 2-5 players, likely taking around 15 minutes. Each player randomly and secretly takes on the role of one of six Explorers, nominally a Hunter, a Geologist, a Botanist, a Zoologist, a Jungle Lord, and an Archeologist, though the roles actually have no effect on the game. Each turn, a player may play as many matching cards as they wish, moving the character those cards refer to that many spaces forward toward the Temple. If the character lands on a space matching their color, the player may also discard a card (which is useful because you always draw back to 6 cards each turn). Mask cards and Mask spaces are wild, matching any character. There are also Quicksand spaces and cards. If a character ends their turn on a Quicksand space or if a Quicksand card is played against them, their counter is flipped over and it will take a character card to "rescue" them (flipping them back face-up) before they can move. The object is to get your character to the Temple first, but you'll need to keep your character a secret or everyone else will sink them deep, deep in quicksand. The game is graphically pleasing and smartly designed. Especially smart is that you fill your hand back to 6 at the END of your turn, so you can consider your move while the other players act. This will speed up the game considerably, and this is very much a "play quickly" sort of game. This one's fluff, but it's fairly decent fluff and there's nothing wrong with that!

Posted by ghoul at 06:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Reviews and Comments (Part 3)

I have finished a couple RPGs (okay, three), but I'm going to get most of the board and card games out of the way today so I can give the RPGs a more complete consideration. In the first group, I'm combining all the new games with some sort of watery theme, just because.

So, in the complete entry, you'll find quick reviews of Captain Treasure Boots, Caribbean, Oceania, Niagara, Parthenon, Amazonas, Santiago, and Atlas & Zeus.

Yes, watery themes are popular!

Captain Treasure Boots is the newest Cheapass Games release. As such, it consists of a 4-page rulebook and 4 board sections (grids of water or numbered islands, printed in color, which seems lush by company norms), with an available bits set that adds dice, pawns, and the necessary small colored chips for play, in a box (also needed to play). The bits set costs more than the game (though you could easily assemble it yourself). Players are pirates cruising the islands for treasure. Each turn, dice are rolled to place treasure on the islands (chips drawn at random from the box). Then you roll to move your ship, likely to collect or safely deliver to port treasure and/or to line up cannon shots at other pirates (which lets you steal their treasures). Treasure comes in colors, each of which enhances some part of your ship (movement, accuracy of attacks, effectiveness of attacks, defense against attacks), plus Pearls (limited-effect "wilds") and Privateers (non-player pirates who move when doubles are rolled and mostly get in the way, though they can be sunk for points). When delivering treasure to port, you get extra points if you have more than one color to unload. The game is played until someone scores enough points to win. Nothing very sophisticated (and more than a little reminiscent of the much fancier, much more expensive, but also somewhat better Pirate's Cove), but certainly not a bad game for its very low price.

Caribbean is another pirate game, though this one is considerably trickier to master. The board is a fairly realistic map of the Caribbean Sea, with major ports and major pirate havens marked. There are three pirate havens of each color, and that is what the players control. Your objective is to lure the six pirates into bringing their booty (taken from the major ports, where it is seeded out randomly, 6 at the start of the game and 2 more each turn until all are placed) to your havens rather than to other players'. This is done by bidding. Each player has bit cards from -1 to 5, and at the start of each round you place six of those in a holder, one for each ship (the seventh is kept as a tie-breaker). Then, in alphabetical order (the ships' names start with each letter from A to F for simplicity), bids are revealed and the winner moves the ship a number of spaces equal to the winning bid, reduced by any "-1" tokens bid for this ship. Having a treasure sitting on a ship is risky, however, as other ships can steal that treasure by simply moving by! There's lots of potential for cleverness here, setting up chains of ships to rapidly move treasures across the sea. Also impressive are the ship pieces, three-dimensional stand-ups that clearly display their name (in 3 places, plus 2 more that just show the first letter) and have a convenient spot for resting the treasure in their hold. It all looks very sharp, and in support of a reasonably challenging and competitive game. Points are scored for being the first to seize a treasure (a flat 2,000) and for delivering that treasure to your harbor (4,000 to 8,000 depending on the source port, clearly printed on the treasure), and the game is played until someone scores 31,000, 41,000 or 62,000 points (based on the number of players). As is common in this sort of game, a two-player game could be highly competitive and strategic while a four-player game is fairly unpredictable and random. But since it looks to take barely over a half-hour to play, I see no problem with that!

Oceania is a rather unique idea, a game designed for 1 or 2 players. It is explicitly a simplification of Entdecker, a well-regarded older (1996) game. The theme is much the same, exploring a new land. Here, you sail into the unknown (an initially empty board, then later from already-explored locations), each turn drawing and attempting to place a tile that may contain water and land. If you can place the tile, you can also land a scouting party (valued 1, 2 or 3 from a fairly limited supply). If an area is completely walled off with land (that is, made so no new ship could get into it due to existing tiles, but not due to the impassible top of the board), "reserve" tiles are used to fill in. When the game ends (by either mapping the whole board or using up all the random tiles), each island created by the tiles scores its size to the player with the most scouts on it, with incomplete islands scoring nothing. This game is pretty, quick-playing (10-15 minutes!), and reasonably well explained in its rules (though the bit about the top of the board being impassible sea and thus not creating "surrounded" areas is more implicit than stated). The solitaire form leaves out the scouts, encouraging the formation of large islands by giving points equal to the square of each completed island's size, but penalizes the player by 20 points for every square left unexplored at game's end (and big islands risk being left incomplete). A nice, light distraction of a game, and small enough to easily carry along for whenever 15 minutes need to be filled.

Niagara is this year's Spiel des Jahres winner, so I expected great things. I wasn't disappointed. This is a unique little game, a combination of fairly simple strategy, fairly complex interaction, and attractive and significant game design. The theme is fairly simple, if just a bit silly. Fearless (and somewhat foolish) folk row canoes down the Niagara river, trying to collect the valuable gems that, for some reason, gather near the falls. (I'm pretty sure there are few gems to be found anywhere near Niagara, but it's a game, accept the fiction.) Each turn, each player selects their paddling speed (a card from 1-6, plus an "adjust weather" card), moves one or both of their canoes, and tries not to go over the falls. Since the rules force you to use all 7 of your cards before you can re-use any, you have to think ahead. You can move both canoes the full point score if you want, but you can only launch one canoe a turn, so unless one is already on the river you won't be able to move both. Rowing with or against the current is the same difficulty, and it costs 2 points to either reach out and take a gem or toss the gem you have to shore next to you. You don't score by doing that, though you can advance the more rare fall's edge gems to an easier-to-reach spot (though, of course, someone else might swipe it before you can). You can also steal gems from other players by landing on them (though only when moving upstream). You win by getting 1 of each of the 5 gems, 4 of any one gem, or 7 gems total back to the docks. Oh, but I left out the fun bit... The board, designed to be set atop the inverted box, is built with a sunken river track, with the water is represented by transparent plastic discs that slide along the path the board creates. Each turn, after everyone moves, discs are pushed down-river (carrying the canoes along with them, and perhaps over the falls, which actually means falling off the edge). The number of discs added is based on the slowest rowing speed played this turn plus a weather adjustment from -1 to +2 (it starts at 0, but can be changed whenever you play the "adjust weather" rowing card). The river splits near the end, and so the current might go either right or left (depending on the mostly-random way the discs physically move), creating unpredictability (and, thus, a small chance of surviving). Canoes pushed over the falls must be bought back with gems, so it isn't something you want to have happen. This is a great little game, with a strong (if slightly artificial) theme, great components, and very interactive play. A very deserving award-winner and well worth seeking out!

Parthenon is the least water-themed of the games in this group, but I feel it qualifies (and it's my blog!). Players are attempting to advance the development of their Aegean island, through production, trade, and development. Each season, the island produces goods which they can trade to other players (risk-free, except you might make a bad deal) or to the larger non-player lands. It is here that much of the game lies, and thus the semi-watery theme. Travel to Athens, Sparta, or Ionia is relatively easy (draw one hazard card); travel to distant Italy, Carthage, or Egypt is trickier (two hazard cards). One of the major decisions of the game is what to ship, where to ship it to, and what defenses to send along. (As an added risk, random cards determine 'harbor status' when you arrive, and just might make your trip a bust even if you do make it safely.) There's a lot of risk (and randomness) to this process, and managing that risk is how you get ahead. Now, sea trade isn't the only mechanism of this game... You also have to build with the goods your develop and receive via trade. Each player island has a unique mix of goods it can produce, and none is self-sufficient. The goal is to move beyond simple subsistence and develop a full culture, even constructing two "wonders". Each step along the way gives you additional options (some fixed, some random). But the game lasts only 12 turns, so you can't dawdle! Random events added each turn add to the unpredictability, potentially either helping or severely hampering development. How you manage risk is more important than how you manage the other players (though only slightly). Drawbacks? Well, there are a lot of cards (some of which probably should have been counters or tiny wooden blocks or tiny wooden buildings to ease the monotony) and the game really only works as designed at 3 or 6 players, with some specified adjustments at 4 or 5 to make up for the unequal resource distribution. And the rules are a bit long and somewhat more imposing than they really need to be. But this looks like a nice variation on the Settlers form (trading and development) that allows for more strategy and risk-management, and with no randomness in production (though far more in trade).

Amazonas is also only semi-watery, being a game of exploration and discovery in the Amazon jungle. But as the river dominates the board, I'm going to let it into this group (especially since it makes this group closer to 1/3rd of the remaining games I have on hand). The board, as I said, shows a section of jungle, with numerous villages connected by jungle paths or river routes. The object of the game is to manage a successful expedition, which is judged by finding numerous and varied specimens of fish, iguana, orchids, butterflies, and parrots, and also by dealing successfully with the natives and, as best you can, meeting the secret mission assigned you at the beginning of the game (which will state 4 villages you should try to establish research stations in). Each village allows 1, 2 or 3 stations, at increasing cost, shows what specimen you can gain by building here, and connects to other villages. Each turn, an Event card is flipped (half are bad, preventing jungle or river movement for the turn, halving income due to a fire, or subjecting players to theft of resources; half are good, granting rewards or chances to hire native guides). Each player then selects an income card which sets their base income and determines which specimen pays a bonus this turn (or, if they play their "Native" card, negates the negative effect of the Event for them only). Highest total income (including specimen bonuses) gets to go first, then 2nd highest, etc. Income is spent to place more research stations and thus gather more specimens. Each income card can be used only once until all seven have been used (remember this mechanic from Niagara above?), and the game continues for 18 turns (the size of the Event deck, so every event will occur once each game). At the end, you score one point per specimen provided you have at least 3 of that type (none if you have 1 or 2), plus bonus points depending on how quickly you got to all 5 types, less penalty points for each village on your secret mission you failed to visit. A fairly simple game, but with lots of options each turn. Good play will very much help you (though luck in the Event deck is also critical), and there are significant ways to hamper your opponents as well (mostly by building in the smaller villages to block the short routes to their destinations, if you can guess what those are). It plays in under an hour. A minor drawback is that it plays at 3 or 4 players only, but that isn't always a bad thing.

Santiago is a water game of a different sort, as here water is rare, the most valuable resource of the game. Play starts with a barren desert divided into grids, with a single spring bubbling up at one lonely spot. Each turn, various plantation tiles (crops of bananas, sugar cane, potatoes, beans, or chili peppers with space for one or two planters) are put up for auction. Win the auction, you get first pick. But if you lose the auction, you get something extra (in addition to the last remaining plantation)... You get to be the Canal Overseer for the turn! Once plantations are selected and placed on the board, one or more canals are built, extending from the stream or from previously-placed canal segments. This will irrigate adjacent plantations, allowing them to grow and flourish. Non-irrigated plantations slowly dry up (losing one planter a turn) and return to desert (when no planters remain and more drying is called for). The other players must propose canal options for the turn, and are required to offer a bribe to the Overseer to encourage their preference! The game continues through several rounds (11 for the 3 or 4 player version, 9 with 5 players). At the end of this, everyone scores their plantations, with continuous blocks of the same crop being worth more than smaller, less orderly distributions. Everyone can score the same block, so long as they placed some share of it, but you score size times the number of planters you have working that area, so every turn a plantation goes without water means fewer points for you! This game is fairly simple, fairly quick (plays in around an hour), but has very real strategy and solid, continuous interaction among the players. A solidly designed game, well-produced, and well worth play.

Atlas & Zeus is the last of the water-themed games in my GenCon purchases, and an opposite to Santiago as here the problem is too much water, not too little. It's actually a relatively straightforward game, with two factions of Atlanteans (those worshiping Atlas and those worshiping Zeus, as the name suggests) struggling to be the last ones left as the islands sink. Initially, 16 characters are distributed one each to 16 islands. Each turn, players schedule 6 cards (3 each) to occur. These cards can move characters, cause combat, adjust the order or the islands' sinking, or otherwise modify the board. Eventually, only one player's characters will be left, and they win. There's constant conflict, as the circle of islands contracts at least one each turn (sometimes faster, based on the cards). There's also more than a little strategy and bluffing/guessing, as you have to pick your actions well in advance of knowing what your opponent will do. Clever choices can make or break your side. The game is a reasonably quick play (30-40 minutes) and straightforward to learn, so not a bad little game at all.

Hmmm... seems I liked pretty much everything here, at least a little. Niagara, Parthenon, and Santiago are highest on my list, but anything here is well worth your consideration, and Amazonas very close behind (and gaining an advantage over Parthenon if longer, more complex games are not to your liking).

Posted by ghoul at 03:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 26, 2005

Reviews and Comments (Part 2)

I'm working my way through the next couple of RPGs (With Great Power... and Burning Wheel are my current top priorities, with Capes close behind), but I've taken a break for some of the smaller, quicker board game reads...

In the extended entry lie comments on Saboteur, Wench, the Hollywood Card Game, and MidEVIL.

Saboteur - First off, this game reminded me of something I should have known... just because I haven't seen a game mechanic before doesn't mean it's new. The mechanic for determining which players are gold-diggers (I would have translated this "miners") or saboteurs is very much like that used in Shadows Over Camelot, excepting that here, if there are more than 4 players, there will certainly be at least one saboteur. The game is fairly simple, with players laying out tunnel segments each turn to either try to connect to the goal cards (one of which pays off with gold if connected to the entry spot) or prevent the same, depending if they are a gold-digger or a saboteur. A few special action cards can modify the cards already in play or prevent a player from making progress until they find a "repair" card (reminiscent of the classic Mille Borne, which is never a bad thing). Gold-Diggers and saboteurs score points as teams, though the gold-digger who actually strikes gold and those counter-clockwise of that player are likely to get the most. All in all, an interesting game, probably just about as long as it needs to be (you play three full hands, starting the map fresh and re-assigning roles before each). It certainly makes the "want to play a couple of times" list.

Wench - I expected something fairly silly with silly-sexy art, and that's all this is. It's pretty much a standard "dump all your cards" game, much like the Cheepass classic Give Me The Brain only with scantily costumed babes on most cards and some rather unique card effects. Most cards require or are triggered by certain behaviors (resting your elbow on the table, cheering other players on, etc.). It's rather silly, and obviously intended as a drinking game (despite the long, lawyerly paragraph toward the end of the rules explaining that it really isn't a drinking game, but if you want to play it as one, you should obey all local laws, designate a driver, etc., etc.). Oh, and the cards are also marked with traditional 52 card suits and ranks, so you can ignore the game and just play poker (or, I suppose, a card-using RPG like Castle Falkenstein or With Great Power...). Bought on a whim, probably will do little more than sit around.

The Hollywood Card Game - Another quick and light card game. Here, a certain number of film and star cards are laid out each turn, and players go around the table claiming them, then assembling them into movies. The trick is that you claim them by column, putting a marker on the bottom card and shifting other markers on that column up. Thus, you won't necessarily get the card you claim! Completed films score points equal to the number of film cards of the same suit (they come in "horror", "action", and "romantic comedy") multiplied by the Star Power of the attached lead actor. Incomplete projects at game's end are worth nothing (except your largest, which is scored as if it had a rank 1 start). It's fairly abstract and a little arbitrary, but there are enough cards put out each round (and a couple of special actions each player can do once per game to modify the usual card-claiming order) to make it strategically interesting. This one will make the "play it to see if it works" stack.

MidEVIL - A successor game to the popular (and played out, probably one expansion set before they stopped producing them) Zombies!!! series, being a quite transparent but unofficial Army of Darkness game (unofficial because there is an official Army of Darkness game, and this isn't it). Instead of Zombies, we get Skeletons. And we're in the past. Oh, and the object is "find the graveyard, pick up the Necronomicon, carry it back to the starting space and end the curse" rather than "find the helicopter and escape". The general mechanics are familiar from Zombies!!!, but with the improvements of having done it before. Here, skeletons come in three colors, each equally easy to kill but worth different amounts (1-3 points) as rewards if killed. Thus, you have the added strategic choices around placing or moving skeletons to try to block opponents with low-point white skeletons while placing higher-value red or blue skeletons around for you to snatch up. Also, grey human figures are placed on the board which can be picked up for healing. There are lots of plastic bits in this game... 100 skeletons (40 white, 40 red, and 20 blue) and 56 humans (50 grey to use as markers, 6 in unique colors to use as player pieces), plus a deck of cards and 30 map tiles from which you build the board. This looks to be better than Zombies!!! because there's more to do and some real competition for the end-game rather than just (relatively) dumb luck of finding the helicopter. Points off for a 50 card deck with only one non-duplicate and for not clearly indicating passible from impassible squares on the map tiles. Probably best played after re-watching Army of Darkness as a mood-setter. Not that I ever have a problem with watching Army of Darkness.

Posted by ghoul at 03:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 25, 2005

Reviews and Comments (Part 1)

Here, I'll take a look at the games I read or experienced at the Con and those I couldn't pass up reading right away, either because they were too darn tempting or because they were nice and short.

Of coure, board games take a lot less time to read than RPGs, so this list is mostly them... Most of these comments are for games I'd already read or had taught to me at the con itself.

Under the fold, you'll find comments on InSpecters, Beowulf, Paranoia Manditory Bonus Fun, Poison, and Dungeon Twister.

InSpecters: I'd read the free start-up version, but that leaves out some of the really cool parts of this very clever RPG. InSpecters attempts to fix one of the more nagging RPG problems, the inherent frustration of playing mysteries (either as GM or as player). The fix used is simple and elegant... Rather than creating all the clues in advance and waiting for the players to find them, an InSpecters GM creates an initial mystery and sets its difficulty (the number of clues needed to solve it). The players then send their characters off investigating, using whatever skills or contacts they wish. The clues are created on-the-fly among the players (including the GM) and the solution to the mystery comes once there are sufficient clues to meet the difficulty requirement and a satisfactory linking story is developed, again on-the-fly among the players. Pure gold! Added to this is a clever setting (a parody of the dot-com venture capital world, here with startup paranormal investigators rather than internet companies) with a nearly perfect blend of seriousness and humor (think Ghostbusters, and done well rather than overdosed on the silly as the actual Ghostbusters RPG tended to be). Also present is a reality-TV-inspired "confessionals" mechanic, whereby a player can step out of the plot and do a direct-to-the-audience monolog, commenting on the goings-on either to set up a scene or the comment on other characters. But it isn't just fluff... the rules make comments made in confessionals a source of bonuses, so long as you play your character the way the confessional framed them. I love game mechanics that do multiple things at once, and InSpecters is a great example of this kind of elegance. Highest ratings (and I'm almost certainly going to be using it for a future AmberCon game)!

Beowulf: The Legend - I did not know this game would be at the con (it wasn't supposed to be released until this fall), but when I saw it, I made an immediate purchase. It obeyed my Reinier Knizia rule, which is (stated simply) "If it's by Knizia, buy it, then look at the theme". On Sunday, I carried the box back to the booth to have it signed by the creator, and since the line was short, I even got a brief summary of the rules from the man himself. I later got to play most of a game at the booth. Beowulf is set up as the maneuvering of the followers of the great hero to get the best leavings as the epic adventures occur. Cards come in suits representing Courage, Travel, Fighting, Fellowship, Wit, and Beowulf (a wild suit), and each challenge must be met with a specified combination of suits. The player who best meets the challenge gets first pick of the rewards, then continuing down the ranks. Rewards include Fame, Treasure, Alliance Scrolls (which are either Fame or Treasure, but in random and secret amounts), Healing, Cards, special single-use cards (representing unique treasures or the favor of the minor characters of the story), Penalty Markers, or Wounds. Yes, rewards can be bad; you don't want to come too low in the picking order or that's all you'll have to take. Each challenge has its own unique reward set, representing what can happen in the story at that point. It's a bit abstract (it is, after all, a Knizia game!), but it plays nicely and reasonably quickly (45 minutes to an hour, including teaching the rules). There is a Knizia scoring twist (he tends to always provide one)... At the end of the game, having no wounds is worth +5 Fame, having 1 or 2 wounds means nothing, but having 3 or more means -5 Fame per wound. Ouch! And it's quite pretty, with an L-shaped board, John Howe illustrations of Beowulf, Grendal, the Sea Hag, the Great Dragon, etc. It's not quite as deep a game as its larger-sized box implies (it's the same size box as the component-rich and long-playing Arkham Horror, for example), but it's certainly a worthy game.

Paranoia Manditory Bonus Fun Card Game - I love Paranoia. I have since it first came out, years ago. And now, there's a way to play Paranoia without the bother of a GM and thinking up original missions. Manditory Bonus Fun sets the players up as Troubleshooters in the insane dystopia that is Alpha Complex, nominally working as a team (though it's really every clone for himself). The game ends when one player dies for the 6th time (using up all their clones), at which point you check and see who has the highest security clearance and they're the winner. Until then, you deal out missions, resolve them by playing action cards (which can also have effects other than on the mission; in fact, each card has more than one possible use, though only the one chosen by the player takes effect when played). Players accumulate wounds and treason points, with the former possibly killing you directly and the later indirectly. Interaction is complex and often unpredictable, but great fun. The componant quality is a slight let-down (what art there is is mostly reprinted from earlier Paranoia products, often too small to really be enjoyed, and the markers are particularly dull, just colored circles with "Treason" or "Wound" printed on them), but the game is quite nice.

Poison - Another Knizia game, which meant I bought it as soon as I found the right booth. This one is a light card game, having four suits (three colors and "poison") of numbered cards. Each hand, players try to deal away all their cards onto cauldrons (you have to match the color already played on that Cauldron, except you can always tip in some Poison). If the card you play takes the total on that Cauldron over 13, you are forced to claim the cards. Every card claimed in a round is a point (Poison cards are 2 points), and you want the least points after one hand per player is played. Oh, but here's the Knizia scoring twist... Whoever captures the most of each color (not including Poison) doesn't have to score that color of cards (they "build up an immunity")! So what you get is a sort of Hearts-style trick-taking-avoidance (unless you can get the most) game, though with a rather unique way of defining "tricks". A nice little passtime game.

Dungeon Twister - This game was a big hit at Origins this year, which was interesting because it wasn't actually available there (or at GenCon, at least until Saturday). I've been told it's actually the first game to make it into the top 100 at BoardGameGeek without being printed in English first. And I can see why. This is a very pretty game, a cleverly themed game, and a very fun game. At first blush, it looks kind of like the classic Wiz-War, but in practice that resemblance is barely skin-deep; both games involve dungeons randomly built out of square map pieces that can sometimes be rotated to modify the map. That's it. Whereas Wiz-War is a highly random, very chaotic game, Dungeon Twister has no random elements except the map; whereas Wiz-War is single wizards (and possibly their summoned creatures), Dungeon Twister is teams of eight adventurers, each with their own specific abilities and talents. Players must allocate their action cards (which allow a different number of activations per turn, 2 thru 5) and combat cards (which add to the total on their side), with non-zero combat cards usable only once in the game and action cards only available for use after you've used them all. The object is to score 5 points, with points coming by getting a character off the opposing side of the dungeon board (that is, out through the opponent's starting row), killing an opponent's adventurer (that is, wounding them twice). Bonus points come for leaving the board with a Treasure or as the Goblin character (a weak adventurer whose only power is that he's worth 2 points if he can escape). Character art is excellent, the eight adventurers offered are nicely distinctive and all useful in different ways, and play is tightly balanced and tense. Magic items are distributed around the board (placed by the players pre-game, then located exactly on the map when it is revelaed by exploration in play) to offer even more special effects. Promised expansions (some already out in France) expand the game to 3 or 4 players and add additional adventurer classes to choose from. This is a game to watch, because it deserves to be a big hit. My only caveat is that my copy came with only 14 bases for the 16 stand-up adventurer pieces, so I have to raid another game to finish the set.

More reviews to follow.

Posted by ghoul at 05:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 23, 2005

Reviews and Comments (Prelude)

Okay, I bought a lot of stuff at GenCon (and in Cincinnati on the way to GenCon). Below the fold is the whole list.

I'd like anyone who is interested to post asking about any game they'd like to hear more about. That will help me with the astonishing task of actually sorting through and prioritizing!

This list will take quite a while to get through...

RPGs
Against the Reich
Bacchanal
Breaking the Ice
Bruning Wheel (Revised)
Capes
Cartoon Action Hour
City of Brass
Conspiracy of Shadow
Discordia
Dogs in the Vineyard 2005
Dungeons & Zombies
Eldrich Ass Kicking
Enemy Gods
Game of Thrones Limited Edition
InSpecters
Iron Heroes
Jihad
OctaNe
Orbit
Paranoia WMD
Polaris
Riddle of Steel Expansions
Robots and Rapiers
Rpma Imperator
Solid - The Blaxploitation Experience
Squirrel Attack
Tunnels & Trolls 5.5 edition
Tunnels & Trolls 30th Anniversary (7th)
Terra Primate
The Imp Game
The Mountain Witch
The Shadow of Yesterday
With Great Power

Older RPGs
GURPS Age of Napoleon
GURPS Castle Falkenstein
GURPS Castle Falkenstein - The Ottoman Empire
GURPS Conspiracy X

Board/Card Games
7 Ages
Alexander the Great
All but 3 Anachronism Decks
Amazonas
Atlas & Zeus
Beowulf
Camelot Legends
Captain Treasure Boots
Caribbean
Clash of Kings
Conquest of the Empire
Dante's Inferno
Diceland Penny Arcade
Dork Tower
Dungeon Twister
En Guarde
Fishing for Terrorists
Gloom: Unhappy Homes
Gothica - Dracula's Revenge
HeroScape: Utgar's Rage (all 4 sets)
Hidden Conflict
India Rails/Nuclear War
Kung Fu Fighting
MidEVIL
Niagara
Oceania
Paranoia Manditory Bonus Fun
Parthenon
Quicksand
Reiner Knizia's Poison
Roma
Run For Your Life Candyman!
Saboteur
Santiago
Seasons
Super Munchkin
The Award Show
The Haunting House
The Haunting House 2
The Hollywood Card Game
The Prince
Wench

Posted by ghoul at 11:00 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 21, 2005

GenCon Day 4

Early morning breakfast buffet with Julia and Lou, then off to a With Great Power demo. Just 2 players, so we did character design and managed (quite by accident, though helped a lot by the system's structure) to build almost mirror-image characters. It was just a demo (2 hours), so we barely got a taste of the (rather complex) workings of the game, but it was quite interesting nonetheless.

Then it was back into the dealer's room for "the big push". Yes, the earlier days are the "lighter" shopping...

Big purchase: Game of Thrones limited edition copy 737 of 2000 (Guardians of Order); MidEVIL, The Haunting House and The Haunting House 2, Hidden Conflict, The Award Show, and Dante's Inferno (Twilight Creations); Seasons (Dust Bunny games); Reiner Knizia's Poison (Playroom Entertainment); The Imp Game (Nate Peterson, via The Forge); GURPS Castle Falkenstein, Castle Falkenstein: The Ottoman Empire, and Age of Napoleon plus Dork Tower (Steve Jackson Games, mostly from discount table); Eldrich Ass Kicking, Orbit, Robots and Rapiers, The Kevin and Kel RPG (Key20); Cartoon Action Hour, Solid - The Blaxploitation Experience, Terra Primate, and GURPS Conspiracy X (Titan Games $5 per book table). Oh, and a "Bag of Holding" (oversized tote bag) and my one con t-shirt purchase, a tie-died gamer shirt that will likely become my choice for future Starchild play.

Whew! Dunno quite how I'm gonna fit all this in the car (or in the house once I'm home)!

Also, I was able to get my copies of both Knizia games purchased at the con (Poison and Beowulf) signed, while incoherently expressing my respect directly to the man I consider board/card gaming's greatest talent. Then he helped point me through how Beowulf worked (it seems mighty impressive to me!), which really makes me want to give this a real try rather than a demo room quickie!

Near closing time, I had a D&D mini and several spare Heroscape pieces from demonstration tables all but thrust upon me; I certainly won't complain.

Then, it was off to induce a meat coma with dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House.

Tomorrow, it's all about the long drive.

Posted by ghoul at 03:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

GenCon Day 3 (PM)

Back into the ShadowWorld breach (after dinner with Julia and Lou)...

This one was quieter. A quick (2 week or so) cloning and Starchild was back on her (new) feet. The new mission was to do some clean-up on the prior night's case, including (though it wasn't a specific order) bringing back Starchild's original body. That was done reasonably cleanly, albeit we did have to deal with the problems of rescuing an aggressive mind controller from a cave-in. We had 3 Precogs and 3 people who could reduce or neutralize powers, so we were able to do that clean.

Then we went to Egypt and talked to Isis.

Oh, just what Starchild needed... another hyper-powerful being to tell her she was wrong about all too many things. And then, in a fit of pique, Starchild decides to show her up and do the sort of magic Isis said humans couldn't do. Upon proving she could, Isis stared her down, grew rather angry, and took the ability out of Starchild, encapsulating it in a gem and saying she has to give it back. This will need to be dealt with. And, I fear, much of the rest of Isis's lessons will be forgotten in the sudden worry about how John (the source of that ability, and Isis seems to believe its proper owner) will react...

And it was over early (before 2:30 AM)!

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August 20, 2005

GenCon Day 3 (Midday)

Second dealer room pass completed...

Played a quick demo of Capes with the designer, which was great fun and made far more sense than I'd managed by reading the free demo rules.

Picked up Dungeon Twister (Asmodee); Gloom: Unhappy Homes (Atlas); a Dragon issue I'd missed between subscriptions; and Conquest of the Empire and Wench! (Eagle). Yeah, Wench! looks pretty silly and cheesecakey, but what's wrong with that, I ask you?

Now, I take a nap.

More gaming after dinner.

Posted by ghoul at 02:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

GenCon Day 3 (AM)

No NASCRAG advance for us (though Lou is an alternate). I suspect we missed a side-quest that is important for the next stage of the plot.

So I shopped and hung out at some demos with Lou and Julia to pass the AM.

Additional Purchases: Dogs in the Vineyard (GenCon 2005 printing), Jihad (from the Forge booth); Alexander the Great (from Mayfair); Santiago, Parthenon, Saboteur, and Camelot Legends (from Z-Man, where I also got a couple handy Shadowfist utility cards to mark "Burned for Victory"); Kung Fu Fighting, En Guarde!, and Fishing for Terrorists (from Slugfest), and Run For Your Life, Candyman! (from Smirk and Dagger).

Serenity still wasn't in (and will be Print On Demand when it arrives, so I'll almost certainly wait on the real thing), but I was told on the way to the hotel to dump off purchases that Dungeon Twister has arrived, so I'm back for the dealer's room after snagging lunch.

Somehow, John Wick has heard about my AmberCon Cats games, so I shared a few episodes when we crossed paths.

Edwin has explained to me the relative ease of becoming no-longer-somewhat-dead. As if Starchild wasn't weird enough to talk to, now she's been pretty much dead often enough to starting being casual about it.

Posted by ghoul at 01:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

GenCon Day 2 (PM)

I was lead to a fantastic sushi restaurant (Bistro Chopstix, in the 5th/3rd building on New York) for dinner. Yum! Thanks, Joe!

Then it was off to more ShadowWorld (I'd eaten dinner with most of those who were playing)... The mission itself was a huge mess, succeeding only (so far as I can see just now) in proving that one more potential target wasn't meaningful in the end (there's one less fake Arc of the Covenant out there, for all the good that does us). It also explained quite a bit to me about how I need to interact with Duncan (another PC)... Which is to say, I need to very carefully and mostly not interact with Duncan, particularly not using any of Starchild's powers. It turns out that too close a connection was forged and the final result was a flashy and ugly death for both of us.

Which isn't half as bad as it sounds... The Circle is ready to rebuild Duncan (they've done so before), and while I wasn't able to figure out how to protect the two folk upstream of me (Starchild is part of a small but very close-knit -- that is, completely knotted up on a very deep level -- psychic "web"; there's just three of them), I did manage to get myself killed in a way that pushed my mind out of the immediate mess and back into the familiar knotted mess (if I understand correctly, I'm re-merged with Gail). I expect I'll be able to be separated from Gail and re-installed in yet another clone body on a reasonable turn-around (though last time they needed Duncan's help to do that separation... that could be a problem).

And, as this mission took place over a month after the one run 24 hours earlier, I had managed to re-create all my enchanted material, just in time to overload one of them in a completely futile attempt to prevent death. So, more workshop time once I am back to being me...

Today, I have NASCRAG (assuming we made round 2, which I think is fairly safe to assume) and then perhaps even more NASCRAG (if we make the finals) and/or more ShadowWorld (perhaps mainline timestream, where I'll know for sure if Starchild's alive, or WWII timestream where I'll see if Meyer can keep himself in far less trouble. He's just an Allied agent deep in Germany; so far as I know, he doesn't have a single personified force of nature or mentally linked nation wanting to kill him).

And, of course, more shopping.

Posted by ghoul at 09:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 19, 2005

GenCon Day 2

aka "Who Needs Sleep?"

Back up by 7:15, for a breakfast with Julia and Lou.

Grabbed another hour or so of nap time prior to getting to a Dogs in the Vineyard game. I put a trait on my character, expecting no chance to use it, but both the GM and I were amazed when the town he offered us (a corrupt rich man siphoning the money away from a struggling town of the Faithful) was easiest to take down by applying a youth spent learning shopkeeping and accountancy. (I was also a crack gunfighter, but I never drew my pistol). Great fun was had, some difficult issues needed to be faced but the amazingly capable characters Dogs provides made it well within our ability. I really, really want to play more of this game!

Then it was back to the dealer's room. I encountered two college roommates and a friend from the drama club, two of which now work for game companies!

I got to shake Ron Glass's hand and thank him for Firefly (while wearing my Blue Sun t-shirt). But that RPG sold out before I found their booth! (They may have more soft-cover printings in tomorrow, but I'll probably wait for a hard cover from my FLGS.)

And I spent money.

Riddle of Steel's three expansions are now mine; Paranoia's card game and WMD supplement; Roma Imperator and the bonus Squirrel Attack game; T&T's 30th anniversary edition and a replacement India Rails/Nuklear War variant; some bits from Cheapass Games so I could get the Penny Arcade Diceland die they were giving with purchase; and three Anachronism packs so I am now 2 from complete and was able to score 3 of the bonus packs as freebies.

So mostly an RPG day.

Tonight, it's more ShadowWorld!

Posted by ghoul at 06:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

GenCon Day 1

Twilight Imperium 3 rocks. It's a big, somewhat complex game, but as much fun to play (for those who like empire-building games) as it looks. Plus I got fairly lucky and managed a clear win. I could have been stopped on the last turn if the other 5 players had somehow been able to crack through both my outside fleet shell and my ludicrous home fleet (2 of the biggest ships in the game, the most anyone can have, and 3 of the next size down, plus a dozen or so fighters as screens and fodder), but no one had the resources in place to manage that (I'd been very friendly with my neighbors to that point). Go me!

Clear enough, in fact, that we ended 60 minutes early, and I was able to do a rapid (though expensive) dealer's room run.

Purchased: Order of the Stick Prequel Book plus 3 character pins and 2 t-shirts from Giant in the Playground; InSpecters, OctaNe, Against the Reich, Discordia, and Enemy Gods from the Wicked Dead/Memento Mori booth (thanks, again, Jared, for that Serenity ticket!); Beowulf, Descent, and the Hollywood Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games; and from the Forge booth...

City of Brass, Burning Wheel (the new set), Mountain Witch, With Great Power, Bacchanal, The Shadow of Yesterday, Conspiracy of Shadows, Capes, Polaris, and Breaking the Ice.

Whew!

And thanks to Clinton and Paul for going through the long process of getting my credit card rung through. I doubt they were all that reluctant...

Then I joined Julia and Lou (plus 3 others, including the wife of one of the Twilight Imperium players from the AM) in NASCRAG (i.e., a D&D game with almost no rules and tons of silliness). We are... The Knights of Product Placement ("Your Business Name Here!")!! My math skills sang us through one puzzle like it didn't exist (I had it solved while the GMs were still stating it), and failed completely on a second (even though I knew how to do it, I just counted wrong). Julia and Lou ran us through one word puzzle in seconds as well. And we all did terrible accents (the characters are stereotypical Scots, Germans, pretty Southern girls, and, for Julia's character, a painfully Dru-ish Druid) and made horrible puns (I blame Lou... I try not to do puns). We ended a bit early (though we failed the time trial portion of the adventure, mostly because we and the GMs were giggling too much to push for the 30 minute limit). Great fun! And I fully expect we'll be playing in Round 2 on Saturday.

And, lastly, I went to ShadowWorld, not sure how long I'd be able to stay awake. It ended up to be 4:30 AM. And, as always, I'm in a far bigger mess at the end of the session than I was at the beginning. Starchild now owes the Queen of the Winter Court far more than I'm going to be comfortable paying, and is also starting over on all her recent enchantment work since the Queen wiped everything out with a wave of her hand (apparently, Starchild's enchanted poncho, sandals, sunglasses, and big peace symbol were not sufficiently stylish for dinner with the Queen... she does now have a very nice dress, though I don't see her wearing it overly much). And, throughout, Star was too overwhelmed by the simple POWER of Queen Mab to actually say anything she needs to talk out... Maybe next time. It was a rather odd experience, having Starchild completely clear-headed (her powers usually prevent that) and still cowed to near-silence, but it happened.

Today, there's Dogs in the Vineyard play, more dealer room time, and then more ShadowWorld.

Fun, Fun!

Posted by ghoul at 12:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 18, 2005

Just a Note

Even before hitting the GenCon dealer room, my BoardGameGeek.com collection has just passed 800 games.

GenCon purchases will certainly inflate this number a bit more.

I'm gonna need to put up some more shelves.

Posted by ghoul at 10:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 01, 2005

Ooooh... Nifty!

Well, well... Lookee what comes out at GenCon!

Now I know another thing that'll be coming home with me!

Update: That's another thing becaue I already knew about the new edition of Dogs and strongly suspected the now-confirmed Mountain Witch and a frightening number of board games...

Posted by ghoul at 11:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 30, 2005

New Cooperative Games

There's three new games among my collection that I find quite interesting. All feature cooperative play, where all (or all but one) players win or lose as a team.

First is a remake of the classic Arkham Horror. This new version adds the graphical sophistication of modern production and a few rules modifications to create a very familiar game with several (mostly promising) differences. Players take on the role of investigators attempting to fight back the encroaching dark influence of a powerful dark Elder God. In a major change from the original, the game now has a single Elder God picked as the force behind this game's event, with some pervasive mechanical effect (similar, but less all-encompassing, than a similar mechanic in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). In a major upgrade, cards are now used instead of tables to generate random events, which means there are now several new and less predictable events, particularly on the far side of dimensional gates. This game is a bit long (depending on which enemy you face, it can take several hours), as was the original, but it tends to offer considerable options and choices for the players, so it's never boring. Difficult, certainly. But not boring. Not at all. A worthy successor to an already great game.

Shadows Over Camelot offers another take on cooperative play. Here, the players are the knights of the round table, setting off on quests to establish their legend before invasion and betrayal overcome them. The color and style are great, though the play mechanics are a bit simplistic; most quests consist mainly of trying to build and deploy simple sets of numbered cards. Keeping things interesting are a deck of cards which randomly deploy the opposing side and, most uncertainly, the possibility of a traitor. That's right, even though this is a cooperative game, there's a very real chance that one of the knights might actually be working against the rest. This can add significant uncertainty and fun! I've read reviews which suggest that the game suffers a bit from momentum effects, where either a win or a loss is very obvious well before the game is actually done... But lots of games have that "problem", and this one is both very pretty and uniquely strong in its cooperative structure. Certainly worth checking out.

Thirdly, there's Battlestations. This is a bit less of a cooperative game than it is a very mechanical, bare-bones roleplaying game, but just where cooperative boardgames end and RPGs begin is a tricky line to draw. In this game, one player Referees and plays the enemy side while the others each control one crewmember of a spaceship set to a mission. Most interesting here is a mechanics system that allows simultaneous play of ship-to-ship combat, boarding actions, and scientific investigations. Which means much of the game is resource management, with the most important resource being the various skills of the characters. Simple re-roll mechanics allow player characters to be very good at their professional tasks without making it impossible for other characters to assist effectively. Play is achieved on multiple boards, one simple hexes for the ships to move on, the others the ship interiors, made up of square modular rooms, marked where control panels and such can be accessed. This is a very interesting game, and quite open-ended (again, more like an RPG than a boardgame).

Posted by ghoul at 05:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 23, 2005

Timelord - The Doctor Who RPG

At The Black Road, I mentioned to some Doctor Who fans that I had an unusual admiration for a relatively little-known Doctor Who RPG from the early 1990s.

And, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, here it is (original rules and some expansions... can't say as I've looked too much at the expansions just yet)! Now, there's a fair amount of silly in these rules, but since there's a fair amount of silly in the Doctor, I don't see the slightest problem with that.

(WARNING: This link is initially quite loud!)

Posted by ghoul at 08:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 27, 2005

Back Home

Well, now I'm back from The Black Road. Fun was had. Details below the fold.

No surprises on the drive down, except for how little I miss driving the outer loop around Boston every other week. It's now been most of a year since I've done that, and 495 is still as crowded (albeit mostly moving at speed) as I remembered.

The hotel was less hockey-youth overwhelmed than it has been in the past, it being summer and, therefore, not really hockey season. Still, there are apparently summer "skill camps" and the like, so we weren't completely without pre- and barely- teens with big bags of gear. There were no noticeable problems this year, and that may be more than just reduced numbers... Apparently the hotel has taken to having hockey-youth parents sign promises to keep the kids under control as well.

First slot was my GM'ing, and "Nine Lives in Amber" went reasonably well. This set of cats managed to unite into an effective team rather quickly, with much of the credit for that going to Jenn's PC, who ignored a couple of provocations from other cats and focused on her (mostly self-assigned) "save the castle" mission. The image of Gerard with a 30+lbs Maine Coon on his head and a full boat of hot turkey gravy in his lap (all for his own good, mind you) won't vanish from my head anytime soon.

My second slot were unfortunately derailed by Bryant's last-minute absence, which prevented him from GMing his "Dogs in the Vineyard"/"Amber" crossover. I decided to take the slot off to try to catch up on some sleep and get onto a more con-friendly schedule (my own normal 5AM - 9 PM doesn't fit to a con that runs more like 9 AM to midnight). It was probably a good choice, because I was pretty tired by Sunday's slot even with this break!

Third slot was a challenging experiment by Michael Curry, "Mountain of the Sorcerer King", an Amber-flavored recasting of The Mountain Witch. We didn't quite have the time to develop the whole feel of the game (we only had 3 "chapters", and we over-ran our slot by 90 minutes even with just that), and all of us had trouble getting into the conflict-resolution mindset. Still, there was some very nice play, character Fates were well (if quickly) developed, and the final resolution was satisfying and appropriately bloody. The Trust mechanic (the revolutionary idea of the game) made for some very interesting dynamics in the group, though I'm not sure if it was the relatively small number of chapters (where Trust is re-set), the lack of a direct way to use Trust to hamper another PC, or our skittishness about using Trust to swipe narration and undercut other PCs (only done once or twice)... Still, the overall result was quite enjoyable.

Slot Four and I played in Meera Barry's Monsters! There were frights and funnies galore, and the most disturbingly right portrayal of Flora I've seen in a long time. Amber kept a ton of quotes from this one, which I expect will be up soon.

And last slot it was back to M. Curry's indie games crossovers, with a 2nd go at kill puppies for satan mixed with Amber, The Puppies of Tijuana. Having been run out of Akron last year, the ultimate pale shadows of the Amber Royal Family play their trashy, petty games south of the border. As Eric, I focused on a couple really crappy schemes, then on taking over when Dad was killed (for real, this time), and then on making others believe I really had taken over (since no matter how clearly I pointed at Dad's door, now painted "Eric's Room", few believed me). I ended up dead in a drug war crossfire, killed at the end of the 2nd chapter in an effort to defend the family. Well, okay, the parallel to the original story is thinner than that... Corwin used Eric for cover as he ran off, Eric having not exactly noticed what was going on yet.

Great fun! I didn't want it to end!

Posted by ghoul at 07:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 24, 2005

Heading Down the Road

I'm off the The Black Road for a weekend of Amber and related gaming.

Depending on where my room is in relation to the hotel's wireless network (last year, I was just out of range), I may be reporting in as things progress.

Posted by ghoul at 09:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 05, 2005

TBR Bids

Silly me, I didn't keep a copy...

I think this was what I sent... When I can't recall my later choices, I just put in "???"'s. I try to be good to the schedulers (knowing what it is they're going through) and pick at least a back-up choice, if not the requested two in each slot.

I can't recall which game I starred as top choice.

Slot 1 - GMing "Nine Lives in Amber", which means missing out on Otherkind and Everway goodness. Hmmm.... only one Amber system game that slot.

Slot 2 - "Dogs in the Circle", "More Than You Think You Are", "Equalizer" Yes, that's another two non-ADRP games as top choices.

Slot 3 - "The Mountain of the Sorcerer-King", ??? And another.

Slot 4 - "Monsters!", ??? Oh, wait... this one IS ADRP. There goes the pattern I was creating.

Slot 5 - "The Puppies of Tijuana", ??? And this one isn't again.

Posted by ghoul at 05:49 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 11, 2005

AmberCon Report

I'm back from Livonia and AmberCon 2005. There were no reports from on-site due to internet access problems (for the scant free time I'd scheduled myself, it wasn't worth the hotel's price), to said scant free time made scanter by illness/general discomfort which I now blame on the water (next year, bottled all the way), and to an unexpected expiration of this domain. All are better now.

Travel to and from the con the recurrent minor misery that is US Air, with an hour lost on ridiculous luggage issues on the way out and five hours wasted on the way back due to a complete inability to crew their planes (mine was among 10 delayed or canceled flights in the period at just my one gate, all due to one co-pilot calling in sick, if we can believe the excuse given).

But, the good news is I'm home, so I can do some AmberCon reporting!

Slot 1 was my go at playing a new non-Amber game at Ambercon as Tymen vanDyk ran Dust Devils with a bit of the old Amber cross-over spirit (the PCs were hired to step into a feud between easily-recognized Amber elders or near shadows of the same). We were interestingly short on gunmen (one of the players making their character on-site more than made up for that), but we had an interesting time arranging a nice little double-cross then trumping the attempt to turn it back onto us. Lots of violence, more than a bit of untrustworthiness, and several character's Devils coming out at both the right and wrong time. In fact, I ran out on the other PCs just before their moment of triumph thanks to the impact of mine. The players weren't quite shifted from "statement of intent" to "statement of objective" in setting up the conflicts, but Tymen did a good job making it all work out and the distributed power of narration caught on quite well.

Slots 2 and 3 were my GMing time. First, thanks to me getting them wrong when I submitted them, came Nine Lives in Amber, my Cats game which I'll not describe so I can keep it ready to run again at The Black Road in June. It went well, though I quickly learned that dice are needed with the way characters are set up in that game. A few "roll successes forward" concepts borrowed from Sorcerer on the fly and it went quite well. Nine Princes in High School had a low player count for the way I run Teenagers from Outer Space, but I made up for it by using a classic sort of plot, PCs versus slightly-improved duplicates. One of the characters let me pin the blame on him (I didn't care who was responsible), while the others all offered lots of chances to be silly and mimic their character in humorous ways. Fun was had.

Slot 4 was my ShadowWorld Mainline game for the con and my chance to find out just how messed up my PC, Stella Child (aka Starchild), had managed to become thanks to some things I'd been doing on the forums with two other players (doings that involve death, confrontation with countless horrific foes, merger into one body with three not-quite-distinct minds, more confrontation with unimaginably powerful beings, and a not very certain attempt to re-separate into three people). Turns out, quite a lot. My two original powers are now significantly more disadvantage-laden and I've picked up a long list of powers duplicated from the others (with specific quirks based on just how we answered some questions from the GM... sometimes quite literally). Their sheets were likewise affected. No time to wonder what it all meant, though, as we were given a chance to pick our own favored mission from a list of outstanding items and, being the high-firepower team (dunno exactly how Starchild ended up there, though it did feature several regular teammates), we went for a hard kill option on a very nasty subject (a buried god, which shows the sort of confidence we had in that firepower). Starchild managed to keep her head together despite another unexpected contact during a precog vision (this one asked her questions... she's really in no state to answer while viewing the future!) and some very unexpected manifestations of her new powers. For example, while still not a direct threat, she's certainly got some seriously combat-useful abilities now. As is par of the ShadowWorld set, the mission got far, far out of hand and some major-league powers had to be called on to save us when our target turned out to be two. I was among the few not seriously (or mortally... temporarily thanks to the high-powered Healer on the team) wounded during the knock-down-drag-out finale, and I managed to stand within shouting distance of the Queen of the Fey without her deciding to kill me, which I have to consider a win (given that she has good reason to want me dead, from what happened at AmberCon North last fall). Gail, John, and Stella now have a lot of issues to explain to one another, and I've got two or three things I want to deal with for other PCs in the near future as well, and pretty much none of the looming threats were dealt with. This went VERY late and I was already starting to feel sick (that had come upon me during dinner just before this slot), so the very late end and early morning the next day had me very wobbly. Still, I wouldn't miss a ShadowWorld game for any reason!

Slot 5 was worth getting up for as well. Simone Cooper followed up last year's amazing Undertow with just as good a game this time around! GMs again nearly outnumbered players as she recruited some great talent to offer us faces for most of the surviving Elders. My PC's father had a new player this year, but the tension of the relationship remained and, if anything, deepened. Especially when, unknowingly, I asked him if it was all right to have him killed in order to make my plan go forward. The fact that he agreed without explaining just what he'd been asked for shows something, but I'm not quite sure what. Anyway, I spent much of my extended flight home writing a diary for this game, which can be found here.

I skipped slot 6 in order to try to get back to reasonable health and get enough sleep. Rain (who plays Gail, part of the ShadowWorld character merging mentioned above) showed up and we compared notes of just how messed up our ShadowWorld characters now are, and just how complicated their not-quite-started relationship is now that they have an Empathic link that can reach all the way around the world. Wendi and Sean also showed up with Ian (I was sharing a room with Ian and JP) and we had a nice, quiet chat for a while. I did miss the game I was schedule for (though I understand my PC was run with great effect by another player, so the game did not suffer), but had a good time chatting with the three non-attendees who had slipped in and even got to sleep before midnight (far, far from the norm at AmberCon).

Sunday AM was the Guardians of Order ADRP Forum, which I report on here.

Slot 7 saw chapter two of Mike Manolakes's Nine Princes in Shadow series, this time on "Eric's Earth". In fact, the scenario was one he'd run at ACN under the name "The Zelazney Code". Fun was had trying to work out the clues, avoid the red herrings, and work out the puzzle before it crashed on top of us. We followed one wild goose and took a long time to work out one clue (harmed by my character's anti-cell-phone paranoia, which kept the GM from calling us with his "get back on track" NPC hints). Lots of interesting role-play and in-character puzzle solving. Plus how many RPG sessions are there where a character in the game decides they need to call on an expert and, out of the blue, picks one of my college roommates. who I didn't even realize he knew. I barely avoided becoming an NPC in the game myself!

Slot 8 and it's back to ShadowWorld, if the WWII version this time. Meyer is a lot less conflicted and messed up than Starchild, though if missions keep going like this one, that won't last. We dropped into Greece to disrupt Nazi shipments of archeological treasures to Austria, only to find these treasures had among them some items of unusual power. In the end, we brought a salt mine down on a huge pile of similarly odd treasures and the SS folk who were trying to use them. This is the second time Meyer has brought a cave down with himself inside it, and he's learning to not like it much, though it is a very good use of his power to control earth and water by whistling or humming big-band music (yeah, it's a very odd power). This mission was capped by an ugly intra-party conflict over the disposition of one of the PCs, who may just be the trigger for the end of the world. Meyer was unconvinced except that people who seemed to know were all very worried and he knew this PC wasn't exactly known for self-discipline. In the end, a compromise was reached so no one died, but a lot of anger was vented and nothing was necessarily solved. Meyer really, really wants to get the Germans dealt with so he can go back to farming, but it's only late 1941 so I know he's got a lot of work still to do.

There wasn't nearly enough time to talk to everyone, play in all the games, and just be with folks. Four days just isn't enough (particularly when you're feeling poorly). TBR won't come soon enough!

Posted by ghoul at 06:35 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 05, 2005

Theory and Practice

Yesterday, I made a mistake. A fairly annoying one, too, because I should know better.

I wore my "practice" hat to a "theory" discussion, and then took forever (in discussion terms) to recognize this and (as best I could) change hats.

This is, of course, an issue I deal with all the time, not in my hobbies (where yesterday's mistake was, thankfully) but in my occupation. As an actuary, in particular as a product development actuary, I'm frequently challenged to take academic economic theory and re-cast it into a practical, executable plan, and in doing so I've had to recognize the limitations of both perspectives. My friend Grant often says (with no claim to have originated it) "In Theory, there is no difference between Theory and Practice. In Practice, there is no relationship between Theory and Practice." It's taken a bit too far, but it's essentially a correct observation.

The Theory world is ruled by the unforgiving taskmaster of logic. If Theory A is used as part of the justification/derivation/proof of Theory B, then if Theory A is proven wrong even just a little, then Theory B is immediately and totally discredited as well. That's why, in the Theory world, one must be very careful with words and what they mean, and why having a fundamental assumption questioned even in the slightest can cause an intense and forceful uproar, often resulting in statements that, on their face, seem totally out of proportion to the issue at hand (to a layman).

The Practice world is ruled by practicality. In the Practice world, Practice A may be used to justify Practice B, but it is recognized that a change to Practice A only might affect Practice B. One must review the implications on an individual basis. Changes are expected and the norm, review of assumptions and practices is continuous. Anything else is assured to fail.

So, in Mathematical Theory, 2+2=4. This is a hard, cold fact. But in Mathematical Practice, 2+2 can equal anything from just above 3 to just below 5, because 2 can be recognized as "anything from 1.5 to 2.5". There it is in simple terms... Theory and Practice are two different things.

This gets even hairier when you get to the advanced stuff. For example, the Black-Scholes Option Valuation Pricing Model (the basis of vast arrays of modern high-finance, usually in one of its successor forms) is proposed as a mathematical proof, fairly straightforwardly derived from a set of assumptions. The problem is that, in practice, each and every one of those assumptions is almost always false. Despite this, Black-Scholes works. This is because (as demonstrated in an excellent follow-up paper by one of the original creators of the theory, I believe Black) the sensitivity of the model to the inherent error in each of its assumptions is, in fact, quite small. It will fail now and then (there is one particularly large international hedge fund collapse that can be blamed on just such a failure at heart), but the vast majority of the time it will be as accurate as any of the other calculations used in financial work.

So, in Theory, Black-Scholes is wrong (based on several false assumptions) and cannot be used as a basis for further work (unless you carry forward all its questionable assumptions). In fact, it's right far, far more often than it's wrong, and when wrong it's usually wrong by a very small amount. It is flawed in that it's hard to see when it is very wrong until after the fact... In Practice, that means it can be used with appropriate care and understanding even if, in Theory, it must be thrown out.

One must recognize which realm the discussion is in and, thus, which set of reactions questioning a base assumption will create. In a Theory discussion, the reaction is sudden and forceful. In a Practice discussion, it's usually a quiet "hmm". From the exact same question.

Yesterday, I forgot to do this. As such, I wasted several good people's time and likely frayed a temper or two (temporarily, I hope). And that was completely and totally my mistake, not theirs.

Posted by ghoul at 08:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 25, 2005

More About New Games

For those who are interesting in my opinions after reading last week's big catch of new games, just look here.

These opinions are based on reading the rules and playing with individual ideas a bit, with the exception of the one game that offers solo play (and even there, solo play is minimally like the regular game). But I've read a lot of game rules and usually can reach a reasonable conclusion just from that. Still, conclusions about "this will get tedious before the game ends" or "the joke won't last out the game" are my estimates based on reading, not on play.

Posted by ghoul at 10:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 18, 2005

Fifty-Three Pounds

Well, someone else measured that, but I can believe it.

And it's actually 41 pounds and 12 pounds as two distinct things, not one thing. Or perhaps its 23 things grouped into two things.

Some are tiny (2"x2"x1"), some are large (23"x12"x4.5"), most are somewhere in the middle. Together, it's big enough to take up most of the chaise the cats (especially Lightning) like to think of as their own.

But, in total, it's 53 pounds.

Really.

Yes, I received my monster order from FunAgain Games. The weight comes from FedEx's tracking info on the two big boxes they all came in.

And yes, I did probably go overboard.

Guess what I'll be doing this weekend?

[Update: Here's the list of titles...

Just so it's recorded somewhere... I may have comments once I've examined these in detail]

Posted by ghoul at 01:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

Going to Indy!

I don't care if I don't actually have the time for it (and, if present workload is any indicator, I won't). I just made reservations for this August's GenCon.

I'll probably pad a day or two on either side of it to visit the family in Cincinnati during non-winter days as well.

Fun will be had. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Posted by ghoul at 07:19 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 05, 2005

And Done

And now the Heroscape Expansion Sets are all mine. Or, at least, until the next expansion slips out in May. Hmmm... that set is going to have a unit of "Massachussetts Militiamen" (scroll down for the Revolutionary War figs preview pic). What an interesting extension that will make to the already time-crazy game.

Quick review of the figs after the cut...

I like the IX Roman Legion. Solid, reasonably Legion-like sculpts (though I'm a bit disappointed by the stickers used for the shield designs). The Legionnaires themselves have nice abilities, with adjacent figures adding to each other's Defense and an ability to share each activation with any Warlord their player controls (there was one Warlord in the base set, two more in this expansion, one the Legion's officer). Roman Archers are less impressive, though quite impressive as long as you have all three of them because, as a unit, they can attack as 1 6-die unit rather than 3 2-die units. The Glyph with this set grants all of your figures a +2 defense while any of your figures controls it, which is enough to render many figures all but immune to smaller attacks.

Snipers and Vipers is a mixed set, two essentially unlinked squads. The Omnicron Snipers are a trio of deceptively powerful robotic snipers; deceptive because they look to have only an Attack of 1, but they hit twice for every hit they roll, so can pack a serious punch, particularly if you put them on high ground so they get an extra die to attack with. The Venoc Vipers are a dirt cheap unit (40 points for 3 figures) but they move fast, ignore the normal delays for walking in water, and have a Frenzy ability similar to the Vikings in the base set (get an extra move on a d20 roll of 16+). Unfortunately, they have a terrible 0 Defense, so unless you can get that Glyph from the Roman Legion set, they fall over when sneezed at. This set's glyph is a serious game-modifier, eliminating the Flying ability of any units in play.

The Grut Orcs are two very low cost units (both 40 points) and both quite useful in play. The four-figure Blade Gruts can share their activation with any Orc Champion on your side (there was one in the base set and another added in this expansion). The Arrow Gruts share their activation with any Beasts on their side (which, at the moment, means they are Mimring the Dragon's best buddies). Also, all Orcs can disengage from melee without suffering free attacks. The Glyph here is a major gamble, calling for a roll (19+ on d20) for each fallen figure on all sides; success means they revive and can re-enter the fray. Yikes!

Heroes of Bleakwoode offers 5 Unique figures, including a new "most expensive figure in the game", for those who thought Mimring and Deathwalker 9000 needed company. Taelord is a big, batwinged demon-lord sort with a giant sword, but his point value comes almost entirely from his "Attack Aura", granting a +1 Attack to all of his controller's figures within sight and 4 hexes! This guy can really enhance several figures, particularly the Omnicron Snipers from the S&V set. The Venoc Warlord is a leader for the Vipers, adding 2 to their already-high 7 Movement (though do be careful... he can't keep up with them if you do that, as he's only 7 Movement himself, not 9); he's also unhindered by water and adds a bonus to the viper's Frenzy roll as well. Marcus Decimus Gallus is the IX Legion's officer, adding one to friendly solders' movement (and the Legionnaires are Solideers... though the Archers are not) and also adding one to any adjacent soldiers' attack; at 100 points, he costs nearly as much as the Legionnaires and Archers together at 50 and 55, but he's a nice figure. Kelda the Kyrie Warrior is another flying angel-like figure, like Raelin the Kyrie Warrior from the basic set; Kelda flies, as the wings predict, and can also heal wounded figures, though it requires a d20 roll and there is a small risk of wounding them instead. Tornak is a new Orc-on-a-dinosaur figure, a smaller and quicker Grimnak (the original orc-on-a-dino from the basic game). And with all those great figures, there's also a Glyph, this one allowing to you add 1 to any d20 rolls, which does nothing for some forces, but is a real enhancer for others; for example, it doubles the chance of Ne-Gok-Sa taking over the mind of an enemy figure each turn.

Also, all of these sets come with additional hexes for your Heroscape boards, from 4 to 6 hexes, either in singles or doubles. Lets you make that mountain of death a little taller!

Many of the figures are quite good sculpts, particularly for the price. They aren't quire as cheap as MageKnight or D&D Miniatures figs, but they're also not randomly packed so you know what you're getting. These figures could make great RPG fodder, particularly the IX Legion and the Orcs. And Heroscape remains one of the best games I know of to set up just for people to look at it.

Posted by ghoul at 02:05 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 27, 2005

Hmmm...

I have to admit that I really have no idea at all what this has to do with "Nine Lives in Amber", but I'm sure it's something.

Or with will be by 4/1.

Posted by ghoul at 03:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 24, 2005

More AmberCon 2005 Details

Following up on yesterday's post, the specifics follow the cut.

And yes, I do plan to run Nine Lives in Amber again at The Black Road, in response to clear public demand based just on the idea. So I'll do my best to make it worth it!

Slot 2: Nine Lives in Amber (3-7 players)

With most everyone gone off to fight Patternfall against the armies of Chaos, Castle Amber is left in the care of a handful of guards and Prince Gerard. But when Chaos's counterattack is something they can't even see, it will take bold action by the feline population of Amber to save the One True City.

Amber crosses plots with John Wick's Cat (http://wicked-dead.com/cat/) in an exploration of an inexplicably overlooked portion of Corwin's saga.

Slot 3: Nine Princes in High School (4-12 Players)

While Principle Oberon is away, discipline at Amber High is starting to slip. The teachers are holing up in their lounge, avoiding anything but the minimum of classtime. The students are forming into factions over the race for Prom King and Queen. The janitor is muttering about something strange in the basement.

Join in the unpredictable goings-on as Amber meets Teenagers From Outer Space!

Return players from ACN2004 welcome!

Posted by ghoul at 04:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 23, 2005

AmberCon 2005

I just realized that I didn't post this info here when I made the decisions... I'm going to be running to games at AC in Livonia on April 1. An appropriate day for both games, I suppose...

I'm going to be repeating my Teenagers from Outer Space/Amber cross-over "Nine Princes in High School" that I ran to good number of laughs at ACN last September. Yes, returning players are welcome.

In addition, I'm going to be trying a new cross-over, mixing John Wick's Cat with Amber in a game I'm calling "Nine Lives in Amber". Cats, be they pets, working animals, or pure strays, will be the sole line of home defense in an untold chapter of Patternfall. This game won't be nearly as silly as it sounds; certainly less-so than the TFOS game. Cat may have an odd focus with its feline PCs, but it's a reasonably serious game under all that.

I don't have my descriptions handy, nor am I sure which game will run Friday AM and which Friday Mid-Day (I left that decision to the organizers), but there's the news.

Posted by ghoul at 07:06 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 17, 2005

Movie Break (and HeroScape)

This being NH (which didn't even get around to recognizing the day until after I'd moved here in 1999), there was no chance I had the holiday off, but I did call it a day slightly early in order to make it to an afternoon showing of The House of Flying Daggers. And that was worth it. Zhang Yimou has managed to move into the action film genre without losing any of the lush look and hyper-melodramatic romance of his earlier films (which I also love). This film, like Hero, takes a moment out of the rich history of China and fills in the blank spots with tragic characters caught up by events even their amazing skills cannot control. This is not a film to miss!

And, afterwards, I stopped by the local Toys R Us and found 2 of the 3 remaining HeroScape Expansion Sets (I'd found Snipers and Vipers on Saturday). Now I just need to locate the Grut Orcs and I'm caught up. I'm quite happy with the figures so far, both in appearance and in clever new additions to the game. And its just great that a set of Roman Legionnaires is now one of the larger unified-look groups in the game (only the Orcs have more).

Posted by ghoul at 05:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 23, 2004

Lunchtime Poll #6 - Novelization

"Why are people who are role-playing for the creativity of it not writing novels instead?"

There are several good answers, starting with Li's own, but I'd add this, which is something of a combination of points already made...

Many gamers (myself included) would be severely flawed writers. I, for example, am terrible at physical descriptions (I don't think visually; if I had to write for a living, maybe I should script radio dramas or something, though I bet that doesn't pay too well these days) and only moderately good at integrating episodes into a broader plot. As such, a novel I would write would be pretty sorry stuff.

But when I'm gaming, even heavily narrative-focused gaming such as most PBEM play, I get to ride on other people's work. They can do the parts of writing they do well, I can focus on the parts I do well, and if we don't mesh with any degree of smoothness or if it's painfully obvious who wrote each paragraph, who cares? It's writing for the fun of character/story creation/exploration, and not necessarily for anyone not part of it to ever see.

Which isn't to say I don't try to put some flourish in for the other players and lurkers... Just that I neither demand of myself nor expect of others an individual degree of the writer's skill set anywhere close to where I'd put the bar for serious novel-writing.

Posted by ghoul at 11:19 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 20, 2004

Definition Confusion

Ginger linked to this post last week, and I think the mis-conceptions could use some explanation and clarification.

First, the mistaken claim...

"Monte Cook, Steve Jackson, and the folks at White Wolf have never published a game. They have written rules for how to create and run your own game, but not one of them has ever published a complete role-playing game."

Of course, it all comes down to how you define a game and a role-playing game.

A few days back, we had the odd claim that it wasn't a game if it wasn't mechanical and random. Now we have the even odder claim that it isn't a game if it doesn't contain a complete and pre-defined story.

Nonsense, of course. We can see this by looking at the clear conclusion this leads to... How To Host A Murder and Pokemon Adventure Game are, by this claim, superior RPGs to nearly every other RPG title published because they're "complete". As this is patently false (as nice as I think some of what this question would call "complete RPGs", such as the overlooked Sandman, are), we have to review the assumption from which it derives and find its flaw.

And that flaw is the assumption that containing a single narrative is necessary or even desirable to a game.

Anyone can go read what Greg Costikyan has written on the topic (and you should read what Greg says, if you're interesting in game design and game structure, even if his primary focus is networked computer games these days). A narrative is not a prerequisite of a game. Chess, for example, has no preset narrative, just a structure from which you build a unique narrative each game. And this is the model all open-ended RPGs follow. They tell you how to set up the pieces and how the pieces move, but what you do with them is up to you.

An RPG gives you a structure in which to describe characters ("set up the pieces") and then resolve the conflicts those characters find themselves in ("how they move"). If you have those two aspects, you are a complete RPG. That's all an RPG needs, though most also come with setting details and story seeds (you could see these as "the board" on which the pieces are set... but as games like Icehouse or Cheapass's Diceland show us, boards aren't strictly necessary even for board games). But those can be stripped off (and are usually left off in the "generic" RPG systems), leaving the central structure (character description and conflict resolution). A well-designed game matches aspects of its structure to its default setting or style (or leaves levers for customization), while a poorly designed game (and there are far more of these than the former) just tosses out stuff and hopes the players will make it work anyway.

Story is something the players bring to the game. And yes, you must realize that the GM is a player (albeit on with a unique role). "Complete" RPGs try to pre-complete the story-shaping portion of the GM's role, which is all well and good, but not what most RPG players are looking for. In fact, many seem to want even more of that power to devolve to the whole playing group (see the Narrativist movement in recent RPGs, such as Hero Quest, Trollbabe, Dust Devils, and Dogs in the Vineyard, to name only a small sample).

So it isn't "Complete" that these RPGs are... it's "closed-ended". They tell one story (or, perhaps, one small set of variations within one story), and then they're done. You can play them multiple times if they're well created (say, some of the chapters of Robin Law's Pantheon), but usually they're over once their surprise is gone. And while a great closed-ended game can be very, very good (and can be a nice way to get non-RPGers to play an RPG, as the "Host a Murder" games do), most RPG players want the freedom open-ended games offer them to create their own stories rather than dabble within someone else's.

Rules for how to create and run your own game are a complete game. They're just a complete open-ended game rather than a complete closed-ended game.

(I'll come back later and turn all those underlined titles into links... filtering prevents me from accessing most just now.)

Posted by ghoul at 08:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 09, 2004

Lunchtime Poll #4 -- Diced or Chopped?

This question comes out of an absolutely fascinating discussion between longtime GMs and gamers. It was fun to watch.

Narrative Guy says, "Some of the best games I've ever played didn't involve a single die roll; we decided what our characters could do and the GM took us through a story."

System Mechanic says, "That's not gaming. If you don't have a mechanic, then the characters are subject to the capricious whims of the GM. And how can you make sure everyone is on the same page? Also, you lack the random element."

So... what do you think? Make your case!

I've spoken about this at length on other forums (like, say, here), but usually kind of glossed over the question of needing random factors at all.

Here's my opinion, ground down to its essence...

The role of dice (or any similar random factor, including spinners, cards, or quick rounds of "rock, paper, scissors") in an RPG is to provide (as random information) the details necessary to decide a contest which are not provided by the characters' abilities, the players' play, the GM's scene-setting, and the story's needs.

So, from that perspective, Narrative Guy is on reasonably firm footing (if you have enough info from character, player, GM, and story to decide, then just decide) and System Mechanic has, IMO, a misunderstanding of dice's role. Telling a story between multiple participants within a structure of rules is gaming (perhaps not Role-Playing Gaming, depending on how individualized and immersive the individual character roles are) no matter if it has dice or not. The role of dice isn't to make it a game, it is to fill in the spaces in the story no one wants to bother with.

As for the rest of SM's points...

Dice don't provide fairness, they provide randomness; random isn't fair because it doesn't care who it screwed last time, it'll happily screw them again.

Dice don't provide consistency, they provide randomness; random is inherently inconsistent (or else it isn't random).

Dice do not protect you from capriciousness, they provide randomness; random is inherently capricious in ways humans can't even approach.

All of which isn't to say dice are bad. Dice are great if there are numerous factors weighing on a situation that are not within the control of the character/player (usually true... even an Amberite has a finite degree of control of everything around them, and they're very, very high on the "control" scale), are not pre-decided by the GM (usually true... most GM's leave a ton of minor details undecided by simple necessity of time/attention budgeting), and are not of sufficient story impact to be clearly non-decisions (again, usually true... while the story would object to the endangered princess suddenly deciding the prince is a big jerk because he rolled a 1 and instead shacking up with the dragon, it has no problem with a random loose stone coming underfoot or a drip of sweat stinging the prince's eye at a critical moment to make for a flubbed attack and draw out the fight a bit longer). Which means they're usually great, because usually the undetermined factors in an action/contest are proportionally of significant weight next to the determined ones.

One problems with them, though, (and why Narrative Guy is so put off by them) is that Dice (and most system mechanics) don't know how to scale their impact up or down based on how much freedom for uncertainty there is in a scene. The prince in the above story example is just as likely to roll a 1 on his "first impression" social scene with the princess as when he swings his sword at the dragon, but one scene had a lot more "wiggle room" than the other.

Which is one reason why we need a GM-as-referee (as opposed to the other roles of the GM) to override the dice when they go too far.

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

November 29, 2004

PBEM RPG Update

I mentioned my new PBEM games earlier, so I thought I'd do an update.

Monrroyo (new link, now to the game's wiki which includes a story section, combining the posts into a reasonable narrative, thanks to the hard work of that section's updater) is off to a great start, IMO. My character, Ximun ex Criamon, is an interesting serious/comic blend I'm finding great fun to write for. He's got all the standard death (technically "Twilight") curiosity of Criamon, along with their obfuscation-filled manner (they are, as a house, far too wise and learned to speak clearly), plus more than a little arrogance. However, he also has found himself amidst of very, very Spring Covenant (it lacks a charter, a symbol, and even the most rudimentary Parma Magica) which is much in need of growing up very fast. I'm not sure his oft-cryptic advice is actually "help", but he intends it as such.

VQC (on the well-worth-the-subscription gaming site Dreamlyrics) is also moving along at a good clip. Thorn re-encountered an old "friend" from her last time in Cincinnati, who immediately tried to force her to do what he wanted, resulting in a nasty fight in and behind a crowded nightclub, one helpful mortal killed for his trouble (by the other guy, though Thorn was going to bleed him dry if she was given a chance), and an ugly grudge or two (I know Thorn has one... the rest is up to the other player). Now she's off to "sign in" with her clan Primogen (Cincinnati's become a very tight ship since her last visit, when she couldn't be bothered with such legalistic niceties). This puts her on a riverboat restaurant/club/casino where the Primogen should be but isn't. So she's being generally Brujah (one recent NPC description of her was "goth slut") and trouble-making, or at least was until the Primogen's protégé stepped in. He's keeping her suitably entertained at the moment with some flirtatious repartee and minimal gossip (she's not telling him anything about herself, so he's playing things close, too). Rosemarie is still "waiting in the wings", as it were, for a good time to rejoin the story.

In SBE (which wasn't mentioned in that previous post because it's ongoing, helped by a recent GM decision to require regular posting, though still at the relaxed pace that best fits the player group's time), Spook has almost gotten over his discovery that one of the new members of their survivor community has no mind (or, though Spook considers this impossible, is just invisible to his telepathy) and is ready to join in (he would say "lead", but the others are smart enough not to really put the cat in charge of anything) the mission to salvage some medical supplies so our docs (primarily the no-mind guy) can do their thing.

Posted by ghoul at 05:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

T'Con Day Eight (Supplemental) and Day Plus One

We closed off day eight with a handful more games of the highly-successful Cloud 9, teaching Luc and Julia to play as well (Julia isn't a big board-game player, but the Out of the Box games (or at least this and Apples to Apples) seems to be to her taste. The dynamics of the game change in interesting ways as you go to 5 or 6 players, since there's more card-gathering when your turn to pilot comes around less often. I should have expected this from watching tournament poker, but I underestimated the effect dramatically. I know there were at least two 25 point flights (though one made with me piloting was nearly useless, as Luc had already passed 50 and was more than 25 points ahead of me... I did jump from last to third, however), which hadn't happened even once when we were playing with four. This game gets high ratings from me for simplicity, speed of play, minimal downtime, and a nice strategy-to-luck ratio (just a bit to the "luck" side). Not a deep game, but a very fun pastime and well worth its (remarkably low for how pretty the game is) price.

Almost all of my "must play" games got onto the table (no Bang! or Axis and Allies D-Day, the former because I forgot to put it on the priority stack and the latter for pure time), and all were fairly well received. In fact, Luc (whose initial response was tepid) was asking about another Runebound game on Sunday evening, using our new understanding of the rules and the errata, but time just didn't allow for it. We also didn't get to any D&D (Gevrok was more than just ready for a good fight) thanks to the time War of the Ring took and to Grant's pulled nerve (no head turning or quick gestures... and a GM in pain is not a GM I want running me). Ahh, well... much, much fun was had, and more got done than I had any cause to expect, mostly due to aggressive "Well, why don't we do <fill in the blank>" promotion by Luc and Grant to prevent the "I dunno, what do you wanna do" that was common at past T'Cons due to simple vacation intertia. Of course, it also helps that Ryan and Bridget are now both to the age of mostly self-maintenance, so if they weren't in the game, there wasn't a need for someone else to sit out to keep an eye on 'em (or else the game needed to wait until after bedtime). One or both were usually in the game themselves, of course.

Thanks again to Luc and Grant for their fine hosting, to Ryan for giving up his room for a week, and to Bridget for improvising those yummy white chocolate and cinnamon chip cookies so I could enjoy her baking, too. Eight days pass way, way too quickly every year.

Now it's the next day and I'm on the train away from T'Con, heading from Cary to Greensboro. I'll be working in the company home office thru Thursday, when I'll fly to Providence, catching up with my games and more casual clothes. They are making their own way north in Julia and Lou's minivan (thanks again for the accommodation!). Then we (me, my games, and my more casual clothes) will then make the drive back to Concord. I hope to have 'net access once I check into the hotel this evening, but it might be Thursday (in the airport or perhaps even back home) before I'm online again.

[NOTE: Turns out it was this evening! Good thing, too, because I have a PBEM RPG post I also typed on the train and wanted to get posted before the game moved too far beyond that scene. In fact, that reminds me... (see next post).]

Posted by ghoul at 04:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 28, 2004

T'Con Days Seven and Eight

Saturday we held back on gaming. John and Carol (and kids) visited and we chatted about RPGs, Grant worked on a D&D scenario that didn't end up being done (time ran out), we watched 2 more Firefly eps (which means there only 2 broadcasted eps and the 3 unbroadcasted they haven't seen).

Then I enlisted Ryan to help me set up War of the Ring. This took a good amount of time, and I also cleaned up and printed a couple of rules summaries from that link to help us get through the game.

On Sunday (the last day <sigh>), I invited everyone to a yummy pasta brunch, then Grant and I took to Middle Earth. An hour to survey the rules, then 3 hours of play later... The Shadow (me) managed to catch Aragorn and Pippin trying to rally Gondor after we'd laid siege to Minas Tirith. Rohan and the men (and hobbits) of the North were kept out of the war by well-made Threats and Promises (an event card), but I took too long to bring my armies to activity and rolled too poorly in the hunt for the Fellowship, so while I had initiated the attacks that would eventually give me my 10 VP, Frodo, Sam, and Gollum managed to sneak to Mt. Doom at 10 corruption (two points under losing the game). It was great fun, albeit most of the game was actually spent doing maneuvering that ended up mattering very little (which, as Grant pointed out, is much like the books).

And now, it's time to pack things up so Julia and Lou can drive it home and I can head to company HQ as well.

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November 27, 2004

T'Con Days Five and Six

Thursday was, of course, centered around the Turkey Dinner. Yum!

Also snuck in during the festivities was a first play of Betrayal at House on the Hill. Luc ended up turning on the kids and I, but the Witch was no match for Ox's book-enhanced smarts and super-punchy fists, especially since the Traitor ended up many, many rooms away from the Witch's starting place and so unable to get in to help. A bit of rules and errata weirdness, but a good game in spite of that.

Later in the evening, we did lots of gluing of PitchCar tracks for future use, then setting up a game of Runebound. Numerous mistakes were made, and the game went a bit longer than we'd hoped. We actually finished (with a few rules fixes in place) on Friday AM. Lou and I raced thru the red encounters, with him requiring a very lucky movement roll to make the last... and he didn't! Victory for me! Unfortunately, we then found some errata that would have changed several more things. The game is a bit too solo for Luc's taste, though looking at the first expansion set and the Advanced Rules shows that the publishers are already working on that. I like the game.

Julia, Lou, Ryan, Bridget, and I got to play PitchCar now that the glue had set. Somehow, despite adding new narrow curves and choke points from the expansion set and a "play in order of age" house rule that started me off in the tail, I was able to blow far ahead of the pack, lapping most of them before winning the three-lap race. Go me! Two in a row! Bridget set up a few more tracks, and other games were played but I sat out lest I ruin my streak (and Bridget has a cruel streak when it comes to track-building!).

Ryan and I played a quick Blue Moon game, and he got some horrible card luck that frequently left him one point behind in fighting me. Still, I only won when he was forced to retire for lack of character cards, so it wasn't a complete blowout. Still... three wins for me!

We watched more Firefly (finishing disk 2, which puts the amazing Out of Gas next up on the queue!), then set up another game of Betrayal, this time with Lou and Grant playing in Bridget's place. We ended up placing every ground floor room we could, having a collapsed-room blocked second floor, and all being gathered in the basement to explore when Grant turned into a gateway for the Worm Ouroboros and tried to encircle first us, then the house, then the world! Unfortunately for the big, hungry snake, the other four characters were all only a room or two away, so we set upon the serpent with all we had, splitting up into two teams of two to each take one of the heads and smash it. The rules were unclear if you needed to cast the vulnerability spell on each head separately, but we did just in case. And so I was on the wining team there as well. That pretty much never happens at T'Con (I have a tradition of teaching people how to whup on me in games), but looks like it did this year!

War of the Ring is still just scheduled (I may set it up this evening so Grant and I can play Sunday AM). I think we're also considering hitting another game store or two today, depending on how friends' availability comes out.

Posted by ghoul at 08:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 25, 2004

T'Con Days Three and Four (Games Played and Miscellaneous)

And now, some reports on games played.

We decided Man Bites Dog looked simple enough to try after Alex's much-delayed plane landed and we watched the surprisingly long (but still funny) Definite Article. This was a mistake, as the game isn't nearly as good as its promise. Official dog game of T'Con, though fun was had once the rules were tossed out and a better game ad-libbed into being with the cards.

HeroScape was as good as we'd hoped looking at it. Very random and sometimes arbitrary in its rules, but a nice "run at the enemy and bust 'em up" sort of fun. Ryan and I teamed up against Luc and Alex, with me taking over the whole side when Ryan had to head out for his FluMist vaccine. Knock-down, drag-out fight ended up with my last figure and Luc's last toe-to-toe for the win. Unfortunately, hers was the biggest, toughest fig in the game (the dragon Mimring) and mine was the highly-random, potential-rich mind-controlling boney freak guy (Ne-Gok-Sa). But the '20' didn't come up on the d20 for me to successfully switch the dragon to our side prior to it biting me in half. An army fighting game that ends with the last two heroes battling for victory on the smoking remains of the battlefield is a successful game! And the bits are just SO pretty!

Cloud 9 is a game of brinksmanship, bluffing, and luck. Players take turns piloting a hot air balloon (by rolling dice and playing cards to match the result). At any point, you can show a lack of confidence in the pilot and jump from the balloon. But the longer you stay, the more points you get. Unless, that is, you stay until the pilot cannot match the roll; then you crash for no points. This is a quick, light game that can be taught in minutes and yet offers just enough strategy and decision-making to bring the fun. We played this in the afternoon and then, after the late-night Formula Motor Racing (Ryan snuck thru a bare win in the FMR -- he's evil that way -- and Lou managed -- as is his wont -- to lose to the unplayed color) and Apples to Apples (Grant ran to a lead early, then stalled with 1 to go, but still won out in the end) games, we pulled it out again for a couple more plays.

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse is still pretty amazing, though I think I preferred their previous Raleigh-area location. We ate quite well, and came home in a state of quality carnivorous satisfaction.

Three very well received games so far (Ticket to Ride, HeroScape, and Cloud 9), and we have Betrayal at House on the Hill promised for the next time Luc and Ryan are both available to play (might be tomorrow, depending on how severe the post-turkey-feasting comas are).

Plus Grant and I must do War of the Ring. On this issue there is no compromise!

Posted by ghoul at 10:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

T'Con Day Three (RPG Purchases)

Initial note... I just stumbled upon this RPG Database. It gives me someplace nice to link to when I mention games, so it may become a regular haunt!

Wyrd is Bond - Okay, I know less than nothing about rap and hip-hop, but this game is very appealing. Gangstas with magic. Very clever die scheme. Wonder what I'll do with it?

Land of Og - 2nd edition game and expansion bought in a mega-discounted bundle (net cost, $1 each). I liked this one in the first edition at least $1 worth. Cavemen with limited skills and even more limited vocabulary (players are limited to around a dozen words in dialog). Silly but fun.

Ork! and Orkworld - another discounted bundle, this time of two unrelated but similarly themed game. Both are purchased mostly for light RPG reading not expected use.

Sorcerer (and the three expansions) - (Not listed on the database for some reason) I've been putting this off too long with all the good press it gets. Wasn't about to pass it up when the whole bundle (not significantly discounted) was sitting on the shelf waiting for a purchase.

Hearts, Swords and Flowers - Magnum Opus (creator-owned sub-license program) product for Big Eyes, Small Mouth designed to focus on shoujo ("girl's manga"). Nothing wrong with relationship-heavy play in my opinion!

Meddling Kids - Solve mysteries, unmask bad guys, scarf pizza, and avoid copyright infringement! Looks to be a fun game focusing on the classic "offbeat youth crimefighter" genre.

Trojan War - I love me some trojan wars! d20 versions are OK by me, and I was very pleased with the earlier Testament product in this line, which focuses on events of the Old Testament. I haven't read this yet (too many purchases, too little time), but I did scan the book and particularly the character write-ups, and none of them jumped out as "wrong, wrong, wrong!". Maybe Helen is a bit low on the CHR; she's barely even prettier than Valentin, and Val hasn't launched any ships at all. Though he is almost as constant in his affections as the beautiful Queen of Sparta Troy Sparta.

Posted by ghoul at 10:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

T'Con Day Three (Board Game Purchases)

Here's the game store results...

Man Bites Dog - as written, a dull game (we played it that night) and clearly written with point values to encourage people to use words in headlines we'd all use happily ("Naked" and "Priest" are both worth the max 50 points, as if it is hard to encourage someone to use both). Paste in some Apples to Apples-style voting for the "best headline" and it's an OK game, but no great shakes. Too bad there were three copies purchased on the promise it offered...

Cargo - Looks like a nice re-styling of Abalone onto a square board with a "Boston Tea Party gone competitive" theme and non-identical pieces (tea crates, normal dockworkers, big strong dockworkers, donkeys and the rarely-mentioned-in-history Boston Elephants).

Reiner Knizia's Relationship Tightrope - despite the gender stereotyping of the cards, this looks to be a very fun bidding/trick taking game. The object is to take as close to an equal number of blue ("guy stuff") and pink ("gal stuff") in each hand so as to keep things in balance. Oddest thing... it looks like the only card game I know where never winning a single hand is a winning strategy!

Succession: Intrigue in the Royal Court - purchased on the promise of Foglio art and no disappointment there at all. Play sheets are big, thick, and well-illustrated. No minimal, recycled sketches here! Haven't read the rules yet, but the look of the pieces is enough to make me happy.

Wings of War: Famous Aces - looks to be a nice abstract WWI dogfighting game, but hasn't been well examined yet.

Geek Wars: Battle for the Con Deck 1: RPG Gamer - This might be a good game once more decks are out (to add variety), but it's not yet really mature, IMO. In fact, it's only minimally playable with just one deck. Some great ideas are in evidence, so I'll be watching for the next deck.

Igor: The Mad Scientist's Lament - Funny, funny warnings all over the box ("Warning, this is a 100% matter product. Contact with antimatter will cause a catastrophic explosion.") and a company who did something great fun and creative in the past (no, I actually don't own it... I let Grant buy the copy for Luc) got the sale. I'll find out how the game plays once the rules bubble up to the top.

Also picked up for free...

Mystery Train - Small but clever expansion for the amazing Ticket to Ride that promises to add a few new twists. Maybe we can add these in and prevent another dominant performance by Ryan!

RPG purchases and games played on nights three thru five will come up later.

Posted by ghoul at 09:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 23, 2004

T'Con Days One and Two

Relaxed days so far...

Sunday was quiet. We chatted and read, then we watched the Firefly pilot from the DVD set.

Monday was also quiet. More chatting, then some grocery shopping (I was making my smoked sausage chowder for dinner), then we went to see Luc's student's play, then back home for 2 more episodes Firefly and a game of Ticket to Ride. Grant, Lou, and I were taken out back and whipped soundly by Grant's just-teen son Ryan, who scored 119 points with a route all the way up the west coast then across Canada to Montreal. I had just barely passed 80 for second place.

Today there was game shopping (3 stores... 2 more still remain), the results of which I will detail later.

Posted by ghoul at 05:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lunchtime Poll #2 -- Characters Are Strange

What’s the strangest character you’ve ever played?

I'll give that one to The Driver, a character in a CIS RPGames game that didn't last nearly long enough. Inspired (in name only) by the title of an REM song, he was the 8th "Defender of the American Interstates", driving a big truck filled with whatever the job required over the roads and fighting off attempts at sabotage or ill-considered changes. You see, the Interstates were actually laid out by Franklin and Jefferson in the early days of the USA to follow the lines of magical power across the continent, and so adding bypasses or such of mundane reasons like transportation or convenience are to be discouraged, since they damage the focusing of power that made America great.

As a character, The Driver was hyper-caffeinated (his role meant he didn't need to sleep... but it didn't keep him from getting tired if he didn't have enough java), laconic (it always takes too long to explain the crisis to anyone caught up in it, so he never bothered), and readily violent (if he didn't have a pistol-grip shotgun in each hand, it was because he'd stopped for coffee). Really, like the Driver before him, he was just a hitchhiker picked up the night his predecessor's last mission went wrong who learned everything on-the-job. The Truck told him where to go next, and he knew better than to fail at his job.

I have other strange characters (a groupie who accidentally becomes the simultaneous host for ALL of the muses when the gods return and no one of them is powerful enough to incarnate on their own, for example, and another PC's pet cat for another), but The Driver was my favorite. And, in that game, he barely even stood out... other PCs were an alien iguana-man and Elvis impersonator and the AI accidentally created when lightning struck the warehouse where the government was storing the computers taken in the SJG Raid.

Posted by ghoul at 05:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 15, 2004

T'Con Game Priorities

Following up on yesterday, here's my personal priorities among those games I've packed...

Sure to be played (returning faves)

My Priorities

If Time Allows and/or By Request...

I think there'll be fun had!

Posted by ghoul at 04:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 14, 2004

Preparing for TurkeyCon

With the middle of November passed, Thanksgiving is coming, and so it's time to prepare for another TurkeyCon.

Okay, it's only kinda a Con, more an annual gathering of friends to socialize, game, watch, and eat. By this time next week, it'll already be started. I, for one, can't wait! And yes, barring any unexpected developments, there is full connectivity from T'Con, to there will probably be daily updates like there were last year.

This year, I'm going to be following T'Con with a week at my company's HQ, which means 13 days away from my home and cats, but it also means two fewer vacation days used up by the trip (usually the following Monday and Tuesday are consumed by the drive home). Yeah, it means a train trip from Cary to Greensboro on Monday morning and a flight back to New England on Thursday, but I think I can make that work. Connectivity is a maybe, though... The Marriott in downtown Greensboro was adding broadband last time I was there (and not yet charging for it), but it wasn't yet in all rooms. We'll see how things have progressed.

I have every hope of continuing to post in all the PBEM games I'm currently active in.

I'm mostly packed for the trip already (this was my laundry and packing weekend)... Those who know me are probably not surprised that my major bring-along to T'Con is as many board and card games as I can fit into the (strictly limited) space granted to me in Julia and Lou's minivan. Two big tubs are currently packed as tightly as I can manage to maximize choices...

Details are below the fold.

Tub 1

Blue Moon
Grave Robbers from Outer Space (with 3 expansions)
Citadels
Kingdoms
San Juan
Cthulhu 500
Bang! (with both expansions)
Formula Motor Racing (a T'Con favorite)
Battleline
Flea Circus
Queen's Necklace
Betrayal At House on the Hill
Coloretto
Greed Quest
Balloon Cup
Runebound (with first expansion)
Attika
Axis and Allies D-Day
James Earnest's Totally Renamed Spy Game

Tub 2

Master and Commander
Duell (the new edition of En Garde, a personal favorite)

Apples to Apples (with expansions)
Memoir '44 (for BIG GAME PLAY, as there's already one copy there)
Arkham Horror
King's Breakfast
Ticket to Ride
Wheedle
Wooly Bully
War of the Rings
Mare Nostrum
Magna Grecia
Fightball
Pirate's Cove
Cloud 9

Not in tubs, but coming anyway

Pitchcar & Pitchcar Action Set

I'm still fiddling with a few tricks to squeeze in a couple more space-efficient games as well.

Posted by ghoul at 06:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 05, 2004

It Keeps Growing And Growing...

Thanks to a shipment that arrived today, my BoardGameGeek collection has reached 700 titles.

The 700th is one of these three... Early American Chrononauts, Cloud 9, or Pirate's Cove.

I'm leaning toward saying it's Pirate's Cove, as that looks like the best of the three, but Cloud 9 gets points for its simple yet (from a quick reading) appealing approach to brinksmanship gaming.

Hmmm... and in two weeks, the annual week of fun, friends, and gaming that is TurkeyCon begins! I need to find a little more room in my game tubs...

Posted by ghoul at 05:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 15, 2004

ACN Follow-Up

Well, as mentioned in several earlier entries, we had some significant hotel issues with AmberCon North this last year.

And so, we've developed this survey to allow interested parties to share their opinions and ideas on how to make things better with us.

So if you're interested, please take a moment and give us your advice!

Update: The survey has only been public since last night (it was announced by email to ACN attendees, the Amber Mailing List, and some other channels), and we've already had 11 (no... 16!) responses. You people are great! It's a little early, but I'm already starting to see basic trends (mostly where I would've expected them, but at least one semi-surprise). I'm sure this is going to help us a lot!

Posted by ghoul at 05:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 11, 2004

New Games Starting

I'm playing in these, not GMing (I've determined I won't have time to GM until I get into better time habits, which I hope playing will encourage)...

Monrroyo is an Ars Magica campaign set in the early 13th century in the Navarre region of Spain. No, I really don't know much about that era and location, but I'm a big Ars Magica fan and I'm hoping I can make up for my own gaps with a character who has little concern for the non-mystical parts of life. I'm not quite done designing Ximun mechanically yet, but I'm starting to look forward to playing this rather troubled magus. (Ars Magica tends to encourage rather troubled magi, since you need big Flaws to match your nifty Virtues. Right now, Ximun is taking both to the maximum 10 points.)

Meanwhile, I'm also returning to Vampires in the Queen City (VQC) on Dreamlyrics (yes, it's a pay site... it helps keep the participants "serious" and cut down on invasions by trolls and other such web monsters). I played in the game back on CompuServe, and the GM is letting me bring my two characters back despite their rather sudden departure 5 years ago. I don't live in Cincinnati anymore, but I think I can manage to fake it as well or better than most of the players (who've never even been there). Thorn is already back, and Rosemarie will show up once the GM and I find a comfortable spot to re-enter the story.

There will likely be updates when interesting things happen.

Posted by ghoul at 09:37 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 29, 2004

ACN After Action Summary

Well, it wasn't easy, but I think it was worth it.

The hotel issues summarized in the daily entries made for a lot higher stress on the con chair and treasurer (I'm the later... Craig Sparling is the former), and despite the good results in the games may well have burned bridges with the location that has been ACN's home for more than half its life. Even now, alternatives are being identified for evaluation over the next few months.

AmberCon North will most definitely continue. I'd considered stepping down prior to this year's con, but now I'm in "I refuse to let THAT make me quit" mode, so I'm around for at least one more year. And, in fact, relocating (or at least reviewing relocation options) will likely make us get organized sooner, which may help us reverse our slowly declining numbers. I think it's time to see ACN back into the 50+ attendance range (though I remember how tricky making game schedules can be when the con is larger... maybe I should re-think that wish!).

The GM Guest of Honor program was well received, with Chris Kindred's games very well attended and enjoyed. As such, I expect that idea to be carried forward.

Thanks to everyone who attended, especially those who put up with their own hotel hell. Many were even nice enough to come commiserate with the staff in our darker hotel moments. Believe me, it helped! We'll be back in touch soon to gather opinions on how to best improve the con.

Posted by ghoul at 06:58 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 26, 2004

ACN Day Four

So far, so much less than bad...

I got plenty of rest (around 10 hours sleep-of-the-dead) and now I'm awake and, so far, seeming to deal with Hotel Hell fairly well. The Con is checked out of the Hotel of Which We Do Not Speak and has claimed one room in the Hotel Whose Name Is Cursed Forever (yes, those are the names we're using at the con). Final-slot games are going on as I type this. I'm not gaming this slot, per schedule, as one of the staff was reserved to deal with anticipated hotel issues. Little did we know.

And tonight... spicy fried baby octopus! (It's a traditional post-ACN dinner, the perpetual special at a nearby Chinese restaurant).

Posted by ghoul at 12:54 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 25, 2004

ACN Day Three

The distractions of the hotel issues fade as good gaming takes the fore.

ShadowWorld WWII featured another trip into the depths of Nazi supernatural insanity. Edwin raided history (again) for another hard-to-imagine fact (SS sponsored breeding programs requiring sex in selected cemeteries). But even the ickiest of behavior can be made less offensive by dropping a 1000 lbs rock onto it.

And now, to make up for last night's lack of sleep, I head back to my distant hotel (OK, hotel issues not 100% faded) for one real night's sleep.

Posted by ghoul at 08:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ACN Day Two Point Five

When I left at 3:20 AM, I was pretty sure I'd just put my character through her worst possible period.

Edwin had a mission briefing that hinted that the worst was coming. We were being sent back to England, with only two of us actually connected to past actions involving the Druids. Whatever was about to happen, Starchild knew it wouldn't be good. Nothing good happens in England; it's becoming her "Chinatown". This time, the one part of England she did actually still like was what they were being sent for, and afterwards she's not sure that was a good thing.

By the end of the session, my character with complete control over dreams is afraid to go to sleep. That complete control may not be enough. Or, worse, may be far too much.

Bad days are coming with the autumn.

For those who haven't read in the past, Stella Child or "Starchild" is my character in Edwin Voskamp's ShadowWorld , a psychic agent of the Circle, an underground conspiracy of psychics and other strange people and near-people. She can walk through dreams and see the future in a static-filled television screen. She's also one of the Circle's more successful mission team leaders (much of that because I play ShadowWorld every chance I get and seniority is a factor in rank) and is slowly learning that being nice to everyone doesn't guarantee they'll be nice to you. Her personal battles with her growingly-uncertain moral code are among my favorite ongoing RP experiences.

Day Three starts with a 9 AM ShadowWorld WWII game (same system, a different place and time, and so a much less troubled character; it's much harder to have moral issues with fighting Nazis). With a 6-block walk on both sides of my con experience, the one thing I know I'll be lacking is sleep. But I have tomorrow's evening slot and Sunday's slot open, so I can nap through both. Or is it that, like Starchild, I know now is not the time to sleep?

Posted by ghoul at 07:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 24, 2004

ACN Day Two

Morning was a mixed bag. I was up too early to catch coffee and breakfast at my favorite corner place, and then got brief online access (dunno from who... just found an unsecured wireless connection and hooked up). Then I set up my TFOS/Amber game ("Nine Princes in High School") in the "Lounge" basement space (as opposed to the "Library" space).

Characters were completed, the first round thru the characters was done to establish where people were... and the seminar that had moved us from the space last night came back and wanted the space again. So we moved up to the 19th floor while Craig dealt with the hotel staff (hopefully, the Lounge space is now ours!). The game went well, much unpredictable messiness ensued, players' plans crossed each other nicely, and I think fun was had (I certainly enjoyed it!).

I took the afternoon slot off, slipping down to the Hairy Tarantula for some boardgame shopping. Tonight, it's ShadowWorld mainline and a chance for Starchild to find out if she's made a BIG mess, a little mess, or if it's all just coincidence.

More tomorrow!

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September 23, 2004

ACN Day One

I no longer fear death, for I have been part of Day One of ACN 2004.

I arrived at 11:30 after a wonderful drive (again, no traffic except at construction sites, and even that minimal and quickly-passed, and this time I'd predicted to drive length and set up the iPod to within minutes of the actual drive time) and when I asked if I could park even though my room wasn't ready yet, I was told I was staying at a different hotel.

"How is it that the Con HQ, which is where I'm staying, can be in a different hotel from the Con?" I wanted to ask, but I knew better than to ask that of the man at the desk. I would check my email and see what my co-organizers had to say.

But the settings I had worked out laboriously last year to get my Mac to connect out of this hotel's Windows-instructions-only business center didn't work, so 45 minutes later I'd managed to read URLs off my laptop and type them into a spare windows box, finding only unclear and uncertain email that didn't really suggest anything like I had been told.

Then Craig arrived and told me. Yes, it was actually true... At least 6 of the con's rooms (the 3 rooms the con itself had and 3 attendee's rooms) had been moved to another hotel, 5 blocks away. Oh, and those aren't suites there, but rather closets with beds in them. And the hotel compensated us for this inconvenience by 1) making these arrangements for closet-sized replacement rooms 5 blocks away at the new hotel's standard rate (no discount) and 2) giving us the hotel basement as gaming space.

Which could actually be pretty nice, except that at 6 PM, just before the 6:30 game slot began, we found out that half of that basement space had been promised to another group at the hotel as well. We moved out as they set up the overhead projector and screen (which we had taken down earlier, as we didn't need them). Con members were arriving with confused looks on their faces. No one seemed to know what was going on.

It's now 8 PM. No one knows now. No one know what tomorrow will bring. In fact, we have less information that we usually would.

Tonight, after the events end around midnight, I will walk 5 blocks to get to my bed. Then tomorrow around 7 I will come back to GM my Teenagers from Outer Space/Amber cross-over (which starts around 9). I may well just have the poor PCs try to negotiate space for a school dance rather than my original plot. I'm feeling inspired with things to make that task fiendishly difficult.

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September 22, 2004

ACN Day Zero

It's AmberCon North ("ACN") weekend! 4 days of Amber and other diceless gaming, all in downtown Toronto. One of my favorite events every year, even with the work it is since I've been part of managing the con (5 years now).

I almost got hung up at work. As can be expected whenever vacations loom, two or three things will suddenly demand attention. This time, add in the joy of a co-worker (part of the boss-and-two-person-staff team I'm in) calling in sick and no one really wanted me to leave. But, thanks to a bit of luck and some quick approximations, I was able to get things reasonably into shape (though one major issue was still resolved only in the "here's three ideas, one of them might work" sort of incomplete fashion) and myself away.

Then, just to keep the chaos flowing, I got home to emails telling me we aren't going to have the two-bedroom suites we'd reserved for ACN, and some (or *cringe* maybe all) member rooms may be of the smaller one-bedroom size rather than the larger. AmberCons run their games in member's rooms or, for larger games, the convention's rooms. So suddenly finding ourselves without our large convention rooms and perhaps with smaller member rooms leaves us wondering just where the games will be held. But I had to head out-of-contact for 24 hours as I drove to the con, so I have to hope that issue is being handled somehow. I'll find out when I get there.

I got away from home, on the road... and realized I'd forgotten my laptop. You know, the one with all the "who's paid, who still owes what, resources the con still has, etc." info on it (plus the DVD player so I can watch the Angel season 4 eps I'd packed during quiet spots in my "man the con suite" slots). Fortunately, I was only 10 minutes out, so I doubled back, retrieved the laptop, and got back on the road only 30 minutes or so late.

Concord, NH to Cornwall, ON went as well as I've ever managed, with only minimal traffic and all of that just road construction backup. Even the border crossing was completely hitchless. I didn't even finish the iPod playlist I'd made for stage one of the drive! I actually considered driving on another 45 minutes or so, but I wasn't sure just what sort of hotels I'd find and I really wanted to be in a room in time to watch eps 1 of Lost (which I did and it was well worth it, even if they did cut the intended two-hour pilot in half, leaving us with a good but not perfect cliffhanger, originally intended to be no more than a sharp pre-commercial sting), so I stopped for the night where I'd originally planned. Tomorrow, it's on the road to Toronto early, hopefully managing time to hit a game store or two before ACN.

And, hopefully, a few less outstanding problems than there were when I left home. But I'm not really counting on it.

Posted by ghoul at 09:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 06, 2004

Board Gaming in NYC

Traveled to NYC for the Labor Day Weekend (to take advantage of the city's lull as the RNC left and the natives weren't all back yet), and spent much of it playing board games at Neutral Ground. The main event was a video game tourney, so really the place was fairly quiet and uncrowded (for Neutral Ground).

Jeanne and I played Blue Moon and Balloon Cup while waiting for our 3rd (Bob) to arrive. Then we switched to Master and Commander (just 'cause it looks so good), played Ticket to Ride, then added a 4th (Nick) from the people at the store (M&C and Ticket to Ride both look sharp enough to attract attention) and played Bang! and Alhambra.

A great trip.

Individual comments follow...

Blue Moon went well the first game, but once we switched to the more strategically interesting Flit and Mimix decks, it was quite captivating. Knizia has a real winner here. The base game is simple, just play to match or exceed your opponent or admit defeat. But there are sufficient "exception" cards to make for a very enjoyable set of options at most points in the game. I'll have to keep my eyes open for the recently-released Khind and Terrah decks.

Balloon Cup had been a hit at Turkey-Con last Thanksgiving, with Lou and I playing several rounds. It's straightforward mechanic yet wide range of options at most points (due to the eight-card hands each player has) still proves a satisfying quick game. And, as usual, it was quite close... I won 3 trophies to none, but Jeanne was just one VP behind on most of those, so it really came down to who got the lucky draw near the end to break the big 3 and 4 point races.

Master and Commander is a game I almost couldn't bring myself to buy, it's so high priced. But I'm glad I did. The components are spectacular -- wooden "sea chest" game box; heavy, solid-feeling metal ship pieces; cloth board (with a bit of art game-effect-indeterminate artistic issues); glossy laminated playing cards; carved wooden dice, 6 standard and a custom Wind die; and a nice heavy "egg timer"/hourglass to control the pace. The basic game is nice, particularly the wind rules. Every time the "hourglass" runs out, you roll the wind die to see how the wind shifts. A sudden shift to catch you face to the wind can trap you under someone's guns VERY quickly, as movement ranges from 5 squares in the best facing to only 1 square in the worst. We played a second game using the advanced rules, though we got Mist slightly wrong (allowed someone to repair while in Mist rather than forcing him back out... I was lurking just outside with two undamaged ships, so it wouldn't have gone well had he come out) and were disappointed in the sometimes-clumsy wording of the random event cards (too many refer to "all ships" or "next turn" in somewhat unclear ways). Still, it was a fun and VERY close game (I ended up winning only because I boarded and captured one of Jeanne's ships, limped it back to my home port for repairs, then sailed it out just in time to engage Bob's ships three-to-two, though too near his home port to be comfortable even at those odds.

What can I say about Ticket to Ride that hasn't been said? A train game that isn't all the things that makes most train games tedious, a game with such limited and quick player turns that down-time is negligible, and a very, very pretty game. Lack of downtime is a very strong feature, exactly the opposite of many gather-and-expand games, which stagnate due to the numerous decisions available. I managed to create the worst route from DC to Miami imaginable (it went to Chicago, then Denver, then LA, then back through El Paso, Houston, and New Orleans), but it was really worth the points (and nerve-wracking when I had the cards for the longer legs but lacked the easily-blocked short connections that, if I played the long legs, someone else would grab and break my route). Very fun!

So far, I was doing something quite unusual... I was teaching people to play games and WINNING! In fact, I'd won all but two of the games played (Jeanne won the 2nd of our 3 Blue Moon games and I'd lost the first M&C duel).

Bang! broke my streak badly. We snagged a 4th player (you can't play Bang! with less than 4), and worked through the rules. The game is actually simple, but the icons and terminology are less than perfect (mostly due to translation issues and poorly worded rules). The central idea, though, is sound. Players have different roles with different victory conditions, and only the Sherif is public about his role. I was an Outlaw, out to kill the Sherif, and we got him down to within one point quickly, but then he hung on there. We misread the Jail card, costing one player (it turned out to be the other Outlaw, my would-be partner) an extra lost turn, and I played my Role card rather than a Missed card at one point, accidentally letting on that I was an Outlaw. Jeanne ended up with a win by offing the other Outlaw and using the reward to tag the Sherif for a perfect Renegade win.

Alhambra was a game I'd almost brought in my big tub o' games (filling half my Prius's trunk), but it had just failed to make the cut. Nick, our 4th for Bang! had his copy along, though, and wanted to try it out (having only seen it demoed at GenCon). Never pass on an offer to try out a SdJ winner, I say! Turns out we didn't have time to teach and play all the way through (NG closed just as we reached the 2nd scoring round of 3), but the taste we got of the game was solid. Like Ticket to Ride (this years' SdJ winner), Alhambra offers limited options each turn, some of which increase resources and some of which use them up. The four-currency mechanic is interesting; money comes in 4 currencies, and there's always one building available to buy with each currency. You have to trust a bit to luck, as the nice purchase you draw money for this turn might be bought by someone else before your next turn and replaced with a building you don't want, but the game is sound. I ended up tied for first at our mid-game stopping point, with a lock on one of the big points for the final scoring (I'd build more than half of that building type in the game, ensuring myself of big points), so I think I had another win within reach when we had to pack up.

Posted by ghoul at 10:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 27, 2004

The Black Road Report

Home again, and filled with that mix of exhaustion and exhilaration that follows a good gaming con.

The Black Road is an Ambercon in all but name. Great gaming is the standard for these cons, which is why I make every effort to attend three each year, and would make it more if I could. This year was no exception.

Some details on each event follow...

Slot 1 -- Tall Tales of Pattern and Shadow -- Here I GM, or at least in theory. Because this game uses "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" as its system, I don't actually do much except explain the game and facilitate. The storytelling was unpredictable and quite entertaining, with a large enough list of participants to give everyone plenty of time just listening and giggling. This simple, infinitely repeatable game concept remains something I can drop into any con I need to and expect a good result. Nice to have this in my toolkit. And congratulations to Lou Evans, voted the best talespinner in this play of the game.

Slot 2 -- A Simple Task, Well Rewarded -- I met Richard DiTullio at AmberCon earlier this year (as mentioned here), and I looked forward to this chance to game with him again. Low-point characters (a favorite of mine, as it limits the mess of powers that sometimes happens in convention Amber gaming) and a straightfoward, well run adventure made this a nice game. Welcome to AmberCon GMing, Richard! This was a quality debut.

Slot 3 -- Nine Losers in Akron -- Michael Curry brought the dark, twisted humor of kill puppies for satan to a low-class, no-taste recast of the Amber royal family. Satanic low-lives torment domestic animals in service of darker powers and control of the family. Well, I was playing Eric and so control of the family was a bit deal to me. Lots of disturbing, reprehensible behavior.

Slot 4 -- My Life with Corwin -- Following Michael's use of an indie RPG for a recast was my own similar effort. I have to admit I wasn't quite as prepared as I hoped to be, and was less than totally familiar with the system I was using, My Life with Master. I didn't send character generation advice in advance of the con, so time was used getting that done in the slot. I made a couple wrong rules callings (one of which I just discovered looking at the errata on the web) and had some problems in timing... MLWM is a tricky game to fit into a convention timeslot, and I miss-estimated timing, making the endgame unreachable. I was helped by great players and I hope there was creepy fun had by all. I know I'm hoping to run this again now that I think I've found my MLWM-legs.

Slot 5 -- The Jewel of Zhong Kui -- Michael Curry GMing again, this time using the Success system to re-create an episode of Jackie Chan Adventures (I was playing El Toro, masked wrestler supreme). We were all a little punchy and giggly from the weekend, but a nice little story occurred despite us. Lots of catch phrases were employed, and when the game ended early, we had some nice post-con conversation until the others started coming in from their games as well and the weekend came to its inevitable end.

TBR is always a good con, with some clever and unique gaming. This year, we added to that a chance to meet Ginger and Bryant face-to-face, and even game a bit with Bryant. We must do more of that!

Now it's time for me to start thinking about AmberCon North in Toronto this September.

Posted by ghoul at 08:17 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 25, 2004

Off to The Black Road

Well, I may not have posted much here recently, but I can't blame that on my workload today. No, I'm taking the day off to head down for a wonderful weekend of Amber Diceless Roleplaying, including a couple of my own experiments.

So, if you're going to be walking The Black Road, I'll see you there. If not, I should get some comments and reviews posted here as the weekend progresses.

Of course, once I'm back, I have some work-related travel, then a Jul 4th weekend trip to NYC, both of which will return this blog to its familiar quiescence.

Posted by ghoul at 09:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 02, 2004

My Black Road

Here's what I'll be up to at The Black Road

Slot 1 GM -- Tall Tales of Pattern and Shadow
Slot 2 A Simple Task, Well Rewarded
Slot 3 Nine Losers in Akron
Slot 4 GM -- My Life with Corwin
Slot 5 The Jewel of Zhong Kui

Fun will be had!

Posted by ghoul at 04:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 12, 2004

My Games

Okay, I must admit that this is kinda scary. Especially as it doesn't include RPGs at all, just board (and card and miniatures) games. And it may not be complete, as my memory is far from perfect, so a few obscure titles hiding in the corner of a shelf or closet may well be left out. In fact, if I really searched, I'm sure I could find a few not even on the BoardGameGeek database.

And people wonder why I have two whole rooms of my house given over to game storage.

Posted by ghoul at 08:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 08, 2004

Black Road Planning

I have submitted my games for The Black Road.

I'll be running Tall Tales of Pattern and Shadow (which was actually thought up right at the end of last year's Black Road) for the third time. It's gone quite well at AmberCon North and AmberCon US, so why stop running it?

I will also be giving a first try to My Life With Corwin, an Amber/My Life With Master crossover. My blurb for MLWC follows...

Beyond the River of the Blessed
There we sat down,
Yea, we wept,
When we remembered Avalon.

Corwin, Sorcerer King of Avalon, has many minions. His demands are many, and his whims are law. Will you serve him best or fail him in his hour of need? Will you find love before your humanity fails?

Amber meets My Life With Master in this exploration of the price of service under a mad lord.

Rules will be taught. Familiarity with "My Life With Master" (www.halfmeme.com) a plus.


I'm always very happy with an AmberCon game allows me to directly quote from the original books. The above bit of poetry is something Corwin quotes in The Guns of Avalon. I've changed the context more than a little moving it to this rather dark game, but I think it fits very well.

Posted by ghoul at 10:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 29, 2004

My AmberCon US Report

It was, in almost every aspect, a perfect way to remind me not to repeat 2003 (where I missed AmberCon US) again.

Long details follow.

Before the con even began, a very bad plan I had initiated in Edwin Voskamp's ShadowWorld needed to be brought to its conclusion. Through a last-minute switch from foolhardiness to caution, we were able to run away with only a few lasting side effects, one of which will be of importance below. And we (I'd enlisted some friends) didn't unleash a horde of demons to swallow the world. (Well, I think we didn't unleash them...) Go us!

First slot, I was faced with a challenge. A Fly in Amber: Maxwell Smart in the Real World had an interesting problem. Would you believe no one really wanted to be the title character? Well, I adopted my best nasal voice (not all that good) and fell back to only the most time-tested humor and we made a go of it. The unending battle between CONTROL and KAOS proved to be the newest front in the unending battle between Amber and Chaos, and somehow it was only Maxwell Smart and his team (Agent 99, Larabee, and Hymie) had to investigate the strange, postage-less post cards KAOS had been using to somehow escape CONTROL raids (or possibly as part of a scheme to undermine the US Postal Service... Max never gave up on that possibility once he made it up). There were inflatable sharks, small but dangerous KAOS agents in Little China, and a few surprises (many involving the just how stale a joke can be and still get a laugh)... But in the end, all turned out well. Perhaps not perfectly, but when it comes to perfection, we only missed it by that much.

I took a break Friday AM, to swing by the local store to buy supplies and to really ready myself for the rest of the weekend. Technically, I suppose, I was preparing for my own GMing, but I won't even try to fool anyone into thinking there was any work involved there. And I bought too many snacks... excepting the white chocolate Resees cups (mmmm... non-death!), I didn't eat the food purchases at all.

From there, it was to the GM's chair. Or, rather, to just another player's chair, as Tall Tales of Pattern and Shadow doesn't really require a GM except to start the stories rolling. As with the previous play, the story quickly spiraled into odd directions. Time consistency was left in the dust, 200 lb. canaries married into the royal family and angry soldiers on hippopotamuses (hippopotami?) chasing people up mountainsides (it is not generally recognized that the hippopotamus is a natural-born mountain climber). I think a good time was had, and I'm still under orders to run the game again for The Black Road.

The "work" part of the weekend done, I settled down to the real Shadowworld (mainline) session. With Ben on the team, Starchild wasn't even asked to be in charge (a burden she happily did without after her recent Australian misadventure)! Yet, despite her presence as just another agent, one of the more peaceful and restrained missions ever occurred. An investigation proceeded with minimal destructive research techniques (a few computers were destroyed; a handful of soldiers assigned to "sleep research" so Starchild could check their minds for prior manipulation; a lot of jet fuel was burned up flying us back and forth from army base to army base until our true destination was uncovered). In the end, and with Starchild only contributing a few minor comments, we were able to negotiate a peace with one of the Circle's more nagging enemies (the escaped former Circle psionics of "Sanctuary") that will hold at least a while. With what information they could give us, we were able to bait a trap for the rogue CIA elements that have haunted the background of several recent missions. By feeding mission information for a far less capable team through a compromised channels we knew the rogue CIA types were watching, we lured them in and took them out. There was a bit of excess in our response (Starchild was unable to keep the team's firepower below that of an average battalion, as she wasn't team leader), but in the end nearly a third of them were taken alive, including one ESPer. A glowing success, I think.

One odd element, however... Starchild has found herself exhibiting a new power, and one with which she is not at all comfortable. Apparently, her experiences in Australia have duplicated the essential content of a magical initiation (without the usual ritual portions or preparatory training). Despite her regular exposure to psionics and other phenomenon beyond normal ken, Starchild has always held tenaciously to a strictly scientific world view. Until she finds a way to understand this new experience that does not call it magic, she will not be comfortable. The additional fact that it doesn't work in the Chicago area (where she lives) also helps her denial. For a character started as a caricatured gag, she's grown quite a life of her own. She remains one of my favorite characters, if only because I can't see how she'll every figure herself out.

Undertow was everything it promised to be. I've played in Simone Cooper games before, and the results are always worth the effort (creative and emotional) they call for. This one was another strong example of the type. Structured with 12 players and 8 GMs (so that pretty much every male Elder present had a sub-GM in the role), we brought a new generation to a self-absorbed, lazy Amber. The older generation was focused on their own petty matters now that Chaos was dealt with and the throne settled. The twentieth anniversary of Random's coronation was a celebration that fell into anger and resentment, from which most of the youngers fled back to their own Shadows. The thirtieth was never to be, as shortly before it the Pattern (or, I think more correctly, the power behind it) rejected its own, killing Random, destroying the Jewel, and unleashing a destructive beast to eliminate the rest of Oberon's children. My character, an emotionally isolated sort who made his way in Shadow as a riverboat gambler, suddenly found himself taking up his disdained father's mantle in the Arden (son of Julian, in case you didn't guess). But a father on a near deathbed (played excellently by Arref, through scenes where the two started to see just how much of each other they had missed over the years), a strong sense of personality honor, and a simple recognition that, in his view, he is "pot committed" to this one has him strongly considering a drastic change in lifestyle and level of responsibility. I really, really hope to see a "chapter two" next year!

Jenn Jackson and Michael Curry had me from the first words of the description of If You Can't Take the Heat. Amber needs a new chief chef and the great celebrity cooks of Shadow Earth are competing for the job. Naturally, it was Alton Brown's role for me. Of course, in competition against Julia Child (at her prime and played with every bit of necessary effervescence by Sarah Bear), he had no hope of winning. But fun was assured. Too darn many great quotes from this one (including an embarrassing accidental double entendre from yours truly), and everyone proved why it is they cook rather than trying to solve mysteries.

The next morning, it was another new character put to the test. Mike Manolakes started his Nine Princes In Shadow series with Benedict's World, a shadow of fractious clans and kingdoms where the peace is about to be shattered. Berrin was a young, self-assured clan warrior from the fractious highlands of Beag who came to find allies to end a civil war, but ended up being the reason the armies of the land were in the highlands rather than in the path of Chaos's invasion. Mountains gave us a natural fort, and so while others learned the nature of the enemy and searched for allies, Beag's clans united with neighboring forces to hold the passes until Benedict could return and the tide be turned. As firmly military as the Benedict theme implies, complete with huge charges, volleys of arrows to blacken the sky, and more than a few angry lords and warriors storming away from incomplete negotiations. I'm really torn if I want Mike to run more of this setting or if I'm curious what comes next on Eric's Earth. Or both!

And then, more Shadowworld (no, I don't have an addiction... why do you ask?) The WWII setting now, and we picked up where AmberCon North's 2003 session ended (almost to the day). The Nazis had 12 traincars of uranium ore in Norway, plus a Norse artifact that just might be able to raise the dead. No, after a bit of investigation, scratch that "just might." A PC who could animate the dead himself (one at a time, but that's enough) helped us turn the SS's plan against them, and then history was reproduced as a ferry bringing the ore across to Germany sunk to the bottom of the fjord. And, for once, we even managed to make our way back to England after the mission rather than staying on the run in Europe. Quite a success!

Good fortune put me on the same plane for my first leg home as other AC attendees Richard (Emeril in Heat and also a player in Benedict's World though the character name escapes me) and Amber (no shared games) DiTullio. We got more than our fair share of odd looks as we traded con stories the whole flight, but it was worth it.

Scattered around all of this was much delightful conversation, the Guardians of Order announcements, and more than a few chances to see friends all too rarely seen. I can't wait for TBR and ACN, then for next year in Livonia!

Not a trip without downsides, however... My new rolling suitcase was torn fairly significantly on the way up, and on the way back I managed to have something that never happened in Philly before... My flight left early. And I arrived just a tiny bit late (not Richard or Amber's fault... I stopped to grab a snack and failed to rush quite enough after). So it was a long run back to the original gate to catch another plane at the "final boarding" call, then a bounce to New York as an intermediate step to get back to New Hampshire. Ahh, well. The whole trip was well worth taking, the problems were at most annoyances. And if this is posted, I must be home and catching up on missed sleep (I'm typing in the LGA gate).

Posted by ghoul at 08:17 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 25, 2004

Great News!

Announced today at AmberCon...

New Amber DRPG News from ACUS!

Recently, Erick Wujcik and Mark MacKinnon signed a Letter of Intent to transfer all publishing operations for the Amber Diceless Role-Playing Game from Phage Press to Guardians of Order.

While the details of this deal have not been finalised, Guardians Of Order wishes to solicit input and suggestions regarding the publishing of a new line of Amber role-playing products.

You are therefore invited to join Mark MacKinnon and Jesse Scoble at a Roundtable Discussion on Sunday morning at Ambercon US in the convention HQ Sunday morning.

Whoo-Hoo! :)

Couldn't find a new home that would love ADRP more, or a game more deserving of an up-to-date representation.

Go, GoO, go!

(More after that Sunday roundtable which, of course, I will attend!)

Posted by ghoul at 10:41 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 07, 2004

AmberCon 2004 Schedule

In case I need to remember where I'm going and don't have my email handy (or if someone else wants to know)...

Slot 1: "A Fly in Amber: Maxwell Smart in the Real World"
Slot 2: Open
Slot 3: GM ("Tall Tales of Pattern and Shadow")
Slot 4: "ShadowWorld (formerly Underworld)"
Slot 5: "Undertow"
Slot 6: "If You Can't Take the Heat"
Slot 7: "Nine Princes in Shadow: Benedict's World"
Slot 8: "ShadowWorld WWII (formerly Underworld)"

Posted by ghoul at 07:03 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 06, 2004

Ahead Of Schedule

I'm surprised. Are you surprised?

Once I set myself a short-term deadline, I found I was able to finish the work that needed finishing and actually sent the ATP background files to 6 people tonight.

If you're interested as well, just ask and I'll send the files your way. But note... I'm not going to be letting anyone read both the ATP and the AAT background files just yet (some people already have... but only a handful and much older drafts). This means you should decide if your preference is for the rough life of free-ranging nomads or the not-quite-so-rough life in crowded cities and ask for information accordingly.

I'm quite happy with how ATP ended up looking and reading, which may just means I've fooled myself into thinking it's a lot clearer and cleverer than it actually is. But I'll hear from people soon, so I guess that's how I'll find out.

Posted by ghoul at 08:20 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 05, 2004

Game Work Continues

Yesterday, I completed an extensive re-thinking of the Cultural and Profession Keywords for the plainsfolk side of my bronze age RPG setting. As mentioned before, this world is to be run on Dreamlyrics (and via email) using HeroQuest rules.

Choosing HQ as the rules base has been a mixed blessing. I've found it provides a great way to add detail to the world through the Abilities (particularly the "Typical Personality Traits") attached to the various Keywords. I also think its narrative focus will help me a lot since my setting is intended to be quite open to player input.

Unfortunately, the exact cosmology of Glorantha doesn't quite match the one I'm using, and so I'm still struggling with a few details of magic and, as a result, the Religion keywords (and the Common Magic abilities in other Keywords). There are some significant cosmological facts built into HQ's magic rules, and it's proving tricky to pull some of them out without leaving nasty tangles of roots behind. I'm 90% happy with what I have, but I'm hoping to make it better over the next couple of days. And I still need to work out just what Sorcery is in my setting, because it wonít be at all like the Gloranthan version.

As things stand, Iím hoping to send out files on Sunday. With the nomadic/clan-focused ATP (Across the Plains) documents sent to potential players to read over, ask questions, and start work on characters, I'm going to give some time to making similar updates to AAT (aaTemos), the more advanced city-focused neighboring setting. (The three-letter codes are a Dreamlyrics thing, a carryover from its CompuServe RPGames days.)

Posted by ghoul at 08:18 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 23, 2004

Advancing The Plan

Today, I have posted the first, rather vague announcement message of my soon-to-start new fantasy RPG at Dreamlyrics.

This will be a re-start for a handful of people, and a new game for most. It is set in my own bronze-age fantasy setting, where two mutually misunderstood cultures are pressing against one another just as each experiences significant internal strains. In fact, this will run as two games, one from each culture, and mostly as single-player sub-games (allowing each player to, in effect, collaborate with me in fleshing out parts of the setting).

I will likely be opening the games to some e-mail players as well. More information will be coming as I complete the basic cultural information documents (about 2-3 weeks for one, 2-3 months for the other).

The game will be played using my own original cultural, occupational, and religious keywords with the HeroQuest system, chosen for its extreme narrative flexibility and strong support for player-unique abilities and magic. For those not wanting to purchase a new game but still wanting to participate, I will explain the essentials. Of course, many game rules vanish when you move to PBEM anyway.

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January 09, 2004

AC2004 Game

Okay, it isn't much, but since I haven't managed to work out the bugs in my more original Amber one-shot idea (the big problem being compressing it into a managable timeframe and/or making it worth a long slot), I'm going to be bringing Tall Tales of Pattern and Shadow back from ACN2003. That's my Amber elders game run using The Adventures of Baron Munchausen rather than ADRP.

I'm currently looking at Friday afternoon or morning as the slots (that's 3 or 2), in case others are interested.

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December 01, 2003

TurkeyCon 2003: The Final Chapter

New England managed a play after the D&D game ended (congrats to Grant for coming up with a great plot after tossing his original... I wasn't quite sure these characters were ready for serious extra-planar maneuvering, but excepting that Rilla and Gevrok both were quite thoroughly mangled by the hydra guarding the second piece of the puzzle, it went well). The board game proved just as subtle as I'd expected, with its rather simple rules covering potentially very cutthroat play. We started off fairly nice to one another, which let the game go quickly at first, but didn't last. Oh, and I was completely crushed, mostly in the last turn when I lacked the money to bid high enough to take even a single point. But still, a very nice game and well worth a re-play.

A few zips through Apples to Apples ended the day, after Julia got her Alias fix (I'm still waiting to see season 2 on DVD before I watch any season 3) and we all watched Teen Titans (and had a brief panic looking for a misplaced Draconomicon).

Then it is to bed, for there is still the long drive back.

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November 30, 2003

TurkeyCon 2003: The Saga Continues

Quick trip to snag a few more post-T'day bargains (for me, just a few DVDs and a very low cost stick blender) with nowhere near the trauma of yesterday.

We played a bit more Flea Circus (ohh! I won both games!), then all relaxed as we let Grant work on a D&D scenario.

Dinner at the local chinese buffet, then it was time to see what Grant had created for us. Gevrok got a chance to show off his divinely provided strength by wrestling a Red Slaad to immobility. Two more steps in the quest remain to be completed, and we have a boardgame or three we want to fit into the day as well (New England, Apples to Apples, and Mare Nostrum). Then, sadly, we must pack and prepare for the drive home on Monday.

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November 29, 2003

Return of the Bride of TurkeyCon 2003

Fun continued. More guests arrived, and so larger games were brought out, and PitchCar was again played, with 7 players to crowd the field. Lou is quite good at this game, and I need to learn to stop trying to be fancy and just take the straightforward shot when it's available.

Warcraft didn't quite make the grade... Not a bad game, but the bits are insufficiently evocative of the source and play needs to go on too long past the point where the eventual winner is obvious. Some rather odd things happened to all but collapse the Human/Elf alliance and let the Orc/Undead side pretty much dominate the board. A few house rules (lowering the VP requirement and/or making home-region resources more durable, perhaps by requiring them to deplete 4 times before emptying rather than 2 or even making them immune to depletion, as is done in several scenarios) would probably patch things a bit, as would an expansion set that further differentiates the 4 armies. Also, while the icons used on all play pieces and cards are nicely evocative of the Warcraft look, they aren't always clear and are pretty much never intuitive. A half-dozen words to summarize the rules effects would prevent constant references to the back page of the rulebook.

Puerto Rico, though, was every bit as good to play as it looked on paper. All players are constantly involved, and player choice determines the order of phases, so one part of the game is trying to manipulate the situation so someone else will select the phase you need. Multiple strategies can work (and limited copies of each building force players to adopt unique strategies anyway). There's a lot to learn before you start, but it's mostly a bunch of fairly simple individual rules and so not too overwhelming (and the rules cues on the player mats are excellent). It won't appeal to non-gamers much at all due to its very mechanical abstractions, but it's replay value is fantastic for those who love games.

We also managed some time to make the damn fool mistake of going shopping on "Black Friday". This was available at a 20% discount, and I really did want the old-school Zelda games, so made a deal to split the price with Lou and Julia, who didn't already own a GameCube. What we failed to account for is just how frightening a Wal*Mart can be at 7 AM the day after Thanksgiving.

Also, Julia finished Paladin of Souls, so discussing it is now allowed. I suspect that may take up a bit of the drive back on Monday.

Today, there are more games on tap, including (I hope) this year's Games 100 top choice, New England.

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November 28, 2003

And Yet More From TurkeyCon 2003

Much PitchCar was played before the table had to be cleared for the big feast. Amazing bank shots were made (pulled me off a slip from 6th place to a 3rd place finish around a crowded final turn!), much fun was had.

We still have a list of 5 games to try to get to, but the young'n's have insisted more PitchCar as well. And some D&D as well. So we'll see how time goes.

Dinner was as it always is, yummy and yummy again.

Then we watched The Two Towers: Special Edition. Oh, yeah, Farimir comes across so much better with all his scenes back. And Denethor is now quite established as deserving all that falls on his head in the next film. But, as much as I like the extra scenes, I do pretty much agree with the editorial choices made in the theatrical release. Still, I'm looking forward to Trilogy Day in just a bit...

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November 27, 2003

More From TurkeyCon 2003

No game store visit today, but we broke out and played a couple new titles that have been lurking high on my lists for a while.

Balloon Cup proved to be surprisingly strong and strategic for as simple a game as it is. Players place numbered cards, trying to create the highest or lowest sum in various groups. But you can place on either side of the table (yours or your opponent's), so things can shift fairly quickly and sabotage is frequently the order of the day. I was able to barely squeeze out both games we played, though in the second it required quite a bit of late-game card luck. I suspect this one will get pulled out again, as it's very quick to play (less than 30 minutes) and easy to teach. Certainly a winner for two-player fun! (We did not encounter the "rules flaw" mentioned in the comments at FunAgain, but I can see the value of the patch and will remember it in the future.)

We pulled out some white glue and tacked down the railings on PitchCar at last! The adults among us were edging toward a well fed comatose state when we returned from Ruth's Chris (mmmmm.... steak!), but Lou and I tried a few turns around the track, and it's all set up for tomorrow. This is a very interesting mix of F1 racing and carooms, wooden discs are finger-flicked around the track, trying to ricochet around the other cars and use the rails to maximize their speed.

Also, time was found to punch out and sandwich-bag the bits from several games, getting us prepared for later in the week. We also made a list, so we'll be more likely to not forget something important. Of course, the kids want to keep playing Flea Circus, and as a Knizia junkie, I'm hard-pressed to say "no".

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November 26, 2003

Gaming Stores of TurkeyCon 2003 (Day Two)

A simpler day for Game Store trip two. We got a late start and had a time limit, so we just hit the new store near the house.

And I found the Warcraft board game! That and Puerto Rico are currently high on the "play me!" stack, once we shift to a more serious mood.

Until then, sillier games dominated. We played some of Knizia's Flea Circus (a game of repeated "steal points from the other guys" fun), then our traditional Knizia's Formula Motor Racing. Much fun was had, and much silliness occurred, particularly when Lou, who loves FMR but never, ever wins, finished with the maximum 16 points after the first race. He didn't know how to react.

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November 25, 2003

Gaming Stores of TurkeyCon 2003 (Day One)

Raleigh, NC is home to several excellent gaming stores, and we've made our first trek out, hitting two of them. Of course, such trips are a weakness of mine...

Yesterday, I picked up the following:

From Discount Racks: Starchildren Velvet Generation (a glam rock inspired SF RPG); a very nice reference book on Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars; and Sketch (an RPG based on doodles and sketches drawn by the players).

New RPG Material: Redhurst Academy of Magic Student Handbook (a clearly Harry Potter inspired d20 setting, with very high production values and, so a quick reading, excellent content) and the Heroquest Hero's Book (a player's guide to the HQ rules).

Board and Card Games: Dwarven Dig (dwarves mining for treasure and hoping to avoid the worst dangers of such activities); Senjutsu (a samurai-theamed Stratego-like game, but with the added idea of equipment for each piece, so it can be strongly customized); The Penguin Ultimatum (card game of creating entertainment for the Emperor Penguin); Torches and Pitchforks (cardgame of leading the townsfolk to eliminate the monsters terrorizing them); Zombies! 3.5 (expansion event cards for the Zombies! tile game); and a few D&D Miniatures (got a Dire Boar, which was one of my still-missing rares).

All-in-all, a good day. And we're going to another store or two today. I'm still looking to find the Warcraft board game...

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November 24, 2003

You See a 20' x 20' Room Containing...

Thanks, Bryant, for the invite to participate!

And now, everyone can see just what I've been invited to participate in...

Additional Note: The article on the desirable shape of RPG dice distributions I mentioned earlier ended up becoming my first entry at the 20' by 20' Room. So please go there if you're interested.

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November 12, 2003

Packing, Packing, Packing

All right, it's almost time for the annual trek south, and that means I need to pack up a tub or two of board games...

So, this is more a post for those who will also be with us in Raleigh come T-day. But I'm open for kibitzing from almost anyone.

No, these aren't necessarily "favorite games"... I have to pack for what I know others want to play, and I tend to bias toward interesting new games that I hope for a chance to try out.

So, here's the current list...

Already in NC...

Currently being packed...

So... anyone who'll be there want to make comments or requests? This all doesn't even fill my two tubs, really... barely one and a half! So there's room to request some old favorites or what have you.

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November 11, 2003

More About Dice

No, the entry about probability distribution shapes and such isn't here yet, but I did find and clean up (a bit) my early-1996 dTable 2.0 file (with a bit of editing, so call it 2.0a now).

This file is a very raw dump of data, containing many, many probability tables for die-rolling schemes in numerous RPGs. Of course, as it is over 7 years old, it's a bit stale. And it could use some HTML work to turn it from raw text into something more useful. But now it's here, at least I won't lose it again.

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November 05, 2003

Rolling Dice

I'm moving my reply over here from Bryant's thread, as I've wandered a bit from his original points.

The essential topic here started as how many times you need to roll dice to resolve an action (usually a combat action) in an RPG, but my focus is more on the complexity of the resolution process as a whole.

On the UI front, there are a few simple rules beyond "number of rolls" to keep in mind (though a low number of rolls obeys most of the rules)...

I'd also say that I don't completely discount the "involve him in the game" idea for having players roll a couple dice... Keeping all players attentive during the heavily phased nature of RPG combat is an admirable goal, and while one approach is to make each player's phase go very quickly so you move through the players rapidly, an alternative is to make the process more all-involving. This tends to lead to more broad, abstract resolution schemes like Maelstrom or HeroQuest simple contests. Here, a long time is spent by everyone describing their goals, each of which is turned into a modifier to a single resolution roll, from which the overall result is determined. d20 can be shifted this way by use of lots of "aid another" actions (particularly once the aiding PCs have +9 or better total skill mods), though some parts of the game get a bit weird if you do so.

Another alternative, even more interesting, is the Dust Devils idea. Here, there are two sorts of "winner" in any one round... One (the player who generates the best poker hand) is the one whose action succeeds. Another (the player who played the highest card) becomes narrator of the result, taking on a sub-GM roll to determine the exact details of the successes and failures. As with the abstracted all-in-one resolution ideas, this creates additional involvement in every round.

Okay... that's enough rambling for one morning, I think.

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October 14, 2003

How to Use Up Even More Time

And, as if just to re-fill the space left by not taking an exam this year, I've re-joined Dreamlyrics.

The fact that Jeanne told me there was a new Feng Shui game recruiting there helped more than a little, but I also really miss many of the nice folk there, so I'm headed back.

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October 08, 2003

Very Enjoyable Puzzle Game

Thanks to ***Dave for linking to this very slick and entertaining puzzle game.

I couldn't stop playing last night long enough to put up a link.

UPDATE: Bulletproofbaby.com is rearranging itself, but the game can still be found here.

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October 04, 2003

ACN 2003 Observations

It's been a couple of weeks, but the blog was out then, so here's my main observations from ACN 2003...

First off, thanks to all who attended! We weren't anywhere near our best numbers this year, but that didn't seem to dampen the energy or the quality. Great fun was had, I hope, by all!

My new game, Tall Tales of Pattern and Shadow, which combined Amber characters with the improvisational storytelling style of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was quite a success, a game full of uncontrollable giggling and very odd storytelling twists. All recognition for that must go to my players, who were universally clever and creative, particularly in picking up loose threads left by earlier storytellers. Jenn gathered a few pages of quotes, but I fear many work far less well without a long set-up... In many ways, the whole game was set-up for quotes. This one will certainly be run again!

ShadowWorld brought with it many of its usual elements, including the still-odd feeling of finding Starchild, probably the least authoritarian PC I have, in charge of a field mission. Edwin tells me she's now racked up more missions than all but one or two other PC strike team leaders, yet I still find her feeling very alien to the role. A significant loose end was left from this mission that strikes at her personally, and I'm planning to recruit some other PCs for an online exploration of that, as time allows.

ShadowWorld WWII was a bit more familiar now, its distinctions from the mainline setting becoming more visible. For one, the distinct danger of being alone behind German lines makes subtlety far more critical than it is in standard mainline Circle missions. Also, there's a lot less "grey area" in the morality of fighting Nazis via extreme measures. Success was still a hard-won thing, but that's part of Edwin's strength as a GM.

My final gaming experience was enjoying an Amber/Nobilis cross that, while just an introductory, rather cursory pass on what could be done, still showed some of the distinct differences that come from these two separate approaches to diceless roleplay.

Between and after games, the conversation was, as always, wonderful! Thanks to all who hung out in the con suite and kept me up all night!

Dining in Toronto was, as always, a great experience. Fried baby octopus was enjoyed in the post-con dinner, a tradition that seems to be contagious.

I didn't manage to step back from hands-on management at the con itself, mostly because Ian was moved off to LA just before the con began and Craig was trapped with an unavoidable work project that kept him away for just less than half of the con slots.

All-in-all, a very successful con! Here's hoping that 2004 will see some restoration in our numbers and a bit better organization on the part of the staff (we all contributed to this year's rampant chaos and deadline-slippage)!

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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:
Nanofictionary
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
Lawless
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.

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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 youíre 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 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!

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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 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?

Posted by ghoul at 06:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 29, 2003

Favorite Games XXIV

Another out-of-print Avalon Hill fave today...

Merchant of Venus is a science fiction themed game because it had to be to sell... but it really isn't about space. The designer's notes admit that the game is closer to 16th and 17th century spice island trade than to anything scifi, but that's hardly a problem. After all, this has been done in dozens of similarly-theamed computer and board games before and since. What we get this time, though, is a delightfully quirky (sometimes downright silly) game of navigating through a semi-charted region of space, trying to discover cultures that will sell you cheap goods you can sell at a high price elsewhere. The goal is to make your fortune faster than the other traders can, because everyone will get rich here.

If the game has a flaw, it's the first thing you notice about it... it's busy. The board is covered in icons, and to those you need to add dozens of cardboard chits to randomize the locations of alien cultures and of numerous navigation hazards/lost relics/etc. Learning to read the board and work out just what your move rolls will allow is the steepest part of this game's learning curve. Once you get your head around the many symbols and their meanings, the next step is counting out good routes from system to system. The board is designed to offer several inherent "triangles" if the cultures appear in the right places, and there are also "tele-gates" that appear randomly and could end up creating several more via short-cut. Of course, you won't find out which culture is where until you go there and check.

First contact is rewarded with an IOU counter you can trade for goods or equipment later, and the first chance to buy up their inventory of goods and perhaps (if you have the money) build a space station or a factory there. Stations allow one to trade in orbit (so more trading can be done on a turn, and you don't have to pay the high movement point cost of taking off from the surface). Factories allow the production of higher-valued goods. Both give their owner a "cut" and all spaceports and factories count toward winning, so it's hardly like spending at all. There are, in total, 14 cultures you can discover, which may include fragments of your own (the players are merchants from the galactic core, which did not experience quite the collapse of this sector).

Goods are stored in your ship's hold for transport, and can be sold at any culture marked on their reverse (usually the next 4 cultures of a 14-culture circle... the exception is that culture 8 sells to 5 other cultures not 4 for complex reasons of the game's structure I'm not 100% sure I understand, but it's reasonably balanced anyway). You can buy up to a larger ship for more cargo space, or down to a smaller one to move faster. If you find a nice, short loop, you can make money very quickly. However, once a good is bought and sold, it vanishes from the board into "the cup". The Cup is where random counters lie, counters that add passengers seeking transit from planet to planet or heightened demand for certain goods or, once they are sold and put there, new production of goods. So, if you sell and return too fast, you'll find there's nothing left to buy next visit (though there will be more random items scattered around the map). This keeps the game from getting too deep into a rut, and offers other players a way to disrupt a hard-to-better cornering of the market (they can buy up one critical good and jettison it into space, denying you the profits... or just hold it in a huge ship making it impossible to produce more).

And I haven't even mentioned the funky rule-bending relics, player-vs-player combat via ship weapons, or the optional (and nasty) evil space-worm Rastur race that slowly infect the board. This is no German-style trading game with one overarching bid or trade mechanic; it is a complex game made up of numerous, individually simple mechanics (many of which might be their own German-style game, one of racing along a complex map, one of exploration, one of trading...). The result is a challenging and fun game with high replayability thanks to the very randomized board (though a much too long set-up/clean-up time because of all the different counters).

Unfortunately out of print since the late 80s and hard to find... but well worth it if you can!

Posted by ghoul at 06:09 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 26, 2003

Favorite Games XXIII

Okay, today's game is more than 20 years old and very silly, but it's great fun to play, so it makes the list...

Amoeba Wars is a very silly game of exploration and conquest, with player in conflict with one another, with Doomsday Machines left behind by a collapsed space empire and with Amoebas larger than planets that we the reason that empire fell. The game board, representing the known galaxy, is divided into hexagonal systems, each with from one to six planets, with the more crowded systems being hardest to conquer. To start play, each player puts their starting fleet into one of the starting systems (in the six corners of the board), then the amoebas start a series random expansions, which helps to make each game different. After that, play proceeds in turns, but with a unique turn order mechanic. At the start of each turn, everyone plays a card (you have a hand of three). High numbered cards cause bad or neutral events (amoeba rampages, activation of the Doomsday Machines, at random if bad or by your choice if more neutral), while low numbered cards are positive ones (the ability to hyperjump parts of your fleet, or free extra ships). Whoever plays the highest card goes first can can use their own card and every one less than that... but must use all the bad cards. Deciding which card to play is a main strategic element here, as playing high gives you more special options and an earlier turn, but playing low gives you a better special benefit, though you probably have to share that with all other players. Complicating the decision slightly is the fact that some of the cards (the highest and lowest numbers) alter the normal rules in addition to their regular effects.

Once you've resolved all the cards, you can send your ships on a campaign of conquest, with the goal being to take over spaces that enable you to produce more ships, then a chunk of the central system, and in the end, Saestor, the capital of the lost empire (and the center hex of the board). Since only one player can win, the initial efforts to fight back the amoebas turns to infighting and backstabbing by the end. Combat follows two mechanics, one (vs. empty systems or systems infested with amoeba) cares only how many ships you have, the other (vs. other fleets or Doomsday Machines) compares firepower ship-to-ship. You have 5 types of ships available, from the small but almost weaponless scouts to the immobile but as well armed as Doomsday Machines monitors; you have to decide which to build (the more weapon-loaded ships cost more) and how to move them around to protect your borders and expand your frontier.

As an option, once you're used to the game, there are 8 special power cards, which you can deal out (on per player) to make the player empires non-identical. But, really, this is an add-on mechanic, and offers very little true variation from game to game (if there were 20 or more powers, it would be a much different story... but there aren't). I find this one holds up on just its base game play, and so can be enjoyed again and again just as it is.

It isn't a serious game, the mechanics make no illusion of representing anything. But when your lone scout holds off wave after wave of battlestars or when you manage to provoke an Amoeba to break open your biggest rival's defenses, you'll realize what a fun game this can be.

Finding a copy isn't easy, as Avalon Hill is no longer with us and this was never one of their biggest sellers... but it's worth if it you can find it. My copy is almost worn away.

Posted by ghoul at 06:14 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 25, 2003

WISH 57 - System and Decisions It Affects

Do you find that you play differently when you play in different game systems? For instance, do you approach D&D or Champions the same way you approach Vampire or Werewolf the same way you approach Amber or Nobilis? Do you build the some kinds of characters? What are some examples of different characters in different systems, and why do you think they evolved that way?

I am personally very affected by system. In some ways, I see the game mechanics are the "rules of physics" the character's world follows, so some things follow from that.

In some games, this affects very basic things about my character... Some games require characters to fall into certain broad stereotypes by their role in the story (D&D prior to 3E was very much this way, as is Cyberpunk; D&D 3E and 3.5 are only slightly more flexible), others are more subtle about it (GURPS or Tri-Stat, which make it look like you can generalize, but can render you unable to do much effectively unless you specialize), while others can present a truly blank page (Everway, Over the Edge, Nobilis, or Hero Wars, for example) to the point that you may even be creatively paralyzed by the wealth of choices. If I know an idea won't work in a certain game, I put that concept on hold and use it later, in a game where it won't conflict with the rules of the world. Which is just what I'll do if my idea conflicts with the GM's presented setting. In that way, system is an extension of the setting, so the same setting in different systems will not produce the same game.

For example, Vampire and GURPS Vampire are remarkably different... Vampire characters have a certain distribution of attributes and skills that prevent them from being hyper-specialized or incredibly broad, while the GURPS version has no such limit. Thus, if I have an idea for a Vampire character who has just one power, but is amazingly good at it, to the detriment of all other, I can do reproduce my idea in a game character better in the GURPS version; meanwhile, if I want to play a character who fits well into the "chinese menu" approach of Vampire (pick one ability from list A, two from list B, a personality template from list X, etc.), I don't want to go to the work GURPS would require (or be presented with all the temptations to stray from my concept the flexibility of GURPS presents).

For another example, I have a standard character for two-fisted explorer action games. He started in Space 1889 and has cropped up in Dream Park (as a PC for the Dreamsmith's tournaments) and in Feng Shui (when the characters went back to 1850). He's big, charming, and dumb as a rock. He actually has few skills except his charm, which he uses to convince others that he's a hero; a pure Flashman-esque fraud. And that was easy to do in all of those system. But when I tried to do him in White Wolf's excellent Adventure! game, I found it impossible to make him anything except hyper-competent. There just isn't an option to do a PC who isn't pretty darn good at even what they're worst at in that system; well-rounded, highly-skilled characters are an assumption around which it is designed.

But most system effects are much subtler. Look at Champions characters versus GURPS characters. In early editions of Champions, players had 100 points to build their character, but could take up to 150 points of disadvantages. Three-fifths of your character was from disadvantages, so the cost of taking, say, half the maximum disadvantages was a character built to a scale 30% below all the others in the game. GURPS, meanwhile, had 100 point characters with 45 points of disads (including quirks), so less than one-third of your character was from disads and the cost of taking only half the maximum was a much smaller bite (around 15%). Silver Age Sentinels takes this even further, with 150 point characters and rarely over 25 points of defects. This inevitably distorts player decisions. If the only way to be sufficiently effective is to have a ton of disadvantages, I will take those disadvantages. And then I will do my best to make them limit me as little as possible, since I did not take them because they were character-appropriate, I took them because the system "made me". System distortion.

Of course these things influence what characters get played... If you play a character that doesn't work in the system, you'll probably become disappointed as the game goes on. You may not know why. You may just think the GM isn't giving you enough attention, or that you've squandered your opportunities, or that your luck has been bad, or you may blame another player for hogging the limelight. You may go to the GM and complain, or the GM may notice on their own and make changes to try to bring things around. But, all too often, it isn't because of anything you can put your finger on in how play has proceeded, it will be because your character idea conflicts with the mechanics, and so you will never be as effective as someone whose character does not. No matter how well the GM tries to patch things up.

And so, since I hate getting into that situation, I try to find an idea that works as well as one that tempts me to play it. In fact, I often find myself needing to curb my own munchkin-like instincts to find something that works better-than-average (and there is almost always such a thing, in even the best designed systems). It's also why I'm rather attracted to system-light or system-less games, which allow for more open and freeform character decisions without having to worry about accidentally picking one that doesn't work.

Posted by ghoul at 05:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 23, 2003

Favorite Games XXII

A couple of my faves from the miniatures-happy loonies at Games Workshop today...

Space Hulk is a two-player game deserving of far more respect than it ever got. Players control either a small squad of highly trained Space Marines with top-of-the-line hardware or an endless horde of hive-mind insect-like horrors from a distant world. If it sounds like a certain James Cameron move, you'd be only half-right, but you'd be in keeping with many of the game's critics. Unlike the film, these Space Marines are in massive armor, called Terminator suits, that renders them the kings of the AD 40,000 battlefield, vulnerable only to the heaviest weapons and with enough firepower to cut down whole enemy squads in one burst. Meanwhile, their enemies, the Genestealers, are quick, crafty, and armed with claws that tear that thick Terminator armor apart like it was tissue-paper. It makes for a tense match-up. The game's main strengths come for the dramatically different way each side plays, but the good balance the game achieves despite that. Marines are few in number (many scenarios have a squad of only 5) and move openly on the board; marines armed with some of their better weapons (such as flamethrowers) have to keep track of ammunition. Genestealers, meanwhile, are represented by cardstock tokens ("blips" on the marines' motion detectors) as long as they are out of sight; when seen by a marine, these tokens can turn out to be nothing... or as many as nine angry monsters. Marines have all the advantages at range, but once it gets close-in, the two sides are about equal... And when it's dozens-to-one, being equal is being dead. By the book, the Marine player has to work under a time limit each turn, which prevents being overly analytic and often causes mistakes, such as walking down a path that will lead to more activated blips when a shorter alternate path existed, though the game works fine if you ignore this rule. Games can be played as simple bouts or as a series of missions, with pre-plotted campaigns included in the basic game and its expansions. Expansions also added additional units for both sides (Terminators armed for close combat, Terminator Librarians with psychic powers, Genestealer/Human hybrids who could use guns and psychic abilities), not to mention rules for bringing other Games Workshop 40K troop types into the game. Space Hulk wasn't cheap, due to the large number of plastic miniatures and cardboard hallways and rooms included in the box, but it was well worth the price. Games are tense, close-fought, and well-paced, with most decided only at the very end as the last couple of Marines struggle to meet the objective.

Talisman is an often-reprinted GW boardgame, which unfortunately has become somewhat less great with each edition. Of course, considering how well it started, that's not quite as negative as it sounds. Players take on the roles of various adventurers wandering a danger-strewn fantasy world trying to get to the Crown of Command, an artifact that will give them everything they want. On their way, they must face dangerous terrain, fickle magic, deadly monsters, and each other. An exceptions-style game (ala Cosmic Encounter), each character has a special ability or two to help them out. Most of the game, you move by rolling a die and deciding which way (clockwise or anti-clockwise) to move, and thus which of two spaces to land on. Some spaces have pre-printed hazards, some require you to draw from a deck. Most encounters result in you either gaining new treasures, companions, or powers or losing existing treasures, companions, powers, or life points. To win, you must get enough power to fight past the Crown's guardian spaces (the middle of the board is made of up some pretty ugly hazard spaces), then use the Crown to eliminate all other players. The basic game had numerous characters, monsters, spells and treasures, but expansion sets really brought the game into its own. They added additional sub-boards (for a city, a dungeon, and even the veil of time itself), many more characters, numerous new monsters (one whole set centered around adding Dragons and dragon-related treasures to the mix), and even alternate end-games. It's random and pretty silly, but it's a great sort of beer-and-pretzels fun. Newer editions got fancier (three dimensional boards, miniatures rather than cardstock stand-ups for your character), but that made the cost so high you couldn't pack in all the expansion sets, and that's no good. Oh, the game has flaws (the Crown of Command end-game leads to a sometimes long and tedious series of die-rolls before you actually get to win, for example), but it's still one of the greats. Certainly worth digging out and playing whenever willing folk are at hand.

Funagain Purchase Links
Talisman

Posted by ghoul at 06:19 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 21, 2003

Role Call 25 - Idealism

What qualities would your ideal game group possess?

I would want a good mix of folk... Players with different interests are players interested in playing different types of characters, which leads to characters with more differences, and very different characters lead to an easier time giving each character a share of the spotlight.

I would want at least two or three people who care about game mechanics and around the same number who don't at all, because both perspectives are critical to getting it right.

I would love having most everyone be willing to GM, allowing for rotation (and perhaps even for a chance to really play Rune!).

I would hope we'd have other interests in common, and would go to movies or other non-gaming events in groups or sub-groups because that's the sort of things friends do.

I would welcome a healthy desire to experiment, as I've got lots of games and game ideas I'd love to try. And it takes a special group to be willing to experiment, particularly to go through learning a new game and setting only to have it fail rather than flourish, and that will happen sometimes.

I would want the game to be enough of a priority that people plan for it and around it, though I don't mind the occasional conflict in schedules.

I would really like it if they were less than 120 miles away (which is the biggest flaw with my face-to-face gaming situation currently).

(Some of these answers will change if I'm to be GM or player with this group... But not most of them.)

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July 20, 2003

Wish 56 - With Friends Like These...

Do your characters have friends and associates who play a regular role in the game? What about henchmen and hirelings in the old D&D sense or Champions-style DNPCs? How does your group handle playing them? What sorts of things are they used for in the game? Is their influence good, bad, or indifferent?

Currently, I'm a bit scant on characters with friends and associates who aren't also PCs (with one exception, detailed below). Ezhno has a trained falcon. Nikolao has the household serving-girl he rescued from being caught up in suspicion as part of the plot to kill him by installing her has his lover. Both of those probably fit better into the prior questions.

But despite current trends, I've had PCs with NPC friends quite often. It's a common behavior in Amber play for me to do so. Kyle McNaly had a coconspirator/magic student. Scout Carter had a bodyguard assigned by the King. Having non-Amberite NPCs hanging around is fairly risky given the sort of power-plays that often go on in Amber games, but it's also fairly true to the books (the Corwin/Ganelon relationship before we find out who Ganelon actually is serving as an example). I've yet to have an NPC companion in an Amber game who didn't have at least a couple of significant secrets...

The "DNPC" (plucky reporter, sidekick, girlfriend-in-peril, etc.) is also a great role in the superhero standard, and I've done more than a bit of use of that, with mixed results. Unfortunately, gaming doesn't quite work as well as the comics here, and NPCs with low point totals are way too fragile in most supers games to replicate the survivability of a Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen without lots of GM fiat. It's a problem with the exponential power issues of the game mechanics... Or perhaps with the artificiality of the classic comic book scenario.

Among my current PCs, there is one notable exception. Gevrok has Leadership (the d20 feat that lets you gather an NPC following) and he and Rilla are companied by NPC lizard-man Druid (whom he and Rilla rescued from a Hydra) named Thyssn. The fact that Gevrok can only really even talk to Thyssn via an interpreter and that Thyssn just makes the freak quotient of the party even higher. A half-orc, a half-dragon, a lizard man and Rilla, who's just a normal person... No wonder she frequently dies her hair odd colors. Also, Gevrok recently acquired (from a friendly Baron) a squad of crossbowmen to assist as well... and promptly lost all but one of them to a Fireball (after failing to cast the "Mass Resist Elements" he had prepared for just such an occasion). We haven't had another session for him to be all guilty over that yet. This is working out fairly well, though, a Gevrok's oddly anarchic style of leadership lends itself better to smaller groups. He'll learn from his mistake and do better next time.

As for playing them... GMs differ in preference. Some allow the NPC to be an extension of the player who "paid for" them (via whatever game mechanic offers that option), and I'm all for that... it's simpler in stress situations. The GM then takes over the NPC's voice during dialog scenes, of course. Other GMs prefer the NPCs stay under GM control, which adds to their work-load (not, IMO, a good thing), but also adds to the potential for a surprise (potentially a nasty one) from the NPC now and then. And that's a good thing.

Posted by ghoul at 08:28 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Favorite Games XXI

Vroom! Today is race day here in New Hampshire (or, for me, it's massive traffic day, as the people trying to get to the race back up all the inadequate local roads for miles).

I'm not really a NASCAR fan, though. My tastes go more toward Formula One racing, and today's games are two dramatically different takes on that sport.

Formula De is a detailed (if abstract) simulation of racing, complete with scaled-down boards representing famous grand prix racetracks of the world and rules that nominally simulate the details of Formula One racing. Most significantly, the game simulates the various "gears" of the car by using custom dice, of various sizes, from four to thirty, but usually not numbered in the familiar 1, 2, 3, etc. progression (though, to aid in quick recognition, the number of sides is always the largest number on the die). These dice are used to determine the number of spaces along the track a car moves in a turn, and you can shift up or down a die size every turn before rolling. Curves are represented by a rule requiring a minimum number of turns you must spend in the curve without tire damage or spinning completely out of control. This requires the familiar gear-down in to curves, then accelerate out into straits of F1 racing. Because of the time it takes to play, though, races are abstracted down to only a few laps (typically three), and the random factor in movement makes for a large number of overtakings (particularly relative to modern F1 racing, which has very few). Pit stops are allowed via advanced rules (letting you replace tires and fuel, but at the cost of a much slower pass along the starting stretch), and can be very critical if done properly (though not as critical as pit strategy is in the real thing). Weather (that is to say, rain) is nicely simulated, complete with a possibility that a race will start cloudy and turn to either rain or sun as things progress. Rules for "slipstreaming" reflect racing as it was over a decade ago more than as it is today (back then, getting right behind another car was a good way to steal some of its speed and thus pass them up... today, it's a good way to lose your downforce and spin out of control). Some of the rules are very unique for a boardgame... For example, playing with "time trials" has you trying to zip around the track alone while counting the turns it takes and timing yourself, in order to determine starting order. This is a very long process to just set up the board, but nicely in keeping with how it's actually done at the races! The game is very mechanical and not nearly as realistic as it tries to be (for example, the limited size of game boards forces them to dramatically reduce straits on most tracks, making high gears all but useless on most courses), but the level of detail gives it a very nice feel and presents you with choices at least representative of what drivers and team managers have, if not perfect accuracy. This game gives you a very good chance to pretend you're Michael Schumacher for at least a little while. Note, though, that it all but requires 4 or more players and is best played in long series of races, so unless you have lots of friends who are race fans and boardgame fans, don't expect to get too much of a chance to play this. The rules are fairly simple to learn (the more complex bits are optional and can be added as you get comfortable with the basics). The game isn't cheap, particularly if you want a good selection of tracks, but it's well worth it for fans.

Formula Motor Racing is a light, silly game from Knizia, breaking his normal mold of having a simple yet strategically rich game leading to a mathematically complex scoring system. Here, he sticks to traditional (before changes in the current season, that is) Formula One scoring (10 points for first, 6 for second, then 4, 3, 2 and 1 for the following spots), with each player represented by 2 cars (a team). But, where Formula De tries for (and roughly achieves) some degree of simulation, FMR is just a series of unpredictable card-plays, each of which can change the situation so dramatically that there's really no hope of serious strategy; any situation you set up with your play is unlikely to stay around until your next. Each player's team is two cars of the same color (tiny plastic cars are provided), and all the cars (including any with no player attached) are placed in a line. Each card then moves one or more cars forward or backwards in the line. Most cards affect on car of a certain color (the player of the card chooses which of the two cars of that color to affect) and the car immediately behind it ("in the slipstream", to again use a trick no longer actually representative of F1 racing). Other cards cause delays due to a fumbled pit stop, make a random car to spin out, crash, or fall to last place. The race ends one round after the last card of the deck is drawn, so some cards will remain unplayed, but not many. After each race is scored, the cars are left in their current order, cards are collected and reshuffled, and another game is played, repeating the process until a full series (however long you decided on) is played. Of course, there's more luck to each race than anything else (to the extreme that I've seen unplayed colors win over all human-controlled teams), and there may not be anything but luck at play in the game as a whole (excepting a lot of chances to play spoiler by piling bad cards against the race leader)... But despite that, it's a fun game and well worth sinking an hour or two into a long, fast-paced season of "racing". This game is the choice for quick pick-up play, and appeals far more broadly than Formula De. Fun, but lacking in any significant simulation.

Funagain Purchase Links
Formula De
Formula Motor Racing

Posted by ghoul at 06:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 17, 2003

Favorite Games XX

Just a quick entry today, as I'm mostly absorbed in reading through D&D 3.5 just now...

Caesar and Cleopatra started life, if rumor is to be believed, as a preliminary design for a Risk card game, but the license deal fell apart and the game had to be re-theamed. This didn't hurt it one bit, as the game has more of a political feel than a military feel to its style. Two players struggle over control of 21 Patrician cards, divided into Senators, Praetors, Quaestors, Censors and Aediles by use of Influence cards and Action cards. Influence cards represent people used to sway the opinions of the target Patricians (by any means... both factions include pretty boys/girls to appeal to the patrician's baser instincts) and Action cards represent more direct intervention (in the form of specific rule-bending effects). Players choose their initial hand of 10 Influence cards at will, then shuffle the others, and they sort the Action deck based on their strategy, which makes this game significantly less random than most card games.

Play proceeds as alternating turns in which a player may either play cards or discard and replace some or all of their hand. If you choose to play cards, you can play an action card and one or two Influence cards, one face-down or two face-up, played on a faction of your choice. Then you re-fill your hand (with Influence or Action cards, your choice) and draw a card to determine which faction holds a vote this turn. (Occasionally, there will be no vote as the card turned will say all the Patricians are busy at an orgy. Those Romans...) When a vote happens, you turn up all face-down cards, total Influence, and award a card of that type to the stronger party (unless one side has a Philosopher in play, in which case the weaker side wins). The stronger side then gives up their best Influence card played on that faction, the weaker their worst, and play continues.

When the game ends, players score 1 VP for each Patrician taken, plus 1 for taking the majority of any group, plus another 1 for taking all of a group (not easy to do), plus 2 for matching a secret victory condition each is dealt as the game starts.

This game is very fun and competitive, particularly since both players have the same options available (though there is different art and names on each side's cards, the effects are the same) and the only true difference is their secret bonus VP condition (which might even end up the same, if luck goes that way) and the shuffle of their Influence cards. Careful play, particularly in not using too much power to win a card, is critical. Select your initial hand and order of action cards with care, and you'll have quite an advantage.

Funagain Purchase Links
Caesar and Cleopatra

Posted by ghoul at 06:20 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 14, 2003

Favorite Games XIX

A couple of oldies-but-goodies in the favorites today...

Titan is a board game classic. Players serve as commanders of armies of powerful monsters, lead by a Titan. The armies form "legions" of from 1 to 7 creatures, traveling the world (a hexagonal board with inflexible directional icons limiting movement to certain routes), trying to land on terrain where they can recruit even more monsters to their side. Then the legions do battle, until only one Titan remains. The concept is simple, and most of the rules are fairly straightforward as well (complex by European game standards, but relatively simple for an 80s war game). The game is significantly random, but rewards careful play significantly, so a skilled player (which essentially means someone who plans to keep their recruitment options ever-expanding) is much more likely to win in the end. This game ate up many an hour in my college days. It has flaws, mostly because early movement on the crowded board can bring two unprepared Titans into battle, and once your Titan is defeated, you're out of the game. Typical games have one or two players eliminated very early, then the remainder playing it out indefinitely (games frequently last hours). Individual battles are also a bit long to resolve, since only the players involved really have anything to do. But, despite this, Titan is a great fun game.

The game is out of print, but a dedicated fan base has given us Colossus, a fully implemented Java version, complete with several sets of optional rules and extensions beyond the already-great basic game. The AI is capable, multiplayer by internet is supported... but it's very slow on Macs. Still, better computer Titan than no Titan at all!


Nuclear War is a card game in poor taste and perhaps less funny now that the Mutually Assured Destruction days of the Cold War are behind us, but still great fun to play. Players are dealt populations to defend and cards (mostly warheads and launchers, but also Propaganda and special purpose "Secrets" and "Top Secrets") with which to do battle. War is to the death, and it isn't uncommon that no one wins in the end, as an eliminated player gets one last chance to use every warhead they have in a final strike, not to mention that the largest warhead can destroy the world as a random side-effect. The game is played with a clever pre-planning requirement, where cards are placed face-down two turns in advance. This mean you need to think ahead, because the card you plan now doesn't take effect for two turns, and the game could be very different by then. Propaganda cards steal population, but stop working if war begins. Launchers can carry warheads, but only up to a certain size. Warheads kill both a base amount and additional from a spinner (and, after later expansion sets, a die as well). Interceptors can be used to block incoming warheads and to swipe the initiative (skip any players between the attacker and you and make it your turn). Expansions sets Nuclear Escalation and Nuclear Proliferation add newer weapon technology (the original game was published in 1965, the expansion in 1983 and 1992, so fun like space-based launchers, stealth bombers and cruise missiles are hiding in the expansions), more weird Secrets, and even "countries" with special powers (unfortunately, not perfectly balanced against one another). The game is goofy and random, but a very fun kill-your-friends passtime. Anyone who pronounces it "new-cue-ler" is my first target...

An only somewhat loyal computer version was available briefly, as was a series of randomly-packaged expansion cards to try (unsuccessfully) to play on the early Collectable Card Games craze.

Not all of this series is currently available, but you can find most of it here, at the publisher's web site. There's even a couple of "bonus packs" available there, adding more cards, countries, and a set of rules and pieces necessary to combine Nuclear War and the train game India Rails in order to play out a conflict between the world's two newest declared nuclear powers (and if that isn't in poor taste, I'm not sure what is).

Posted by ghoul at 06:22 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 12, 2003

Wish 55 - By Any Other Name

How do you choose character names? What makes a good or bad name for a character? What are three examples of really good (or really bad) character names, and why are they so good or bad?

Names are important... Names are used too often to ignore, and potentially can be employed to seed your character with background/personality info from day one.

I have one primary tool, The Melting Pot Book of Baby Names. This is as good as baby name books get, sorted by ethnic origin and meaning. The name origins and meanings I'm going to quote below come from this book.

Now, for my own game world, I tend to design in linguistic rules for each culture, which suggest the forms names should take. This helps to avoid the random run of phonemes that some fantasy games can offer. Gevrok, for example, is a name that fits my idea of Orcish language's sound, with its hard G and K sounds.

I like my current names for the d20 games I play in... Ezhno is a Native American name, meaning "solitary, a loner", which fits his gruff, somewhat anti-social manner. Valentin is a Swedish form of a Latin name, meaning "strong, brave", which fits his tall and blonde appearance and his proposed prestige class will result in "strong" being a very appropriate descriptive. My character name in Passions of the Tide was also carefully considered... Nikolao is a Hawaiian variation on Nicholas, a Greek name meaning "victory to the people"; a nice name for a populist rabble-rouser in an underwater culture, I thought.

I used to be a lot sloppier about names, and I still have something of an attraction to exotic or difficult to pronounce names (Ezhno or Nikolao, for example). Tongue twisters like Menikamorthphan are just silly, but I played such a character in my early gaming days. I try to restrain myself.

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July 11, 2003

Favorite Games XVIII

A couple of competitive two-player games today. Well, actually just one title, but thanks to a dramatic variant rule, a game that can be played two very different ways.

Kahuna is an odd little game, simple to learn but deep and even a bit subtle in its strategy. The game is one of building bridges (via magic, the rulebook tells us) between the twelve islands of an archipelago. If you can control more than half of the bridges connected to an island, you control the island. Each turn, you can play up up to 5 cards, each of which names an island (the deck is made up of 2 cards for each island). If there is an empty potential bridge space connected to the island on your card, you can place a bridge of your color on it. If there's already a bridge there your opponent built, you need two cards (either one of each end or a pair of either end) to remove the existing bridge, then optionally a third card (of either island) to build a bridge of your own color. If, after placing your bridge, you now control more than half of the bridges to any island, you take control of it; you mark it with a marker of your color and remove all bridges the other player has connected to it. This can cause a cascade effect, where your opponent loses control of islands that was based on bridges now removed. Then you draw one card, either from the deck or from 3 face-up cards always available beside the board. The game is played through the deck 3 times, with intermediate scoring such that winning the first round (having more islands at the end) is worth 1 point, winning the 2nd is worth 2 points, and winning the third and final is worth the margin of your victory in number of islands. The board is not reset between rounds, so coming back can be tricky, but is far from impossible.

Actually, the game described above is the US version of the game, created by the translator (apparently intentionally, as he felt it made for a better game). The original game is strategically trickier, not allowing you to place bridges if one end would be on an opponent-controlled island, but making replacement of a removed bridge free (but only if post-removal both islands are uncontrolled). This version (presented as a variant in the US rules) is much more of a challenge, requiring more planning to break up power blocks once they get established. But both versions are good (in my opinion, the original is better, but only slightly), quick-to-learn and strategically rewarding two-player fun for 30-45 minutes. And the game is an attractive little package, with a nice board, two dozen standard sized playing cards (with color pictures of their island), wooden bridge pieces and control markers in black and white.

Funagain Purchase Links
Kahuna

Posted by ghoul at 06:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 09, 2003

Role Call 24 - Burnout

Have you ever felt like it was time to take a break, short or long, from roleplaying?

It has certainly happened, and I even did so for a short while. For a good time before my move to New Hampshire, I was doing no face-to-face gaming at all (excepting at Origins, GenCon, AmberCon, and AmberCon North), but I was heavily into gaming via CompuServe RPGames forum. However, that forum didn't really survive the reorganization of CIS (and the noise and bother that proceeded the dissolution did a very good job of reducing my interest). I followed many others to DreamLyrics, where I got into a few games for a while, but the involuntary break in the interim proved easier to take than I had expected. When I moved to New Hampshire, I was without easy connectivity for a month, and short on free time for a few months following that (buying a house, getting into the pace of a new job, wrestling with actuarial exam time requirements, etc.). That period caused me to fade out of DreamLyrics and, at the same time, most non-convention gaming as well (and, since I'd moved further from Origins and GenCon than a convenient drive, I'd stopped attending those as well).

It wasn't really a full break... I still organized and GMed at AmberCon North in this period, but for a 6 or 7 month period, that convention was pretty much all the roleplaying I did.

After a few months, though, I got myself back into the mood and started back into gaming, first with a PBEM game, then by joining into regular face-to-face gaming in Fall River, MA, both as a player and as a GM. Currently, I'm playing in two games there (one bi-weekly, one monthly), but am not actively GMing (my Feng Shui game is suspended pending being able to assemble a critical mass of players for the last session and I haven't started something new just yet). I've recently gotten into a new PBEM (James Kosub's Passions of the Tide) and I'm doing some preliminary work on developing a new game or two as GM. And I still am part of the organization of ACN.

Did the break help? I think so. It helped me regather my ideas, re-think some of my assumptions about roleplaying, how I did it, and how I wanted to do it. Shifting back from PBEM to F2F was really only made possible thanks to the gap as well, since PBEM will, if allowed to, take as much time as can be poured into it.

Posted by ghoul at 10:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 08, 2003

Favorite Games XVII

Another open and improving series of games today...

Carcassone is a tile-placing game with enough variety and strategy to satisfy almost anyone, which explains its 2001 Spiel Des Jahres (Game of the Year) victory. The game starts with a single tile in the middle of the table, and each turn you add one more tile to slowly build a complex network of city walls, roads, fields and cloisters. Tiles must be placed to keep various features (roads and city walls, especially) contiguous, though scoring points tends to require actually completing multi-tile combinations to your best advantage (a feature is "complete" when the new tile closes it off, preventing other tiles from being added later). After placing tiles, you also place followers (small wooden men in your color) to claim scoring rights to features, which means you have to be careful not to complete a feature until you have assured yourself a majority position. Otherwise, someone else may claim the points for your tile placement. The game continues until all tiles are placed, at which point some additional features (incomplete cities and roads, plus fields formed into units by the interruptions of roads and city walls) are scored and the winner is found.

There is a limited availability expansion set, now included in the English Language basic game, that adds 12 tiles of river to create a larger "seed" for the map and some additional limitations on cities, roads, and fields (since they usually cannot cross the river). This set makes the early game more interesting without making scoring or strategy dramatically different.

The Inns and Cathedrals set, originally just called Carcasone - The Expansion adds just what it says... Inns and Cathedrals, new tiles types that add more ways to gather points. Also added are tiles to record scores when they lap past the scoring track provided in the basic game (a fairly common occurrence even before the additional scoring options of this set are added) and special "large follower" men (one for each color) that count double for determining who controls a feature. Also added are some new tiles that allow for more complex combinations (a cloister with a road running out both sides, or two city walls on either side of a crossroads), making for some new patterns previously not possible. Oh, and Follower pieces are added to allow a sixth player, though my experience is that this game becomes dramatically more random and less strategic the more players you put at the table.

The fairly new Traders and Builders set adds trade goods, generated by city tiles marked with appropriate icons. When you complete and score a city with one or more trade goods, trade good tokens are given to the player who completed the city (which may not be the player who scores the points for the city, a nice option that gives a reason to complete another player's city). At the end of the game, whoever has the most of each type of good gets extra points. Also added are builders and pigs (one for each player), special sorts of followers who have unique effects on scoring or tile placement (the pig increases the value of a field if you have other followers farming it, the builder may let you play more than one tile in your turn. Also, as a note of practicality, this set adds a cloth bag to draw tiles from, made necessary because the inevitable minor color shifts in printing make it too easy to tell tiles from different expansion sets apart if they're just shuffled face down.

If Carcassonne has problems, it has two... One is decision agony, particularly as the game gets near its end. Every move then can be vital, and every point the decision between wining and losing. An egg timer or a deal to let players draw their tile (in secret) at the end of their turn and plan while other players place could help (of course, you'll want to limit table-talk in this last option). The other maybe-problem is that, as expansions are added, it becomes harder and harder to keep up with all the scoring options and complexities. No one item is too difficult, but there are a lot of them to keep straight.

It is in that second way that Carcassonne - Hunters and Gatherers helps. It isn't an expansion set, but rather is a new game built on the same basic concept as the original, only shifted back in time from medieval city building to tribes of hunters in conflict over rich fields, rivers, and forests. Play is familiar, except for changes in the art (roads become rivers, cities become forests, etc.). Added to the game are huts (placed beside rivers to score bonus points in the end-game), and animal icons in the fields, most of which are worth bonus points (the exception being Tigers, who eat a Deer icons in their field, negating bonus points those Deer would have scored). There are also "bonus tiles", won by finishing forests, some of which have unique icons (and thus unique scoring effects), others of which are just very nice tiles. The advantage of this set is that, while it is nearly as complex as Carcassonne with all expansions, it is more unified in its design and flow, less pieced together, and so the various special rules are a bit easier to keep in mind as you play.

But however you choice to combine this, you aren't likely to find a better game for people who like this style. The pieces are thick and study, the art is quite good and only rarely leaves the exact edges of features even slightly in question, and if you can work people up to the full rules, you'll find it just gets better and better. There's a lot of randomness to the game (more if played with 5+ players), as you have no control over what tile you will draw, only over where you place it. But good decisions are rewarded, and good planning (in placing your followers) is key to winning. This is not a game to pass by, and I'd expect to see more for it in the future.

Funagain Purchase Links
Carcassonne
Carcassonne - Inns and Cathedrals
Carcassonne - Traders and Builders
Carcassonne - Hunters and Gatherers

Posted by ghoul at 12:19 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 06, 2003

Game Store Pilgrimage

Spare time over the holiday weekend allowed me to make a trip into Boston and Cambridge to stock up on some new titles...

Not much of a pilgrimage, really, as it's mostly just a trek along Mass Ave... But that's more than enough challenge for me. I don't exactly like city driving.

Still... new games are now on hand.

RPG Purchases:

Tri-Stat dX. Yes, I know it comes out in PDF for free on the 10th, but for under $10, I'm willing to support the people who founded ACN (plus BESM and SAS are good RPGs, so the generic engine backed out from them should be worth a read). Functional, art-free layout to maximize the information in its 90-ish pages, but it looks to be a very promising latecomer to the generic system "wars".

Testament. d20 gaming in the Old Testament biblical era. Bought more just to see if they really can do it (and to get some nice bronze-age details for other projects). A quick flip-through shows interesting-looking treatments of the different peoples/cultures of the region and some promising mass combat rules. And there aren't many RPGs where temple prostitute or desert hermit are major PC classes.


Board Game Purchases:

Balloon Cup. Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) nominee card game of balloon racing.

Queen's Necklace. Card game of jewelers seeking royal influence in pre-revolutionary France.

Message to the Czar. Board game of messengers trying to squeeze into crowded inns while getting a message from their village to the Czar.

Der Weisse Lotus (The White Lotus). Game of Chinese political unrest in the 14th century, as recommended to me in comments to my Favorite Games reviews by Scott.

Atlanteon. A new Knizia abstract game of Atlantean civil war (or of tile-placing to optimize total forces, ala Samurai but with a simpler overall structure and an optional touch of Battle Line in the mix as well). I do hope finding this isn't a warning of things to come, though.

Should keep me in reading materials and neat new passtime options for a while.

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July 05, 2003

Favorite Games XVI

Another family of games today, this time one still in development from Cheapass Games...

Diceland is an odd style of game. It's part miniatures game (of the MageKnight variety, with custom individual units whose powers and abilities are encoded on their playing piece), part dice game (the playing pieces are large eight-sided dice, usually thrown randomly onto the table), and part physical activity (new dice can be thrown to collide with and shift existing dice... and, in fact, this is a central strategy). And, in total, it's an amazingly original sort of play, supported by some very clever game piece design to make the whole thing possible at a very low price.

Playing pieces in Diceland are eight-sided dice. Each die comes as unassembled cardboard, ready to be carefully punched out, folded, and all the right tabs inserted into all the right slots. This takes the fairly small initial package, roughly the size of a thin paperback book, and expands it into a fair number of hollow (and all too crushable) dice 2" along each side. A good box will be needed to carry them once they are assembled. The dice stand up to play quite well, but you'll want to protect them during transport.

When you have your dice, each player selects a force (usually made up of a small to moderate number of dice) and play begins. Players alternates turns, in which one die can either be added to the table (by tossing it on) or a die on the table can be maneuvered (flipped to another side by pressing down one top corner... which both moves the die and changes its facing an usually its attack options) or its powers/attacks used. Many dice have special attacks or powers (varying depending on which face is up) that let them do all sorts of odd things. Strange things such as enhance the attacks or defenses of allied dice, repair allies, confuse or paralyze enemies, leap off the table to be thrown again, summon additional allies into play, or even activate all their allies (letting you move or shoot more than one die in a turn). Careful balance of these powers is a major strategy element of this game. Every side of every die has one or more attacks, arrows pointing out to show the sight lines (most dice can't shoot behind themselves, for example), with color, number and shape indicating the type, strength, and range (respectively) of the attack. Every die side also has a block value (given in a small shield). If hit, they will either be eliminated or forced to flip down one face (from 6 to 5, 5 to 4, etc.), depending on how the attack strength compares to that block value. Dice that are eliminated must sit out at least a turn before being returned to play. Some dice are immune to some attacks, which is indicated by coloring their block shield the color of any attack they would be immune to. When you eliminate a die, you score points based on its strength (stronger dice are worth more points). If you knock a die off the table, your opponent scores points, so collisions need to be used more subtly. Unless, of course, the die is more dangerous in play than the loss of points costs you... The game is played to a victory point total.

That's really about it. The rest of the game comes from the cleverly designed dice, many of which show great care in balancing out their facings, attacks, block numbers, and special abilities. Each die also has art on each side (the same illustration, repeated), and surprisingly communicative icons and codes to give all its combat options. The design is elegant and clear, far easier to learn to read than you probably expect.

Diceland: Deep White Sea is the original set. It is made up of 5 teams of 5 dice each, colored to indicate alliance. Each die represents one crew member from one of the groups trying to capture a lost ship on a dangerous ice planet. The teams are reasonably balanced, though some require more careful use of their funky powers than others. Rules exist (in later sets or on the Diceland web site) to create more personalized teams. Do check the website for a rules change made since this set was printed (which allows dice to maneuver on the turn they are thrown if they choose to do that rather than shoot)... it's minor, but adds a lot to the game.

Diceland: Space is made up of two sets of 25 dice each, representing ships from the fleets of several alien races. There are 8 total races, two with 11 ships each, two with 8 ships each, two with 5 ships each and 2 with just one ship each... but those two single-ship sides are monstrously good ships. Teams are less certain in this set, with "army construction rules" added to the basic game to let each player assemble their own force. Smaller ships have reduced survivability (they are still 8-sided dice, but are numbered 1 to 4 twice). Space also adds some new powers to the game (Shields that let you ignore small attacks, cloaks that make you invisible to most attacks), but is sufficiently compatible with the original set that you can mix them up in a fight. Though it does seem weird to have huge starships battling individual people on a reasonably even footing...

Diceland: Ogre is a licensed product, mixing the mechanics of Diceland with Steve Jackson's classic board game Ogre. The scenario is familiar to any Ogre player... a giant, nearly unstoppable cyber-tank against a force of much weaker but far more numerous defenders. Most of the trappings are kept (the Ogre has expendable missiles it can fire, the defenders have a Command Post they must defend and can target individual bits of the Ogre to nibble it to death), but the Diceland style adds new twists. For one, the Ogre itself is a double-sized die, four inches to the side, so it dominates the table (and is very hard to shift via collision). Also, the Command Post gives the defenders a free "command all" power, so it can activate every allied die on the table rather than just one per turn. The Ogre must work fast and focused or it will get swarmed or nibbled to death. And the defenders must slow the Ogre down as much as they can and hope they can achieve critical mass of units to overcome the massive armor of their enemy. The game allows you to play either an Ogre Mark III or Mark V (a larger army is available to the defenders if you go with the Mark V). The Ogre set is smaller than the others (only 18 dice, one the double-sized Ogre), but also adds two control sheets (one for the Command Post, one of the Ogre), and is still well worth the very reasonable price. And you can mix in dice from the earlier sets if you don't mind extreme weirdness in your Ogre game.

More dice are coming soon (an expansion set for Space is due out within the month), so this game isn't even near to done showing its potential yet.

And at under $15 per set (Ogre is $1 more), there's a lot of fun in each little packet.

(There is another game, also called Diceland, published by Kidultgame and distributed by Mayfair in the US. From its rules, it looks interesting, but don't confuse it with the game reviewed here. The Cheapass Diceland is something entirely unique.)

Funagain Purchase Links
Diceland: Deep White Sea
Diceland: Space: Garthans vs. Muktians
Diceland: Space: Terrans vs. Urluquai
Diceland: Ogre

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July 04, 2003

WISH 54 - Playing Hook-y

Do you like to have bits and pieces from your characters’ backgrounds appear in the game? Do you write hooks into your character background for the GM to use in the campaign for your character? Do you like it when the GM gives you a background hook into an adventure or scenario with a previously unknown hook, such as creating an old friend of your character’s who is somehow involved? What are some examples of cases where hooks have worked or not worked for you?

Character Hooks are pretty much a must, especially in PBEM games, which is where most of my RPG playing over the last decade or so has been (especially, as often mentioned, on CompuServe). The best GMs take pride in a deep background, giving lots of places to attach to, and lots of trouble that can result from doing so. And I was often somewhat too generous, sending characters with so many mistakes and entanglements in their background there was little need for the GM to add more plot... Which sometimes (rarely, thankfully) resulted in almost unplayably conflicted characters.

I have one character (Thonia, previously mentioned here) who was designed with so much in her background that we actually only ever played her there, detailing and backfilling what was originally imagined as background... In over four years with the character, we didn't get it all done, so we never got to the character as originally imagined. In fact, we eventually changed some dates so her background was present-day and she could meet some other PCs. We were having too much fun filling out the background to even want to jump forward to the "mature" character.

Nikolao in Passions of the Tides has several background hooks as well, a few of which have already dragged him around, some or still sitting quietly not making trouble. I don't expect that to last.

My current face-to-face characters are a bit less hook-y... Ezhno was designed with an intense dislike of his native folk and followed the group hook (an NPC we all had met in the past calling in a favor) as an excuse to get away from it. Running from your background isn't exactly a background hook, though. And Valentin is designed with his background planned to be a plot point at a specific point in the future (coming soon now, in fact), as it's his ticket to a rather distinctive prestige class.

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July 03, 2003

Newest Online Boardgame 'Zine

How I can go on without posting a link to this?

(Giggle at or be offended by the concept. Then do read the articles. There's some very good ones there.)

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July 02, 2003

Favorite Games XV

Three games that are one today. That is, a game, a reworking of the game, then another reworking from a couple of years later, showing how even Reiner Knizia can get better over time.

Actually, I'll be almost leaving out a step... I don't own the first game in this "family", a game of steeplechase called Grand National Derby. It was published in 1996 in Germany, and was a relatively straightforward game. It is played in rounds to simulate the jumps of the race, with one horse dropping out each round. Players place bets on the horses as the race goes on (in this way, the game is similar to Gold Diggers), but only 3 horses finish the race and the earliest bets win ties, so that requires you to make your bet before its clear your horse will finish. Players determine which horses continue in each round by playing numbered cards (cards are color-coded to match a particular horse, and new cards replace older cards), with the lowest numbered horse at the end of each round (the round ends when all horses have numbers played on them; each new round starts off fresh) dropping out. Straightforward, simple, and just the start of what is to come.

Titan: The Arena was the next generation of this game, published by Avalon Hill in 1997. Steeplechase is re-worked, the horses becoming monsters from the board game Titan (which sits later on this list, so just be patient) fighting it out. Added to the original game are several new ideas... Monsters have special powers, which can be used when you play a number card on a monster you have the most bets for; these powers are very significant and add a lot of strategic depth to the game. "Spectator" cards are wilds, able to be played on any monster, not just the ones they match, and when that is done, they neutralize the creature's power until another card covers them. "Hidden" bets become available, where you can keep other players from knowing exactly where you've placed your bets (but don't count toward activating monster special powers). Referee cards can reveal your secret bets or allow you to pick up a card and put it in your hand to be re-played later. Unfortunately, all this cleverness resulted in a very tricky game to teach/explain, and the rulebook is quite terse, and contains examples that aren't very clear (often because they try to show pictures of the game in play, but lack the space so print them very small... so small that they can't be read, and so don't serve well as an example). Titan: The Arena was fun to play, once you figured out how, and offers a good mix of luck and skill (because even if you draw all the best cards, you still can lose if someone else manipulates their bets and creature powers to negate your cards).

Galaxy: The Dark Ages is the third generation of this game, published in 2000. This time, the game is moved to outer space, with the horses or monsters of prior games replaced by various alien races, and number cards now represent various classes of spaceships. Added this time are additional powers for the lower numbered cards (making them more useful to play even if you don't want that race eliminated at the end of the round), Technology cards that are more interesting than Referees in T:TA, and the ability (with limits) for newly played ships to attack other cards, offering even more strategic options (dice are used to give weaker ships a chance to best stronger ones). Monster special powers become "Governor" abilities for each alien race. "Bets" are now bases on each alien race's world, and can still be played in secret if you wish (only visible bases count toward being governor, as with secret bets before). Best of all, the rulebook (by GMT Games) is given the space it needs, with large type, careful organization, and numerous clear examples. This helps a game that was already good become great. It's still a fairly complicated game for the beer-and-pretzels crowd, but the examples make it comprehensible and teachable. This game is best when played at its full 5 player complement, as the complex interaction to capture governorships reduces to simplicity with only 2 or 3 players, but with that one caveat, G:TDA gets my highest recommendations.

Funagain Purchase Links
Galaxy: The Dark Ages

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June 29, 2003

Favorite Games XIV

Just one game today, but it's a doozy...

Brawl is the other game supported by the website www.beatpeopleup.com, another Cheapass Games work of stunning simplicity and amazing originality all at once. Brawl is the second of three games Cheapass Games has released that fall into the "real time cardgame" category. That is, rather than politely waiting on your next turn, players in Brawl play as fast or as slow as they like, resulting in a game that can take less than a minute. If you don't think on your feet, this isn't for you... though the various decisions in Brawl are fairly straightforward, the game situation is ever-changing and you must keep up to use your cards to their best. As play progresses, you draw cards from your deck one at a time and decide if you should play it or discard it. The top of your discard pile is also available to pick up and play. In essence, though, you get your cards in random order and either use them or toss them away. It's fast and messy, and you have to make the right choice or a valuable card goes to waste.

At its base, Brawl is a game of trying to win the majority "base cards" by having more Hit cards on your side than your opponent does. Hit cards represent blows landed in the fistfight Brawl nominally recreates, so if you can connect the most, you win. However, when playing Brawl you must "follow suit" on cards, meaning that once the color you need to play on a base is established, you have to play cards that match that color. Hit cards come in three colors, and different characters have different mixes; sometimes it's even a good strategy to play a hit on your opponent's side of the table, just to lock that base into a color their deck is short on. There are several other types of cards, including Blocks (which prevent additional hits from being added until the block is dealt with), Nulls (which make the base they are played on worth nothing toward victory), Doubles (this base scores as two for victory), Reverses (which make the base they are played on score in reverse... fewest Hits wins), and more. Most dramatic are Clears, which let you sweep a base off to the side... it no longer exists for purposes of this game, and all cards played on it are out; characters with several Clears can be very difficult to overcome (though there are Hold cards that make a base Clear-proof). At the bottom of your deck are three Freeze cards; when played, these lock a base as it is (no more cards may be played on it). Once all bases are Frozen, the game is over and you can determine the winner. One common strategy in Brawl is to observe that you're currently winning and flip through your remaining cards as fast as possible, tossing straight to the discard so you can get to your Freeze cards. Best hope your observation is still valid when you're done, though.

Brawl is an amazingly fast game, to the point that it often takes longer to clean up the cards afterwards (as the two decks will get severely intermixed) than it did to play. However, card design is elegantly done to aid in this... Each card has large art of its fighter as the back, so it's quick to identify which card belongs in which deck. Also worth note is that each card identifies on its face how many like cards are in this deck, so you will know at once what you can expect in the future (without having to consult the website or count through your opponent's deck, neither of which are possible during a 20-30 second Brawl game). There are around 15 decks in print (including one featuring Ting Ting, a character from Shadowfist and Feng Shui who is a most righteous kicker of butts), and the earlier decks describe themselves as "easy", "moderate", or "advanced" so you can tell how tricky they are in play (essentially, how dependent they are on using cards other than hits and blocks to achieve victory); the Cat Girl set is considered all "moderate", so they aren't labeled. Balance is fairly good (the website identifies which decks people consider superior and why), and variety is high.

Learning to play takes minutes, playing takes seconds. What's not to love?

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June 27, 2003

WISH 53: Hamming It Up

What are three examples of physical or verbal schtick that youíve used to develop your characters? Schtick means trademark gestures or phrases that identify your character uniquely. Itís about showing, not telling.

Well, I was part of that Roll The Bones Forum discussion, but I'll gladly run through a longer list, because I'm a big fan of character schtick in play. There's nothing else I know of that provides such a quick hook to the character, both for myself and for other players in the game.

The Mighty Leo, in Teenagers from Outer Space had the vocal stylings of the Cowardly Lion blended messily with the attitude of a pro wrestler. Lots of corny Brooklyn tough-guy posturing, complete with the occasional "I'll moidilize 'im, dat's what I'll do." Leo was played both face-to-face (mostly at GenCon and Origins, back when I attended both regularly) and on the CIS:RPGames forum, so I even had to learn to phonetically reproduce the silly voice as text. Leo was developed initially as someone to play at Mike Pondsmith's own TFOS games at GenCon, and was made as broad as he is to make sure sure he captured attention right off.

Gevrok is my most extreme current example, with a ridiculously thick lower-class British accent (more in the style of a Games Workshop Ork than a D&D half-orc). The most fun we have with that is when Julia and I swap accents to represent speaking in Orcish rather than Common. Gevrok is quite well spoken in Orkish (I try to mimic BBC newsreaders as Julia does the football hooligan bit).

Ezhno inherited one schtick from an earlier character (Emlyn), which is using short grunts as a primary communication tool. For Emlyn (who was played on CIS:RPgames), those were written as "...", based on a bit in the Gogol 13 manga. Emlyn had the additional quirk of not quite understanding the grammatical rules of the group's common language, and stated most questions as gruff orders ("You will assist me in this." rather than "Will you assist me in this?"), which caused a good bit of misinterpretation of his personality.

I'm still developing Nikolao's style in James's Passions of the Tide game, but it's quickly growing into something akin to a stump politician mixed with a slightly less menacing version of John Malkovich's take on Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons. His schtick is forming as an unusually casual style couched in courtly florishes. So he calls his rather strict and formal cousin-in-law Tamasi "cuz" and flirts outrageously with members of the household staff (including Isleen, another PC). He's failing to bite his tongue enough in a fairly private Imperial audience right now...

Oh, that's four (or perhaps five) already... I should stop now.

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June 26, 2003

Favorite Games XIII

Two games of the "classic" variety today... And a special bonus.

Abalone is a game almost without peer, in my opinion. There just aren't that many simple, clean, easy-to-teach abstract strategy games of the caliber of chess and checkers that were invented in the last 20 years, and I think Abalone fits that description. It is a simple game of marbles on a hexogonal board. The board is designed to that the marbles can be pushed in any of the six directions, and this is how you move in the game. A line of 1, 2 or 3 marbles can be moved in any direction (by pushing one end or by shifting them to a parallel spot). If you move them by pushing one end, you can also push along a smaller number of your opponent's marbles (2 can push 1, 3 can push 1 or 2). The object is to push your opponent's marbles off the board while preventing your own from being pushed off. Simple, direct, but strategically unique. Unlike chess, the strength of a piece is less determined by its position or type than by its connections with others, by which direction the lines it forms can be moved. Unlike checkers, the act of taking a piece often puts you at risk of losing piece immediately, so you have to plan how to withdraw safely from attacks you make. It is a game of two forces meeting and probing one another for weaknesses, shifting and trying anew, reinforcing or withdrawing when their own weak spots are hit. I liked this game enough that I took a copy to work several years back and introduced it to the chess-players I worked with. Together, we developed a full notation (complete with an ability to back-off moves to a prior state of the board), wrote up over two dozen "puzzles" (find the move that guarantees a win) and played game upon game. If there's a flaw here, it's in the need for a chess-clock to control time and prevent endless maneuvering in the safety of the mid-board. But chess clocks are easy to get, and with just that addition there's nothing like a good game of Abalone. (There are variations of Abalone for 3 or more players, but the game is at its best in its original, 2-player form.) This game has had a very hard time catching on in the USA (it's gone through at least 4 publishers that I know of), but it's well worth giving it a look.

Illuminati is a card game with which only a few can compare. Years before Magic, this was the game you could find people playing over and over, trying to find new and interesting combinations. (Comments here will specifically focus on the 1999 Deluxe Illuminati edition... but I've been playing this one since it first came out, and loved it despite the tiny, hard-to-shuffle cards). It's a simple game at heart (most of the greats are). Each player takes the role of a secretive conspiracy trying to conquer the world. Each turn, you look at the cards that are available (groups both real and fictitious that you could use to enhance your control of the world) and try to work them into your power network (a layout of cards arranged so arrows point out of one card lead to arrows pointing into others). Sometimes you want to control them, sometimes take them away from others, sometimes destroy them utterly; it all depends on which Illuminati you are playing at the time, and that's what makes the game so good. Like Cosmic Encounter, every game can be different, because each Illuminati has its own special power and its own victory condition. There are fewer Illuminati than there are aliens in CE, but Illuminati also has the large deck of groups, which make it so you never know what pawns you'll play with this game. Add in expansion sets for more cards or for more options in play (the "Y2K" set adds Illuminati, groups and special cards to the deck, while the "Brainwash" set adds the option to shift world opinions and so enhance or weaken all groups of certain types). There's a lot of luck to play (you can't make any action automatic, so there's always a 1 in 12 chance of failure no matter how well you set it up), and a fair amount of repetitiveness in the mid-game (turn up a group, spend to get a 10- control chance, take it over, shift to a more defensible spot, move to next player), which are the two things that keep CE rated slightly higher to me, but Illuminati is still well worth getting to know. (The Y2K expansion set is scheduled to be re-printed very soon, by the way, and contains several cards that are well worth having, including the Church of the SubGenius!)

Fnord.

Illuminati had a brief period as a CCG, in the form of "Illuminati: New World Order". INWO isn't a bad game at all, but the CCG format invites (in fact, encourages) you to pre-build decks with specific combinations of cards, whereas the fun in Illuminati was always the unpredictability of what groups would show up this game and the need to plan a strategy based on whatever you were given. INWO was fun; Classic Illuminati is more fun.

Special Bonus Review: Dice Games Explained Properly is an invaluable little book by Reiner Knizia (you thought I'd left him out of today's reviews, didn't you?). In it, he offers the rules and strategies for over 150 dice games, some traditional and some original, along with a good chapter on calculating probabilities, advice for how to determine good bets when gambling with dice, and countless observations on which mechanical ideas and strategic options are interesting and worthwhile. Games are nicely organized within large families, then by progressively more complicated mechanics within each group. Variants in both names and rules are given in case the game is called something different or played differently in some parts of the world. The book could use a fancier layout (it is very tricky to tell if a paragraph is more comments on the previous game or transition into the next, for example), but you simply will not find a book about games that offers more breadth and depth of insight, from the simplest of dice games to the reasons behind arbitrary-seeming casino behavior. This one is pure gold, wrapped in a very reasonably priced paperback cover.

Funagain Purchase Links
Abalone
Illuminati
Illuminati Y2K
Illuminati Brainwash

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June 23, 2003

Favorite Games XII

Another take on bidding and scoring by Reiner Knizia and a look at one of the simplest yet strategically deepest games yet from Cheapass Games.

Another note... In order to allow time for other things I do (like the morning stuff that made this entry slip to an afternoon posting), I'm going to shift these Favorite Games entries to every 3rd day rather than every 2nd. It isn't because I'm running out of games (far from it!), but it will allow me to get some other things done between writing mini-reviews.

Buttonmen is a game that looks really simple, but isn't (though it is easy to learn). The basic rules are direct enough... each button has a name and picture of a fighter and a few numbers in circles (usually 5, sometimes fewer, and for some sets more). These numbers represent die types (and sometimes special powers). Usually, one (or more) of your dice is marked as a "Swing Die" and can be set to any size from 4 to 20 (some Swing Dice are marked with different letters to indicate different ranges); you pick swing dice in secret before the match. In a fight, you roll your dice and your opponent rolls theirs. Then, alternating starting with whoever rolled the lowest number, you remove one opposing die at the cost of re-rolling one of your own. You can only remove a die via "Power Attack" (one of your dice is greater than or equal to the target die) or "Skill Attack" (one or more of your dice sum up to exactly the target die), and you must re-roll all dice used in the attack. The match ends when neither player can make an attack, and your score at the end is the size of all the dice you capture plus 1/2 the dice you successfully defend (usually only one player will have any defended dice left, but special die powers and restrictions can result in an early end to the match). Normally, you play a series until one player wins 3 matches (with the loser changing swing dice after each match). There are numerous special types of dice to complicate things, but let us stick to just the basic game for now... There's a ton of strategic depth here. When I attack, do I use my big d20 showing 18 to power through anything I see, or do I leave it 18 so it's harder to beat itself and re-roll my two d12s showing 3 and 4 after skill attacking a d8 showing 7 (because, after re-roll, they should be better defended)? Or should I target the d12 showing 2, and if so with which of my d12s? And what about swing dice? You have to pick them very carefully, as one too big makes you slow and gives away too many points, while one too small makes you weak on attack and defense. The strategy is deep (even without the numerous special die types), but not distractingly so. Games take only minutes and require minimal hardware (buttons and dice... though you may want some special colored dice to represent funky powered dice or oddly sized swing dice... I doubt you'll find a d19 out there, so you'll need to pick a d20 in a distinctive color and re-roll any 20s). Buy-in is easy (the rules are on the ButtonMen web site, along with several articles on strategy and a nearly-complete list of buttons), and all you need to do is pocket some dice and wear the button around any gathering of gamers... someone will challenge you to a fight. Buy some buttons (they usually come in two-packs for under $5) and take on a friend! Many (but far from all) ButtonMen can be purchased directly from Cheapass Games, others from various licensed sources.

Ra is another Knizia bidding game, but similarity with Money ends right away. In Ra, players bid to collect tokens representing various parts of Egyptian civilization (thinly... as is common in games from Dr. Knizia, the theme of this game is in the art on the pieces far more than it is in the game). The game is played in three rounds, called Epochs, and there is scoring and the return of some (but not all) tokens collected between each. Auctions are initiated partly by players' choice (if the current available draw of tokens seems worth bidding to you) or by occasional draws that force an auction. Various token types are received when you win an auction... Monument tokens are scored only at the end of the third round, but are worth a ton if collected into proper groups. Pharaoh tokens are worth a good bit if you have the most and cost you points if you have the least, but otherwise are worth nothing (and are returned to the box unlike most other counters are retained between Epochs), Nile and Flood tokens are worth a point each as long as you have at least one Flood token, but none if you have just Nile (and Flood tokens, but not Nile tokens, go back to the box between Epochs). Gold is always worth points and does go back to the box. Civilization tokens are worth a lot if you have 3 or more different ones, and you take a big hit if you don't manage to get any (and they all go back to the box each round). Bidding is done using Sun counters, which are also used for scoring in the 3rd Epoch only; when you win a bid, your winning counter is used to start the next bundle to be bid on. In essence, there are 6 ways to get points, each by its own rules, and some of them penalize you if you don't at least make an effort toward them. This requires careful budgeting of your Sun counters (only bid when it's worth it to take what is available), but also not letting the tokens you need to avoid penalties (such as Floods or Pharaohs) get all bought up before you get some. And be careful... there are "disaster" tokens that make you discard tokens if they're taken as part of a bid. The game takes a bit of careful teaching the first time through, but it's rewarding and highly interactive, so you'll come back to play it again and again. Also, the pieces are quite attractive and durable, so you won't regret pulling this one out for another play.

Funagain Purchase Links
Ra

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Role Call 23

What was the best character you came up with that you never had a chance to play?

This one's a quick answer for me... Lucas Blaine, the Marquis of Things Lost, designed for a Nobilis game I didn't end up able to play.

Lucas was a Brooklyn dock worker in the early 20th century with a gift for remembering the slightest minutia of shipping schedules. It was only natural that, eventually, he would be picked to manage the Warehouse, the great storing place where anything Lost is kept until it is Found. It was the task he was born for. He is a gruff, direct sort (I do that a lot in characters), but capable of creative solutions to complex logistical problems, and ready to work through the nasty little limitations I'd put on his Domain (mostly represented by the "unionized" staff of the Warehouse, who would only do a 'special task' after much grumbling and negotiation). And some of the fancier Powers could do with an ill-shaven dock worker jabbing the sad final bits of a cigar around as he gestured with an over-filled clipboard (where each and every Invoice of each and every Lost Thing can be found) and explained just why things couldn't be done right now.

And, of course, just having a character whose very existence short-circuits many McGuffin-focused plots (since anything lost immediately becomes something he can locate with ease) just sounded like fun to me.

Someday, I will find a Nobilis game and Lucas will be given life...

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June 21, 2003

Favorite Games XI

And now, let us proceed to corner the world currency markets and blame someone else when things go wrong. Sounds like quite a plan.

Who Stole Ed's Pants? is a game of investigating a crime most heinous, finding who committed the foul act, when, and where, so he can be turned over to the Law and Justice can be done. And that is an outright lie. Instead, this is a sweet little game of framing someone for the crime (while others try to frame you), because finding out the truth would be too much work. Though the game, witnesses (6 each in 6 suits, representing professions like Merchants and Circus Performers) allow you to establish suspicions and place blame (if your source is trustworthy enough relative to others'). Suspicions come in the form of Fact and Evidence cards, which use silly details to build a fragile case, just enough to feed the rumors. When all the cards of a type are drawn, the round ends with everyone scoring points for all suspicion currently pointing at them. A second round is played (though facts established in the first are not re-shuffled... so the second round goes a bit quicker than the first), and when that is over whoever has the most suspicion (total of both rounds) is obviously the thief. In the four player game, the player across the table is also locked up as an accomplice. Play is quick and a little goofy, as some of the fact and evidence cards are laughable if considered as "evidence" (you can prove someone "looks like a pirate" by displaying a pet parrot, for example). Lots of play relies on keeping your supporting witnesses sufficiently credible (and, in the four player form, your partner's witnesses as well), and a sudden shift of witness type credibility can change things fairly dramatically. A fun little pass-time for a hour or so, reasonably easily taught (though it's worth reading the rules carefully and playing a round to get a handle on things, as some bits are subtle), and quite replayable. And, under all the silliness, there's a good bit of strategy as you try to manipulate the witnesses and facts to maximize other's supiciousness while minimizing your own.

Money is today's Knizia selection, a deceptively simple game of bidding and gathering cards. There are 7 suits (illustrated as world currencies), each containing 9 cards (3 20s, 3 30s, one each 40, 50 and 60... so not denominations you're likely to see often), gold coins (each worth a constant 10) and "play money" (one card for each player, used to allow bluffing in the bidding). Play consists of each player getting dealt a hand of cards, then 2 available spreads of 4 cards are laid out. All players now bid in secret... Highest bid (total face value of cards played) gets to go first buying what they want... one of the 2 4-card spreads or another player's bid (which can sometimes be nicer). You pick up what you bought and replace it with your bid. After all bidding and buying is done, you refill the 4-card spreads (which may have shrunken if someone bought them with a bid of fewer than 4 cards, as will often happen). When all the cards have been dealt (and one last bidding round completed), you score everyone's hand. As is common with Knizia, scoring is the heart of the game... Each currency is worth its total face value if you have 200 or more in it, or total face less 100 (but never less than zero) if you have less than 200. Any set of all 3 20s or 30s of a suit give a bonus 100. Three full rounds are played to smooth out the luck factor a bit (a mechanic Knizia likes... he praises it highly in his book on dice games). This is a light game, but offers chances for bidding, bluffing, and risk-taking, and so has enough strategic depth to be worth your time. It hurts when you pick the wrong currency to buy up early (Knizia also likes games where you need to bid on things before you really know what they're worth)... but when you get it right, the points reward you. This one just works.

Funagain Purchase Links
Who Stole Ed's Pants
Money

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June 20, 2003

Game WISH 52 - By Laws

Robin Laws identifies several types of gamer in his book of GM tips: The Power Gamer, the Butt-Kicker, the Tactician, the Specialist (plays one type only), the Method Actor, the Storyteller (plot and pacing fan), and the Casual Gamer. Which of these types do you think you are, and why? Most people arenít pure types, so multiple choices are OK.

Forced to confess, ehh?

I vary some by mood and style (I'm a different player by mail than face-to-face)... but there's some bits I can't avoid.

There's a healthy component of Power Gamer in most any Tactician, in my opinion... It's always easier to plot out a win when you're tougher, after all. I end up with a strong mix of these two. It's the math modeling geek in me; after all, modeling and trying to find an optimal path through the math of the model is pretty much what I do for a living. The thought patterns that builds are hard to totally abandon. I do tend toward seeing the plot as challenge to be overcome more often than something to interact with, and I love a good structured challenge to meet. And, sometimes, that means making character choices based on what works best rather than more "pure" decisions.

This personal style flavors my choice of games... I strongly prefer games where the mechanics support the style, because both as GM and as player I dislike doing things I know are pointedly unwise (in how the game reflects them) 'just' because they fit the style. A game that matches its mechanics to its style thus allows me to play the style with more comfort.

Beyond that, Method Actor, at least a bit (more by email). I tend toward certain character types (but more than one, so not much Specialist), and those types tend to be ones with strong roleplaying hooks, letting me over-act (acting is a weird thing... oversimplify method acting theory and it seems to say the worse you are at it, the more you do of it).

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June 17, 2003

Favorite Games X

Here's two games of backstabbing and treachery (a popular theme), one an absolute classic and the other an odd European game (to which I gave done more than a little surgery in the past)...

Family Business is a card game of good old fashioned gang warfare. Line your pal's men up against the wall and mow 'em down in a new St. Valentine's Day Massacre! Each player has a cast of famous gangsters to try to defend (though identity is irrelevant) and a hand full of contracts, hits, and various other cards. Play moves around the table (mostly), slowly building up a list of at-risk gangsters, until the list gets long enough that one starts dying each turn (cards can start this war early, call it off for a moment... or accelerate it to double speed!). The right cards defend you from Contracts (and can swipe turns from other players, too), a few others can pull you out of danger, or just re-arrange it so others go to their maker before you. The last man standing takes the prize. A quick, fun game with lots of options and chances to backstab right at the best time. Occasionally you can get a stinker hand and just suffer for the whole game (and, once people realize you're weak, a feeding frenzy is likely to follow, taking you out of the game rapidly)... But when that happens, it's time to shuffle and play another round. Newer printings include rule cues on the cards that help to reduce the need to refer back to summary cards (or the rulebook) for clarification (though you'll memorize the card effects quickly enough).

Courtisans of Versailles is a game I've barely played... and yet have played many times. Why do I say this? I'll get to that later... Players here take the roles of the heads of powerful families in the French Court, maneuvering for positions, undercutting one another with the king and queen, going off to war, or being sent to the Bastille. The board is just a record-keeper, showing where each player's fortunes stand with the royals, most of play happens with a thick deck of cards. Cards are used to attempt to get a title, to trap another player in a duel, to slip poison into an unwatched drink... All in an attempt to gather as much value into your family's coffers. Some cards require influence (including most of the good ones), some suddenly lead to death... even of the king or queen (which can really help if you're deep in the doghouse with the potential target). Clever play can get you to the throne (though it isn't easy), or at least to a time as the King's mistress or the Queen's favorite, which gives you almost unlimited influence... until you get found out. Choices are a bit short of players who end up low on influence with both King and Queen, but it's always possible to bribe another player to talk you up (or get yourself killed... you come back in a turn playing a relative, and get to randomly generate starting influence). Fun will be had, and at least a bit (likely a lot) of genteel backstabbing will occur. Rules are provided in English, but there are a few bits where the translation is a little unclear... You'll manage to figure out what they mean with minimal puzzling, I'm sure.

Now, why do I say I have barely played this game and yet have played it many times? Well, this game underwent a bit of re-working (mostly filing off names and replacing them, though I've added a few custom cards each time we've played it) to become Courtiers of Kolvir, a game I've presented to great results at AmberCon North and The Black Road. Anyone who doesn't think Oberon's court in the days long before Zelazny's Amber novels was just as outrageous as the Sun King's wasn't reading the same books I was.

Funagain Purchase Links
Family Business
Courtisans of Versailles

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June 15, 2003

Role Call 22 - System Mismatch Error

Can you name a game or two where the setting was completely mismatched with its system?

Oh, there are many examples, big and small...

How about the GW Judge Dredd, where a rookie judge straight out of training could have a less than 30% chance to hit an average target with his pistol. This is the result of 15 years of intensive marksmanship training? Dredd should be arresting all the instructors for gross incompetence.

Or the DC Heroes strip-down Batman game, done in a rush to release with the movies, where the highly-exponential system of the DC Heroes rules (every +1 doubled your effective ability) was forced to try to deal with mostly normal people and absolutely no effort was made to make it fit (i.e., the attribute range was from 1 to 3 on almost everything)? Blech!

The first try at d20 Star Wars where space combat was done with an abstract, mapless system. Is anything other than light sabers more central to Star Wars than cool space dogfights?

The Indiana Jones RPG, with its "Indy cannot be killed" rules. The whole point was seeing Indy escape from death by the skin of his teeth... if we know by game rules he cannot be killed, then it becomes very dull very fast.

LUG's Trek game, where small character-building skills (like Riker's trombone playing) cost exactly as much at character creation as being a point better in your job. So, which would your captain be happier to see you be... well-rounded or capable of the tasks he'll assign to you? And which happens on the Trek shows? See the problem? And this isn't to mention the 50+ different phaser settings or the addition of a money system to the Federation...

Dream Park, a set of books that explicitly describe their characters as having strong classes, levels, and percentile-based attributes/skills, and yet the game system is a die+skill mod vs. die+skill mod house system with only nominal "class" rules patched on (and a role that, in the books, is a mark of seniority and skill made into just another class title in the game)? And where no effort at all is made to detail "real world" abilities and skills from "game" abilities and skills (another central part of the books)? I helped run several huge Dream Park tournaments at GenCon, and nothing was tougher than making this game even try to resemble the books.

And please... a set of books where the characters, their abilities, their backgrounds, even their settings change at the whim of the author based on the jokes he plans to make this time around done in a system with the most detail of any successful RPG? GURPS Discworld? I love both GURPS and Discworld, and Phil Masters did far better than I could have hoped, but this is just not a good mix.

Note the pattern here... licensed games, every one. It's a curse they must live under, that the very thing that drives them into existence (a popular, beloved game world) is their doom, because if they don't do it right, they don't succeed. And "right" is defined differently by the designers (who often have a mechanical bias based on prior work or the way they like games to flow), the original creators (who often don't want their world being played with at all, hence "Indy cannot be killed" rules), and the fans (many of whom want the thrill of proving their character better than, or at least as good as, the character they love from the original). Conflict is all but inevitable.

The biggest issue for me is games that try to just make "doing it the original way" possible... A successful licensed game makes "doing it the original way" into the way that works best (or at least nearly so) in the game mechanics if the original presented it as the best way. Thus, if in the original few characters wear armor, you'd best design rules where armor is only a benefit to a few character types (kudos to d20 Wheel of Time for making the effort there). If, in the original, all characters have significant flaws that trouble them throughout their story, you'd best make that part of the game (the new Marvel Universe system does this, to its credit). Make me want to do it the way the original says it should be done and you've won the biggest battle.

(Yes, there are system/setting mismatches in non-licensed games as well... Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes trying to do gritty modern action adventure using Tunnels and Trolls as the rules base, for example. But licensed games are the big offender on this issue, IMO.)

Posted by ghoul at 08:43 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Favorite Games IX

Two games today that couldn't be more different... a game of random, unpredictable magic and a game of careful, deep strategy.

Wiz War is a classic game by Tom Jolly (another name that will quite probably crop up a couple more times before we're done), sadly currently out of print (though there are rumors it may resurrect soon). The basic game is simple... a dungeon map is build by assembling several square map pieces, and wizards start at a "home" square on each map, after placing two treasure chests on two other, marked, spaces. These wizards are, for reasons of their own, engaged in a contest. The object... to steal two treasures from their opponents and return them to their home base. The basic game, as in Cosmic Encounter, is quite simple. The catch comes from the hand of cards each player has. Most are spell, many are very odd spells. Spells that summon creatures (who usually fight much better than wizards), spells that create traps (which can prevent or slow movement down the hall leading to a treasure), spells that rotate board segments (making even the map itself unpredictable), spells that let you flick a d4 onto the board and whatever it hits stays where it gets moved to (i.e., that are just weird). The game is unpredictable, highly competitive and has a huge "luck" element. But it's a perfect "beer and pretzels" style game, just great for blowing off an hour or two trying to trap your friends in a giant thorny rose bush while you run off with his treasure.

Tigris & Euphrates is the opposite extreme, is one of Renier Knizia's best. This is a deeply complex tile-placement game, starting with a map that is roughly based on the historical "fertile crescent" (modern day Iraq, but don't hold that against this brilliant game). Nominally, the game is about building civilization out of four basic building blocks (tiles representing Settlements, Temples, Farms and Markets), but as is often the case with Knizia, the theme is far in the background of the game's brilliant mechanics. This time, play is a complex series of tile and Leader placements (you normally place two a turn, in any combination you choose). Leaders are critical, as they are what allows the scoring of points. Each player has one leader for each type of tile (and you may pick one up and move it if the location has become less than optimal). When a tile is placed adjacent to a kingdom (that is, to any group of tiles containing at least one leader), the player controlling that kingdom's leader of the same type as the tile gets one victory point. Yes, you can get a point based on my play... and yes, there are times when it is worth-while for me to intentionally give that to you (usually in order to set up a second move that gets me far more). When Kingdoms merge, there is an instant conflict between any matching leaders, so at any time there will only be one to score. Group enough tiles of one color together and you can build a Monument, generating even more points. There are more complexities (leaders must be next to Temples, Farms can only be placed on rivers, catastrophe tiles that let you "destroy" earlier tiles, etc.), but this gives you a good view of the essentials except for one thing... the object of the game. And, in typical Knizia fashion, it isn't what you'd expect. Rather than trying to score the most points overall, the object is to score the most points in your worst color. This means, as with Samurai, one must focus on balance. Getting a dozen more Temple points than anyone else doesn't win you anything if you barely scored any Farms. T&E is a great game for 2-4 players, though it plays very differently with each number... it is intensely strategic at 2 players, but the fact that 6 pieces will be added/moved between your turns makes it less predictable at 4. People who like games where thought is rewarded will love this one, because each tile placement can prove critical. Settle down for 90-120 minutes of intense fun (if it's taking longer, you may want to consider a chess clock or egg timer to limit over-analysis of each move). This one is an absolute treasure. And don't let the fairly steep price scare you... this is a quality game with quality pieces, of wood (for the leaders, monuments, and victory point pieces) and very thick cardboard (for the tiles... plus there's a bag to draw from so it's easier to store and randomize them), so you get your money's worth.

Funagain Purchase Links
Tigris & Euphrates

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June 13, 2003

WISH 51 - I Dream of Genre

(Sorry for the title... I'm in a bad pun mood of late.)

What are three genres that youíve had limited exposure to as a gamer that youíd like to try or play more of?

I do so much multi-genre play (Feng Shui and Amber) that this is kind of tricky, but I do have a few...

Real World Historical (true or "alternative"). I'm a big Harry Turtledove and Eric Flint fan, so something like Turtledove's How Few Remain (and sequels) or Flint's 16XX books would trap me in a minute. By this, I mean something firmly in the "real world" with just enough changes to make it unique and unpredictable. This separate from the (also attractive, IMO) style with more dramatic changes, such as Godlike.

The Classical Bronze Age (Greek/Trojan/Hittite/Egyptian/Babylonian or something with a similar feel) is very appealing, which helps add to the temptation of Testament despite the d20 mechanics (which I don't find do realistic-level very well at all). This has always been the appeal of RuneQuest to me (I don't much like Glorantha), and is the reason I have my own fantasy world (mentioned here) set back at this technology level.

And Westerns. I love westerns, particularly of the gritty 60's style. Sergio Leone did the world a great favor when he borrowed Kurosawa's Yojombo to make A Fistful of Dollars. TSR's old Boot Hill was never all that good, and few other mass-market games really did the genre justice. To me, Deadlands is too populated by weirdness. But Dust Devils is quite tempting...

I guess what all of these have in common is a reduction in the element of the "fantastic" (which is all too common in RPGS) in exchange for more of the "real" (which is too often absent). Of course, "real" is very much informed by movies and books here, so still likely isn't exactly authentic.

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Favorite Games VIII

Today, we build our castles in a dangerous land full of dragons and trolls, then we turn into stray dogs and try to beg for bones. And who says there's no variety in life these days?

Kingdoms is another Knizia game that shows his mathematical background. In this came, players go around the table slowly filling in a 6 by 5 grid with tokens (ranging from -6 to +6 in value with no zeroes), special tokens (a gold mine, two mountains and a dragon), or castles (ranging from 1 to 4 in value). When the grid is filled, each player scores the total of the tile values of non-castles in each row or column times the total value of their castles there, except that gold mines double any row or column they are in; dragons negate any tiles valued +1 on better, leaving only the -1 to -6 tiles and other specials; and mountains split the row and column they are in into parts, each scored individually. The object of the game is to put your best castles in the most positive row and column in each of 3 rounds of play (the board is cleared and tiles re-shuffled between rounds, except that castles valued over 1 are removed from play once used, so they must be placed with care). Of course, by the time you know it's the best row or column, someone else will be putting their castle there, so you have to take a gamble now and then. Is it really a game about building kingdoms while avoiding dragons and trolls (the -6 value tile)? No... it's a game of claiming positions on a grid to try to maximize your positional value. But, at heart, it's a good game, though one with a small degree of luck based on the order in which tiles are drawn (an optional rule suggests playing with all tokens face up, removing all sign of luck and making for a more intensely strategic game). Play is quick (unless someone tries too hard to optimize each move, which may slightly help him win but reduces everyone's fun and so should be discouraged with either an egg timer or a mallet, depending on how much force you feel is needed) and results sometimes wildly unexpected (mainly because it's very easy to disrupt other people's strategy through placement of powerful tiles like the troll or the dragon), making for a fun time at the game table.

A Dog's Life is a more thematically sound game, since it takes its odd premise in pretty much every direction one could hope for (and a couple I would never have expected in a game). The premise is simple... stray dogs wander the city, begging for scraps, rummaging through garbage, delivering newspapers, and trying to find bones that can carry home and bury, all the while avoiding the dogcatcher. Yes, it sounds very silly, but it actually makes for a fun little game, even if (like me) you're more of a cat person than a dog person. There are six different dogs in the game, represented by attractive little plastic minis (full color!) and by a unique deck of action cards for each. Each dog's deck is different because each dog is good at some things but poor at others... Belle the poodle can beg most anything out of a restaurant staff, but if she gets into a fight against Grouchy the boxer, he'll take whatever he wants and put her in the pound, licking her wounds. And that is both the strength and the flaw of this game... You need to learn and master the strengths of each dog to win. But some dogs (the fighters) are much weaker in games with less than the full 6 players (because the other dogs just stay away). We have made a house rule that you can draw again if you don't want to play your first pick to try to avoid this problem. Additional rules in the game cover a wildly-moving dog catcher (each player moves it at the end of their turn, so it tends to swerve around a lot) and critically important rules for what the rules call "piddling on a lamppost". This is important because you can use this to block off streets against other players' dogs, who have to stop and sniff away all their remaining action points if they encounter a marked lamp. Control of the map (particularly if the dogcatcher is nearby) is a critical strategy in this game, the one significant part that isn't luck-based at all.

Yes, it's silly. But it's also fun. And there's nothing wrong with that. It isn't strategically deep (in fact, it's very luck-driven, as even the best begging dog can draw a "nothing" when begging, just as the best run-and-dodge dog can get snatched by the dogcatcher), and dogs need to eat a LOT more than really makes the game fun (close to half your actions will be spent seeking food rather than trying to win... which, by the way, is done by burying bones in your home territory). Still, it's a nice light game to play, particularly if you aren't too shy to make silly bark and growl sounds to "get into character".

Funagain Purchase Links:
Kingdoms
A Dog's Life

Posted by ghoul at 06:05 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 11, 2003

Favorite Games VII

Today's pair are brought to us by the good folks at Out of the Box Games.

Apples to Apples is, quite probably, the finest "party game" I've ever seen. It is a game you can teach in minutes and that can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone of reasonable literacy, and it is endlessly, reliably, fun. The game itself is simple... Two types of cards, Red Cards which contain Nouns (people, places, things, the occasional generic term like "my high school prom") and Green cards which contain Adjectives ("Dramatic", "Complicated", or "Fancy", for three examples). Cards also contain simple definitions, quotes, or other identifiers to assist someone not familiar with the word or name in question. Each turn, one player takes the role of Judge and turns up one Green card. Every other player then selects the Red card from their hand that best matches the adjective on the Green card, playing it face-down. "Best" is intentionally subjective... Play to the Judge, because the Judge will decide (after shuffling so the source of each card is unidentifiable) on their own criteria. Whoever's word is chosen wins the round, and you play to a total score based on the number of players. That's it. (Well, actually, there are a handful of alternate ways to play presented in the base game and with each expansion set, of which there are four, but those are all optional additional fun.) The game plays quickly and socially, and all sorts of fun can be had just trying to make people explain why they Judged as they did. Two "Junior Age" editions also exist (using simpler vocabulary and fewer people not currently in the news), and if you just don't have the words you want, there's always these. This couldn't be more recommended as a ready passtime, or as something to take to your next non-gamer gathering (family event, church social, or whatever you gather for). It's all but assured to be a hit. The only disappointment, to me, is the art... It's by John Kovalic, but it consists of the same cartoon apple (colored red or green) over and over. A little variety would add to the game, but it's plenty good even without that.

Gold Diggers is an ultra-simple Knizia game, at least on its surface. When you get a little deeper, it shows some bits of strategy behind its apparently luck-heavy structure. Written for 2-5 players ages 7+, it might seem impossible that there could be any real strategy here, but Knizia is a better game designer than that. Gold Diggers features 3 types of cards, representing Mines (there are 6 and they are used to form a board rather than shuffled into the deck), Characters (5 for each mine) and Gold (real gold ranging in value from 1 to 8 nuggets and "fool's gold" worth zero). The mines are placed across the table, and each turn you play either a Character (on the appropriate mine) or a Gold card (on any mine of your choice with less than five). If you play a Character, you have the option of "staking a claim" on the mine they are associated with by placing a chip on the mine (you can, at most, stake 3 claims in the game, so there are 3 chips in each player color). When the last card is played (there are exactly 60 cards and exactly 60 places to play cards), you total up the gold in each mine, divide by the claims (rounding down), and get each player's score. Simple, but there's enough strategic choice, even with only 3 cards in your hand, that skill does play a part in winning (though luck can still betray you, such as if you never draw a Character card). Still, as with many high-luck games, playing multiple rounds and totaling the score can level out the random parts. This game plays in minutes (10-20), so that's easily done. This time, John Kovalic does provide some fun art (the pun-laden character cards will provide a giggle or two). And for the price (under $10!), this game is very hard to beat, even if it lacks the strategic density of others. It's quick, cheap, and fun. What more could you want?

Funagain Purchase Links:
Apples to Apples
Gold Diggers

Posted by ghoul at 06:31 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 09, 2003

Favorite Games VI

The series continues, this time with an award-winning pair, one of conquering Japan and the other of cornering the bean market. No, really.

Samurai is a Knizia game that looks like it's more thematically firm than it actually is. Play is on a hexagon-divided map of Japan, with extra islands added to the south and north, respectively, if a 3rd or 4th player are added. The map is speckled with cities, into which are placed (at random) three types of tokens, indicating influence with the nobility (tall conical hats), the clergy (small Buddha statues) or the common folk (rice paddies); larger cities contain two or, for the imperial capital of Edo, three different tokens. The object of the game is to "capture" these markers by having the most influence of the appropriate type when the last of the land areas around the city is filled. Each turn, you place a counter on one hex. These counters can be political, religious or common influence (with a rating of 2, 3 or 4) or they could be samurai, who apply toward all three "suits" (but rated 1, 2 and 3 only). There are also special counters, including ships, ronin, and some special effect tiles (no attempt is made to tie them into the theme) that let you move around things already placed, under certain situations. Most of the special counters also are marked as "fast", so allow you to play an additional counter after them. Each player has their own set of the same counters, though they are shuffled and played out from a hand of only 5 (an optional rule allows players to intelligently select rather than shuffle their initial hand of 5 counters, which makes for a significantly more strategic game). Scoring emphasizes balance rather than simple overwhelming force. A player who wins the majority of 2 castes wins, but this usually only happens in a two-player game. Otherwise, players who won no majorities are eliminated (you need strong support in at least one area to even have a chance) and the players with one majority compare their total wins of their non-majority token types. Thus, the best strategy is to win a slight margin in one caste, then a good healthy number in the other two as well. Of course, everyone else is trying to do the same thing...

Game bits are of considerable quality here. The board is a nice puzzle-cut modular design to let it grow as more players are added. The reward tokens are simple but attractive black plastic and the player counters are thick cardboard hexes that fit nicely into the spaces of the board (just a little bit of space to spare). Players are also given small stand-up screens to let them hide their hand of tiles and scoring tokens from each other. A well designed package to support an elegant, highly strategic game. But it really has very little to do with Japanese history, despite the Japan-shaped map, piece design, and artwork.

There is also a nice computer version for PC and Mac (non-Carbon, but it runs fine in a Classic window) from Klear Games (time and feature limited demo is available for download). While its AI is pretty sound (albeit far from immune to defeat), there's also an option to play real people over the net, and that can result in considerably more challenge.

Bohnanza is a game that sounds like it shouldn't work. Players take the role of bean farmers trying to grow various types of beans, then harvest their crops for cash. Doesn't sound interesting? Well, don't let the theme turn you off, because this is a very nice game of strategy, trading and set-building, easy to learn but with sufficient depth and strategic variety to stand several replays. The style of play is unique, and is what makes the game work. Every player has a hand of cards which must be kept in order (you may not under any circumstances arrange your hand... with one vital exception to come below). Each turn, you must play at least one card (representing a type of bean) to one of your fields (you initially have two, and may purchase a third during play). Each field can have only one type of bean in it, so if the card you must play doesn't match, you may have to sell off a field. And, as fields get more valuable the more beans you get into them, selling early is rarely what you want to do (and is exactly what other players want to force you to do). Next, you draw two face-up cards and try arrange trades. Trading is the way players can get bad cards out of their hand, because any trades end up face-up in front of the player and are planted (put into fields) immediately at the end of trading (which may require selling fields), so the card you trade away gets out of its spot blocking up your hand. Then you add more cards to the back of you hand to fill it. This makes for some delightful strategy, as players try to trade off beans they don't have decent sets of (or that are just ill-timed in their hand, coming up sooner than they want to sell a field), but never want to give away too much. Good graphic design is shown by printing coins on the back of every card... When you sell a field, you flip the cards over, keep the appropriate number for the type of bean and size of the field when sold, then discard the rest (the only problem there is a need to shuffle thoroughly, as the discards are inherently clumped into groups of the same bean). Silly theme? Yes. But this is a very high quality game, particularly for its low price (under $16 for the US edition, which includes cards for more players that were an expansion set for the original German game) and large number of players (up to 7, which makes for wild trading rounds and cutthroat competition for the really valuable beans).

Funagain Purchase Links:
Samurai
Bohnanza

Posted by ghoul at 06:43 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 07, 2003

Favorite Games V

A game of exploring the secret places of earth and a game of conquering the galaxy. A nice pairing, don't you think?

Lost Cities is Knizia again, a sharp two-player card game of exploration. Cards are numbered 2-10 in five colors, each representing a different area of exploration (jungle, arctic, underwater, etc.), and can be played only in ascending order (that is, once you've played the 6, only the 7 or higher can be played on your side of the table in that suit). Each player tries to build the best expeditions they can, one card a time, with the value being the sum of the cards played minus 20 (though if no cards are played, the value is zero), plus an additional 20 if you managed to accumulate 8 or more cards. This rather mathematical scoring scheme is typical of Knizia, but it works quite well. It is unwise to start any expedition you can't make at least moderate progress in, and the -20 cost to play the first card represents that well. Investor cards (3 per suit) multiply the eventual score of a column, but must be played before any other card, and do trigger that -20, making it possible to score as little as -80 for an expedition with full backing but no progress made. Also interesting is the discard mechanic. Discards go face-up to a stack for each suit, and the top of each stack can be drawn from by either player in the future (rather than taking a card from the face-down deck). Thus, you have to watch what you throw away, lest your opponent find it valuable. Or, if you're feeling daring, you can use the discards as a temporary holding place for a card you can't use now, but may want later. And, with as many as 5 face-up cards available, sometimes even the drawing of a card takes a thought-out decision (5 known cards plus one from the deck to choose among). There is a lot of luck to the game, which is why the rules suggest playing three (or more) rounds and totaling your score from each rather than just one play, which is fine because each single play goes by fairly quickly. Card art is interesting, showing progressively more interesting hints of what the expedition discovers as the card value increase. There is also a board that isn't strictly necessary to play, but since the whole package still comes in under $20 (under $15 from the link below!), I can't complain too much about it.

Cosmic Encounter is an absolute classic, a game that serves as a direct ancestor of all the Collectable Card/Miniature/Bard Games that have flooded the market for the last several years. You see, Cosmic Encounter was the first (or at least the first successful) game based on the the idea of having fairly simple rules but numerous special exceptions, governed by the player role or by cards drawn and played. I was introduced to it as "every player has their own way to cheat", which is as good a description as any. This made Cosmic Encounter an infinitely re-playable game, as every game has a new and likely unique mix of player options. The actual base game is very simplistic, as you send a small number of your units to attack other player's planets while defending your own, with both players inviting the rest of the game to ally on their side if they wish. Attack Cards are added to each side, the higher total wins ("Compromise" cards can be played to give up and take cards from your opponent's hand if they played a normal attack card, or start a round of negotiations for a deal if both players Compromise). If that doesn't sound overwhelmingly interesting, it's because it really isn't. It's the powers and the funky edicts/flares/moons/lucre that make the game the classic that it is (okay, maybe not lucre, which came in a very late expansion and always seemed too patched-on to flow with the game). Originally, the game was released (by the defunct but regularly brilliant Eon) as just its base self, with only a handful of alien powers. The really good stuff came in a series of 9 expansion sets, each adding new aliens (if memory serves, their final total was 75), new rules, new variety. Unfortunately, the original publisher went away, and CE has since been given 3 re-workings, only the middle of which (by Mayfair Games) actually managed to replicate the full range of the original game, and even expand on it a bit (with some new powers and a few new cards of significant impact). The most current edition, from Avalon Hill/Hasbro, looks by far the best with fancy plastic space ships replacing the familiar round cardboard disks of earlier editions, but is only a slight peek at this great game, lacking most of the options and alien powers that make CE such a great game, and it seems unlikely that it will be expanded to show its true strength. Which is really a shame, because this is really not a game where less is more.

Just an additional note... there is a new online version of Cosmic Encounter out there, and it's getting fairly good reviews, though it's still far from the complete game. It's adding new alien powers quickly (including some new ones created just for them and taking advantage of the computer to do things that would be hard with real cards, boards and pieces), which is a good sign, but it has a long way to go to be even half the game I wasted many a college night playing (thanks again, Alex, for letting your set take all the abuse endless gaming put it through!). Because, as I said about the board version, in this game it really is all about how many options for weirdness you have to choose from. Still, if you are curious, it's worth a bit of time trying it out!

Funagain Purchase Links:
Lost Cities
Cosmic Encounter

Posted by ghoul at 07:07 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 06, 2003

WISH 50 - Publish or ???

Have you ever considered trying to publish something professionally in the gaming industry? Why or why not? What are the good points and bad points of being in the industry?

Short answer... Yes. And probably not again soon.

I've had two professional publications and a rather long semi-pro period. Semi-pro was several years as editor for CompuServe RPGames forum's monthly gaming 'zine, for which I mostly produced game reviews. This "paid" in the form of a free account for use of the forum and a handful of review copies of games, and it was overall a positive experience, albeit one that took considerable time and didn't exactly endear me to a few game designers whose work I failed to praise. Still, I learned a good bit more about the industry, gained a larger appreciation of the value of smaller publishers (a font of creativity that the OGL/d20 movement has interesting effects on, both positive and negative), and became familiar with even more games than I would have just on my own. Net that one to a positive experience.

(I don't consider running AmberCon North as being "in the industry"... that's been a pure act of a fan.)

One pro was an article in Amberzine 7 (the only actual rules article ever to get past the Amberzine editorial process, as the usual focus is character diaries/stories), entitled "When Good Stuff Happens to Bad People". Its purpose was the object to the Good/Bad Stuff rules in ADRP, and the title was an all but offhand quip I made to Amberzine 7's editor (Joe Saul) at AmberCon 5 while bouncing a character idea off him. He said he pretty much agreed with my opinion and if I could write the article in three weeks, he'd put it into print. I still get occasional comments from people about this piece, mostly positive. And, unexpectedly, I received a reasonable pay rate (I had actually never asked about that before agreeing to write the article). Definitely a positive experience.

The other pro experience has more influenced my attitudes. "Teenagers From Outer Space Yearbook" was a less than positive experience. My co-author and I poured a fair amount of time to merge our two TFOS campaigns (and a few additional ideas needed to fill the page count) into one book. It was a list of NPCs, students and teachers, plus numerous adventure seeds. We arranged art (a friend of the co-author, who did an amazing job), put together the text, assembled a rough layout, and sent it off. The final project looked about like what we'd hoped (excepting a couple of annoying typos, one on my own favorite PC, whose stats in the printed book make no sense at all), but distribution was all but nonexistent. I don't think I ever saw it for sale except at GenCon... even at my own home comics/game store, who ordered it several times, failed to acquire even one copy. And getting paid... Well, we eventually settled up with the publisher, but I don't think any of the four of us (authors, artist, or publisher) were exactly happy with the experience. This was a lot of work for something too few people got to enjoy, and tussling over money issues drained even more fun out of things.

Not really my cup of tea. If I want to pour work into a game (and I have, on several), I'd rather it go toward making the game more fun for me and the players. Trying to also make it profitable for me... well, that just shifts my focus off and introduces strain that helps no one. I have a few ideas that might be worth publishing, but I don't expect I'll be going that route again anytime soon. Oh, I may finish and submit one of the half-dozen articles I have written or outlined, but I'm not focused in that direction at all. It's just not what I game for.

Posted by ghoul at 11:41 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Roll The Bones

Just a note... If you're into RPGs and haven't yet followed the link from the Roll the Bones blog to the Roll the Bones Forum, why haven't you?

Posted by ghoul at 10:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 05, 2003

Favorite Games IV

This time, a strategically deep, subtle game and a goofy toss-cards-around game...

Also, there is an improved set of links for those who, after reading these mini-reviews, decide they'd like to check out a game or two.

Battle Line is our Knizia game for this entry. This one is a two-player card game that nominally simulates battle between Alexander the Great and the Persian King Darius. But this thematic bit is not really important, as you don't even determine which player is which historical figure until during play, and may never know if the two leader cards don't come into play; as with many Knizia games, the theme is mostly an excuse to hang an abstract mathematical game from. This time, the game is a progressive effort to build up 3-card sets at each of nine "battle flags", where each card represents one of 10 different troop types (numbered 1 to 10, named and illustrated in ascending order from lightly armed skirmishers to massive battle elephants) . Sets made up of the same troop type, troops of the same color, or troops of types that form a sequence are superior to random sets (you could think of them as 3-card poker hands, if you like), so players carefully decide where to place their strengths to form the best formations. You play only one card a turn, and all cards are played face-up, so both players know everything about the game except what is in the other player's hand... and their devious little mind. Victory is achieved when you win either 5 battle flags (the majority) or 3 adjoining battle flags (a breakthrough). Each flag is decided when it becomes obvious that your set overpowers the opposing set. Note that this can become obvious even if one or both sets is incomplete! If, by counting face-up cards, you can demonstrate that no card still unplayed would result in the weaker set winning out, the stronger side takes the flag immediately. This rule results in some odd strategies, such as trying to lure your opponent into playing a second card toward a set you know (because the card they need is in your hand) they'll never be able to complete, or playing a card to show it isn't available, thus demonstrating a set at a completely different flag to be a loser. That latter strategy can result in you taking two (or, rarely, three or more) flags with one play! There are also "tactics" cards that keep the game from being too predictable, because they do things like modify the set rules for a single flag or cause a card to change sides. This is a very fun game of abstract strategy, with enough depth to require thought, but with sufficiently limited options each turn to avoid the game bogging down into unending quandaries about what to do next. Play is quick (20-30 minutes), so you can even go for a "best two out of three" play to minimize the impact of luck.

Munchkin is a light, silly game mocking dungeon crawl RPGs. Player take the "roles" of various dungeon invaders though you can change exactly roles pretty much at any time if, say, you get bored with being an elf (something that usually happens right when a monster that specializes in eating elves shows up). Play consists of tossing out cards to fight, then gathering up treasures and experience when you win (or taking damage when you lose). Other players can toss in cards to help or (more commonly, unless you bribe them) harm your odds against the monster you find. The object of the game is to be the first character to make it to Level 10 thanks to your monster-killing prowess. Expansion sets (2 so far) add even more silly roles, monsters, magic items, et al, to the mix, which just increase the silliness. This is a fun game to just sit around and read the cards (and enjoy the John Kovalic art)! But unlike many games that are just fun to look at, this one is also fun to play, preferably with as many people as you can gather to increase the madness (and the likelihood there will be at least one player currently in the role that your nastiest cards target!). Space Munchkin takes the same game into SciFi with minimal changes (in fact, the games can be somewhat intermixed if you like), and there's also Munchkin Fu that promises Martial Arts smackdown silliness (I will admit that I haven't actually seen it yet). And, on the even sillier side, there are three familarly-titled volumes that translate the cards of Munchkin to d20 rules (with allowances for a drastically increased power curve), in case you like your dungeon crawling this silly.

And yes, this was on the list to be included before Jenn's comment, though it's nice to know I'm not alone liking this one (though, with Munchkin, I would have felt pretty safe assuming that).

And here's an additional note... Many of the games listed here and in previous entries are available for purchase at Funagain Games. Here's a convenient set of links for the available games mentioned so far (and yes, these are "associate" links that gives me a little bit back on any referred sales... do support your friendly local game store first, but if they can't get the title, do give the folk at Funagain a try!). Future "Favorite Games" entries will include these links as well, at least as long as the games are available (sadly, not all the games I have already listed are, and I'm sure some future faves won't be, either).

Funagain Purchase Links:
Settlers of Catan
5-6 Player Expansion
Seafarers of Catan
Seafarers 5-6 Player Expansion
Cities and Knights
Cities and Knights 5-6 Player Expansion

Ursuppe
Ursuppe Freshly Spiced Expansion

Kill Doctor Lucky (director's cut)

Lord of the Rings
LotR: Friends and Foes Expansion
LotR: Sauron Expansion

Lord of the Fries (special edition)

Munchkin
Munchkin II - Unnatural Axe
Space Munchkin

Posted by ghoul at 06:34 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 03, 2003

Favorite Games III

I've already built up a list of some 32 titles for this series, so at a pair every other day, this won't be done anytime soon. And that's the limit only if I don't think of (or acquire!) other games deserving mention before I wrap this up.

But here's the next installment, a "lordly" pair if ever I've seen one...

Lord of the Rings is another Knizia creation, this one an ambitious attempt to create a game from the highly popular books (and initially released the summer before the first of the movies came out to get that tie-in as well). In this game, the players (in the roles of the hobbits, including the often-forgotten Fatty Bolger as a 5th player option, allowing from 2-5 people to play) cooperate against a difficult series of game boards, trying to maneuver through the various obstacles (Moria, Helms Deep, Shelob's Lair and Mordor) on their quest to destroy the ring. Yes, I said cooperate. This is a game that is either won or lost by all players.

Most of play is done by trying to match cards of certain suits (conflict, friendship, travel, hiding, and the wild suit of magic) against the current challenges, and do so rapidly as the challenges get nastier if not quickly overcome. Every board has tracks for three of the suits (Mordor has all four suits, making it even nastier), and an Event track, representing plot events that act as a time limit on finishing the other tracks. Each hobbit has a unique "power", essentially one rule that applies differently to them than it does to everyone else, as a way of differentiating them. The non-hobbit members of the Fellowship are abstracted into cards that help push past big challenges, and the Ring is the ultimate tool for evading danger... but using it carries a major risk, as it can move the Ringbearer closer to Sauron on a critical corruption chart. Players must get the ring to Mount Doom before they are pushed to Sauron's location on that chart by game events gone wrong and use of the Ring. It isn't easy, and the game suggests an aggressive means of cranking up difficulty (essentially starting with Sauron much closer to the hobbits) as players get better at the game.

Also available for LOTR are two supplements. Friends and Foes adds two new boards to play through -- the fairly easy Bree and the fairly nasty Isengard -- plus scary monsters that start trailing the party but which, if overcome, can allow some boards to be "skipped", though at a price. For example, if the Fellowship can evade all pursuit through Bree, they can avoid Moria, but at the price of giving up most of the rewards that would have come from visiting Lothlorien and starting the next board with several newly drawn Foes on their tail. Also, each Hobbit gains a second power, though this one can only be used once per game.

The newer Sauron expansion is an even more dramatic change to the game. When using it, one player stops cooperating (or a 6th player joins in), taking on the role of Sauron, now intelligently throwing dangers in the Fellowship's path, though limited by the cards and tiles he draws and by the Fellowship "activating" him when taking risky actions (of course, risk is unavoidable in their quest, so Sauron won't sit quietly for too long). Also added is a direct mechanic for the Black Riders, traveling up and down the Corruption board, from Mordor to the hobbits then back. If they complete the cycle, it's all over for the good guys. Game balance still favors the hobbits over Sauron, but not by much.

As a whole, this game is a lot to learn (the rules re-write at the site linked to above clears up a few points from the original rules), but it's manageable, especially if you grow into the rules one expansion at a time. This is a very challenging game, however, and you can expect to lose and lose badly if you don't work out how to cooperate effectively. Scan ahead on the boards as soon as they come up to work out which sub-quests you need to complete first, or you'll give up some of the nicest benefits (for example, at Helms Deep you must work fast on the "Friendship" track or you won't get help for the Riders of Rohan, and that is quite a loss). Throughout the games, in the rules and on the board and cards, is full color art by John Howe, one of the two main conceptual artists of the Lord of the Rings movies, so the look of this game is very well matched with the films. Also, there are many little game bits, from an oversized plastic ring (complete with the traditional lettering), a haunting Sauron piece and, with the Sauron expansion, a very imposing Black Rider. The hobbits themselves are a bit chintzy, but that's a small problem in such a lovely game.


Lord of the Fries is my second choice from Cheapass (though their whole catalog features only a couple of clunkers), an odd card game of the rummy family, only here the meldable combinations are the ever-shifting makings of various combo meals at a zombie-staffed fast food joint (the same place as their earlier and almost equally fun Give Me The Brain). The target hand at any time is the "order", chosen from a menu, which might range from simple to very complicated. There is a fair amount of strategy in card-passing and in order selection, but not overly much. For the most part, it's just "try to get rid of all your cards", and that's easy to figure out. The current "deluxe version" comes in color and with several alternative menus (though no longer in the cool chinese take-out box that was used to pack it briefly), creating even more game play alternatives, and still at a price well below most any other game anywhere near this much fun.

Posted by ghoul at 01:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 01, 2003

Role Call 21 - Playing the Movies

Oh, now this one's right up my alley...

What are three movies whose mood and/or situations you'd like to emulate in a roleplaying game, and why?

Only three? Well, I'll be selective...

As might be inferred from other projects (scroll down a bit on that second link, as it's near the midpoint), I'm well into cinematically influenced style in RPGs, and take lots of inspiration from movies. But let's do three I haven't been able to actually do yet...

Twelve Monkeys -- Oh, wow! This is time travel done with guts. Even Continuum is only barely scratching the surface of the deep use of paradox, doubt, and predestination that Terry Gilliam managed in this all too neglected movie. Paranoia-style post apocalyptic humor and an amazingly manic Brad Pitt performance just add to the mix. As with Memento, structure would be everything in this game, with little time loops building until the whole game comes full circle, just as the film does. And the psychological twisting could be as cruel as Power Kill. I doubt I have the skill for it ("Mementos of Amber" was hard enough!), but this is the sort of project I'd love to attempt.

Cemetery Man (originally titled Dellamorte Dellamore for its original Italian release, and not available on DVD, it seems... which is a crime! Glad I've got that old LD copy!) -- This is another odd-atmosphere piece. This time, we focus on a cemetery caretaker who, in addition to trimming weeds, has to deal with the fact that anything buried here rises as a zombie a short while later. Rather than try to convince anyone this happens and face the resulting paperwork, he just kills them again. And that's just the opening premise, from there it gets weird. This sort of horror is a fave of mine, and there are other movies that work in it as well (say Peter Jackson's worlds-from-LotR Dead Alive or Sam Raimi's Spiderman-came-later Evil Dead and, especially, its sequels), but this is a particular favorite of mine. Extremely gory horror mixed with offbeat comedy makes for a difficult atmosphere to maintain in a game, but if it could work it would be great to try.

And, in a less mind bending but still endlessly fun direction, how's about a good treatment of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World? Just a madcap treasure hunt, lacking in any functional teamwork or character skill or anything but humor. Alliances forge and shatter, plans collapse for the silliest reasons, new supporting characters wander in just to make things even more of a mess. Characters are defined by their quirks more than their skills (because they don't have much by way of skill). A perfect example of a game where failure should be the expected ending, for a WISH cross-over.

Wow... this barely dented the laser disk collection... and didn't even look to the DVDs!

Posted by ghoul at 08:54 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Favorite Games II

Here's another two games, including the first of what will undoubtedly be several Cheapass Games and, in what will likely prove to be a rarity, nothing by Knizia...

Ursuppe (preferably with the "Freshly Spiced" expansion set that adds another player and many more gene options) is a great game with an odd theme -- your species of amoeba trying to out-evolve other players' species. The central mechanic is a bit icky, since each turn you must eat one food cube of all colors not your own and then excrete 2 cubes of your own color... Think about just what that means you're eating. Eeeew! This is not the "circle of life" from that Disney song! Still, play is clever and reasonably quick (one and a half to two hours), with lots of strategic options in where you move your amoebas, in how quickly your multiply, and in what traits (represented by gene cards) you choose to evolve toward. It's easy to get lost on pursuing a personal goal and not even realize you aren't winning the game... And that means you get a chance to "win" against the goal you decided to achieve even if you lose by the official score. The pieces, solid wood and plentiful, give the game a good, solid heft for its price (it barely fits back into the box once assembled!), even if they are just wooden polygons not remotely amoeba shaped. And don't worry... the game is printed with German and English rules, and with double-sided cards, one side (with color art) in the original German and the other side (with B&W art) in English.

Kill Doctor Lucky is a Cheapass Games favorite. In effect (and with apologies to William Goldman), this is the "good parts" version of Clue. Here, instead of stumbling around a mansion trying to figure out who killed someone, you get to stumble around trying to kill him (but only if no one can see you). It's a light, silly game, somewhat flawed by its length (it goes on a bit longer than the joke lasts, unless someone gets unusually lucky early on) and the occasional ability of one player to create a situation where they get 3 or more (sometimes many more) turns in a row, skipping the rest of the players. Cheapass is currently selling the "director's cut", which features more jokes on the cards, some optional rules (some of which serve to shorten the game to a more reasonable length), and an alternate board which dramatically changes gameplay (yes, you still get the original board). As is the norm at Cheapass Games, you get quite a lot of fun in a simple package for a very reasonable price!

Posted by ghoul at 06:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 30, 2003

Wish 49

Is there a way to win or lose in a roleplaying game? Are you in competition with other players, NPCs, or the GM? What are the rewards for winning or the penalties for losing? Do you feel like your characters have to ďwinĒ to enjoy a game?

hmmm...

Well, there clearly are for some games. Rune, for example, is actually a competitive game, with the GM and players both limited by the rules and fighting over Victory Points. But that's an exception. The big difference between most RPGs and most other games is that RPGs aren't "zero sum" or "winner-takes-all"; some or all participants can win, and no one needs to lose.

Some people focus on character power-gathering as victory, or on changing the world in their desired way, and if they achieve their goals, they consider it a "win", so good for them!

But IMO, the object is to tell a good and genre appropriate story (either at the character or the overall level). That can end with failure if the genre is Cthulhu or or if it's Toon and you picked the Coyote as your role model (in fact, the humor in Toon is pretty much always based around failure, which is the major way it differs from the other animation-based humor game, Teenagers From Outer Space, which bases its humor on excessive success). Failure is, in fact, an appropriate story in many genre. For some character concepts (evil masterminds such as Brand-as-painted-by-Corwin, for example) it's almost the only genre-appropriate story from the very beginning (since some genre don't allow for the bad guys winning the day).

One "wins" an RPG if, in the end, your character has achieved a genre appropriate, satisfying ending, be it to an episode or to their full story. Thus, some players can win while others lose, though in most situations all the players, including the GM, are working together to achieve a mutual win. You "lose" if the ending you achieve is not genre appropriate (the bad guys win after the heroes give up instead of fighting on even though facing only slight resistance, for example, is almost never genre appropriate) or if you never achieve closure (the game falls apart without wrapping up anything, as happens all too often).

Now, many (perhaps most) games establish a genre (or, I suppose, actually a sub-genre within their setting as genre) that is "character vs. universe conflict", where the only appropriate ending is success against all odds, and this tends to create false player vs. GM conflict, as the GM provides the "all odds" you need to succeed against. But it is a false conflict; the GM's goal is the players' success just as much as the players' is. Which tends to make for the odd situation where the GM "wins" by the NPCs under the GM's control losing.

Posted by ghoul at 11:53 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Favorite Games I

As some readers here know, I'm a pretty serious fan of board and card games as well as RPGs, so I thought I'd start a series here of micro-reviews of favorite games, just to help spread the word a bit.

I have no idea how long this will go on, but I have a lot of favorite games, so it might be quite a while. Except several swings to the land of Cheapass Games and more than a few mentions of the name Reiner Knizia.

I'll start with the favorite, a game I'm rarely without just in case I have 15 minutes and someone interested in playing. En Garde is a Knizia classic, a card game of fencing that, despite its simple and highly mathematical mechanics, achieves a very good feel in play. It's easy to learn, as the rules teach the game in three levels, starting extremely simple and slowly adding the more complex parry and advance-and-attack rules. It's a small game (just a couple dozen cards) with only a few "bits" (cards you lay out to create a board and dice printed with fencer silouettes to use as place-markers), but it packs a lot of fun into a small package.

Settlers of Catan is also an easy choice. Players are in the role of tribal leaders on an island trying to build up from a couple villages to a thriving urbanized culture more quickly than do the other tribes on the island, building with a set of 5 resources developed at random each turn. Trading between players is all but required, as another player will likely be the only easy way to get the resource you need. Some people dislike its high "luck" element (resources are produced at random and if your numbers don't come up, you lose out), some people make it take forever by playing too seriously (the style of game really calls for quick, light play), but if you can avoid taking it too seriously, it's a great way to pass some time. Almost anyone, even non-gamers, can quickly come to understand its goals and methods and become a reasonably good by their third or fourth game. And, if you keep the game quick, it plays fast enough that you can get through several games in an evening. The expansions are more for the pure gamer crowd (particularly Cities and Knights set), as they add complexities and length for strategic options that casual players aren't likely to appreciate, but the basic game is pure gold.

Posted by ghoul at 10:10 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 28, 2003

The Newest Diceless Game

Well, if the general RPG market isn't ready for diceless, we're about to find out through a high-profile failure.

It's fairly easy to figure out that I lean toward the side of diceless RPGs. After all, there's links to the AmberCons website here on the Staircase, including AmberCon North for which I currently serve as Treasurer after three years as Con Chair. I'm by no means a purist, though, as anyone looking at my list of current game plans or active games will see (and I did just run a diced Amber game at The Black Road). I think dicelessness works well when the assumption of success (baring active resistance) is justified, which means, in my actuarially-biased view, it fits well for high-powered characters (Amber or Nobilis, for example) and less well at more realistic ability levels (where random factors matter about as much as character ability, if not more).

So, this leads me to some comments on the new Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game...

Superheroes fit into my above-made category of "high-powered characters", so by that standard, a diceless mechanic could fit for superhero gaming. But, traditionally, super-hero RPGs have been dice-heavy, with highly random (high variance) mechanics trying to capture the "cinematic" nature of super-hero tales. So here's a new game that flies in the face of that convention, using the ultimate in low variance game mechanics - one with no random factor at all - to simulate the highly cinematic (as can be seen from the success of recent movie translations, such as Spider-Man and X-Men) Marvel Comics universe.

Confusing high variance dice mechanics with "cinematic" mechanics is a common mistake in the RPG world. By making the dice range huge, game designers and players seem to think, you can allow for the extremes of astounding success common in cinematic genre, and that is somewhat true. However, to get a cinematic genre feel you need to encourage the players to take risks, to ignore obvious dangers in favor of the flashier solution, and only then to succeed despite the odds. And, of course, this is exactly backwards of how reality shows people react to riskiness; in a highly uncertain situation, the best course of action is to hedge your bets, to take a conservative tack, and get a more reliable if mediocre result. Instead, the way to encourage cinematic action by players is to make success more likely and to make the price of doing things the showier way negligible or even negative (that is, it's easier to succeed if you swashbuckle). Feng Shui does this, and that's a large part of why it works so well as a cinematic RPG. Games that go the high-variance route tend to end up patching with some form of "hero points" to smooth over the times when high variance results in excessively bad results (which, with most die mechanics, it will do with exactly the same frequency as it does excessively good results).

Well, with a few missteps, Marvel Universe takes the "reduce randomness to increase cinematic feel" to its logical extreme, "eliminate randomness and perhaps maximize cinematic feel". If I know that Daredevil can always survive a leap off a 10-story building thanks to his Acrobatics skill, then as player I won't even consider the elevator. And if I know the thug's pistol isn't ever going to hurt the Hulk, then as player I'd just have ol' greenskin stomp forward ignoring the bullets.

But Marvel Universe isn't quite as simple as that. Every character has their skills and powers, but in each "panel" of the story (the game uses comic-book terms for game time, so round of actions by one character is a "panel", the full round of all active characters is a "page") every player needs to allocate energy/attention among their options (attack, defense, skill use, etc.); the rating a character has in any one power or skill tells us the maximum they can allocate to it. Allocation is done by moving small glass stones around on your character sheet. It's all pretty mechanical, feeling more like I'm playing Star Fleet Battles than an RPG, but once you get the hang of it, the idea isn't an inherently bad one. Almost all characters can use up energy far more quickly than they can recover it (usually you recover only half or one-third of your maximum reserves after every panel), so there's even some strategy to the game (lots of trying to second-guess opponents and allocate lots to attack the same round they under-allocated defense).

From a bit of toying with the system, it's very clear that standard powers (called "Actions") are nice, but powers bought up to what the game calls "Modifiers" are far better. You see, modifiers don't take any energy to use, they just kick in whenever they apply. So, for example, the Hulk gets several "stones" worth of defense because he's pretty much made of armor. Bullseye gets a handful of "stones" as a bonus to any ranged attack he makes, because he's deadly with anything. This means someone playing the Hulk only needs to allocate energy to defense against very strong attacks, and if you're fighting against Bullseye, you'd best keep a half-dozen or more points in defense every panel or you're going to get badly hurt. And if the Hulk faces off against Bullseye, the two effects pretty much cancel and we're back to the normal rules (so Bullseye best watch out, because that's really his best trick and the Hulk has several others, including the highest Strength in the game by quite a margin).

Tons of special cases and odd effects exist, making the comparison of action value to resisting value more complicated, and usually those are good things (such as Spider-Man's ability to re-arrange his allocations after seeing everyone elses', simulating his "spidey-sense", or the Black Cat's bad luck power that makes any success by less than a given point margin into a failure). With proper expansion (the base game is only barely adequate in the range of special effects it describes), this could make for a very strategically rich conflict resolution system.

Shortcomings? Well, the game has a few. The small size of the book (128 pages) requires them to under-detail many of the rules, leading to some very confusing table entries with little or no explanation. Examples are also in short supply; there are plenty of sample characters at nearly 40 (though they aren't given with their point costs, so you can't use them as ready examples of character creation), but far too few clear examples of play. And some of the game's mechanical concepts are subtle, the sort that good examples are by far the best tool to explain. Some rules also seem to contradict the general feel of the game. For example, there's a penalty for "showing off" with your action, which seems counter to the whole cinematic feel I went on about above. But, I think, the difference here is that the game encourages the player to show off, but tries to discourage (via increased chance of failure) the character showboating. A little self-defeating, perhaps, but not hard to patch up. And the transformation rules (for characters who have two or more forms) discourage slight transformation (some changes in abilities, but most skills remain unaffected) in favor of the extremes (Hulk or Thor-like models, where the transformed form lacks almost all skills of the base self).

Also, the game is a bit pricey for its size ($25 for 128 pages of a comic-book-sized hardcover volume). But don't fall for appearances... This is a fairly meaty game, and one that, with a little GM work and time spent figuring out its workings, will probably reward you with fun play. The highly mechanical play may frustrate some people, there's some subtle strategies to point allocation that may discourage some folk who like things simpler, and the dicelessness will upset the pro-dice partisans, but I think the game stands on its own reasonably well against the strong range of super-hero games already on the market, and against the earlier attempts at a Marvel RPG. For more information, examples of play, some sample pages, and the official FAQ, check out the official MURPG page.

I know I'm working on a simple scenario to try to tempt friends into playing so we can check the whole thing out for real.

Posted by ghoul at 01:15 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 27, 2003

Okay, This One I Don't Much Like...

Dungeons and Dragons players probably know by now about 3.5, the errata-and-more update of the Third Edition rules due out in just over a month.

Well, for the first time since WOTC started leaking hints about this, there's one I don't like.

Preview of 3.5 Gnomes

What don't I like? Well, it's right at the end... Somehow, Gnomes have changed their "favored class" from Illusionist to Bard.

Oh, it's probably a good change. Gnomes in 3E got shorted a bit, since being a specialist mage is a restricting choice and that was their only favored class option. And Bards are already strong on Illusion-type spells (with strong rumors that their list will get even better on 3.5), so it isn't that dramatic a change (and the +1 to Illusion spell save DCs is nifty)... But by changing the Gnome favored class to Bard, many gnome characters will need to be given house rule protection or will start eating multi-class experience penalties (and those are very unpalatable things). Also, by changing from an INT based casting class to a CHR based class (for more than just spellcasting), existing Gnome characters will have the wrong attributes for their new favored class.

And this from a design team that probably still won't make Paladin into a prestige class because it will disrupt too many long-standing D&D assumptions? Well, Gnomes being illusionists is as long-standing as the Gnome race, if memory serves. Now, suddenly, their race stereotype changes from clever trickster to charming trickster. A small but significant shift to make for an whole race, even one that was probably the least-used of D&D player races.

It's a minor grumble, compared to the improvements I've seen coming in 3.5, but this is the sort of sweeping (if subtle) change I was hoping would only be made if vital, and I don't think gnomes were critically broken as they were.

Posted by ghoul at 08:25 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 26, 2003

WISH 48: Money, Money, Money

48? Wow... a lot of these to catch up on as time alows!

The price and availability of miniatures goes up as more companies leave the market. Wood costs lead to extended paper costs, and supplements and gaming systems are becoming a serious financial investment. Is this affecting your gaming any?

Of course, the reason "more companies leave the market" is not only because many of them are run as hobbies by people with little or no business sense.

It's also because there isn't that much margin to be made at today's prices (unless you avoid printing and distribution costs by going the PDF route, which the market really hasn't accepted yet). And really never has been. The most successful games have made a handful of people rich (the small 'r' version... no Gateses or Buffets in the gaming world), but most games just provide enough to pay a small number of people, often most of them freelancers paid well under the word rate for broader market writing. Most people writing games work another job to put food on the table.

I will admit, I don't automatically buy everything new and interesting any more, but that's more because there's too much product these days, and much of it support product for games I already know I'm not going to follow (like most everything White Wolf puts out... if only because they don't support Adventure!) or are the effluvium of the countless fly-by-night d20 lines (so many that the good products are easy to overlook!).

If you let price dictate your decisions, you don't buy wonderful things like Nobilis in favor of, say, The World of Synnibarr (which offered a LOT of pages for its price... pages of utter crap, of course, but a lot of them). That's clearly a mistake.

And I still follow a simple rule... If a movie costs $6 (matinees here in New Hampshire still do), then any game that will be enjoyable to just read has to be worth at least $18 (because it will take 3 times longer than the movie), and if it is even slight more enjoyable than a similar-length book or movie, then it adds even more value to the equation. Now, I'll admit that I think the new Talisman is overpriced at around $70... but that's because I already have the earlier editions. If I had access to no Talisman at all, I might just decide it's worth it, because it is a great light game and I know I've spent enough hours playing it to catch it up to the "movie price equivalent" easily.

Of course, I buy $45 German board games just because the bits look useful to recycle for other uses, so maybe I'm a poor judge.

Posted by ghoul at 09:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Role Call 20

Okay, this is my first one of these, but it's a question I do have a bit to say about...

In what homegrown setting have you had the most fun, and why?

This is going to take an extended entry...

With all apologies to Lou and Julia, whose original game world is home (or at least adopted home, in Gevrok's case) to several of my current characters, I have to go back a bit to give this its proper answer.

Back in the days of CompuServe's RPGames forum, I had the privilege to be part of Caroline Julian's sprawling Eollan campaign. Initially, I had no idea how deep and complicated this setting was, how rich its history and cultures, and how entangling its major NPCs' plots could become. I found out all of that as we played.

It started with the taciturn Emlyn, whose first scene was being refused as the human sacrifice for his tribe. To add to the insult, he was simultaneously chosen as champion for his people's Goddess, which he took as being rejected completely by the Hunter, whose service he has wanted to enter his whole life (he was, it turned out, completely wrong about that). Play continued with him pushed into a messy political situation he had no comprehension of, with several very different peoples. When last seen, he was in the company of a wolf gifted to him by the Hunter Himself and dealing with strange fey magics he had no hope of ever unraveling.

In the course of Emlyn's first adventure, he was sent off on a side-quest that took far less time to resolve than the activities of the rest of the PCs, and so I was offered a chance to create a second character, who turned out to be the selfish, snobbish, effete, and drug-addled bookkeeper Kusian. Oh, Kus was invaluable to completing the mission the PCs were faced with, but he really wasn't at all a nice person at all. Several people took up the goal of trying to make him a better person, or at least less of a danger to those around him, to differing degrees of success.

Next (and the only character here born for a face-to-face game) came Bernard, a crass mercenary hired to help in a rescue action who ignored some very good advice and retrieved a cursed axe that an evil priest had used to try to kill him. He came to what turned out to be years later, somehow freed from service to the axe, scarred and nearly dead with little memory of what he had done. I didn't get to find out just why anyone thought he was worth saving.

Then Thonia. Ahh, Thonia. A favorite character of mine, a walking contradiction. Shy, withdrawing, and inexperienced... but, at the same time, trained in dark magic and murder, probably my only PC who considers poisoning an appropriate response to a social slight. Her relationships (particularly with a kiss-stealing 'gypsy', her mysteriously unaging mentor, and a young relative with a penchant for finding secrets) were all terribly complicated and confused, and a little bit of baby-sitting turned into her strangest journey.

And, briefly, there was Lorenzo as well, a charming young schemer who had, when last seen, gotten himself in a bit deeper than he knew how to deal with, though he was quite confident he'd manage a way. The fact that he was actively working against Thonia's interests (though the two never met... which may be why Lorenzo was still alive when I last got a look into this world) made it even more interesting.

In many ways, that was the beauty of Eollan. It was large and complex enough that you could play several characters whose paths never cross, but who leave ripples other characters do encounter, sometimes decades later. There was magic and power, there were also people and simple problems that sometimes were harder to solve than those magic and power created. It also helped that the GM and players here were of the highest quality, but a lot of it was the work Carrie had put into the world, work that showed every new corner you looked around. It was also a world with extensive histories, which almost everyone believed and which were, more often than not, almost completely false. What went on behind the scenes are always more important than what was happening on the surface.

Unfortunately, real life distractions on both sides and the collapse of CIS RPGames left all of these stories unfinished. But for all of the 90s, this was the world I most looked forward to every chance I could get to play in it.

Posted by ghoul at 08:41 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 25, 2003

Current Games I'm Playing

Another extented entry, mostly just here to list what all is going on so I can keep track of it, or so that future references make some sense. Not that I have anywhere near as many PCs as I've had in my more active gaming periods, but it's still quite a few.

And that's about it right now... As with GMing, I'm a bit short on time and that keeps me from doing quite as much as I'd like to!

Posted by ghoul at 09:46 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Current Game Plans

Well, here's as good a place as any to detail what I have cooking right now as RPG concepts. Some are nearly ready to run, some are being developed for this September's AmberCon North, and some are for face-to-face games that may or may not happen anytime soon.

Plus this is a chance to make sure extended entries work...

First, my almost complete ideas...

Now, my less developed concepts... I want to do something with FVLMINATA. The diceless system fan in me wants to try out the new Marvel Universe RPG, mostly likely with an X-Men game. Buffy calls to me as well, and I've sketched out a concept on the Roll the Bones forum. And there's Nobilis that really deserves some time and attention. And I'd run more Teenagers From Outer Space at the drop of a hat.

Of course, to get to all of these, I need to get through (or give up on) my one remaining actuarial exam, which currently eats of most of my free time for three months every autumn. Still, even if I know I don't have time to do most of these, it's useful to keep a list, so here it is.

Posted by ghoul at 08:34 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack