Wednesday, November 30, 2016

RPGs As Resource Management Exercises

I realized in discussion on Google Plus about Perception rolls that these days, I'm really much more of a boardgamer than I am a roleplayer. And that shows through in my play and my thoughts about play.

Lately, I've seen RPGs are being a resource management exercise.

Bear with me, here.

Players (PCs) have limited resources. Spell slots and hit points are the most obvious resources that most games feature, but there are others. Potions. Magic items. Abilities with "refresh" frequencies. Story Points. Time.

The goal as a player is to maximize these resources. Save the Daily Powers for the Big Bad. Use the little stuff on the mooks. Work as a team.

The goal as a GM is to make the resources feel thin, whether they are or not.  "Okay, guys. Your goal is to reach the top of the hill and kill the Death Priest.  He's standing over the entrance to a Goblin Warren, and every

Now this isn't a campaign.  The GM didn't completely tip his hand, either: the GM didn't say, "When you reach the top, you'll learn that the Death Priest is the Mayor of Safeholm, and he's taken Sir Truehart's squire, Jacob the Awkward, as a hostage." These are things the PCs will learn when they reach the top of the hill.  This is one session's encounter(s).

Some games are more explicit than others about their resource management. Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition was quite explicit about it. Players had "At-Will" abilities that they could use every round, "Encounter" abilities that they could use once per combat encounter, and "Daily" powers that they could use ... once per day.  They also had points that they could accrue to spend for extra actions.  GUMSHOE system games let players spend points on rolls - and those points don't refresh as much as you want them to.

Other systems are more subtle. In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition, it's the list at the beginning. Spell slots and hit points. Some magic items had limited charges. Potions were single-use. Spellcasters who wanted to create magic items had to sacrifice XP to do so.

Character advancement is a form of resource, too. Where you choose to spend your XP has a direct impact on what resources you have available. When you level up in 2E, sometimes you would gain skills (both Weapon Proficiencies and Non-Weapon Proficiencies).

I wonder how many designers see the games in this way.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Game Night

The last few weeks, we've only had my wife and myself at Game Night. Or just Wade and Steph and myself. And it's good - don't get me wrong - there are a number of fantastic two-and-three-player games in my library. But it's still rough.

I'd forgotten about this stage of starting a regular game group. The stage where sometimes it's just you.

It's ... not easy. Honestly, it's sometimes downright discouraging.

But I learned a long time ago to stick with it. The line from Field of Dreams, "If you build it, they will come," does apply here.  It does work. Eventually, they will show up to play games.

There comes a point where people who have been telling you, "I'll make it sometime," actually do make it.  Sometimes they're sporadic. Sometimes they stick with it. Enough "sometimes," and they find that they are regulars.

Boardgaming - for me - is a source of personal stability. If I don't play at least one game in a week, I'm not right for a bit. And I can do some of that gaming on Saturdays at Fantasium - unless something else is going on. Saturdays are when we play 13th Age and Legend of the Five Rings and sometimes some Dungeons and Dragons - but roleplaying doesn't give me that same focus.

Thankfully, there are people around who are willing to play games with me - even if it's just a quick game of 7 Wonders: Duel (which is, by the way, fantastic).

But there are so many games I want to play with more players. Street Kings is playable with three, but it looks like its sweet spot is 4-5. In fact, three is a weird number when it comes to board games, because there aren't a lot of really good games that handle three players well.  Haggis. Blokus Trigon.

It's given me renewed appreciation for the presence of a good game store - and sharpened the pain of losing a good one.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Review Copies

In line this week's anniversary, I thought it'd be a good time to do a little bit of housekeeping:

I've started receiving more and more inquiries from publishers about sending me copies for reviews.

I don't know if it's because of this blog or because of the Kicksnarker community over on Google Plus, or some other magic somewhere, but I'm getting sometimes several inquiries in a day.

I love getting free things. Who doesn't?

Financially, however, I'm in a good place. I can afford to buy most of the games I want to buy. And gaming is a luxury, so the ones I can't afford can wait. Because of this, I'm only accepting free copies of games (and other products) that I worked on. I am not currently accepting review copies of games.

It means that the (too few) reviews that I post are biased only in favor of games that I thought were worth the money spent. And are biased against games that weren't worth the money spent.

Those of you who are Seattle local, I'll gladly meet with you and play your prototype and give you feedback. I'll even extend that to folks who are visiting the area (or folks in areas that I'm visiting).

So publishers? Thanks for the interest. It makes me feel important and influential and notable. But I'm not interested in receiving free copies in exchange for my review.

On Anniversaries

So this upcoming Sunday marks the eleventh anniversary of this blog.

Admittedly, the first post was, "Go away! Nothing to see here!" But it's still the first post here.

In that time, I've had good posts and bad posts and a whole heapload of mediocre ones.

By the numbers, I'm not big on the gaming blog scene. I'm not important or influential - but I also don't care about the numbers.  Because of this blog, I've met some really awesome people from all corners of the globe because they've stopped by and read what I said and commented. I've met some of you in person, even, at GenCon or other events. It's been amazing.

And I'm not stopping.  I've carved out my little corner of the internet, and it's been awesome.

Whether you're a regular reader or a first-time visitor, thank you for reading.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Mythic Battles

A few years ago, a game came out called Mythic Battles. It was really good, and I liked it a lot. But it was cumbersome.  You see, players would field armies against one another. As your units took damage, their stats would change.

And yes, I know.  It sounds like HeroClix, but it was very different.  Very different.

For one, Mythic Battles used tokens moving on the grid instead of figures. Each figure had a corresponding deck of stat cards. As you took damage, you would discard the top card of that deck. The dice mechanics were also different, and involved a degree of push-your-luck.

There was a different deck of cards that you used to determine which units you could activate each turn, too. It wasn't just free choice. And the various units had different numbers of activation cards, too, so you might not be able to activate your immensely powerful (but slow-moving) units as often as you could activate your more nimble troops.

Mythic Battles managed to survive long enough to spawn two expansions, which expanded the basic game, but I didn't see a lot of discussion of it on forums and blogs and the other communities I was a part of.  It was a real shame.

It more or less disappeared after the second expansion. I was disappointed by this, but it's part of the life cycle of games - games come and go and come and go.

A few months ago, I got an e-mail from a friend asking if I'd be available to help on a new game. I figured Mythic Battles: Pantheon would be a similarly-themed game with a very similar name.  What I hadn't expected was that the team behind the game never gave up on the game, and they wrote a new edition that is cleaner, clearer, faster-playing, and just all-around better.  They replaced the damage decks with a sliding clip, and re-designed the cards and layout.

It's on Kickstarter now.

Obvious disclaimer is obvious: I worked on this and will be getting a free copy. But I'm seriously considering backing for an additional copy.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016


I'm a compulsive sleever these days. Most of my games are sleeved (and those that aren't make me twitchy). And it's because I know the life cycle of a game - they print an initial print run. If it sells out quickly, more are printed. If it sells out slowly, it may or may not get an additional run. If it doesn't sell out after a bit, it goes on clearance and will never be reprinted.

I also know how much wear I put on my games. Deckbuilders especially, as it's "take two turns and reshuffle" for most games for a good long while. That puts a ton of wear on the cards.  So I sleeve my cards as much as I can.

I always try to sleeve out-of-print games, too. I spent a few hours recently sleeving The Great Khan Game, because that would be a crazy-difficult game to replace at a reasonable price.

Some games also change slightly from print run to print run. Some of my Cutthroat Caverns cards are mismatched just enough that you can pick them out when unsleeved. Sleeving them fixed that right away (now if only someone would make a 90x90 sleeve that isn't a penny sleeve for my event cards ... ).

I have one friend who - every time sleeves come up in discussion - expresses distaste for them. Every. Time. And I just don't understand the hate.  Sure they make it a little bit more difficult to shuffle - but not much, and it gets easier with practice. It's not like we're stuck in the mid-nineties when card sleeves were not tournament legal for Magic: The Gathering and other collectible games.
At the dawn of the Magic era, card sleeves existed for the storage and display of collectable [sic] cards. The idea that cards will retain a collectable [sic] value while also being played was revolutionary. Most early players refused to sleeve their cards. Sleeves available at the time fell into two categories: “penny” sleeves-- cheap, flimsy, and thin, and “top-loaders”-- two rigid plastic sheets bound together. In 1995 Ultra-PRO became the first company to sell card sleeves specifically designed for use during game play.
So said Wizards of the Coast in 2004. Those 1995 sleeves by the way? Sucked.  They were awful. A huge improvement over the other two types listed, but still bad.  They're much better, now, than they were at the time. But now Ultra-PRO has much more competition, too.

So what changed in the sleeving world?  The market's focus shifted.

The original penny sleeves were a loose fit that were a huge pain to shuffle. They were also wildly inconsistent - if you didn't buy them all at once, there was no guarantee that they'd be the same size (which effectively made for marked cards). This is because they were designed to hold baseball (and other sports) cards. Baseball cards are printed on a thin cardboard rather than a cardstock, so they sleeves needed to be a bit looser. And no-one in their right mind shuffled baseball cards, so the sleeves of the day didn't need to slide off of one another.

Once Magic cards started to be worth actual money, however, people wanted to protect their investments. The sleeve companies saw that there was interest in sleeves you could use for play, and they responded, to everyone's benefit.

Not long ago, a friend and I went to his FLGS to buy some sleeves.  He'd recently purchased Legendary: Big Trouble in Little China, and wanted to protect it. With good reason - it's a fun game, and sleeves will extend that fun because - again - deckbuilder.

So I checked this geeklist for the Legendary games (they all use the same size, as they're mostly cross-compatible), and the box for a number and told him confidently, "You need 400 of the Fantasy Flight Grey sleeves." Which matched my memory from sleeving Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deckbuilding Game.

Side note: I really like the Fantasy Flight Supply line of sleeves for most sizes. They're high-quality, well-fitting, come in enough sizes to fit most of the games that are out there, and - most importantly - they are consistent from run to run. They don't make every size I'd like to sleeve, but they sure try.

That geeklist, by the way, does have occasional errors, but it's correct much more often than it isn't. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What's Coming (And Probably Out) That I'm Excited About?

By the time you see this post, Essen will be over, and some of these may even be available.

Here's a list of what's coming this year that I'm excited about:

Important note: If you want to order these from your FLGS, it's possible that they'll have Matagot, Repos, Asterion, and Pearl listed under Asmodee, as those are all distributed in North America by Asmodee North America.

Core Games
Captain Sonar (Matagot) - A simultaneous-play game for up to eight players. I won't probably be able to get it to the table for a while, but I really can't wait for it. Some stores already have this one.

Inis (Matagot) - The second Matagot game on the "Stuff I'm Excited About" list. Matagot has a history of making good games with lush art and simple rules. Cyclades and Kemet are favorites of mine that became favorites of those around me. Partly because my enthusiasm is infectious and partly because they are really good games.

Seafall (Plaid Hat) - this is starting to appear in game stores, so mine should be in soon. I really like Risk Legacy, and this is by the same designer, only not built on top of an existing property. Early reviews say that there is a bit too much downtime, but if everyone is aware of that going in, it shouldn't present a problem. Although I won't get to play it until we get through our Risk Legacy campaign, which runs the same day as our 13th Age campaign ...

Innovation Deluxe (Asmadi) - Innovation was a favorite of mine a few years ago.  We played and played and played. And then ... we stopped. I'm not sure why. Then Iello published an edition, and the edition I had stopped getting expansions. Then they did a Third Edition. Now there's a new version coming that includes the expansions.  Sign me up! I want to play this one again!

This year has so many expansions that have me excited. When talking about expansion, there are a handful of types: there are expansions that "fix" the base game, expansions that are more of the same,  expansions that deepen play, and expansions that drastically alter the game. All four have their place - in an ideal world, there is no need for the first type, but this is (sadly) not an ideal world.  In general, I prefer the third type - deeper, more interesting play is better, especially if I liked the base game.

Hyperborea: Light & Shadow (Asterion) - I don't know much about this one, but Hyperborea was a favorite of my group for a good while (because it's a fantastic game). So I look forward to seeing how they expand the play.

Cyclades: Monuments (Matagot) - As mentioned above: Cyclades is a real favorite of mine, and I've liked all of the expansions so far. Hades deepened play and fixed an issue with the base game, Titans drastically altered it. C3K was "more of the same." Much like Hyperborea: Light & Shadow, I don't know much about what's in this box. But I don't care. I want it, because I want to see where they go next.

Room 25: Escape Room (Matagot) - Yes, another Matagot game/expansion. Because Room 25 is one of my favorite games. Period. Adding the Season Two expansion turned it from a fun game to a fantastic game. This adds a new puzzle mode that might get me to play this fully cooperative again.

7 Wonders Duel: Pantheons (Repos) - I was caught off-guard by how good 7 Wonders: Duel is. Even the rulebook didn't prepare me for how slick it is in play. Adding Gods to the mix looks like it shakes play up without destroying it. I don't know if this will be a "deepens play" or a "drastically changes play" expansion, even having read the rules.

Deus: Egypt (Pearl Games) - I really enjoyed Deus. This expansion lets you swap Gods. So you can use a different pantheon. Before play, you decide which God you want to use for each color on the board, so it expands play options without crashing the "light tableau-builder" aspect that the base game had. So it's "more of the same," while still refreshing play. I'm down.

Scythe: Invaders from Afar (Stonemaier) - Scythe is fantastic. This is a "more of the same" expansion that adds two new factions to the game. It means the map is a bit more crowded, and so there will (probably) be a bit more direct conflict. They also include power changes for two factions for balance reasons.

Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deckbuilding Game Expansion (Upper Deck) - Likely to be somewhere between "more of the same" and "deepens play," like most deck-building game expansions. The original is a recent favorite of mine, despite its difficulty. I'm very much looking forward to this expansion.