Wednesday, June 13, 2018

That Random Element Again

I know I've discussed this before, but it's time to talk about randomness again.

Every game has at least some random element. Every game.  Yes, even chess. Sometimes that random element is resolved before play starts.  In chess, it comes down to "Which player will take white and thus play first?"  Because it does make a difference.

And I don't hate the random element.  I really don't.

I'll often say that a game is "too random," when discussing it with friends - that just means that (for me), there is too much luck and not enough skill in play.

I like games where - over the long term - skill will trump luck.

I actually enjoy Risk once in a while (although there are a ton of better variants like Castle Risk or Risk Europe or even Risk Legacy).  There is a skill component there - knowing when and where to push or reinforce is huge.

For the record: My wife is significantly better at the game than I am. Regardless of version.

I absolutely love Empires in Arms, too. It's a fantastic game. If you have the time and a group invested in playing.

In both cases, though, my fondest memories aren't "and then I outmaneuvered him!" but "And then the dice did this crazy thing!"

Like that one troop in Kamchatka who successfully defended the province from forty-seven attackers that one time and almost cost Steve the game because he refused to stop pushing.

Or when my Turkish Feudal Corps managed to break the morale of the attacking British army.  Yes, part of that was choosing tactics well, but if the dice had been even a little bit different, I'd have been slaughtered.

And I think that's part of why I don't object to a degree of randomness.

The skill factor in a game keeps me coming back so that I can improve. There is a reward for repeated play (above and beyond 'getting to play games with my friends'): Improved skill, which leads to more wins down the road.

But skill doesn't always make for good stories. Or even interesting stories. When two opponents are well-matched, skill-based games either become stalemates or they get very swingy. Stalemates are dull to watch. So are games where the last player to take a turn is always the one in the lead, because "Who's winning?" should never be the same question as "Whose turn is it?" And that ... happens.

At the same time, games that are 100% pure luck with no skill will occasionally have those fun stories. Like the game of Fluxx that ended after a turn because the starting player had a Goal, both Keepers for that Goal, and a "Play All" card in their opening hand.

Side note: Best game of Fluxx ever. I never even had to take a turn.

I've played some really good games, lately.  Over the next few posts (which could be weeks or even months at my current rate of posting), I'm going to talk about some of the games I've played and how they balance luck and skill. And why I think it's well (or poorly) balanced in that regard. I'm not only going to talk about the luck/skill balance, mind you, because there is so much more to a game than that.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich

Do you want to know what the best breakfast sandwich I have ever eaten was?

Of course you do.  That's why you come to my blog, right? All cooking all the time.

Start with a croissant. Warm it up. Toast it slightly so that it's crispy and flaky on the outside and buttery-smooth and warm on the inside.  Cut it in half like it was a hamburger bun.  Slather both sides with cream cheese. Use just a bit more cream cheese than you would on a bagel.

One one side, put a couple of strips of bacon. The bacon should still be warm, and I (personally) like it crispy.

On the other side, put a couple of sausage links. Again: they should be still warm. If you want the maple-infused links, those work, but it's fine with just about any links.

Put the top half onto the bottom half and dig in.

Right now, there are really three groups of people who are responding mentally to that sandwich.

The first group is drooling a bit and vowing to try that some time.
The second group is curious and may try it, but it doesn't sound like the best sandwich of all time.
The third group is frothing at the mouth.  Why would you put CREAM CHEESE on that?

The point is this:

Not everyone likes the same things. For me, that is - seriously - one of the best things to eat in the mornings. I don't do it very often, because I like having a functional heart. But once in a while ... mmmmmmmm.

I hate Fluxx. It's a terrible excuse for a game that can run ten minutes or ten hours. The skill element of play is so minimal as to be basically absent. It's an excellent meta-discussion of "What is a game?" but it is not, itself, actually a game.

I don't like Munchkin as a game - the cards are fun to read occasionally. The art is amusing. The game sucks. It's dull and it drags and the last half of the game is everyone doing their best to beat down the leader.

Both of these games are runaway successes. Huge victories for their publishers - to the point where these games are largely why those publishers have survived. This fact actually makes me very thankful that not everyone has the same tastes I do, because I want more Icehouse games. I want more GURPS books. I want to see what Looney Labs and Steve Jackson Games are going to put out next.

So when I say something negative about a game you like, it's not an attack on you. If I sneered at everyone who like Fluxx, I'd be all out of friends in near-record time.

By all means: Continue buying games I don't like. Play them. Have fun with them.  Please. Because even games I don't like support games that I do like. And more games are always a good thing for someone.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Old Thumb Drive

I recently stumbled across an old thumb drive of mine.  It was acquired as a gift at a time when thumb drives were rare and expensive, and is all of 128 MB in size. And it's an interesting snapshot of where I was about a decade ago.

There is a folder called "Asmodee Games" and that, in turn, has subfolders for BonQ (released in the US as Good Question!), Ca$h'n Gun$ (the first edition), three different Dungeon Twister expansions, Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga, Wicked Witches Way, Hell Dorado, Iliad, and Mission: Red Planet (first edition).

There's a folder called "DT Tournament Stuff" that is - unsurprisingly - information on running a Dungeon Twister tournament.

There's a folder called "HeroScape" that has an Excel spreadsheet listing all of the Heroscape figures that had been released to date (including a bunch of promos).  I spent way too much money on that game. Especially considering how little I played it before I gave it away.

But most interestingly to me, there is a folder called "Games by Me."  And it contains four subfolders. "Bridal Party," which is a light game about seating arrangements at a wedding (that I might polish up and make available print-and-play some time - I still like how it's turned out); "BSpot" contains is a bunch of half-complete blog posts from the time when Blogger didn't allow us to schedule posts for the future.  "Bunker," which is a half-formed asymmetric wargame that would need a ton of work to get into a playable format, and, finally, "Conquistadors," which wound up being an artifact trading game.

Of the three games, I think Bridal Party is salvageable. Maybe even almost playable - it just requires some balance.  Conquistadors needs a new name - and it's playable. But I don't remember it being fun, so I may scrap it completely.  And Bunker is a bunch of ideas in search of a game.

But the folder full of blog posts.  It has some real gems.  There's a subfolder there called "Uploaded," that contains posts that I made in ... 2006.

Have I really been at this that long?

There are a dozen or so other posts in there, all in various states of 'done.' Most of them wouldn't meet my filters these days.

At least one post contains the complete rules for yet another game. That ... could be good.  Maybe.  I think I may need to try testing it out, too.

Either way, it's interesting and eye-opening to see where I was a decade ago. Reading through these posts remind me a lot of how I've changed (mostly for the better). I'm writing better, and I'm more confident (even though I do still have occasional weak posts).  It hammers home for me something that every writing teacher and book will tell you over and over and over: keep writing. You'll get better.

Edit 5/4: Somehow this saved as a draft instead of publishing on time. Probably my bad. Oops.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What's Been Going On

So here's what's been going on that has caused my posting to be sporadic, and it's not especially organized, but here it is:

In November of last year, my wife lost her job. Steph made more on her base rate than I did on my overtime rate, so her losing her job triggered all kinds of fun anxiety and panic from me.  Thankfully, she qualified for Unemployment and we were able to stay afloat.

She was out for five months. Even with a good chunk of cash in savings, it wasn't easy. But she is now gainfully employed once again.

In December of last year, the owner of the company for which I work sold the building. It was not immediately clear if he was going to move the Seattle office or shut it down. Seeing as I was already having anxiety-related issues, this didn't help.

My office is moving, not shutting down. That move is ... not convenient.  My commute has almost exactly doubled in terms of distance, and has probably tripled or quadrupled in terms of how long it's going to take.  We're moving this weekend.

A good friend of mine passed recently, as well.  He'd had cancer, and then beaten it. And then it came back, more aggressively and in an inoperable way. His funeral is this weekend.

Steph and I are cat people. In January of 2017, our 18-year-old Ramses passed.  In August of 2017, our 18-year-old Feina passed.  We'd adopted another cat in mid-2016 to cushion the blow of one of the older two passing (because we knew they wouldn't last forever). And it helped. Daisy is the best-behaved cat I have ever met.  With Steph getting ready to go back to work, we adopted a new cat so Daisy wouldn't be bored and lonely all day.  And Daisy's first reaction was hissing and swatting - both at the new cat and at Steph and I.  That was a surprisingly emotional blow.

Daisy is getting used to the change. She's still not pleased, but she's no longer angry at Steph and I. We think.

The new cat (Nefertari) looks like Ramses and acts like Feina did (only a bit more energetic).  I'll eventually get her to hold still long enough to get a good photo.

On the gaming front, I think I'm probably done with the Demo Monkey gig. It was good while it lasted, and I met some truly awesome people while doing it, but it's a lot of work.  Instead, I'm going to focus on the game(s) I'm hosting and running. Realizing that and setting it aside was tough, because I've been a Demo Monkey for a significant chunk of my adult life.  On the other hand, maybe some day I will attend GenCon as a member of the general public instead of working.  I enjoy attending conventions (as I learned at Origins last year).

My roleplaying mostly vanished over the holidays. In fact, I roleplayed twice in November, and then there was a gap until February.  So a lack of roleplaying lined up almost exactly with Steph's unemployment.  My next few weekends are looking to be full of some fun gaming, too.

So ... yeah.  That's what's been keeping me away from the keyboard.  And I'm going to continue to be spotty here until after we figure out what the office move is going to do to my sleep schedule and things stabilize a bit.  I realized after I read my Dusk City Outlaws post a few weeks ago that I'd rather run silent than post something bad (and that post was not good - sorry, all).

I'm not giving up. I'm not walking away.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Inserts Again!

I still don't know why publishers don't release games with inserts that will hold sleeved cards. This goes double for publishers who also produce sleeves (Fantasy Flight Games, I'm looking at you, here).

Or when publishers just throw cardboard in there to provide a "channel" in the middle.

One of my favorite entry-level games of the last few years is Deus. I've probably written about it before. But the game's original insert will barely hold sleeved cards, and there is just no way that you can fit the base game and the expansion in there when both are sleeved.

As much as I love the game, by the way, the expansion has done a ton to keep it from being the same/same.

Either way, I got tired of hauling two boxes everywhere to play the game. So I bumped it to the top of my "to do" list for a custom insert.

With the expansion, there are still six colors of card - but you chose before the game starts whether you're using the base game or the expansion cards for each color. Which means that I needed to keep the cards sorted, too. Twelve small (15-ish) cards decks of cards. Which means a ton of foam core.  Too much, actually. The stack of foam core needed to sort that many decks would have been almost as thick as the decks themselves, and there is no way I would have been able to fit the rest of the game in the box.

So, even though it was at the top of the list, I had to backburner it.

And then I saw this tutorial. Yes, it's all about making boxes, but I reasoned that there wasn't any reason you couldn't use some of the same tools and techniques to also make inserts.

So I ordered some chipboard and some glue. I dug out my X-acto knife and ... realized just how much work this was going to be. Lining up twelve vertical dividers and then holding them while the glue sets would take hours. Or so I thought.

Then I remembered that I know someone who could do this. Someone whose skills with such things is nearly unparalleled. My dad.

I recently had a birthday. I don't really celebrate my birthday, but my parents do. So I asked them for a few hours of Dad's time. I explained that we'd be making box inserts and I roughly sketched out what I had in mind.  I showed him the chipboard and the glue and my first few attempts at it.

That weekend, he came by and we started work.

I should tell you a bit about my dad.  When it comes to crafting, my dad is one of the best. He draws, paints, sculpts, and sews. He does cross-stitch, reupholsters furniture, builds models, and designs jewelry. And it's not just "he does these things." He's good at these things. And that's just barely scratching the surface. He's terrifying.

First we made a basic insert for Century: Spice Road (which is fantastic and you should all own a copy). It was a pretty basic insert, but it familiarized Dad with what the chipboard was capable of.

So I dug out Deus, and explained the problem.  He grabbed some quick measurements and went right to work.

"This is really good chipboard," he told me. "I would love to have had this when I was in college. Where did you get it?"

"I like this glue," he told me. "You get that on Amazon, too?"

He had to go before we were done, but his instructions were clear enough that I was able to continue the work the next couple of days.

And, after less than an hour (not including dry time for the glue, it was starting to look like a game insert.

And then: the acid test.  "Will this fit in the box?"

And is there enough room to hold everything?

It was a win all the way around. I got a new box insert and reassurance that my techniques were good. I also got a few new techniques and ideas for future inserts. And, most importantly, I was able to spend time with Dad.

Dad got to work with his hands and do something for my birthday in a way that didn't make me uncomfortable about being the center of attention.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Dusk City Outlaws

I told you I was going to be sporadic for a bit. In a future post, I'll explain what's been going on in my day-to-day life.

I have backed fewer and fewer projects on Kickstarter. There are a ton of reasons for that, but the end result is that a project needs a really good hook to grab my attention.

Early last year, I saw a project on Kickstarter called Dusk City Outlaws. The pitch was good, and the team involved was phenomenal. John Rogers, Scott Lynch, Saladin Ahmed, and Steve Kenson are all people I am familiar with and like.  I wasn't familiar with Susan Morris at the time. The involvement of the Penny Arcade guys gave me pause.

So I dug in, and found that it was definitely interesting. So I dropped $65 in as a Day One Backer.

And then ... I forgot about it.  It funded. It delivered its PDFs.  A week or two ago, I had shipping confirmation.  I told my wife to keep her eyes open for delivery of an RPG boxed set.  I figured it'd be a digest-sized book in a slightly larger box with a couple of dice and some cards.

What I got looked more like a board game than an RPG, and the contents failed to dispel that impression - the Player's Guide was less than 30 pages and looked like an FFG rulebook. The Judge's book was similar. It included all the dice you'll need, a pad of character sheets, some Cartel and Specialty sheets, tokens, and a digest-sized setting book

The form factor was  unique enough that I decided not to just add it to my Pile of Shame. I decided to have a quick read, and I'm really glad I did.  This game is unique, and I expect it'll be a ton of fun, once it hits the table.

Mechanically, it's simple.

At Character Generation, Players choose a faction (Cartel) and then a role within that faction (Specialty). Each combo gives a character a set of skills and knowledges. Just copy that information onto a character sheet (there is a pad of them included). Some Cartels and Specialties are Rare.  You may only have one Rare character per party.

Skills are percentile, and characters have a limited pool of Luck.  Luck functions like Hit Points, but it does more than that - for example, you can spend Luck on failed rolls to turn them into successes.

The GM lays out the Job and its time limit. Players then have that time to do Legwork scenes to set up their success or Drama scenes, in which maybe something goes wrong. Every Day and Night, each player gets to take lead in one scene.

Some things that most games relegate to "background work," this puts front-and-center. One example in the book is that your characters are likely scruffy lower-class folks, so going into the richer parts of town is going to draw attention.  Most games would let you just make a Disguise roll and call it good - in Dusk City Outlaws, you'd need to spend a Legwork scene to get your disguise together. And that eats up time.

As the session goes on, characters generate Heat, which gives the GM a few more toys to play with.

There are (8-sided) Advantage Dice and (10-sided) Challenge Dice that can adjust the outcome of your rolls. Each die only has one symbol (but it appears on multiple faces). Advantages and Challenges cancel one another out. These don't change the numbers on the percentile - or its outcome - but they do other things. So you can succeed but roll a Drawback which delays you enough that the Watch realizes something is up. Or you can fail your roll, but get a Boon (you aren't able to pick the lock, but your being shadowed by the doorway means that the Watch patrol that is strolling by doesn't notice you).

So what got me to write about this one?

It was the packaging. I have a fear that RPG folk will see a board game when they look at the box (despite the words "Role-Playing Game" on the lid), and might overlook it.

I think that this has potential to be a good gateway game. I think that people who have never role-played before will be able to jump into this one with almost no problem(s). It'd be better to have an experienced GM behind the screen, but it's not necessary for this one.

All in all, I think that this game looks fantastic, and I hope to run (or play in) a one-shot sometime in the very near future.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Hugo Nominators: Get Those Nominations In Soon!

Not game-related, but I know a bunch of you that I know in the real world are eligible to nominate (and/or vote) for the Hugo Awards.  Since my online life tends to mirror my meatspace life pretty closely, it's likely that people who read this are also Hugo nominators.

The deadline to submit your nominations is in two days.  This upcoming Friday.

And no, I don't know what time.  So get your nominations in soon.