Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Game Recommendation And Another Kickstarter For Your Attention

Have you ever played Powerboats? If not, you're really missing out. It's become a favorite over the years, and I don't play it as much as I'd like to these days.

I say that about a lot of games.

Well somewhere along the way, Powerboats went out of print. You can still find it for a reasonable price on the BoardGameGeek marketplace.

So let me explain Powerboats to you - it's fast. I promise.

Each turn, you start by adjusting your speed.  There are three ways you can adjust your speed:

  1. Add a (three-sided) die. You then roll it and add it to your speed.
  2. Remove a die. Choose any of your current speed dice and pull it off of the display.
  3. Re-roll some or all of your current speed dice.
Note that even if you add or remove a die, you can still re-roll some (or all) of your current speed dice.

Once you've adjusted your speed, you then need to move. You can turn one hex side to the left or right, or you can go straight.  Once you've got that all adjusted, you then move in a straight line.  If you hit an island, you take damage.  If you take four points of damage, you sink.

It's a racing game, and you're trying to race around three buoys (that word always looks wrong to me) and then back to the starting line, and you score points based on the number of people you beat.

Ideally, each session involves three races. Race two is worth double points, and race three is worth triple points. After three races, the player with the most points wins.

The game really is that simple.

There's an expansion that adds some variation to the basic game. Hexes that push you in one direction or another, jumps that let fast-moving boats jump over islands.Whirlpools that spin your boat.

You know.  Fun.

As I mentioned above - it's gone out of print. I honestly don't know if it even had a second printing. But Cwali doesn't tend to do large print runs, and many of their games command crazy-high prices once they actually start to attract attention.

Well, Cwali had decided that he enjoyed Powerboats enough to dig the design out again and tweak it.  The result is now on Kickstarter with just over a week to go. If you liked Powerboats, you'll almost certainly like Powerships. If you haven't played Powerboats, the rulebook for Powerships is linked to on the project page.

He stated on BoardGameGeek that the final print run will be Kickstarter Demand plus about 20%, so it's not a game you're likely to stumble across at your FLGS.

I try not to sell too many Kickstarters at folks here. I'm a games blog, not a PR or marketing blog. And Kickstarter has been very disruptive for the local game stores that I honestly believe should be at the heart of our community. I get a dozen or so e-mail requests every week from folks to advertise their projects here. And I've never done it at their request. There was one project that I had scheduled my post before I received the request, so I let that one slide.  Cwali did not contact me to request this post. Let's be brutally honest, here: I'm a small fish in the gaming blog world. But I'm still doing what I can for this project, because I want it, and it's not going to happen without your help.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Hugo Awards

This post is going live two days before Hugo nominations closes.  I'm not going to tell you all of who I voted for, but I want to spotlight a few works that I was especially fond of this year, and that I doubt will be on the final ballot.

There's a ton of overlap between SF/F readers and gamers, so I hope you'll forgive me this side-trip out of gaming for a week.

Best Novel
I don't like baseball. I think it's a dull sport that is not really worth the time spent watching it. This is largely because of a lack of strategy inherent in the game itself. Yes, there is some, but much of it is set before the game even begins and isn't particularly flexible after the game starts.

But if you strip the game itself out, sometimes baseball can be amazing. Transcendent, even. Shoeless Joe is one of W.P. Kinsella's three baseball-related novels (The Thrill of the Grass and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy are the other two). All three blend subtle fantasy with the baseball itself, and they're a joy and a delight to read. All three of them make me wish I liked baseball. And none of them are shelved in the Fantasy section of bookstores.

None of them are eligible this year, either. Kinsella was one of the authors who passed in 2016. But Harry Turtledove, whose books always wind up in the SF/F section of bookstores, did have a baseball book drop this year. The House of Daniel was fantastic. Much like Kinsella's books, it made me wish I liked baseball. And it highlighted just enough baseball strategy that the game itself is slightly less boring for me. Slightly. I still won't sit through a game, given a choice.

But it was good enough that it's on my Hugo ballot.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Person of Interest was initially a "guilty pleasure" show for me. The first season was - like many TV shows - a series of (mostly) unconnected stories in which the main protagonists had to get to the bottom of a mystery provided to them by a computer.  As the show went on, the SF elements spun ever higher until the last few seasons were all about a clash between two artificial intelligences.

It's worth getting through the first season to get to the other seasons, and the last four episodes are four of the best hours of television that I have ever watched.  Since the last few seasons were a cohesive story, I nominated it in the Long Form category.  I also nominated a few specific episodes in the Short Form category, because - again - they were fantastic.  It's on Netflix here in the US.

Best Series
This year, WorldCon is test-driving a "Best Series" Hugo award. There are a ton of series that are worth voting for, but The Craft Sequence series by Max Gladsone really grabbed me this year. The fifth book, Four Roads Cross is its "qualifying volume."

I've ranted about this series before in a variety of places (mostly on social media), but it's very much worth a read.  Book one is Three Parts Dead - and I warn everyone that it's a bit of a slow starter, but it gets better and better and better the deeper into it you go. The other four volumes either don't start as slowly or else I just didn't notice because I was already invested in the world.

Of the three items mentioned in the post, this is the most likely to actually appear on the final ballot - I have several friends who pushed the series on me, and they're Hugo Nominators, too ...

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

MegaCivilization

I got to play Mega Civilization again a few weeks ago.  A full eighteen-player game, even.  Several of my friends on Plus had asked me to let them know how it went and tell them what I thought of the game.

I figured it'd be waaaaaay too long to be a good social media post (not that I've been stopped by that before, mind you), so I'm writing about it here.

Let me start with an overview of the game. This will probably run a bit long.


... just like the game.

In fact, buckle up. This is going to be a crazy-long post.


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Gaming As Grownups

There was a long stretch a few years back when I had given up on roleplaying. I still bought books, I still read books, but scheduling was a complete nightmare. Because grown-ups are busy. We just are.

That's when Game Night really started to take off. In large part because you don't need consistency for a board game night.  If this week is Jim and Dennis and Steph and next week is Wade and Brian and Aaron, it doesn't matter. Because there's no single over-arching storyline that runs from point to point.

On the role-playing front, I did a couple of one-shots and I played in a few. I joined a couple of campaigns that either fizzled or never made it off the ground. And then James started his D&D 4e game.

It was shortly after 4e was released, and we all wanted to give it a shot. It was James and his wife (Dawn) and John and Katie and Steph and myself. That's six grown-ups.

Here are the dates of our last few sessions:

9/10/2016
5/14/2016
9/5/2015
2/28/2015
8/31/2014
7/26/2014
4/12/2014

Those, by the way, were all face-to-face games.  Before that, we played online. Six sessions in 2013. Seven sessions in 2012. Seven in 2011.

But face-to-face, we're managing about two sessions per year. Because we are grown-ups, and life has really shaken things up. Gaming online is easier, but it's much less satisfying.

I'm not a social person by nature, but sometimes ...

It means that "Who wants to recap?" is an important question. It means that players (and the GM) need to keep notes of what powers and abilities have been used. Where we are hit point wise.

Because we are not cheaters, that's why.

Wade, our 13th Age GM, started using a program called Doodle to schedule our games. And it works. We're averaging about five sessions per year in his game.

Of course, Wade's players don't include two folks currently living in Canada. Which is definitely a factor.

I'm discovering with my Legend of the Five Rings game that Doodle combined with Obsidian Portal is a near-perfect combination. Doodle for schedules and Obsidian Portal so that everyone knows what's up. We managed seven sessions in 2016.

When scheduling, I work with Wade so that we don't screw one another up. Even so, I know we will have scheduling dead spots where one game or another will work, but probably not both. Most of November is shot. December is toast. January is an option, as is February. A hugely disproportionate number of my friends have March birthdays, so March is often messy. Most of us go to NorWesCon, which is usually in March as well. That kills another weekend.

Come summer, Convention Season kills off a weekend or two here and there as people prep for, go to, and/or recover from conventions.

But the tools let us schedule things far enough out that we're usually able to clear our schedules for game. And, while I'd love to game more, I will take what I can get.

Besides, on the (rare) off weekends, I get to go to Fantasium for Beer & Board Games.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Roleplaying Games Are Cooperative Games and the GM is a Player

I'm still a Tumblr noob. I just can't wrap my head completely around how it works and what it's for. For the last few years, I've been using my Tumblr as a feed for this blog. The last few months, however, I've started to use it more and more.

Mostly for political stuff. Because that's the way the world is going these days.

I have figured out how to get notifications from it, so Steph shared this the other day, and tagged me, and it notified me. And I laughed, and I responded saying basically, "I wish I was as good as she thinks I am."

Because I still lack confidence in my ability as a gamemaster.

Most RPGs put a heavy load on their GMs. Every GM chapter somewhere includes the phrase, "As a GM, you are responsible for ... "

Ugh.  Responsibility.  I just want to play.

So here's the thing that all of those GM advice chapters forget:

Games are meant to be fun, and making fun is a group effort.  A cooperative group effort. And the GM is only one member of the group.

Players have every bit as much responsibility, here, as the GM. Dumping all of that responsibility on the GM is a recipe for pressure and stress, which leads to GM Burnout or other problems.

Yes, the GM creates the world and controls the NPCs and gives the PCs clues - but players need to engage. If your GM gives you clues about a dragon in the mountains and the party decides to investigate the city sewers, then one of two things is going on here:
  1. The GM is being too subtle with the clues.
  2. The players are jerks.
No. Really.

A good GM isn't going to just slaughter your characters, so if you're chasing a dragon into the mountains, then the GM believes that you can defeat the challenge. That is, by the way, not necessarily the same thing as killing the dragon.

GMs can be wrong about what their party can accomplish, by the way. The first time I ran a D&D 3E game, all of us were new to 3E. I slaughtered them with what I thought should have been an easy encounter. It was too many skeletons who had to move through a narrow hallway to get to the players. "Narrow" as in "one square wide."

"Well," said one player sardonically after the last PC dropped, "That was fun."

"Hang on," I said, "Can we try that again?"

So we rewound. I walked them through flanking and opportunity attacks (and how to avoid them). And we tried it again. I didn't reduce the number of skeletons, because they'd have seen how many there were. I did reduce the number of hit points that each skeleton had, though. And the party ended up narrowly beating the encounter.

The players made allowances for my error - and I helped them find a few mechanical tricks that they could use. Together, we had fun. We both gave a bit. And that first session laid the groundwork for a fun game to follow, because after that point they trusted me - and I learned more of what I was doing with every session that followed.

The point is: We worked together to find the fun in the game.

For the record: I actually played in a Rifts game that I sometimes miss, even to this day. It was a good game. A fun game. Because the GM had a good idea and he allowed the players to contribute to his idea.

A lot of story games talk about there being four good responses a GM can give a player:
  1. Yes, and ...
  2. Yes, but ...
  3. No, but ...
  4. No, and ...
That's not entirely inaccurate. Most everyone agrees that "No, and ..." is the weakest/worst response. And I agree completely (even though it does have its place - but that's another discussion for another time, I think).

But players have the same selection of responses - and need to learn to use them. 

I'm still learning this whole GM thing, even though I've been running games for more than 20 years, now. I ran a Cthulhutech game a few years ago that ... well, it was flat. And not good. I had Ideas, and I didn't communicate well to the players what I wanted to do with those ideas. Which means that the characters didn't support the play I was hoping for, and the players didn't do anything.

I'm currently running an L5R game. And I'm loving it. I hope I communicated well what my goals were to my players. I suspect I communicated enough, because they keep coming back.

Right now, I've railroaded them a little bit. I closed some doors behind them and won't let them backtrack like they want to. But I think they trust me by now.

I even managed to use the first few sessions as a system tutorial, gradually upping the difficulty.  It also gave me a good idea of how the players were going to react to various breadcrumbs. And together we're fumbling through the sandbox.

The important word in that sentence is "together."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Being "That Guy" And Proud Of It

I think every circle of friends has "That Guy."  The one who knows everything about a given subject - or who can (at least) point you in the right direction to get started.

In my circle of friends, for example, my good friend Aaron is That Guy with guns. He can ID guns used in films very easily. He knows the caliber and ammunition capacity for more guns than I knew existed.

Is he a certified expert who has taken classes on this? No. He's a hobbyist. But that doesn't mean his information is bad or inaccurate.

He's forgotten more about guns than I will probably ever learn. But he won't claim to be an expert.

A few years ago, I worked in the car audio industry. Most of the people I worked with were both old-school and very passionate about their work. And I caught some of that. I learned a ton about the industry and where some of these companies had come from and where it was going. Enough that I was fluent in the lingo. Some of my friends still treat me like I'm some kind of expert. Which is weird.

A few days ago, we had some friends over for the Super Bowl. We do this every year. It's a bunch of friends on the couch watching the game (and commercials) and having a good time. And - because these are my friends - gaming came up.  "There was this one game," someone said, "It was modern, and I think fantasy and the cover had kind of a geeky guy, and I think tentacles ... "

I'd missed this part of the conversation, as I was making chili dip or scarfing chips or something. But the description was quickly relayed to me. And, after a couple of quick questions (and one wrong guess), I soon ascertained that it was The Laundry (which is one of those games I want to play and I don't think I could GM well).

Several people acted as though this was shocking. The fact that I could name (and produce a copy of) a game with so little information being provided!

But it's who I am. Games are my drive. Games are my passion.

I don't own every game ever published. I don't even have a sizable fraction of them.

But I keep track of the industry. I watch what's being published and Kickstarted. I know what pre-orders are live and who owns whom in the game publishing market. I watch distributors and employees.

Being able to name three Christophe Boelinger games isn't much different from being able to tell you that Warren Moon was sacked 458 times in his career. Or that a dual-four-ohm voice coil sub can be wired to a either a two ohm impedance or an eight ohm impedance (and that if you're putting it in a car, eight ohms just isn't going to work for a single sub). Or being able to point out that the cowboy on screen just fired two shots from a single-shot Derringer.

Everyone has something they're passionate about.  Everyone. Even if they're things you don't understand their being passionate about. My aunt has a doctorate in textiles. I can't tell twill from gingham from muslin, but my aunt absolutely can. And I'll wager she can point out incorrect movie costuming, too. Especially when it comes to Westerns (which is her area of focus).

The point is this: When you need to know a thing, find someone who is passionate. Sure, you can use Google for a lot of information. I expect you'll find it more rewarding to talk to someone who is excited about a thing.

I used to be quieter about the game thing. I'd hedge my guesses with, "It could be," or "It sounds kinda like," and the like. Because I was ashamed of the fact that games were what I was excited about. But not anymore. I've made too many friends around a table. I've had too much fun to dismiss it so casually.

I'm that guy. And so are you.

Be that guy.

Share your passion. You never know who you're going to catch.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

My 2016 Gaming In Review

I know. We're already into February, so why am I dragging 2016 back into this?

Because I played a ton of really good games in 2016, and there are a ton of games that only got a few plays that honestly need more plays.

This weekend, we were talking about a game (I don't remember which one, unfortunately), and I remember saying, "I love that game! I hardly ever get to play it, though."

I was then asked why not, and the answer was, "Because there are so many other good games that need playing."

Most peoples' Year In Review posts talk about the games that they played a lot. I'm going to talk about how well I hit (and missed) my goals for the year.

In 2016, my goal was "play more games, instead of the same few games over and over and over."

I think I hit that goal. I had very few "Nickels and Dimes" last year.

I only had six games that I played more than four times - and they're all good games. Four of them are fast-playing, which is probably how they got so many plays.

Those six games were The Grizzled, Mafia de Cuba, Deus, Room 25, and Win, Lose, or Banana.

There were six games that I played four times. Age of War, Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deckbuilding Game, No Thanks!, Scythe, and Witness.  Again: Shorter faster games dominate that list.

And I can explain why every game is on that list, too.

The Grizzled is a fast-playing easy-to-learn cooperative game for experienced gamers.  You can play it with rookies and beginners, but it's going to be more difficult for all involved.

Mafia de Cuba is a fast-playing easy-to-learn deduction game. It was new-to-me this year, which boosted its plays because I had to figure out the best way to teach it. And my group really enjoyed it.

Deus is a good entry-level tableau-builder. It's slower than the other two, however. And it's a good game to bring when you don't know the skill level of the other gamers, such as when you're joining a new group.

Room 25 is a favorite. Period. I did some work on the upcoming expansion, so I dug it out to re-familiarize myself with the base game. And then didn't put it back down.

Win, Lose, or Banana is a game you can play with eight-year-olds. It takes two seconds to teach and about 30 seconds to play. It fills time while you're waiting for another game to end.

Augustus is similar to Deus in that it's easy to teach, so makes a great introduction game with a new group. We tend to call this one "Strategy Bingo." It makes people laugh.

That's right: Every game I played five or more times is either easy to learn or easy to teach. As a rule of thumb, "easy to learn" games are always easy to teach.

That pattern continues for the next six games, too, with two notable exceptions:

Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deckbuilding Game is not easy to teach (or learn).  There are odd little timing details and so on. It's on the list because it was new to me, and I needed to get my teaching patter down because it's a game I wanted to play. And before I can play a game, I need to teach a game.

Scythe is a scary-looking game with lots of bits. But it's surprisingly easy to learn and to teach. If you can get people past the "So many bits" issue.

In fact, the more I move down the list, the more I see that "complex" games are (mostly) on the list more than once because I wanted to get my teaching patter down. Again: Because I teach games I want to play, and it often takes multiple attempts to get my teaching patter together.

I ... I think I like teaching games as much as (if not more than) I like playing games. And that is something that I think I need to ponder.