Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rory's Story Cubes: The RPG

You all remember what a fan I am of Rory's Story Cubes, right?


That made me happy. Because I'm always looking for more ways to use the Cubes. Because they really are a fantastic tool.

Well, the project is a Kickstarter, and it has launched!

I'm watching the videos right now - which is unusual for me. I don't often watch Kickstarter videos. 

The game as-written is a GM-less episodic storygame. Honestly, it looks like playing the rules included with the Story Cubes themselves, only with a bit more guidance to steer play.

It won't be to everyone's taste, but it looks fascinating to me.

Watching the videos, I suspect that my author friends (and there are a ton of them) will appreciate this, too. It can be used for scenario design for any RPG, or as a writing aid for novels (or short stories).

I may have mentioned it before, but here's how I'm using the Story Cubes in my Legend of the Five Rings game, by the way:

At the start of each session, every player draws one cube randomly from a bag and then rolls it.  At any point during the game, they can spend that die for a story-based benefit or for a Free Raise on a roll.

A similar tweak can be applied to just about any RPG. Spend the cube for a bonus on a roll or for a story-related benefit in a situation where dice aren't necessarily going to be rolled.


For example: Here is a random mix of nine dice (screencapped from the StoryCubes app). To the left, in green, there is a Trap symbol.  In a D&D game, I'd let a player spend that for a bonus (+1 or +2) when setting an ambush. Or, if the party is ambushed, maybe that player could spend the bonus to avoid being caught flat-footed due to surprise.  The party Thief could use that die to boost their role to search for traps - or another PC could spend it for a one-time chance to search for traps. In games with in-depth debate/social combat systems, you could spend the same die to set a verbal trap for someone ...

And that's just one face of one die. And is just fantasy-flavored. Imagine these dice for a super-hero game.

Seriously: These things are awesome and you should totally be using them for everything.  And this Kickstarter is a pretty inexpensive way to get in.  For £20, you get a set of cubes and the RPG. That's about $25 US. Since the cubes themselves are around $15, that's $10 for the RPG. I call that a "screaming deal."

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Origins!

After not attending any gaming conventions last year, I found myself itching to mingle with my people in large numbers. Realistically, I should have gone to GameStorm (which is only a few hours away from us).

This year, however, Steph and I decided we wanted to go to Origins. The last time I was there was about a decade ago, and I was working for Asmodee. The booth crew was just Chris Boelinger and myself, and we had a great time. We sold a ton of stuff and ran a bunch of demos. And Chris did karaoke at every bar in town he could find that had it.

That was the Origins when Alex Figuere introduced me to Mr. Jack (albeit in its earlier incarnation as Une Ombre sur Whitechapel), and I have very fond memories of the trip.

I also have friends in Ohio that I didn't have at that point. Most notably The Badger. The man I have been Ponybombing for several years, now.

So if you're going to Origins this year, we may bump into one another.

I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Tabletop Day

I realize I didn't get a post up in advance of International Tabletop Day this year, but I did head to my FLGS to participate.  And I had a great time.

I got to play Deus (which has reportedly gone out of print, which is a shame), with the Egypt expansion (which I really like).  I won by one point. It was a very close game, and my opponents seemed to enjoy it. It's a light tableau-builder with minimal direct player interaction. The expansion adds more interaction, but doesn't make it overly-complicated like so many expansions do.

We followed that with a game of Splendor.  I don't know if I've discussed it much here before, but Splendor is one of those games that is simple enough to serve as a gateway game but that has enough meat to it that experienced gamers won't be completely bored off of their rockers.  I never do well at this game.

Well, usually.  On Saturday, I won pretty big. I scored eight points in one turn to trigger the endgame, and I was ten points ahead of second place.

And I wrapped that up with a game of Tokaido.  I know I haven't mentioned that one here before, but it's another of those painfully simple games that has just enough strategy to keep it entertaining. I lost this one. Badly.

Many thanks to Fantasium for hosting the event. I was afraid that no game store after Phoenix would feel like home, and they have really stepped up. And they did it without doing anything specifically for me - I just needed to warm up to them.  This is extra-weird for me to say, because they're not a "focused" game store. They're a comic book store with a (growing and good) game section. Honestly, it's the first time I've seen a combo store like that that has handled the game part of the equation well.

The day after ITTD, I was able to talk Steph into playing Guild Ball with me. We didn't get through a full game, but that game is really growing on me. To the point where I had to tell Steph that she is in charge of the Guild Ball expenditures in the house, because I will spend all the moneys on it.  It's fun. I'll be writing more about it at another time, I think.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Credit Where Due: Noble Knight

I don't point fingers at a lot of online retailers, here, because I really do want you guys to support your local game stores, if you have a good one. If you have a bad game store, then, by all means, buy online.  And I mean that. If you don't have a local game store, then - again - buy online.

A few weeks ago, because of a weird timing hiccup, I had a small PayPal balance.

Since I'm getting back into the Mutant Chronicles universe via the RPG, I figured I'd get into the minis game, too. Because why not?

Here's the thing about the game: It requires a set of templates. Sure, I can order them from the manufacturer, but it's $12 for the templates and then $20 for the shipping.  So I poked around online, and saw that Noble Knight had a set listed on eBay (I couldn't find it in their webstore, however). So, having the PayPal balance to burn and needing the templates, I placed the order. They shipped very promptly and arrived crazy-fast.

Only ... the eBay auction was for a clear set. It was pictured on the auction. The one I received was the orange set that I linked to above. I have ... feelings about orange. And this template set is one of my favorite shades.

So I e-mailed Noble Knight, asking if they had a clear one and how to exchange if they did.  I also made it clear that I'd be okay with keeping the orange if they didn't have a clear. Because - again - necessary for play. And orange is better than nothing.

Side note: The manufacturer has put their rulebook up online.  The full rulebook. It's that "Corporate Warbook" that takes up the top half of this page. In that rulebook is a page that includes the necessary templates - but the book is set up for A4. I'm in the US, and A4 is not easy to come by. And even rarer are printers that can handle A4. Yes, I can "print actual size," and cut off the edges of the paper, but my system kept balking. Which is why I went to order the templates online, because my FLGS can't get any Warzone stuff, apparently. I wonder if they're in distribution in North America ...

Noble Knight's response was pretty fast. I e-mailed them on Monday, and had a response from their Customer Service Manager (Trevor Parr) on Tuesday (which asked for a bit more information, which I provided within an hour).  By end of business today, I had another couple of e-mails from them. "I have a replacement order set up and will personally verify that it's clear before it ships." (no an exact quote) I also had an order confirmation from them - and that confirmation had a note about it being manually checked before shipping.

It wasn't clear - it was also orange. Again: Necessary for play, so I'll stick with the orange. But Noble Knight was responsive and really on the ball. And they did what they said they would do.

I've known for a few years that Noble Knight was one of the good guys. In 2015, they purchased a bunch of product from d20 Entertainment that was intended for Kickstarter backers. When they learned that backers were still waiting, they stepped up and voluntarily sent product for free to backers.  They obviously lost money on the deal.

This was my first time dealing with their customer service team.  It's the first time I'd had an issue. And I think that I can confidently state that Noble Knight is one of the Good Guys out there.

Thanks, Trevor. I appreciate the help.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Conventions

I keep cycling back to thinking about (and writing about) conventions.

This weekend, I'm at NorWesCon 40, and we had a conversation with the front desk clerk that brought a couple of things into stark focus for me, and I feel the need to share these things with you.

Notably: Growth.

Conventions - by their very nature - want to succeed. And the most visible measure of success is their growth. Unfortunately, growth is not always a good thing.

Remember a while back when GenCon left the Lake Geneva area and went to Indianapolis?  It's because the convention had outgrown Lake Geneva. There simply was not enough room to host everyone who wanted to attend. All of the hotels in town were full, all of the campgrounds and RV parks around town were full. There were long lines at restaurants and grocery stores and ...

I wasn't there at the time. This is second-hand.  Either way, it was not a good scene. Conventions outgrowing hotels is nothing surprising. Hotels outgrowing regions, on the other hand ...

So they moved to Indianapolis. A larger city with more hotels and a reasonably large convention center.  That appears to have been a good move, but GenCon has outgrown the convention center, too, and is now starting to expand into the stadium. Because it keeps growing.

They also tried to split things up by adding GenCon SoCal. But that wound up not succeeding, because vendors didn't feel like paying for two GenCon events per year, one of which involved a great deal more travel for many of them. This meant that GenCon SoCal was treated as a lesser convention by the vendors, which means that gamers also treated it as second-class, and so on. But it did slightly relieve a bit of the pressure on Indy for the first year or two.

PAX managed to expand without the same issue. There's PAX, PAX East, PAX South, PAX Australia ... and now PAX Unplugged, too. Which is a smart move, IMHO. Much as the various PAX conventions love having their board game contingent there, it's not an easy con for analog gaming folk, as video games are loud and flashy and showy. Which makes demos especially difficult.

NorWesCon has outgrown its home. It's at the Doubletree Hotel that is right across from the airport. There is plenty of very good food within easy walking distance, but the passing periods between panels are nightmarishly packed. Getting from one end of one particular hallway to the other is ... not good. It's just a solid crush of people.  There can be a ten or fifteen minute wait for an elevator with space, too. When there are convention events going on that are in the penthouse lounge, that can be a problem.

"It's true," said the clerk who was checking us in. "We're not big enough for this convention. But where else are they going to go?  Downtown Seattle isn't far, but it's triple the price, which triples the cost to attend. And that drops attendance back to the point where ... why did they move, anyway?"  There are other hotels nearby with convention rooms, and theoretically the convention could expand into one of them - but that still increases the price and adds the need to run shuttles between the various hotels. And any price increase reduces attendance numbers.

Running the same weekend as NorWesCon is Sakuracon. Sakuracon is in downtown Seattle. Its pricing is about the same as NorWesCon's.  Sakuracon used to be held in the Seattle Center, but outgrew it and is now in the convention center.  When Sakuracon was just starting out, they worked out a reciprocal agreement with NorWesCon, so the two conventions honored one another's badges - which was a good idea. I sometimes wonder if the two should just work together a bit more. Host a shared convention space, honor one another's badges, and balance the cost of the convention center downtown in that way. I know I'd still attend ...

Of course, most of the cost of moving downtown isn't the convention center itself. It's the hotels for guests. Here in SeaTac, I live about twenty minutes down the road, and we still get a room here for the weekend due to lack of parking. And it's a nice retreat from home.  If the con were to move downtown, I don't know if we'd get a room or not. Having a room is great when you've hit your limit of people and just want to hide for a bit.

Change is scary. Growth is scary. As a regular attendee, I just need to assume that the ConCom knows what they're doing and is willing to embrace change when it becomes necessary.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

So Blessed, Second Chances

I forget, sometimes, just how blessed I am to be living where I do.

This last weekend was Steph's and my 11th anniversary.  So we did what we do: We went out.

There were a couple of places I'd been meaning to check out, and a couple of places I'd been meaning to drag Steph to, so it all turned into a fantastic day.

We started by stopping at Blue Max. My parents have been going there for a while, and they're really fantastic. There's a good selection of game-fuel, too, in the form of pepperoni sticks and "trail mix" which is sausage and cheese.

From there, we headed to Capitula Uno Libreria, a brand-new Spanish-language bookstore that isn't terribly far. The proprietor was friendly and enthusiastic, and spoke English (I don't speak Spanish - Steph does). We spent a few bucks there.

From there, we headed to Game On! in the South Hill Mall. I'd pre-ordered a copy of Shadow Wars: Armageddon, and I wanted to pick that up ASAP. Now this was a second chance for us with Game On!. They'd had a location in Southcenter, and I had not been even a little impressed. The staff ignored me when I walked in, and when I went to spend money, they gave an attitude as though I was somehow putting them out by pulling them away from sorting Magic cards or chatting with their friends.  And that hadn't been a one-time thing, either. We gave them a number of opportunities to steal some of our custom away from Phoenix.  And the Puyallup location ... was different. When we got there, there were a dozen or so customers milling about and browsing. The cashier greeted us promptly, and we spent a few minutes browsing before spending our money. There was one employee who was standing in the middle of the store playing Ice Cool with himself and not really interacting with any customers, but he seemed to be the exception and not the rule. We picked up the game and got out of there.

We then headed towards South Hill Games and More. We had time to kill before they opened, so we stopped at the Games Workshop store that is about two blocks from their location.

Our experience at that GW store was a complete reversal from the last time we'd been to one (more than a decade ago).  We were greeted promptly, and the staffer wasn't pushy, but she was available as soon as we had a question. Not only that, but when I mentioned that Game On! and The Game Matrix both had received copies of Shadow Wars: Armageddon, she looked up the phone numbers for one of the customers who was there and looking for a copy. That, by the way, was one of the most stunning customer service moments I've seen in years. From anyone.

After GW, we headed to South Hill Games and More.  They're in a terrible location, but the shop is clean and organized and the staff is enthusiastic and knowledgeable. And friendly.  We picked up a Guild Ball starter, because several friends have been raving about the game of late and the gentleman who demoed it for us made it sound fun.

After that, we were a bit torn. We could go to The Game Matrix for paint, or we could head home so I could start on dinner and take a nap.  We headed towards home, stopping at Happy Donuts on the way. Happy is not a fancy donut place. They don't have bacon maple bars or any of the new "hip" donut flavors. They have traditional twists and bars and cake donuts. But their donuts are really good. And I'd never taken Steph there before (despite mentioning it every time we drove past).

Then Steph napped and I cooked dinner, and then headed to Beer & Board Games at Fantasium.

In one day, I visited four game stores. The furthest one out is about half an hour from the house. This area is blessed. It's an embarrassment of riches, even.

I can't wait to get these games to the table, either.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Boycotts

Drama is one of those things that happens all around us all the time. Usually, it's small and unimportant to us, but sometimes important things are happening.

And those things are not always good.

Role-players seem especially prone to drama. It's part of what makes us good role-players - we get invested in things, and they are important to us.

So we get angry when a company betrays us by not behaving as we expect them to. It happens all the time, and is nothing new.

A few months back, Simon and Schuster signed a contract to publish Milo Yiannopoulos' book. This triggered a ton of calls to boycott S&S.

If you don't know who Milo is, can I come live where you live?

When (not long ago) they canceled that same contract, a ton of people started yelling about how people shouldn't end that boycott because "it was only a business decision."

Here's the thing: A boycott is an attempt to sway business decisions. That's the whole point of a boycott. So Simon and Schuster canceling the book means that the boycott was successful.

Yes, there were other things going on and the decision wasn't completely due to the boycott. It was more due to the fear of further boycotting by customers. But that's beside the point. The boycott's goal was "Keep S&S from publishing this book." And S&S decided not to publish the book.

You hear all the time that people will "vote with their wallet." And we do. Who you choose to buy from is important. Buying from McDonald's instead of Burger King means that McDonald's makes money from you and Burger King doesn't.

But that's different from a boycott.

When you boycott a brand (or line), you are telling that company, "I will not support X."  And you need to actually tell them. Really. It's voting with your wallet and your voice.

And it's relevant to gaming. Honest and for true.

Not liking a game (or game line) isn't the same as boycotting it. I don't like Munchkin, for example. It just does nothing for me, and it kinda drags in the endgame. But I'm not going to tell my friends not to buy it (if they like it - and a lot of them do). I'm not going to write Steve Jackson Games and tell them they shouldn't publish it. I'm just not going to buy it.

But I haven't bought anything from Games Workshop in more than a decade. Nor have I purchased anything that has been licensed from them. Because I've seen how poorly they've treated their fans and retailers over the years. I've seen what they do to the overall hobby.

But that ... seems to be changing. Part of that is due to the outcome of the Chapterhouse Studios lawsuit from a few years back, and part of it is new management (also as of a few years back). Either way, GW seems to be mending their ways. They're listening to fans. They're loosening their grip a bit on online sales. It's enough that I'm ... I'm thinking about jumping back in.  You know. Giving them another chance.

UPDATE: Since writing this, but before it went live, I had a couple of communications with GW customer service, and I am ending my boycott of GW product. I won't call myself a fan of their product, but I am willing to buy their things again.