Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Few More Asmodee Updates

I'm sorry for the long lag time between posts – I was behind at my day job due to an overtime project, then staffing shortages, and now it's the holiday season. I haven't forgotten about those few of you who read this, however.

Asmodeé sent me another game.  This one just as a gift – it was already translated fully into English.  We took it for a test drive tonight, and had a great time.  It had a lot more strategy to it than I'd expected.

I'm not sure if it's just being reprinted or what – either way, it's a great game, and I heartily recommend picking it up.

I can't say too much about what's coming and when, but I have seen English rules for Ca$h 'n Gun$ and du Balais!  I also saw English rules for Sharur: Evolutions over a year ago (and it's unlikely to make it into English).

There's a decent review of du Balais! here.  It's not 100%, but it covers the game reasonably well.

I currently have in my editing queue Werewolf: New Moon (an expansion to Werewolves of Miller's Hollow that was previously only available in French).  Those of you who are unfamiliar with Werewolves have probably never attended a gaming convention.  It's one of the best games ever designed for late-night play.

A limited run of Formula De is due early next year.  I'm not sure how limited, however.

And Dungeon Twister: Forces of Darkness is also due early next year (January or February).  I think I have an editing credit in this one, too.  Christophe Boelinger listed me in the 'Special Thanks' for this one, too.  Which felt good.

The DT expansion I'm most looking forward to is this one.  But it's a ways off, here in the English-speaking world.

… and that's about all I've got for now.

Stay tuned – I do have more posts that are written and only require further editing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Asmodeé may be going to PAX in 2007.  They also may be missing Origins.

These are a couple of interesting decisions, and I know part of why, but not all of it.

See, there is a perception (accurate or not) that Origins is dying.  Wizards of the Coast (WotC) did not attend this year – the official reason was that it wasn't financially feasible.  There are all sorts of rumors about other reasons – but I'm not going to go into that, now.

See, what a lot of convention attendees don't realize is this:

Companies very rarely break even at conventions.

That's right.  They spend a lot of money to attend, and then generally fail to recoup those losses at the convention.

The key phrase in that last sentence, by the way, is "at the convention."

See, to a gaming company, a convention is much like buying a TV commercial to a toy company.  It allows you to hit your target audience with information about your product, presented in (generally) a favorable light.  That way, gamers who go to the convention go home excited and tell all their friends about it.

Different conventions are equivalent to different time slots – not everyone advertises on all programs.  It's too expensive.  So you choose when and where to advertise, and how big to make the advertisement.

For game companies, you want to have new releases and/or demos of upcoming releases there – that way, you can show off things with a wow factor and get gamers excited about your products.

This is a large part of why having a good demo team is of critical importance.  A bad demo can cause bad word-of-mouth.

Origins is smaller than GenCon.  Since the two conventions are so close on the calendar, very few companies have new releases at both – it's typically previews at Origins and the games at GenCon.  This has led to a situation where Origins is not as well attended as GenCon – gamers prefer coming home with the game to just looking at it or trying it out.  It's basic human nature – "This is cool, I want it."  And we don't like having to wait.  We'd rather wait the month to see and buy than just see and be unable to buy.  Because the lag frustrates us that much.

At Origins, however, you get the true hardcore gamers.  People who are there to play games, not to spend money (although you can easily do that, as well).  You get a lot of these same people at GenCon, too, but they're a lower percentage.

WotC pulling out of Origins starts a potential vicious circle – WotC pulls out, claiming that it's too small and dying.  This leads fewer gamers to attend (WotC always had good previews at Origins).  This causes Origins to shrink.  Other companies notice smaller attendance and pull out, causing fewer fans to attend causing fewer companies …

I'm sure you can see where this is going.

I sincerely hope Origins is not going down.  There are some solid reasons for companies to attend.  Tom Vasel is a significant reason, all by himself.  He's the #1 reviewer of board games on the Geek, and he tries to be fair (and still say good things).  He also lives in Korea, and can only attend one US convention per year.  In 2005, he said that Dungeon Twister was (for him) the best game at Origins.  We'd had trouble pulling large numbers of people in for a demo – we had no such trouble at GenCon.  Close to half of the demos I ran at GenCon started with "Tom Vasel said I should check this game out."

I do think that Asmodeé should attend PAX.  Wade, a good friend of mine, attended this year, and he said that the board game area was out of control, but that there were only a very small handful of board/card/roleplaying companies in attendance.  WotC was there, but they were focusing on D&D Online.

I'm of the opinion that game companies need to cater to both East and West Coast gamers.  GenCon Indy is too far for many West Coasters to attend.  GenCon SoCal has failed to catch on – it had just over 6,000 attendees in 2005.  PAX, by contrast, had 9,000.  And SoCal started a year before PAX did.  PAX 2006 was over 19,000.  Numbers for GenCon SoCal h aven't been released anywhere I can find.  But it means that PAX is a more viable West Coast convention that SoCal at this point – even with its primary focus on video games, they still have a large board-gaming area (as large as GenCon or Origin's, actually), and there is a fair amount of overlap between board gamers and video gamers.

And that's all I've got to say about that.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Asmodee Updates

A couple of very short updates:

1) Hell Dorado, the miniatures game I demoed for people at GenCon is (tenatively) set for a May release in France and a September release in the US.

2) I've seen proofs for Fire and Axe: A Viking Saga (the new edition of Viking Fury). It looks very nice, and the components are pretty sweet, too.

3) Formula De may still have some life in it.

Now back to my regularly-scheduled Overtime Project That Will Not Die.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Add A Dash Of Cthulhu

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about Mash-Ups - taking two dissimilar games or themes or genres and mixing them.

The prime example of the RPG Mash-Up is GURPS Cthulhupunk, where Steve Jackson Games took the Horrors of the Cthulhu mythos and worked them into their pre-existing Cyberpunk setting to create a dark future with a horrific twist. With the "Humanity" mechanics already extant in most Cyberpunk-genre gaming, there was an easy mechanic to tweak for the sanity loss experienced in Cthulhu-based games.

My friends elsewhere provided me a list of Mash-Ups they'd like to see. Before I tackle some of their specific mash-ups, here are some general notes on how I plan to go about doing this:

I'm not going to completely mix two different RPG's. I'll mix their settings, or will take some genre tropes from one and drop them into the other. I may suggest some hybrid mechanics in some cases. If one element of the mixture is in a system which I don't own, I'll make some suggestions for an alternative system to use for the base mechanics. My goal is to maintain the flavor of both settings when I do this. There are impossible mixtures unless you're doing a parody. Toon and the X-Files, for example, are not a mix you can really do "straight."

See, I believe that every campaign is like a recipe. GM's take pieces from the game that they like and emphasize them and then they de-emphasize the other parts - if you're a GM who likes the Guns, Guns, and More Guns element of Cyberpunk 2020, then you're probably going to downplay the horror of the Humanity Loss. Both are perfectly valid - it's just a matter of what you (as GM) prefer and what your players will accept.

That said, let me start very generically:

Adding A Dash of Cthulhu

The easiest mashups involve either very slight changes or else changes which will try to hide themselves - Much as I love to hate White Wolf, their World of Darkness concepts are very easily inserted into just about any game, as each of the various supernaturals has "Stay Hidden" as part of its credo. You just need to figure out the appropriate mechanics.

The other common addition is that of the Cthulhu Mythos. For those of you who don't know anything about the Cthulhu Mythos, they're based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. The basic concept (and I'm horrendously oversimplifying this) is that there are horrific things out there that don't fit into the world we allow ourselves to see. Because of this, any encounter with them causes people to go mad - it starts small, but it can spiral out of control.

It's also commonly added to other games to add an unworldly or eerie feel to that game.

Here are a few Cthulhu Mash-up ideas you may not have considered:

Ghostbusters/Cthulhu (Thanks Tim!)

People who see Ghostbusters and only see a comedy are missing quite a bit - the film is filled with occult investigations which closely match the sorts of investigations that Call of Cthulhu (CoC) veterans are well-familiar with. It starts with some minor weirdness that drops hints and then escalates into a world-threatening Horror From Beyond. Even the sequel had a few ideas - the most notable was the primary supernatural villain (Vigo, if I remember correctly) used a human pawn (a very Mythos-esque touch).

This could be very easily run as a straight CoC game - just set the PC's up as licensees of a Ghostbusters Franchise (an idea mentioned briefly in the films that was used as the basis for the Ghostbusters RPG). Don't worry too much about the Particle Accelerators or the Traps or any of the Tech - all PC's need to know is that it works. Assume that a hit on a living body is lethal (or very nearly so, depending on the needs of the story), and go from there. Ideally, the players should open their franchise somewhere in Small-Town New England - both because New England is rich with ghost stories and because it's where Lovecraft set the bulk of his tales.

Start 'em off normally for Ghostbusters - the thumping noise is the dog next door's tail hitting the wall. The moaning noise upstairs just means you need some new insulation. Give 'em a ghost or two here and there, but bide your time. Experienced CoC gamers will see Cthulhu around every corner. Just gradually turn things up a notch or two, and, before long, you've got a full-fledged Cult Conspiracy that may or may not be related to the sudden increase in ghosts.

If you wanted to run it comically instead of straight, I'd suggest using a different system. Deep Seven Games has their XPG system that will work wonderfully - it's versatile enough that you can run it straight, but light enough that it doesn't get in the way of comedy. You can tweak the wounds track slightly for psychological wounds (madness), and go to town.

Traveller / Cthulhu

Traveller is a classic hard SF RPG that's been released now in several bonus flavors (GURPS and d20). Because it's a hard SF setting, it's ideal for the inclusion of something other than normal fantasy.

The Cthulhu Mythos is filled with aliens, many of whom colonized Earth before Humanity appeared on the scene. The Old Ones/Elder Things, the Great Race of Yith, and so on. It's not hard to treat these as lost civilizations for a character with an Archaeological bent to explore. You can also find their descendents on a distant world - whether or not to inflict Sanity Loss of some sort for these is up to the GM. Mankind is mentally able to handle the concept of aliens by the time in which Traveller is set. Whether they can handle the thought of aliens on Earth before humans, however ... or the behaviors of some of these aliens (especially towards humans). It's also possible that, when they left Earth behind, they took humans along as a servitor race. There may be human-descended cultures that were abandoned when their overlords fell for whatever reason.

There is magic in the Cthulhu setting, too - I saw it explained away once as being replicating nanobots which recognize certain sounds and act accordingly. I really like this idea for a Traveller-style game. The thought that self-replicating nanobots have been present on Earth since long before we were can be a maddening thought. It's also a great story hook - a scientist working on nanotechnology spots one (or more) of these and starts to put the pieces together. He learns over the course of his investigations that they are present everywhere humans have been, probably brought along by the first human visitors to some of the foreign worlds we now live on (or visit). By extension, races with whom we have had contact are also now infested with these nanobots. If the alien technology is superior to ours, they may already be aware of these nanobots. They may also have similar nanobots of their own. Either way, what happens when we contact an alien race who already knows how to use them? What if the meeting goes poorly?

There are a number of systems you could use for this - GURPS is the easiest, as it has books which include both the Cthulhu Mythos (GURPS Cthulhupunk) and the Traveller setting (GURPS Traveller). You could also fairly easy use the Silhouette Core Rules. It's almost as customizeable as GURPS and I (personally) like it better.

In Nomine / Cthulhu

In Nomine is all about the conflict between Heaven and Hell and how the individual solders deal with it. As such, it's built very strongly on a Judeo-Christian background setting. For most groups, the PC's are a group of Angels (or Demons), who are dealing with the conflict in their own way.

What if Cthulhu himself or the Old Ones had their own Angelic equivalents? Cthulhu has been asleep under the oceans for so long - maybe his awakening (and a new rise of R'lyeh) is heralded by the sudden appearance of these Angels. They'd definately strike a dischordant note in the Symphony ...

It's also possible to add deeper questions here that are not covered by the standard In Nomine game - what if Angels and God only exist because enough people believe they do? If that's the case, then how many people does it take to create a God, and can Cthulhu be stopped if you force enough of his worshippers to stop believing? You don't need Cthulhu to make this question work, either - if Satan knows that human beings need to believe for either side to exist, then his goals and motivations suddenly alter, even if the actions taken don't.

Legend of the Five Rings / Cthulhu

There are two ways to do this without too much trouble.

The easiest way to do this is to treat the Cthulhu Mythos as part of the Shadowlands and the corruption there. Use the standard Shadowlands mechanics for Taint, and you're good to go.

Or, you can decide that the Cthulhu Mythos in Rokugan is a remnant of a Gaijin invasion from centuries ago - not all the Gaijin were slain during their invasion, and they went into hiding helped by members of the _________ Clan (use whatever clan helps your story most). They brought their Gaijin Gods with them, and they've been worshipped in secret for centuries. Weird Things are starting to be noticed in the Empire, and your PC's are sent to investigate.

This allows you to create Cthulhu Cults within the Empire itself. Modify the Taint rules slightly for Sanity. This has a few strengths that the standard "Just Treat It As A Shadowlands Beastie" lacks:

First of all, PC's will (once they discover them) assume it's just another Cult of Fu Leng at first, allowing you to catch them off-guard.

It allows for some political play - the group that hid the Gaijin sailors was almost certainly not doing so with their Clan's knowledge and approval - what do you do when it's discovered? Especially if it's YOUR clan, and you're in a mixed-Clan party?

Although the cult is definately illegal, its practitioners won't reek of Taint, either - if there's no Taint, you'll have a hard time proving anything. And it's hard to find them Even if it's just peasants, they can be trouble enough if you gather enough of them together.

System-wise, I'd suggest the classic L5R roll-and-keep system. You can go d20 if you want to, but you lose a lot of flavor that way. And there's not much modification necessary, making it a fairly easy changeover.

Hopefully, I've listed a game or genre here that is similar enough that you can take some of these tips and tweak them for your game. I'll have more Mash-ups in the future - my friends gave me a few ideas that are percolating, and some gave me ideas that'll require some research.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Do Some Good!

My good friend Wade posted a reminder the other day that Our Local Game Store is a Toys for Tots drop-off location.

Those of you who don't know about Toys for Tots don't need to know much - it's a charity that works with the US Marine Corps to give toys (and games) to needy children.

Brian, the owner of Phoenix Games, has his sights set on being the top dropoff location in our area this year.

More game stores should do this kind of thing. It might help us shed the public perception of gamers as evil selfish people. After all, aside from the CCG-ers, we're no more selfish than the rest of the populace.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Small Update - Asmodee Products

Very small update - our OT project is done, but we're now short-staffed.

Mission: Red Planet is now available in English. UPS is trying to get my copy to me, so I can't comment too much on how it turned out - I do have some Errata for it already, however.

Iliad should be in stores by the end of the month - the corrected reprint has arrived from the printer.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Favorite YouTube Videos

It seems like I spend entirely too much time here apologizing for delays - my goal here is 1 post per week, and I will not always make that goal.

My good friend Wade tagged me, and requested that I post my top 5 YouTube videos.

It's a tough one, because there are some very good videos out there, so here are my picks:
Fear of Girls - I love being a part of a hobby that spends this amount of time and energy mocking itself.

Busting a Dungeons and Dragons Nerd - Seriously. I love it when people love a thing enough to laugh at it.

"I am wearing Boots of Escaping! I am wearing Boots of Escaping!"

Flight of the Conchords have rapidly become one of my favorite parody folk groups. As if the market were crowded. This rap performance is almost unspeakably funny.

The Battle of Farador, Part One is more gamers poking fun at our hobby. And it proves (to me, at least) that gaming humor transcends language - something very few non-physical styles of humor are able to do.

Part Two is pretty funny, too. I don't want to count it as a fifth video, however - it'd feel too much like cheating to me.

The fifth video isn't related to gaming. It's someone using YouTube in a way which startled me with its brilliance:

Did you ever have something that didn't work until a tech was watching, and then it performed flawlessly? At my day job, we had a customer with the same issue. He'd already sent his stereo in for repairs once, and the repair center techs had found nothing wrong with his receiver. So he shot video of the issue and uploaded it to YouTube.
At this point, I'm supposed to tag five people to continue the meme. I'd like to tag famous industry professionals. Since none of them read this, however, it'd be a pointless waste of time.

Instead, I'd like to tag Michael, Mike, Stephanie, Thomas, and Rob.

Just include the following code in your entry:
<p>Memetag: <a href="">YouTube chart</a></p>
Memetag: YouTube chart

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What Role-Players Can Learn From Professional Wrestling

I'll bet you thought I was kidding when I listed this as an upcoming post.

As a fan of Professional Wrestling, I've seen a number of basic elements on the various shows and principles can easily be applied to table-top roleplaying. Most of this advice is oriented towards Game-Masters (GM's), but some of it will help players as well.

While I've watched a number of other promotions, I'm most familiar with the WWE, and most of my examples will be drawn from WWE Monday Night Raw. I may also pull an example or two out of the ECW. Not all of my examples will be 100% accurate, either, so don't use my examples as a means of catching up on your favorite character's storyline.

Every Character Has A Story
In Professional Wrestling, every single character has some sort of hook and a bit of background. It doesn't have to be very deep or even interesting. It just has to exist.
Randy Orton wants to outshine his father, and so he's trying to beat all the wrestlers who beat his father.

The Highlanders are a tag team from Scotland. Even the smarter one isn't very bright.
Know Your Role
This is separate from the background - you need to know what you are capable of. As a GM, you need to be aware of what your players are capable of.
The Big Show is seven feet tall, and weighs over 500 pounds. While he's perfectly willing to take on two opponents at a time in a Handicap Match, you won't see him doing many ladder matches.

Supercrazy is unlikely to go one-on-one with the Big Show.
At the same time, players will want to achieve the nearly impossible.
Sabu wants the ECW title, and he thinks he can take on the Big Show to get it.
More than that, as a player you should also know if you're a Face, a Heel or a Tweener - Most PC's are Good Guys, which makes them Faces, but not every fan favorite is a Face. Heels should be NPC villains for the most part. Just because a character is humorous doesn't mean they're a face - There are comic heels and serious heels, just like there are comic faces and serious faces.

There Needs To Be A Story
It's that simple. If you just throw a bunch of wrestlers in a ring, it's not very entertaining. Give them a reason for being in that ring. Similarly, just dropping PC's into the world you've created won't get you any benefit or fun.
John Cena wrestling Edge isn't very interesting. John Cena wrestling Edge because Edge has been mocking John Cena relentlessly is much more interesting. John Cena wrestling Edge for the WWE Title that Edge stole from him is even more entertaining.
Characters Can't Always Succeed Alone
Working together, characters can succeed where they would have individually failed.
HHH and Sean Michaels are good friends who just want to have fun. They share a dislike for Vince McMahon, and are currently making his life a little miserable. Individually, they wouldn't be able to work nearly as much mahem.
The fact that some goals are impossible alone can also be used to encourage PC's to get to know NPC's or each other.

Characters Will Develop Their Own Relationships
Don't just force characters together. Give them a reason to work together.
Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit had been rivals for a long time, but, with a common foe, formed a tag team (and won the Tag Title).
Along the same lines, allow character relationships to develop and change. Player Characters very rarely wind up hating each other - they may be rivals, but there's nothing wrong with a friendly rivalry.

Characters Will Change
Over time, characters gain more skills. Depending on the system, they may also pick up personality quirks (good and bad). It's not a bad thing - and it shouldn't be limited to PC's.
Shane McMahon spent a great deal of time as a Face, feuding with his father. Now, he is his father's right-hand man. This makes him a more effective villain, because he has positive history with some of the Faces in the league.
Don't Give That Man A Mike
Professional Wrestlers all do what they call "Promos," in which they grab the microphone and rant for a time. Some wrestlers are better at it than others. In the same, way, some players will spell out exactly what they are saying in character, and others will paraphrase. Don't force paraphrase players to stretch out what they're saying if they don't want to. Also remember: Some players just want the action. They're not interested in character interaction.
Johnny Nitro is a decent wrestler, but when you give him a microphone, it's like watching paint dry. It's better to just cut to the action so he doesn't have to open his mouth.
Along the same lines, don't allow an NPC to make a long speech - and don't allow them to argue with one another at length, either. Even if there's a factional split among the Villains, keep the arguments short. Players have short attention spans, and long NPC discussions put them to sleep.

Evil Cheats
It's that simple. As a GM, always be looking for a way to make the game more difficult for your players. Don't make it too difficult - and if they can counter the cheating somehow, let them. Even faces PC's cheat from time to time.
Edge held the WWE Championship for a long time. Nearly all of his title defense victories were because his side-kick Lita handed him chairs or distracted the referee or just beat on his opponent while Edge distracted the referee.
Don't make it too easy, either. Players need to feel like they have earned that win. If they counter your cheating, find a new way to cheat.

Accidents Happen
Sometimes, your players will throw that critical success and badly wound your best villain during the introductory scene. Roll with it - have his assistant step up or stage a coup.
If Vince McMahon suffers a breakdown, Shane McMahon will step in to do the job. If they're both incapacitated, Jonathan Coachman steps up.

Even though Paul Heyman may set foot in the ring, he's got two bodyguards who will do his fighting for him.
The Fix Is In
Good will eventually triumph. It won't be easy, and it can take some time, but PC's will eventually succeed at their quests.
John Cena just re-took his title from Edge. It took several months, and it involved beating Edge in Toronto (Edge's home town). It also involved a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match - a match type at which John Cena had no experience, and at which Edge excels.
Evil Doesn't Go Away
Just because they've won one battle or completed one adventure doesn't mean that the game is over.
John Cena just won the title back from Edge, but Edge has made it clear that he feels as though it's still his title, and he's threatened to invoke the rematch clause of his contract.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Upcoming Posts

I know I said I'd post about The Good Competitor, but it's proven to need a lot more editing that I'd expected. I'm working on it.

In fact, I have several posts that are in the Edit Queue:

- The Good Competitor
- What Gamers Can Learn from Professional Wrestling
- More on Demo Teams (Including a list of demo teams and contact information)
- An Overview of Dungeon Twister Tournaments (Including formats and styles of play)
- A Couple of Reviews
- More Industry News and Previews

They all need some polish (and, in some cases, more writing), but I'm working on 'em.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

New Game Coming

I know I'd promised to talk about Good Competitors, but something came up.

It's not here, yet, but Asmodée has a new game on the way.

Well, a new edition of an older game.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to check out some of the pre-production art and read through the previous edition of the rules. It looks beautiful. A huge upgrade over the previous edition, where the board looked like this:

I should point out that the old map is printed on cloth - I'm don't know if the new edition will be cloth-printed or not.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Playing Dungeon Twister

I'm really good at losing games of Dungeon Twister. Really good. Here is my tournament profile. Which doesn't include demo games played at Origins and GenCon '05 and '06.

In the '05 Convention Season, I won a total (in nearly eighty hours of play) of two games. Now, people say that a good Demo Team knows how to lose without making it seem like they are trying to lose. Let me state - for the record - I was not trying to lose. By the end of the season, I desperately wanted to win.

This year has been better to me. I've reached the point where I think I should probably handicap myself against beginners in casual play. Even though I still managed to lose a fair amount this year.

That said, however, one of the great joys of GenCon '06 was meeting up with Michael again.

Michael is a friend of mine who is one of Smirk and Dagger's Instigators. He runs an excellent Hex Hex demo. Michael also happens to be last year's GenCon Dungeon Twister Tournament Champion. And a good opponent.

I'm sure, then, you'll understand why I took such joy in playing him at GenCon this year. And winning. Twice. They weren't total massacres, but I did win.

My ego was further boosted when Michael then gave Chris a run for his money.

Next year at GenCon, I hope to play Michael again. And I do hope he beats me, so that we can pass the rivalry along for another year. Which means that he'll need to practice.

... which leads me to the subject of my next post, which should be out next week sometime. If I can get it together. See, I've already talked about what I feel it takes to be a good demo team member. I'd like to discuss next the good competitor.

And I'll probably use Michael as one of my examples. Partly because he's a good competitor and partly because I know he reads this.

P.S. Michael, please let Karen know that Stephanie says "Hi."

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Bit More GenCon Wrapup

Something I do when looking back on GenCon is use Google to look us up. I look up the company and various games.

From what I've seen, Jungle Speed was a hit.

Dungeon Twister continued to go over well.

Iliad looks to do reasonably well.

And Mission: Red Planet's absence was the source of much disappointment.

I only gave one interview - that with All Games Considered, but I did talk to a number of other journalists and bloggers - Steve Edline would direct them to me when they visited the booth.

I discussed several of Asmodee's games with GamerDad - he had asked about Mission: Red Planet, and then I suggested a couple of other games to him as well. The results of the discussion are posted here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Demo Teams

I've been poking around online, doing GenCon follow-ups and keeping track of what people had to say about Asmodée at GenCon. Nearly everyone that I've been able to find has said that our Demo Team was one of the best.

I (personally) take pride in this, as I was the person who added a couple of members to the team. Asmodée contacted me a few weeks before the convention and asked me if I could find a few friends who were able to go along. Initially, I was told to find three friends, so I knew exactly who to ask - Katie, Jon and Stephanie.

It didn't even take me three minutes to list this as my "Dream Team" for demoing games. All three are hard-core gamers who are serious about the hobby. All three are pleasant people with whom I enjoy associating (in the interests of full disclosure, I should probably state that Stephanie is my wife). I put a cattle-call out in several places, but I specifically contacted these three and saved spots for them.

Circumstances beyond my control transpired, and the three spaces shrank to one and then - last-second - expanded back to two. Katie and Stephanie were the two who attended with me.

It got me thinking, however:

What makes a good Demo Team?

I was chatting with my friend Thomas (who works for Steve Jackson Games) about GenCon, and he also commented that our team was one of the best he'd seen. He also didn't use the word "Demo" - he used the term "Booth" (Actually "Freelance Booth Weasels" is the full phrase he used). When I asked him about it, I realized that we had slightly different ideas of what our job at GenCon was.

To my mind, our job was simple: Teach Games. I feel that Asmodée's games are strong enough that they'll sell themselves, once players have been exposed to them.

But there are more elements that I hadn't considered that Thomas reminded me of - and he was absolutely correct. A lot of these are specific to being a Demo Team at a convention, but some of them will still apply to in-store (and other) demos.

Being a good Demo Team member means not only teaching people to play games, but doing so in a way that makes the game entertaining enough that said people will want to own it. So Demo Team members should be enthusiastic.

Product knowledge is important. A good Team member will have extensive product knowledge about the games, rules, release dates, and distributors - not only for the specific game you are demostrating, but also for the other games carried or produced by the company you are representing, and some information about the company itself. Even though my GenCon focus was supposed to be Hell Dorado, I spent a great deal of time introducing other Asmodée games to people as well.

Demo Team members should be approachable by the general public. After all, if people are too scared to learn the play the game from you then you've already failed at one of your basic tasks. This means being well-groomed and friendly with a good attitude.

Demo Team members should be able to communicate. I realize that this is common sense, but you'd be surprised. If you lack the ability to re-phrase unclear rules to answer customer questions, then you shouldn't be teaching people to play. A good portion of our team at GenCon had French accents, but they were still able to (for the most part) communicate effectively with native English speakers in a loud room.

Demo Team members need to be confident enough to approach the public, especially if the public isn't approaching the demo team. Asmodée gave us a great excuse for this - catalogs and other promotional literature. "Good morning," I'd say as people strolled by, "would you like a free catalog?" (If you use the word "Free," it becomes very difficult for people to turn you down.) Also: Handing them the promo material and then walking away/ignoring them is a bad idea - wait until they walk away. They may, after all, have questions about the materials you just handed to them.

Demo Team members need to be alert and perceptive to opportunity. One woman was standing in our booth waiting for her husband to finish a Dungeon Twister demo - it took two seconds to get her involved in a Jungle Speed demo with two other people that we were introducing to the game. It kept her from getting bored and wandering off or trying to drag her husband off before he'd had a chance to decide if he liked DT or not. It also sold an additional copy of Jungle Speed.

Demo Team members should be able to work as a team. At GenCon, I was the only Asmodée Booth Weasel (now he's got ME saying it!) who was able to demo Hell Dorado, so if I was in the middle of a Dungeon Twister demo and someone else wanted a Hell Dorado demo, then I would either need to ask the new person to wait or else get another team member to tag in for me at DT. Obviously, the tag team action is preferable. Since my DT demonstrations always proceed in the same order, I could tell my teammate, "I've covered character special abilities and was about to go over items," and they'd be able to tag right in with no problems. At one point, when I started to dehydrate, I turned around and was handed something to drink - without even needing to ask for it. That's how well we worked as a team.

Speaking of "in the same order" - be consistent. If you have a pattern to your demo, follow the pattern. It helps the rest of your team.

Demo Team Members should be honest. When Mission: Red Planet didn't arrive, we didn't tell people outrageous lies about it. "It's on a boat," we'd say, "in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We are as disappointed as you that it isn't here." Gamers should, by now, be well-acquainted with printer-related delays. Most gamers are understanding.

Demo Team Members should be aware that not all gamers will be understanding. My wife was yelled at on Thursday because Mission: Red Planet wasn't available at GenCon. "What terrible Customer Service you guys have!" And he kept coming by to complain. For the entire weekend. About something that we were frustrated and annoyed with, as well.

Demo Team members should be reliable. If you're only working for four or five days, show up. Our team this year was incredible. They worked through blisters, migraines, dehydration and heat stroke. And they smiled and loved every minute of it.

Some teams have other responsibilities and/or hardships - Asmodée's team, for example, didn't have chairs this year. We spent four days on our feet. We were also expected to hang out and play games in the public gaming area after the exhibit hall closed. Were we exhausted by the end? You betcha!

Many companies have organized teams who run in-store demos and demos at local conventions. Steve Jackson Games has their MiB's. Deep 7 has their Pathfinders. Many of these companies also have reward systems set up for running the demos - Privateer Press, for example, gives credits for running demos that can be cashed in for figures and books. Other companies will pay admission to local conventions. If you're interested in joining a demo team for your favorite company, look into it and contact them! Many times, the application information is clearly posted right on their website. If you're serious about gaming, go for it! What's the worst thing they can do?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Mark Kinney of All Games Considered interviewed Steve, Christophe and myself at GenCon this year. The interview itself is here, and may re-appear later as part of the AGC podcast later.

I'm always afraid of coming across as being basically a corporate shill in situations like that - and I know I come across as a bit of one. Of course, that is part of why Asmodee paid me to be there.

I've got a some things to say about being part of a Demo Team at a convention, but that can wait for another post.

Thanks for the time, Mark.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Games Were Meant To Be Played

I'm a game collector. I'm sure you are all aware of that by now. Most of what I have is pretty easy to find, but I've got some games that are a bit pricier.

I was given a gift, today.

A good friend of mine who is getting married the weekend after GenCon gave me this game, which I've been looking for for a while.

The amazing part is that he gave me this and this, as well. One of them is even unpunched.

I almost turned him down - the last time I looked, the expansions were in the $75 each range - even as a collector, I have no desire to rip off my friends or accept extravagant gifts.

"It's okay," he said, "I know you've wanted these for a while, and they're just gathering dust on my shelf. And I know you aren't going to sell them."

Later that afternoon, I did some reasearch and learned that the expansions had more than doubled in price since last I'd checked.

"Again, Eric, I know you aren't in it to sell them. I know that you believe that games were meant to be played."

And it's true.

Games Were Meant To Be Played.

I own a fair number of games - My collection on the 'Geek is woefully behind on the updating - I've got a bunch of games which I haven't rated or registered as being owned, yet.

I try to keep every game which is rated over a 5 in regular rotation, and I like to drag out the 5's from time to time, as well. Because games - even mediocre ones - were meant to be played.

Sometimes, I guess, that philosophy pays off.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dungeon Twister Tournament Prizes

Asmodee announced earlier this week that the tournament prizes were now available in English.

Getting them is a two-step process:

1) Register your tournament on
2) E-mail and ask them to send you the prize support.

It's that simple.

EDIT: Jim has caught a typo. They are NOW available, not NOT available has I had previously reported. Thank you, Jim.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Talking Game

I'm not sure what's up with the RSS feed - those of you who are getting spammed (if any), I'm sorry.

I don't control it.

Friday, July 21, 2006

GenCon Is Coming

I'm in, again. I'll be working for Asmodée, again, but I won't be the only English-speaker there, this year. My friend Katie and one other friend (to be named later) will be joining in.

Here's the list of what I expect to demo this year:

Dungeon Twister
Dungeon Twister: Paladins and Dragons
Dungeon Twister: 3/4 Player Expansion
Mall of Horror
Hell Dorado
(Not yet available)
Jungle Speed
Mission: Red Planet
(Making its English debut at GenCon)
Iliad (Also debuting in English at GenCon)

It's possible there may be a copy of Renaissance there, as well.

And, it being a Con, there is always a game of Werewolf going somewhere

If any of these games interest you, please feel free to stop by the Asmodée booth. We'll be glad to teach you how to play.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Dungeon Twister Notes

At Origins this last week, I learned something new about the upcoming English releases of Dungeon Twister:

"Fire and Water" is being released out of order in English.

Here in the US, we'll be seeing "Forces of Darkness," followed by "Mercenaries," and THEN (Probably) "Fire and Water."

It's not a problem, it just means that we'll be getting our characters in a different order than France did.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Cyberpunk v3.0

As a literary genre, Cyberpunk is dead (or nearly so). Many of its core concepts and genre tropes have escaped into the rest of the Speculative Fiction shelf, it's true, but Cyberpunk fiction hasn't had anything revolutionary or even particularly innovative in a very long time.

Okay, I lied. Sorta. The innovative Cyberpunk fiction that we're seeing these days is innovative and entertaining because it throws out one or more of the core concepts of what we have learned to expect from Cyberpunk fiction - it's Cyberpunk without the trappings of Cyberpunk.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, for example, threw out the MegaCorporations. I had a conversation with a friend the other day who didn't believe that this was a Cyberpunk story, in part because there was not the feelig of character vs. society that is the core of so much CP.

But I'm not here to talk about fiction. It's not something I feel qualified to discuss at length. This is my place, and we talk about Games here, right? So let's talk about Cyberpunk Genre Games. More specifically, let's talk role-playing games.

As some of you have noticed, Cyberpunk V3.0 is out. It's drawing a lot of flack for being so different from the previous edition. Well, that and the art - but that's a topic for someone more qualified to discuss art.

So what's the deal with the new edition?

For one, Cyberware doesn't cause any loss of connection with your fellow man. In short, Mike Pondsmith has tossed out a major component of what we've come to accept as core to the Cyberpunk genre roleplaying experience. There's still a Humanity mechanic, but it's not as critical as it was in previous editions.

But he doesn't stop there. The Megacorporations are shattered and weakened - shells of what they used to be. The 'Net? It's trashed. The old 'Net theoretically is still around somewhere, but it's immensely dangerous, now. That's two tropes of Literary Cyberpunk gone ...

What does that leave us?

With no 'Net, there is no single unifying cultural influence. In fact, most people have split into a variety of Alternative Cultures (AltCults), who are involved in a definate culture war (which sometimes includes guns). And ideas DO have power, again. Pondsmith discusses memes (self-replicating ideas) for over a page. His claim seems to be that each culture is nothing more than a collection of memes.
Memes are constantly evolving, growing. Some take root, others die out (or we'd all still be wearing leisure suits and going to discos). And occasionally, renegade memes evolve and propagate. When an adolf Hitler spawns an infections idea of fascisme and racial superiority, you can get a Nazi meme that can seduce an entire nation to commit the worst atrocities in human history. And then spend generations trying to stomp it out even after Der Fuhrer is dead and buried.

The way vaccinate against these rogue memes is to make sure they can't take hold. You do that by locking down information in agreed upon memes that most people adhere to.
Each of the six AltCults he describes has three core cultural memes. The Edgerunners AltCult, for example holds that:
- Metal is still better than Meat
- Technology enhances you, but it's not everything
- There's no such thing as a free lunch.
Mike Pondsmith has crafted a world which has no remaining history - the DataKrash which took out the net didn't just take the 'Net down, it scrambled computer files all over the world. One corporation in its death throes released a virus that attacks acid-free paper. When you put those two together, history is very much controlled by the teller. When you have no history, you are free to invent your own - and even mythologize it, if you feel like doing so. Oh - and remember - how much of our history is responsible for the cultural memes we grew up in?

This book still has a great deal of the Pondsmith Swagger. A bit of jumping up and down and pointing, "See? This is what Cyberpunk is all about! We're k3wl3r than you are," but anyone who read Cyberpunk 2020 could probably see that coming. It's almost Pondsmith's signature.

Remember when I said there as no 'Net? It's not quite true. There is a DataPool. It has similarities to the old 'Net, but it's not as interactive. People's computers don't directly interface with one another - it's more like the UseNet, only everything has a Veracity Index (You indicate how truthful you think a given entry is based on the facts you have available). There is a sample of this that will (supposedly) be updated regularly at this link. In fact, there are a lot of links through out the book, some of which (like this one) will tell you "There is no active content at this time." With all the links to their website within the book, it's a bit jarring just to head to their front page, and see nothing about Cyberpunk V3.0

So what about the Cyberware?

Well, it doesn't cause Humanity Loss anymore, and each of the six AltCults have a new 'Tech:

Edgerunners are closest to the old Cyberpunks; their 'Tech is basically modular cyberware. Only it doesn't replace your arm - it encases it and/or enhances your meat body.

Reefers are water-dwelling shape-shifters; their tech is custom-tailored viruses which allow you to change shapes.

Desnai are technosmiths who used their animatronic know-how to create mecha; their tech allows them to control a variety of these Mecha.

Rolling State replaces the old Nomads. They have "Adaptive Nanosymbiosis." IN short, they ave nanites in their system whoch allow them to heal like crazy and resist poison and disease.

Riptide are ocean-based nomads - a number of floating cities cut their foundations and wander the oceans. They have "bioforms" - artificial creatures that serve as both tools (including weapons) and servangs.

Cee-Metal are full-conversion cyborgs. They've got "Livemetal," which replaces their entire body with metal. And they're not limited to human shapes anymore. There is one form in the book which gets me humming the "Transformers" theme every time I see it.

None of these are treated as though they are silly, and each 'Tech has a one-paragraph write-up with the AltCult description and a more detailed writeup later in the book. It doesn't cost money to get these 'Techs - you need to first have Membership (a 1-point Perk) in an AltCult, and then you spend "Giri" (cashed favors) for the tech. Starting characters get 150 to spend. Helping your AltCult gains you Giri. Working against their interests loses it for you.

And yes, there is still OldCybe, which costs Humanity and anyone can get for money (As opposed to Giri).

System-wise, Pondsmith has moved from the old Interlock system to the Fusion system. To be honest, even though there are pages and pages and pages of

I can easily see why so many people hated this book. At the same time, I really appreciate it. It's not what I expected from Cyberpunk. At one point, Pondsmith claims, "Cyberpunk is all about how Man uses Technology," and this book demonstrates that belief.

While it has a different flavor from previous editions (and other Cyberpunk-genre RPG's), I'll save a spot on my shelf for this one. I may even buy supplements as they come out.

I'll give it a Tier II rating.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


I realized that I should talk about my Game-Buying Habits. This especially applies to RPG's, but can apply to board or card games with a number of expansions, as well.

Tier I: I must own everything! I'll buy Tier I games whenever they are available and I have money. Sometimes even when I can't afford it. There aren't a lot of Tier I games left for me, with the change to a board-gaming focus and the loss of some of the games. It's mostly filling collection gaps at this point.

Tier II: It's good! I'll buy Tier II games when I have money and no new Tier I games are available.

Tier III: It's interesting! I'll spend money on Tier III when there's nothing for Tier I or II that I don't already own.

Tier IV: Mediocre! I'll usually not spend more money on Tier IV past the core book, unless someone tells me, "Product X is particularly Good."

Tier V: Bad! I'll not buy Tier V again unless someone I trust loans (or gives) me a Tier III or better product for a Tier V game.

SPOG: Steaming Pile of Game. I've got a special spot on my shelf for SPOG. It contains there kinds of SPOG: Setting SPOG, System SPOG and OMG! SPOG.

In addition to the game Tiers, there are companies and designers who I'll assign to the various Tiers, as well. Deep 7, for example, is usually solidly between Tier I and Tier II (Their XPG line and 1PG lines are solid Tier I for me). This is because every product I've seen in those lines has been exceptional. Even in the rare cases it wasn't something to my taste, it was something I could work with.

... but that's a discussion for another day.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Been Away

I apologize for the very long time between posts. I was tangled in last-minute wedding preparations.

As you can see, they all paid off.

My goal is one post per week. I won't always make that goal, but I will try.

Friday, January 06, 2006

My First Errata (Paladins and Dragons Errata and Clarifications)

So I caught my first errata the other day. That is, I found the first error in a published item which is my fault.

From Paladins and Dragons, published by Asmodee Editions.
Game written and designed by Christophe Boelinger

As it appears:
Pentacle Room
The Pentacle Room is a goal. The Pentacle is made of 4 squares. A player earns 1 VP as long as he is the only one with at least any character (not wounded) standing on each of the 4 squares of the Pentacle. If characters from two or more different colors (wounded or alive) are standing on these pentacle squares, nobody gets the additional Victory Point. The 4 squares of the Pentacle are not considered regular floor squares.
As it should be:
Pentacle Room
The Pentacle Room is a goal. The Pentacle is made of 4 squares. A player earns 1 VP as long as he is the only one with at least one character (not wounded) standing on any of the 4 squares of the Pentacle. If characters from two or more different colors (wounded or alive) are standing on these pentacle squares, nobody gets the additional Victory Point. The 4 squares of the Pentacle are not considered regular floor squares.
That's right. I changed two words, one of which almost completely changes the meaning of the paragraph.

The Dragonslayer from Paladins and Dragons (which also appears later in Mercenaries) is only usable in combat when attacking dragons, and does not work on the defensive. This applies both to its +4 and to its instant kill ability.

This one was pointed out for me via GeekMail, and doesn't apply to all versions of the rules - The rules you can download from Asmodee are different from the published rules - the difference is in Figure 1. In the downloadable version, the Golem is yellow. In the published version I have, the Golem is blue. Blue is the correct color for the Golem in this example. I don't know if this is different in any other printings of this expansion.

A few clarifications on the Charm Scroll:
1) Christophe very specifically worded worded the Charm Scroll. There are a number of ways to attack characters, but the Charm Scroll only prevents Combat. So, if you charm my Red Dragon, you can fireball my characters with it (provided they are in line of sight, of course).
2) This exact wording was suggested to me by Donald Walsh on BoardGameGeek. Change the phrase
If the charmed character kills another character, the VP goes to the player who normally controls this character.
If the charmed character kills another character, the VP goes to the player who would normally receive for that character's death.
A good rule of thumb to follow is this: Whenever a character is killed, the Victory Point for that death goes to the opponent of the player who normally controls that character - in a 2-player game, a Blue character's death will always give points to the Yellow player and vice versa.

I didn't write the English rules - I just edited, but it gives me a whole lot more respect for the people who write game rules. And a whole lot more understanding for games with errata - especially errata which significantly alter how a game works.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


I apologize for the delay in posting - I have three or four half-written posts that I'm still polishing. One of them is a review, so I thought I'd better make a couple of things clear when it comes to reviews that I write and/or post:

1) These are my opinions. They may coincide with that of others, it's true, but when I say, "This is a good game," it means, "I believe that this is a good game." There is no objective standard that can be used for rating games. You can measure component quality, but even games with really cheap components can be a lot of fun.

2) I will compare games to other games. If it's not a common game that nearly everyone knows, I'll try to detail why these two things are similar or different. It's not enough to say, "It has a character-based card mechanic similar to Citadels" - in reality, not all of you have played Citadels, so this would be unfair.

3) I will tend to only review games that I liked. There may be exceptions here and there, but, for the most part, I want to talk about games that excite me. So I may eventually review Nautilus, but for now look for reviews of Mission: Red Planet and Bloode Island XPG.

4) I may talk about games I'm involved with in some way. I'll make sure to make that clear from the outset on that review, however. It's no fair for me to point at a game and encourage you to buy it simply because my name is somewhere in it.

5) Please comment, especially if you disagree. Disagreements are part of what sparks discussion, and I love discussion.

6) I will try to credit game designers for their games. I'll also try to link to the manufacturer and/or the BoardGameGeek page for a given game.

7) I'll not direct you to specific retailers. I would prefer that, if at all possible, you support your Friendly Local Game Store. The FLGS is the best place to discover new games and new gamers. If you don't shop there, it'll die. It's that simple.

Any questions?