Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking Forward, Looking Back

2010 was, for me, a good year.  Here are my highlights, and a few comments on what you can expect to see next year.

First, my overview of 2010

More Hits
According to Google Analytics, my numbers this year were up considerably over last year.  This was helped in part by two significant spikes in readership that I'll cover below.

A Swing In Focus
Previously, this blog has been 90% boardgaming content with occasional posts thrown to roleplayers. This year, that focus shifted slightly and I started throwing in more and more RPG-related posts. In all honesty, I went a bit too far on this - but I'll discuss that when I go over next year's goals.

Affiliate Programs
Both and DriveThuRPG have affiliate programs which I signed up for this year.  It was easy to do and - honestly - hasn't interfered with what I'm already doing.  I haven't found myself writing posts just to sell stuff, either - which I had been afraid of.

Character Generation is Interesting
Who knew?  When Stephanie and I started on our Character Generation Project, I figured that it would be interesting only to us. Oddly, it wasn't. In fact, it's become one of the more popular features of the blog. People seem to be very interested in the response of a relatively new gamer struggling through character generation over and over and over.

The Kindle
Early this year, I acquired a Kindle DX. It's dramatically impacted my reading habits (and my RPG purchasing habits). Previously, I was hesitant to spend money on RPG PDF's, as my computer doesn't go with me everywhere.  My Kindle does.  My Kindle is directly responsible for the upswing in RPG-related posts you've seen here.

Expanded Availability
This blog is also now available on Kindle. At Amazon's original $1.99 price, I had no takers - but they recently dropped it to $0.99/month.  I have (or had) one UK reader (my data on UK readers is two months behind). I don't know who you are, but thank you!

More Attention
I received two huge spikes in readership.

The first was when Wil Wheaton somehow noticed my blog and then linked back to it on Reddit. I don't know if he's a regular reader or not, but that was pretty exciting for me. (And, if you are reading this, THANK YOU!)

The second spike was when I was critical of Fantasy Flight's latest advertising scheme. Several gaming news sites (starting with Purple Pawn) picked the story up, and it was off. Let me state here and now: I don't dislike FFG. I like a number of their games, and have had nothing but good experiences in dealing with them. I was just skeptical about this particular device and the terms of its license.

A New Domain
I know - I should have posted this earlier. But the purchase of as a domain was a big step for me.

A Contest
I gave away a couple of PDF's, courtesy of Cubicle 7.  I actually very much enjoyed being able to give something away. While I didn't have a huge number of entries, I had more than expected - and thank all of you for entering. I hope to have another contest or two next year.

SO: What's on tap for next year?

More Balance
My goal is to adjust my focus so that I'm writing more or less equally about boardgaming and roleplaying. I love both ends of the hobby, and don't want to neglect either one.

More Photos
I don't want to hit you with just Wall Of Text, week after week. Images, illustrations, and photos make the blog more interesting.

More Criticism of FFG
Just kidding. While it did bring in lots of hits, I do genuinely like the vast majority of their products and I have never had anything but good to say about their customer service on those rare occasions in which I needed to contact them.

Although I did recently twitch pretty hard when they recently announced the upcoming release of the "new" game Magnifico, a game which has been on my shelf for a year and a half ...

More Characters
I have several Character Generation Project posts nearly ready to go. I figure that if you want to read it, I'm willing to post it.

More Reviews
I applied to several publishers to be on their reviewer lists last year, and I made it onto a few lists. It helps that I only applied to publishers to generally print things I like. That said, however, my reviews have been favorably received even by non-publishers. I'm no Tom Vasel - nor do I plan to be - but I enjoy writing about what I've been reading.

More Conventions
Last year, I only went to one Convention. In 2011, I'm going to at least two. Hopefully more. In fact, the first one - SCARAB - is only a few weeks off.

A Better Buffer
Through most of the year, I had a comfortable 1-2 week buffer of posts so I could be sick or lazy and not panic.  At one point, I had more than a month's worth or cushion. I hope to stay in that 3+ week zone, as it gives me a great deal of flexibility. If something happens, I can always reschedule a post or two to give you the Breaking News, as it were.

Continued LIDT Membership
This is a reminder for current LIDT members: Membership runs from January 1 to December 31st. You may want to get your 2011 dues in fairly soon. If you're not a member, I would like to encourage you to check it out.

So there you have it: Two Years In A Nutshell.

Oh - and if you're not doing anything for New Year's Eve - I do have a suggestion for you.

I'll see you next year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blockers: Stopping the Run

Sounds like a football post, doesn't it? I'm actually talking about Dungeon Twister again, here.

I've mentioned previously that I divide the game's characters into four groups - Hitters, Blockers, Runners, and Specialists. Hitters excel at attacking other characters. Runners are all about escaping the board. Blockers slow down opposing Runners so that your Hitters can inflict pain. Specialists do everything else.

In general, Hitters are characters with a Strength greater than 3; Runners have a Speed greater than 3; Specialists are all over the map in terms of Strength and Speed.

Technically, I think Blockers are a subset of Specialists - they are characters who excel at slowing opposing runners down. Most Blockers will have Strength and Speed hovering around 3 - but not all of them.

Using the Block as your strategy is very similar to using the Hit - the difference is that you wait for your opponent's runners to come to you before you pound them. It's a little riskier, because your opponent's fast characters will be close to your starting line (and their freedom).

To block effectively, you need to be aware of the choke points on the map. The key is to force your opponent to choose the wrong ones. To do so, you need visible menace near a few of them to steer your opponent towards the less-safe ones. The goal of the Block is to get your opponent's characters to a position where your Hitters can reach them.

The Wizard with the Fireball Wand is one of the better route deterrents - but he's a one-shot.  If he's sitting (visibly) a few AP away from a choke point, your opponent should be hesitant about wandering in his range. But he's one of the most versatile characters in the game - he can Hit (once), he can Run, his magic-using makes him a Specialist ...

The Stone Elemental is an amazing Blocker. His Speed of 3 makes him an effective mover. His Strength of 8 makes him ideal for planting in front of a choke point.  The fact that he can't attack means that you just need to put him in the way, forcing your opponent to attack him in order to get past.

The Ice Dragon is excellent for stopping your opponents in their tracks. His power to freeze opponents makes him extremely useful for the Block. He's a bit too slow to be completely effective, however.

The Living Trap is ... odd, but extremely useful when forcing your opponents to find another way around.  If your opponent is having trouble dealing with Traps, he's an excellent Blocker. Because you can't move from one obstacle to another with a rope, he can very easily be placed next to a trap, forcing your opponent to find another way around.  And he's fast enough to reposition himself in a hurry.

The Araknis is another good Blocker - provided your opponent isn't using torches.  Torches are one of those items that not everyone takes. They're potentially critical.

Any character who can drop more characters into play - the Breeder or the Necromancer - can be useful. More characters makes it easier to set up group combat.

The Red Dragon with a good line of sight makes an excellent Blocker - much like the Wizard with the Fireball Wand. Only significantly less flexible.  He can cover a single choke point (or more, depending on how the rooms are).

The Prophet let you decide how rooms start. I've mentioned numerous times that controlling the rooms is one of the keys to the game - the Prophet gives you an edge right from the beginning of the game.

The Mechanork is the king of Room Control. I've talked a great deal about him previously, so I won't belabor the point here.

The Illusionist is one of the best Blockers in the game. Her ability to throw up illusory barricades should not be underestimated, as there are very few ways to clear them.

So what about items?

The Fireball Wand should always be in play if the Wizard is in play. If you didn't bring your Wizard, don't bring your Wand. Which, I realize is, common sense that doesn't need to be repeated.

Ropes help your Blockers get into position without a great deal of re-routing. Just don't let the rope fall into your opponent's hands.

Armor makes your Blockers more durable when you start fighting. In general, I prefer Armor to weapons. I think I've discussed this in the past.

The Charm Scroll is useful for forcing your opponent into places they don't want to be in. The only drawback is that it requires a Magic-User to use. Mind you, since you should have the Illusionist in the party, you have that covered already.

Cursed Items are useful for forcing your opponent to either find another way around or suffer the consequences for the remainder of the game. Placing one in a choke point makes that choke point a whole lot less appealing.

The Ring of Chaos is another tool of room control that not only strengthens your control, but it can also weaken your opponent's control.

Hopefully these pointers will help your game more than they've helped mine.

One quick reminder: We're only a few weeks off, now from SCARAB. I'm going to be there.  Stephanie will be there. I hope it'll be big.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

AFK Tavern

A few weeks ago, Stephanie and I went to check out a new local business, the AFK Tavern.

They're here for gamers.

A lot of my friends posted reviews of the place - most of them were glowing reviews, with ... a few hesitations. There were a few reviews from people who I didn't know, as well. Most of them were hesitant. The biggest complaint was slow service - which, given that it was opening weekend, is a completely understandable issue.

Reading their blog and watching their Facebook page, I saw that they hired more staff, and made some other tweaks due to customer feedback.

My wife and I arrived on a Friday evening, and waited to be seated. "Oh," said one of the staff, "We took the sign down. You can just seat yourself - I just need to check your ID." And then we were shown to a table. I saw numerous customers over the course of the evening being seated.

The menu was entertainingly written. And they had "Games on Tap," - an odd mix that I suspect was from the owner's personal collection. Some of the games were ill-suited to this sort of environment - Diplomacy, for example.(AFK folk, if you stumble across this, a suggestion: Local Game Stores tend to have a number of store copies of games, and some of them have game rental services. You may want to consider some sort of mutually beneficial partnership.)

We sat near the door, so I didn't get a good look at the layout. From where we sat, we could see a couch facing an XBox and a PS3 with Rock Band. The central table had Magic players at it - and, based on the number of empty glasses in front of them, they'd been there for a while.

The atmosphere reminded me a bit of an upscale Denny's. It was loud enough that I had trouble carrying on much of a conversation with my wife - playing a game was the best option, as you can (usually) play a game without much conversation. Depending on the game, of course. Increasing the height of the booths will cut down a lot of this - but it'll also remove part of the geek social element.

Now Denny's makes much of their money be cycling people through regularly. And by being open all night. At night, they're slow. Gamers love it because they can be there all night without interruption. But if gamers head there by day, they're not nearly as welcome. Because Denny's needs those tables for customers who will spend money. When your business is designed for gamers, you need to encourage them to keep spending money. Otherwise, you're renting a table for too low a price for your business to be viable. It's a potential future problem, but doesn't appear to be an issue, yet. The Magic players at the central table kept ordering more food.

Speaking of the food (and beverage): They have mead. It's one of the many meads my wife and I have tried before, and it's decent. They also have a hard cider and a root beer and a number of beers, ales, and wines. I'm not fond of Snoqualmie Root Beer, but it did seem to be the only non-alcoholic item on their drink menu (unless I overlooked soft drinks, which is possible).

We ordered cheese sticks to start with, and I ordered the Orc Burger with extra cheese. Stephanie ordered the Dragon Burger with the salsa on the side. When trying out a new restaurant, special orders are important.

Yes, service was slow, but not on par with what had previously been reported. The place was still extremely busy. We had no less than three staff members checking on our table, however. Making sure we'd been able to order, that we had drinks, that we didn't need anything further ... Enough that, when it was time to pay and leave, we weren't sure who had our check.

The Mozzarella sticks were crispy and warm on the outside, and the inside was warm, but not as melted as I tend to like them. Either they didn't cook them for long enough, or else they sat for a while after they came out of the fryer.

When the burgers arrived, mine looked both dry and burnt. The cheese wasn't melted - it wasn't even in contact with the patty, in fact. It sat on the bottom bun, with the ham stacked on top of it and the patty was over the ham. The top bun held the salami. The burger was lukewarm. Much like the cheese, I suspect it'd been sitting for a few minutes after it came off of the grill. My wife's Dragon Burger was similar. They got our special orders right, though.

My burger was tasty, however. And not as dry as it looked. Really tasty. My wife said her burger was good, too.

I do plan to return - the food was tasty. The prices were a bit higher than similar places, but that may help offset the table rental issue I mentioned earlier. And they're not unreasonable.

All in all? I give the place a B-.

The food was tasty and not unreasonably priced, if a bit cold.
The service is a bit scattered (Are they seating customers or not? Who is my server?).
The atmosphere is loud, but social.
There was a little bit of Gamer Funk, but the ventilation was good enough that it was only an issue if we walked near the offending tables.
I would eat there again.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

New Year's Eve

Do you have plans for New Year's Eve, yet?  If not, you may want to consider joining us at Phoenix Games for our annual Game (All) Night event.

The Game Night crew has been doing this since before Phoenix opened, and so we usually pull in a pretty good crowd of enthusiastic gamers.  Last year, we brought in 60 or so folks, and I played Pack & Stack, Great Dalmuti, Neuroshima Hex, Power Grid, and Race for the Galaxy. Other members of the group played Battlestar Galactica, Dominion, Caylus, Le Havre, Vegas Showdown, Heroscape, and PitchCar Mini.

And those are just the folks who recorded their games that I've been able to find - so a huge variety of games will be there and available to play.

Brian generally kicks the event off around 5 pm, and I'm usually there until 9 or 10 am.

If you bring food or drinks to share, this event is free (no alcohol, please). Otherwise, there is a $5 cover which will be used for plates and cups and forks and the like.

We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Gale Force 9 and Alea Tools: Tabletop Gaming Markers

At GenCon, Gale Force 9 was showing off their DM's Token Set, which was the first released item for their D&D Token Sets. I looked at it skeptically - there were some good ideas, but the DM for our tabletop game already uses Alea Tools - he has one of the Game Master Packs.

But the pricing difference made a true apples to apples comparison of those two products impossible. Or, at the least, unfair in the extreme.

So I was excited when Gale Force 9 rolled out their PC Token Sets. Since I play a Cleric in my face-to-face game, I picked up the Cleric Token Set at my FLGS. They make token sets for most (if not all) of the PHB classes. Rangers, for example.

The token sets are about $13, which is not that different from the Neo-Markers Player Pack made by Alea Tools, so now I can do an apples to apples comparison.

And, having used both, I can fairly easily compare them.

So, the contents:
Alea Tools Player Pack: Ten unlabeled one-inch circular magnetic markers in six different colors. For just a little more, you can get one of their GM's Packs (there are three available).

Gale Force 9 Player Pack: 1 "Status Tile," 1 Action Point marker, 1 Mount token, 1 Teardrop-shaped Bloodied token, 1 Dying token, 1 Light Source marker, 1 "Marked" token, 1 "Full Defense" marker, 1 Invisibility Standup, and 13 tokens in three different designs. Most of these are in a "dragonscale" shape that allows them to fit to the one-inch base of a D&D Mini. Or to one of the Alea Tools markers.

Now, the art on the GF9 Packs is nice. And the fact that you can use dry-erase (or wet-erase) markers on them is a bonus.

The Status Tile is almost like a mini character sheet, with spaces for hit points, statuses, and other effects. I don't like the art on this tile, because it doesn't resemble my character. In fact, they could have saved a couple of bucks by having a more generic version of this particular part of the set. But then people would have griped about the lack of art. Especially when compared to the rest of the set. I also find its surface not great for markers - it's too smooth, and the marking pen has trouble gaining traction to drop ink. Pencil & Paper was more convenient overall than this tile.

How useful are the tokens?  The "Mount" token - when combined with Kobold Quarterly #15's article on mounted combat - is likely to be useful. The "Marked" token? Not that useful for a Cleric. I can't think of any Cleric powers that Mark a target - but I could be wrong. The "Invisible Cleric" cutout figure? Not honestly all that useful. How often is your party invisible? Especially the non-Wizard members of the team? Every one of their player sets has a different "invisible" cutout. In practice, you will probably only need one or two cutouts at most. The "Light Source" marker? Theoretically it could be very useful. But not in any game I've played. In any edition. This is a good candidate for a GM's pack rather than a Player's pack.  The "Bloodied" and "Dying" markers are ... useful. To a point. And the Dragonscale-shaped markers? They're nice, as long as your character doesn't plan to move around. And the unlabeled aspect is both good and bad - are the glowing hammers a +1 to attack?  A +1 for an ally to attack? Maybe they're a defense bonus? An indicator of vulnerability to Radiant Damage? The same goes for the other two types of tokens.

Also: What are the odds I'm going to need thirteen tokens in play?

So what does Alea Tools bring to the table?

Ten tokens in six different colors. They're sized to fit under the standard 1" D&D miniature bases. But they won't stick there unless you've attached magnets to the bases of the figures. Alea Tools does sell magnets with a sticky side that are designed to be attached to the bottom of the minis. Remember the complaints I had a few paragraphs back about the unlabeled aspect of the GF9 tokens? These have the same problem. But some colors here are pretty straightforward - a Red marker is "Bloodied." The colors are - in some ways - more intuitive than the art on the Gale Force 9 sets. And the magnetic aspect makes these easy to move as a stack when your character moves. The drawback is that - if you have a lot of markers - your character's mini will tower over the rest of the party.

All in all, neither one is a bad buy. I give the edge to Alea Tools in this one.

I'm also keeping my eye on Glowing Glyph's Condition Crowns (Photos here and here) - unfortunately, their Twitter and Facebook accounts haven't been updated since mid-August (as of the time of this writing, that is), so I don't know if it's still a viable product or if it fizzled.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Character Generation Project: Mutant City Blues

Those of you new to the blog (or especially to the project) will find the overview of what this "Character Generation Project" is all about here. Stephanie's overview of character generation in general is here.
The sheet is easier to read here.

Which game is this for?
Mutant City Blues

How long did it take you to generate the character?
About an hour.

What was your character concept going into generation?
I didn't have one - I took the player's handbook's advice, and looked to the Quade Diagram for inspiration.
It really is that easy in this game - just pick a super power that seems interesting to you and see what it's linked to. *BAM!* Instant character concept.

Did you feel like character generation captured the flavor of the setting?
Did this influence your decision-making process during character generation?
Yes - using the Quade Diagram definitely helped keep the flavor of the setting up-front.

How much control did you feel like you had during character generation?
Quite a bit - putting the skills together gave me a lot of control over what direction my character would take.

Did the game help you make the character you wanted, or did it feel like you were fighting the game?
I think going through the various skills helped guide me into a character concept.

Do you like the character you ended up with?

Do you think your character fits your concept?
Again, I didn't come into this one with a preconceived concept.
I pressed her on this a bit - even though she didn't come into it with a concept, the character - on paper at least - does fit her on-the-fly concept.

Do you feel like your character would be effective and/or useful in a game?
Something I like about the Gumshoe system: It's next to impossible to create a truly worthless character. Not that I plan to issue that as a challenge to any of my players ...

Was there anything in particular that you struggled with mechanically?
I still don't quite understand "pool points", and I'm not sure I've handled those properly - I'm not sure where the "pool" for each of the skills comes from.
Having played other Gumshoe-system games before, I know that your Ability is your Pool for points - but that's not explicitly spelled out in Mutant City Blues, for some reason.

Did anything run more smoothly than you had expected?
The mutant powers - I was expecting that to be more difficult than it was.
Other than possibly ICONS, MCB has the easiest super power selection process I've ever seen. The Quade Diagram is a concept I'm likely to import into other super-powered games.

What changes would you have made to the character generation process?
A quick discussion of the pool points (especially Health and Stability) would have been useful before the general skills.

Did anything leap out at you as obviously broken or unbalanced?
Not really - the Quade Diagram helps keep you from just picking all the "best" powers and enforces a balance with its defects.

What led you to choose this game as the next one to make a character for?
It looked like an interesting idea, and I like the idea of having mutants integrated into society, and how that would affect law enforcement.

How would you compare your experience with this game to your experience with other games?
This was a much easier character generation than, say, All Flesh, and I think I ended up with a character I would really like playing.

Is this a character you would be willing to play in a campaign?

Does this character make you want to play this game?
It does - I'd like to see how my character would work with a team.

Do you have any other questions, comments, etc.?
In the end, I really enjoyed this character, and the generation process gave me a good idea of the flavor of the game.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Five Years Down

As of today, I've been keeping this blog going for five years.

Somewhere along the way, people started paying attention to what I have to say. Not huge numbers of people, but definitely more than I had expected when I started.

Thanks to this blog, I have met a lot of people that I would otherwise never have known. I've even had people seek me out at GenCon.

I just want to thank you for taking the time to read what I have to say.

Thank you for making me a success.

Let's hope the next five years are even better.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Advanced Feats + Kobold Quarterly Magazine

Not too long ago, I spent a few paragraphs on Advanced Feats: Secrets of the Alchemist, an Open Design product for Pathfinder which impressed me with its balance and utility. It's seriously very hard to balance Feats without making them too specialized to be useful.

VERY hard.

A few weeks later, they sent me a copy of Advanced Feats: The Witch's Brew, and I ... I never got around to saying anything about it - just like the earlier Secrets of the Alchemist, it's a ... well-balanced book of Feats for Pathfinder.  Much like Secrets of the Alchemist, I had to have a friend who is an expert (although he'll never lay claim to the title) on D&D 3.x and Pathfinder.  And by "expert," I mean "rules lawyer capable of breaking systems."  When he tells me something "seems balanced," it means, "There may be something broken in here, but it'll take some effort to take advantage of." And I trust his gut feelings.

They also recently released Advanced Feats: The Summoner's Circle, as well.  Given the success of the first two, I can only assume that it will also be both well-balanced and useful.

I mentioned that it's difficult to keep Feats balanced - and it is. You want Feats to be useful, but not so useful that they're the only clear and obvious choice. Players should have to think when choosing Feats. You also want players to be able to "flavor" their characters with Feats.

It's a tricky balance - one that I would not be able to pull off for more than a Feat or two. There is no way I could put together multiple booklets like these.

The KQ team ALSO sent me a review copy of Kobold Quarterly Magazine #15. Now, I was a KQ subscriber a few years ago. I didn't renew my subscription because I wasn't playing 3.5 anymore, and KQ hadn't started supporting 4E, yet. And the only Pathfinder I had was the pre-release beta PDF.

That has all since changed. Well, other than the 3.5 thing.

Issue number 15 starts off with some Pathfinder material - I'll be honest with you, I only skimmed the first article, which was on variant Druids. I'm sure there are ideas in there that I can use in one of the 4E games I'm in or pondering, but right now, I want to see what goodies Wolfgang & crew have assembled for 4E this issue.

The second article is on the ecology of the Giant Ant. Even though it's written with Pathfinder in mind, there are some great ideas in there that I can use to modify a 4E Giant Ant. I'll admit it - I was caught by a Pathfinder article that I hadn't intended to read.

The next article is "Reasons to Ride," a 4E-flavored article that makes mounted combat significantly more useful. Useful enough that I may consult with one of my DM's about the possibility of getting my Paladin a mount - like they had in the old days. A thorough reading of the article doesn't show anything broken, either.  It seems well balanced.

This was followed by another 4E article, this one on trapmaking for PC's - all too often, only the villains get to make all the traps, and the PC's role is limited to avoiding them. I really liked this article, even though I don't tend to play Thieves - the closest I came was 2E, when I nearly always played Bards.

Then a Pathfinder article on pit traps, which a quick glance shows as having some ideas that can be easily mined for 4E. Or Burning Wheel. Or Legends of Anglerre. Or any number of fantasy games, honestly. I could probably even use these in an AD&D game, if I wanted to.

There's a lot more in this issue - By "a lot more," I mean, "I've only covered the first half or so, here." James Lowder and Monte Cook both have articles that are system-free. My good friend Wade interviewed Margaret Weis at GenCon, and that's in here.  Book reviews ... I could go on for another couple of hundred words on this issue.

The 4E vs Pathfinder balance of the issue is pretty even - Pathfinder has a slight edge on page count, but a lot of the Pathfinder material can be adapted to 4E with a bit of work.

It's solid enough that I regret letting my subscription lapse. The 4E work is occasionally a bit rough, but it's the best third party 4E product I've seen - and the Open Design team aren't the sort to rest on their laurels.

I look forward to next issue.

You can subscribe (and order back issues) at PDF back issues (and the current issue as well) are on DriveThruRPG. If you play Pathfinder, all of the back issues will be worthwhile.  If you play 4E, they started including material in Issue 6, but the page count for 4E material has crept up as time has gone by. And, of course, you can grab and adapt ideas from older issues.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Contest Winner

The winner is: Jonathan Howard

Please check your e-mail. If the codes aren't there, check your spam/junk e-mail filter. Your ISP is famous for filtering the wrong things.

I had a total of six people enter, so your odds were all pretty good. Of the six, I know two of you from the real world, one of you from Twitter, and the remaining two of you were new to me. The winner, by the way, was new to me.

One person got zero correct guesses, one person got two questions right, and four people got one question correct each, for a total of twelve entries into the drawing.

ALL of you did more than just give the answers - you either provided a tidbit of trivia or a bit more information about why you guessed the way you did. It made reading your entries very interesting.

The answers were:

Favorite Doctor: Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor). He's the Doctor I saw on TV when I was a kid, as he was the one that got the most play on American TV in the eighties. And by "American TV," I mean "PBS."  William Harnell (the First Doctor) is my second favorite. I really like the idea of a cranky old man as the Doctor.

Most of you got this one right.

Favorite thing about the Eccleston Doctor?  Scary Daleks. I liked all of the suggestions I proposed, but it was nice to finally be able to see something scary about the Daleks.

I remember them as fairly humorous villains when I was younger. I would occasionally shout at my TV to help the Doctor "Run upstairs! They can't catch you up there!" And the fact that those shells can hover and fly was the first step they took towards making the Daleks individually frightening.

Thank you all for entering.  I have responded to each of your entry e-mails with a personal thank you, as well.  I hope to have more contests in the future - this was weirdly entertaining. Moreso than I had expected.

And, most of all, thank you all for reading.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reminder: Dr. Who RPG Contest Ends Friday!

Just a quick reminder: My Dr. Who RPG PDF Giveaway Contest ends Friday. Get those guesses in if you want a chance to win PDF copies of Dr. Who: Adventures in Time and Space and Aliens and Creatures, thanks to Cubicle 7.

Chinese Food

I like Chinese food. There are exceptions, but - in general - I very much like Chinese food.

There's one particular dish that I like. It's called "Sesame Chicken." Here's the thing, though: I've never had it the same way at two different restaurants. Not even close, sometimes.  One restaurant has a dry, deep-fried chicken where the sesame seeds are part of the coating, and it's served with a gravy.  One restaurant has a honey-sesame glaze. One restaurant serves me a sweet-and-sour coating on a deep-fried chicken. So far, I haven't had a sesame chicken that I disliked.

I see gaming the same way. The RPG world? That's Chinese food. Each dish? That's a game. Every restaurant is a different group, and so on. Sesame Chicken? For me, that's fourth-edition D&D. No two chefs (DMs) prepare it in the same manner, but so far, it has not failed to be enjoyable.

A few weeks ago, I was browing the forums, and I stumbled across a discussion of minions.

In D&D, a minion is a monster with a single hit point. If you successfully hit a minion, you kill it. Minions don't stand alone - they travel in packs with more durable foes.

Now the rules - so far as I have been able to find - don't tell you if the PC's should know who is a minion and who isn't. Why is that important?

In D&D, there are three sorts of powers - At-Will, Encounter, and Daily. You can use At-Will powers every turn. Over and over and over. You can use Encounter powers once per Encounter. They take a five minute rest to reset themselves. Daily powers can only be used once per day, and require a six hour rest to reset. Especially cruel DMs won't allow players that much time to rest. It's a resource management decision - before attacking someone, you have to ask yourself, Is this worth spending a Daily attack on? If it's a minion, then using a Daily is a complete waste.

As you may or may not recall, I'm currently involved in two games - one is traditional table-top face-to-face, and the other is online. In neither one does the DM tell us who the minions are. This means that we end up 'testing' our foes with an at-will or two before wading into the bigger ones.

Both of these games have been going pretty much since 4E was released, just over two years ago. And we've used the same set of rules since we began.

So I was a bit shocked when I read in the thread mentioned above that most (if not all) DM's tell their players which ones are minions - either blatantly pointing out, "These six goblins are minions," or through description, "These six are similarly-armed with what looks like hand-me-downs from their older siblings."

And, while I prefer the way we do it, I can see the appeal of knowing who the minions are in advance. I wouldn't walk away from a game using this interpretation of the rules.

It's just a different kind of sesame chicken.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Contest!

While this appears to be a second post, it's not, really. This apparent post is actually a contest with a prize that you can win.

Those of you who know me in person know that I'm a fan of the Doctor Who TV series. You probably also know that I was skeptical of the newer series, as I was (and continue to be) a fan of the older material.

I finally had a chance to start watching the new Doctor Who a few months ago, and found that I actually enjoyed Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor - I was disappointed that he only managed to stick around for one season. David Tennant is growing on me. And yes, I know that he's since been replaced.

At GenCon, we purchased Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space from Cubicle 7's booth, and I devoured the book - there are a lot of good ideas and some solid advice in the book. And I'd love to play and/or run this game sometime, even if it's as a one-shot (which is very possible - I have an idea for a game).

Fast forward to last week.  Cubicle 7 reached 1000 fans on Facebook, and had one contest per day to celebrate. I entered the first few, not expecting to win anything.  Friday Night, I got two e-mails informing me that I had won the Doctor Who themed contest, and so was to receive both print and PDF copies of the core box set and the new Aliens and Creatures box.

Well, someone goofed and I got two download codes for each of the PDF prodcts.  I checked with Cubicle 7, and was told I could do what I wanted with the extra codes.

Thank you, Cubicle 7.

I have a friend who has been on the fence about ordering the RPG, and I thought that maybe a PDF copy would give him that additional push he needed.  "Actually, Eric," he told me, "I'm going to pick it up even without the PDF.  Why don't you give it to someone else?"

That is where you come in.

Do you want free PDF copies of these two (excellent) products? All you have to do is answer two questions. You don't even have to answer them correctly (but you get more entries if you do).

Entering the contest is worth one "ticket" in the drawing.  Each correct answer to the questions below is an additional "ticket."  The most entries any one person can obtain, therefore, is three.

On Friday the 12th of November, I will randomly draw a name from among all the entries, and I will forward the extra coupon codes that I received to that person. The drawing will be in the evening (Pacific time, as that is where I live). I will use to determine the winner.

If you can't download files from for some reason, these codes will do you no good.

Send your answers to  I will delete all e-mails (and addresses) after the contest, and I will not add you to a mailing list or give away or sell your e-mail address.

One entry per person, please.

To make things fair, the questions are such that 99% of you will be randomly guessing, as I (so far as I know) haven't posted the answers anywhere else.

If you have any questions about the contest, just comment on this post and I'll answer in the same way.

Question Number One
Which Doctor is or was my favorite?

Question Number Two
What did I like most about the Christopher Eccleston Dr. Who?
Since this question is quite a bit tougher than the first one, here are five options, one of which is true:
  • His snazzy leather jacket
  • Finally being able to see Daleks as something to be feared
  • The Face of Boe
  • The almost off-handed explanation of what a Police call-box is
  • The regeneration sequence at the end
Again: You have until Friday the 12th to send me your answers.

Good luck.

English Games of the 1500's, Three Years Later

It's been just over three years, now, since Google first told me that "English Games of the 1500's" was suddenly a popular search topic that led people here.

It led to this post. Over the last three years, I've watched my analytics numbers pretty closely most of the time, and that continues to be the most-read post in the blog. By a lot.

So it wasn't a one-time school project. In fact, it's a rare week that some variant of "English Games of the 1500's" fails to generate at least one hit on my blog.

So here are a few fresh links to add to the ones from that earlier post. Maybe it'll make this my most-read post after a few years, right?

This is actually one of the better links I've stumbled across.
This page also has some good links.
This book looks like it could be extremely helpful, as well - assuming you're not just working on a one-off project.

And last, but not least, the single most-helpful link I've found with regards to Renaissance-Era games.

Monday, November 01, 2010

A Bit Of Housekeeping

This is not my post for the week.

There has been a fair amount of interest in the Character Generation Project upon which my wife and I have embarked.

So, to aid your navigation, I have added a link into the "Key Posts" box to the right that will show you all of the project posts with one convenient link.

Oh - and there is another character done that you'll see in a few weeks.

Mutant City Blues

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


NOTE:  This was written last weekend on my wife's laptop. Please ignore references to "If I get my computer back," and the like. I think I edited all of them out, but I probably missed one or two.

So what's coming in November for this blog?

I don't know. But here's what I'm working on in general:

I have some new games to discuss over the next few weeks, both those that were free from Asmodee and Open Design, and those that I actually spent money on.

I ended up buying a second copy of Victoriana, because my original copy turned into a gift for a friend who is a huge steampunk buff.  I loaned it to her, and then didn't have the heart to take it back.  It's also available as a PDF from DriveThruRPG, and it's worth the money in both cases. I'll be discussing that later in the month.

I'll also be posting more Dungeon Twister strategy - blocking up your opponent's runners and why it's important (although if you can't figure out why it's important, you have bigger problems than I can probably help you with).

And I have a November Project that I'm setting out on - my wife does NaNoWriMo every November, you see.  And, to stay out of her hair, I do a personal project.  This year's project has to do with RuneQuest II and some novels I've been reading. It's a "Just to see if I can" project.

Of course, if my laptop isn't back from the shop, then I'll spend my month playing Final Fantasy XIIIand MAG for a few days, first.

Also worth mentioning: Gamethyme's Game of the Year will now be something I'm actively working on.  It'll just be the one category, with no short list of nominees.  The announcement post of the winner will go up at GenCon. Gamethyme's Game of the Year will recognize the new-to-me game that, over the last year, most left me wanting to play it more. It may be a new game, it may be an old gem recently uncovered. But I'll be paying closer attention to what I've been playing.  I figure that even The Dice Tower was once a small blog - they had to start somewhere, right?

... and that's about all I have time for right now.  Stay tuned! I promise that, even if I have to blog from my phone, I'll keep this blog going.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kill The ________ First!

I get a lot of e-mail that (basically) consists of, "I'm playing Dungeon Twister, and my opponent as [CHARACTER] and [CHARACTER]. Which one should I wound/kill first?"

Believe it or not, it's not always that easy.

But here are my thoughts on Characters You Need To Kill.

First of all, my standard disclaimer: These are my opinions. There are many many players who are better at the game than I who will disagree with me. Take my advice with a grain or two of salt.

The first question you need to answer is this: What is your opponent's play style?

When I'm playing my friend Gahan, I know that he likes to get points by killing my characters. This means that his Hitters need to be the first characters I have to deal with. Geoff, on the other hand, finds more prestige in points scored through escape, so I need to deal with his Runners first. Or block him up so his runners can't escape.

If you don't know your opponent's play style, then look at the characters they have chosen and extrapolate as best you can.

This week, I'm going to talk about dealing with opposing Hitters.

So who are the most dangerous hitters in the game?

1) The Berserker, from Mercenaries. She gets less powerful as the game goes on, but the ability to throw two combat cards is huge. I recently played a game in which I was able to wound three opposing characters by using the two-handed sword and burning two high combat cards.

For all that she's a great Hitter, she's not great when defending which makes her an excellent high-priority target.

2) The Dragons. There are Dragons in four sets (and there is a fifth promo dragon, as well). Most of them have a base Strength of 6. The Undead and Gold Dragons are more dangerous than the Red one most of the time (because the Red one needs Line of Sight in order to kill you). Of the two, the Gold Dragon is faster, but the Undead Dragon is harder to kill due to its special. The Ice Dragon is tricky to use effectively, but its Strength of 5 is still pretty terrifying. And its special ability will frustrate you to no end if you are its target.

To deal with Dragons, you really need a DragonSlayer. You can do it without one, but it means either waiting until your opponent is out of good combat cards (by which time the Dragon has already torn through your forces), using another Dragon, using a Berserker, or attacking in Group Combat. The DragonSlayer is by far the best way to deal with an Undead Dragon (unless your Group Combat includes an Assassin).

3) The General. Mercenaries added a bunch of marginal hitters to the game - with the General in the room, however, even marginal hitters become a threat. If your opponent is fielding a General, he should be a priority. Maybe even a higher priority than the Dragons, now that I think about it. The General is equivalent to giving a sword to every character in the room.

4) The Mummy. Strength 4 and Speed 3 is a decent Hitter with a good Speed. He's Undead, and there aren't enough Undead characters to justify bringing a Holy Cross most of the time. Torches are easy enough to get that you can usually drop him to 0 Strength in a pinch.

Try to keep the marginal hitters (Strength 3) from getting any weapons, if you can.

Honestly, those are the biggest threats - the other Strength 4 characters (Troll, Golem, Dwarven Troll-Slayer, and Mammoth) are scary, but they're slow enough that you should be able to run away from them most of the time.

Keep in mind that standalone play makes some characters more effective - in Fire & Water, for example, the Barbarian is an extremely effective Hitter.

The Assassin is scary, but only in group combat. Her Strength is just too low to make her an effective Hitter. More on her later.

So how do you deal with these Hitters, once you catch them?

1) Group Combat, Group Combat, Group Combat. If you can include an Assassin in your group, so much the better. If you have a force of Runners, it shouldn't be too difficult to get into a good position for Group Combat.

2) Standing a Cleric behind someone can keep that someone alive. It also allows you to throw low Combat cards in hopes of burning off your opponent's better combat cards. Similarly, if you can stand next to a Fountain of Youth, you can heal yourself if you lose, no Cleric required.

3) Push him around. The Ring of Repulsion is great for pushing opposing characters into traps and other hazards. You can also push them away from the Fountain of Youth so that you can get the coveted Fountain spot. The Banshee is less efficient, but has a longer range.

4) Control him. The Charm Scroll is excellent for putting characters in inconvenient positions (even if you can't run him into one of the legal suicide spaces), and any Magic-User can use it. If your opponent has a lot of Hitters, he's not likely to have many Magic Users who can take advantage of this item.

5) Fireball. Yes, it's a one-shot, but you can take out that pesky ... um ... anything with that one shot. Provided you can get your Wizard in position to use it.

Hopefully this is enough to get you started. At some point in the (hopefully not-too-distant) future, I'll talk about blocking your opponent's Runners up (and killing them as well).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fantasy Flight Swings And ... Um ... I'm Not Sure

So did you all see this thing? Several sites I read tagged it immediately as a Good Thing and have been listing it as a sign that Fantasy Flight Games "Gets it," and that it's "Forward-Looking" and "Represents the future of the publisher/retailer relationship."

Yeah. I've seen all of these on various sites out there.

The Fantasy Flight Media Center - a locked-down iPad in a special case that store owners can use to help sell FFG product.
Running under the hood of the FFMC is a custom software solution, coded from scratch by FFG’s Interactive Department.
FFG has an Interactive Department? No wonder their games are so expensive! I wonder if the software will be available in the iPad App Store anytime in the near future, or if their iPad(s) were jailbroken to get the software to work (which could void their warranty with Apple - but that's okay. If there's a problem with the system, they can blame it on the retailer and force them to pay for a replacement, right?).

I'm all in favor of FFG selling product. Don't get me wrong. But if you go to their info page, and read their contract (PDF Link), it stops looking as good.

I sent the link to several local game stores, and received a lukewarm response.  Here's what one owner had to say:
So- let me get this straight...

I have to invest $1000 in FFG product and provide a WiFi connection at my own expense, just to be considered to receive one of these nifty devices- but it's not mine; it still belongs to FFG. Ok, fine. However, if it breaks or gets stolen, I additionally have to pay $649 as a replacement cost? And if I decide to return it, my $1000 investment is completely non-returnable and non-refundable, including unsold inventory?

Additionally, the device may or may not be equipped with the ability to record audio/ video of users and the surrounding area.

PLUS, according to the contract, if I don't have the volume up to a level that FFG deems appropriate for my store, the device could report me to FFG?

I see the potential downsides to me and my business, but where's the downside for FFG and their business? I can't find one.
It's all in the contract. And that assumes you get the Media Center in a reasonable amount of time:
8.0 No Guarantee of Delivery Time
APPLICANT understands that, even if FFG has qualified it for loan of one or more FFMC devices, and even if APPLICANT has purchased the required $999 restock order(s), that FFG cannot guarantee any firm delivery date for the delivery of the FFMC device to APPLICANT.
That's right - the store can spend $1k on FFG product (which may or may not sell), and then FFG can take as long as it wants to ship the iPad Media Center to the store.

Does this device have potential? Yes, it absolutely does. Is this device going to work for all stores? No.

I think this is one of those things that will help the bigger stores out, without doing much for the little guys. It's that $999 barrier to entry that causes the problem. Small stores can't necessarily fit $999 worth of product on the shelves (and in their storeroom). Just glancing at it, that's close to a full pallet's worth of product. Your typical pallet is 40"x48". The amount of product to reach their target dollar amount would be at least two layers of boxes tall. In the neighborhood of 3-4 feet tall, if we're talking about the "Big Box" games (Games the size of Twilight Imperium, for example).

Maybe if I had multiple locations for my theoretical game store, it'd be worth it - I could spread the storage across more than one location.

But I don't expect a huge rush for this thing.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


As you may not remember, I really like Dice Town. I learned recently that an expansion is due in December.

THIS December!

And next year there are TWO MORE expansions due for Amodee-distributed games.

Cyclades (Gamethyme's Game of the Year for last year) will be expanded at some point next year, as will Claustrophobia. As I like both of these games, I'm excited.

Still no word on an official new expansion for Dungeon Twister, but the League is working on a new set of minis for more of the promo pieces. And - according to Chris - the video game is due on the PS3 in January and the XBox 360 "shortly thereafter."

Given my earlier discussion of expansions, what do I think of this timing?

Remember: I'm not the expert. I don't run any game companies. I don't know what all is discussed and what goes into their decision-making process.

Dice Town - at a year and a half or so, it feels a little late. The lateness of this expansion could spark sales of the basic game, however. My group still digs this one out for play (the game has held their interest much better than a lot of games have).

Cyclades - feels about right, at a year (or just shy of one). The game isn't played out, yet, but at the same time, players are starting to move to the new hotness, whatever that may be. I still get requests for this one all the time - and I'm more than willing to grant these requests.

Claustrophobia - it's on the same cycle as Cyclades to me. Claustrophobia has a small advantage, too - there have been a long series of web-released scenarios to keep the game fresh and active. And (if it's not up yet), there's ALSO a web-published campaign for the game due out soon. And this game is in the Top 100 at BoardGameGeek, which is never a bad thing (but there is debate on what your BGG rating actually does for sales).

Time will tell on these, of course.