Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Gamethyme's Game of the Year

Those of you who keep track will remember that this week is GenCon.  Even though I'm not going this year, I'm still using this date to award my Game of the Year award.

This game is given to the best new-to-me game since the previous GenCon. It's an arbitrary cut-off, and it's never going to be exactly a year, but it works for me.

This year has been a good year for gaming. Terraforming Mars, Krazy Karts, Captain Sonar, Potato Man, Grand Prix, Subdivision, and Patchwork were all among the new-to-me this year. And they are all fantastic games that are well worth your time.

But, for me, the most fun I've had this year was a game called Adrenaline.

The game had a lot of early buzz, and I was interested as soon as I learned that it was by Czech Games. I don't think I've ever been disappointed by one of their games.

When I learned that it was an attempt to capture that First-Person Shooter (FPS) feel, I got even more interested.  I think I've discussed this before, but I really like FPS games, even though I am really terrible at them. Really terrible. There's a reason most of the videos on my YouTube channel are titled, "Watch Me Die At ."

The previous game I'd played that was themed around FPS gaming was Steve Jackson Games' Frag. And Frag just left me cold. It was too dice-heavy, with a ton of tokens and markers for special conditions.

So I'll admit - I was a bit nervous about Adrenaline.  Obviously, because it's my Game of the Year, these fears were unfounded.

Opening the box, I was greeted with five brightly-colored and well-sculpted characters. They're not pre-painted, but every one is sculpted in a different color.  There's no mechanical difference between the characters, but the rulebook has bios for all five of them that succeed in parodying the bios you see in games like Overwatch.

The board is multi-part and double-sided. This means that there are four different board layouts possible. While you can use any layout with any number of players, it's generally better to use larger setups with more players (the game plays from 3-5 players).  Each room is made up of 1-4 spaces, with three spawn/weapon points on the board.

In Adrenaline, you get two actions per turn, with three options to choose from:

  1. Fire a weapon
  2. Move one space (and pick up ammo or weapons)
  3. Move two spaces
There are no dice, no special conditions. There's no "on fire" or "pinned" or anything else.  Most weapons are line-of-sight. If you can see your foe, you can shoot your foe. And that line of sight is very simply defined - if you're in the same room, you can see them. If you're next to a door into their room, you can see them. A few weapons have special rules regarding range. One weapon can only be fired at foes that you can't see. One weapon can fire through walls at unseen foes.

To fire a weapon, you lay it down in front of you (face-up) and apply its effect. Most weapons have two firing modes - one is free, but the other might cost you a few extra ammo tokens.  Weapons do damage to foes (obviously). Some of them move your foes around, some of them move you around. Some weapons also mark your target. A mark is a promise of future damage. If I mark you, then the next time I shoot you, that mark turns into damage.

Once a player has taken enough damage that a kill is inflicted, the game pauses for a second for tabulation. The player who hit the foe first gets a small number of points. The player who inflicted the kill gets a certain number of points. The player who inflicted the most damage gets points, then the second-most, and so on. The game encourages you to spread your damage around so that you'll get at least a few points every time someone dies.

At the end of your turn, you can spend ammo cubes to reload any weapons you've fired. Weapons that do more damage usually require more cubes, and there are three colors of cubes. Each weapon requires a specific blend of cubes to reload.

The game ends after a certain number of kills have been made.

There are a few more nuances to it than that, but that's the broad sweep of play. There are a few variants included in the rulebook for people who don't want to play just deathmatch all the time.

It's bright, it's fast-playing, and it's just ... fun. I've enjoyed every game of this I've played.

I heartily recommend this one.

And there's an expansion releasing at Essen this year ...

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Epic

I always do the writeups after each session of our ongoing Legend of the Five Rings game. As the GM, I accept that as part of my responsibilities.

After our most recent session, Steph said to me, "You always make the game feel so much more epic that it does at the table." And I didn't have a good answer for that.

For me, epics are about the sweeping arc of story.

Interestingly, the dictionary defines epic as being "a long narrative poem recounting the deeds of a legendary or historical hero."  As an adjective (which is how we're using it), it's "relating to or characteristic of an epic or epics."

I set my L5R game in the past of the main story arcs described by the card game. In fact, I found a gap where very few events are mentioned in canon. And I did this deliberately - I have a couple of players who are very familiar with the canon.  I also warned them that we might not adhere to canon. The players have the ability to change the future in a limited degree.

But here's the thing that I think everyone missed:

Their characters are historical heroes.  We're telling the past of the setting. For them, yes, it's now, but for the players (and people familiar with the setting), it's then. My players' characters are currently only Rank 1. They're small fish, and I've already got them swimming with sharks.

Right now, they're trying to foil an assassination plot. The original target of the plot was the Imperial Governor of the Clear Water City, but a couple of idiots realized they could tweak the timing slightly and assassinate the Imperial Heir, who was coming to visit.

The party is so far out of their depth.  But the players aren't fully aware of how deep they are right now, which means the characters aren't realizing it.  Which sets them up for bigger and more challenges down the road.

While the story itself isn't epic in the sense of "huge, broad, and sweeping," yet, it's going to get there. These PCs are going to have the potential to change the face of Rokugan.

Small deeds - little things - snowball over time. And these guys are doing a ton of little things.

I can't wait to see what they do to the setting in the fullness of time.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Hitting the Table: Gekido: Bot Battles

Let me start with a heads-up for you: I'm going to say a lot of things that make this sound like a bad game. There are a number of things about this game which deserve criticism. But - and this is a significant but - I still think this is a fun game that is worth having in your collection.

At Origins, I spent a lot of time around the CMON booth. It's where a lot of my friends family were.  The first game that I demoed in the booth was Gekido: Bot Battles.

Remember how Rise of Augustus is often described as "strategy Bingo" when introducing it to a new person? Gekido is "strategy Yahtzee."

The game is themed around an arena battle with robots trying to destroy one another.  Each turn, you pick your target and then move and attack them. You can also hold your move until after the attack.  The arena is only nine spaces, so getting them in range is very rarely a problem.

All attacks are melee attacks with a range of "adjacent."

To attack, you roll dice. You get a total of three rolls, and can keep as many (or as few) dice as you want after each roll, trying to get specific combinations.  After your first roll, you need to lock dice into the attack you want to use.

Some attacks have a feedback issue - if, after three rolls, you haven't completed your attack, then you take damage instead.  More difficult attacks do more damage.

This all seems pretty straightforward so far, right?

Now let's add the wrinkle (that also adds most of the problems):

There are a ton of ways you can modify the outcomes.

As you take damage, you unlock powers. Some powers are simple (take less damage on attacks, for example).  Some powers are less-clear ("force an opponent to re-roll their dice").  There are also terrain modifiers for the board. And, of course, there are cards that can be used as part of an attack (or defense).

You can only use one power per roll. Keep in mind that each attack can be up to four rolls. And that's where this game introduces Timing Issues.

Each attack goes like this:

  1. Attacker rolls dice
  2. Attacker assigns dice to their board to choose an attack
  3. Repeat until either the chosen attack is successful the dice have been rolled three times.
But now we add powers, and the timing of power use is not in the rulebook.  There are some powers that let you roll additional dice (or that short your opponent a die for their first roll). Those are clearly played before Step 1. There are other powers that are clearly played after Step 1.

But what happens if I use a card to flip a die and then my opponent wants to force a re-roll?  Whose action takes priority, here?

Remember: Each player can only use one power per roll (whether it's the robot's powers, a card, or a board effect).

Suddenly the timing looks like it could be this:
  1. Attacker may activate a power or play a card.
  2. Defender may activate a power or play a card.
  3. Attacker may react to defender play if they did not do so in in Step 1
  4. Roll dice.
  5. Attacker may activate a power or play a card if they did not do so in Steps 1 or 3 above)
  6. Defender may activate a power or play a card if they did not do so in Step 2 above
  7. Attacker may react to Defender play if they have not used a power so far this roll
  8. Attacker assigns dice to their board
  9. Repeat until either the attack is successful or the dice have been rolled three times (four if an "extra re-roll this attack" power was used).
"React" is defined as "may play if the Defender did and may not play if the Defender did not."

Here's the thing, though: This timing sequence isn't spelled out in the rules. Maybe it looks like my nine-step list, only it should say "Defender" where I typed "Attacker." Maybe I need to flip "Defender" and "Attacker" only in steps 1-3 or in steps 5-7.  There are four different timing options, there.

This forum thread suggests that the process is:
  1. Defender may activate powers and/or use cards
  2. Attacker may activate powers and/or use cards
  3. Defender may play the "Cancel" card
  4. Roll Dice
  5. Defender may activate powers and/or use cards (if they have not already done so this roll)
  6. Attacker may activate powers and/or use cards (if they have not already done so this roll)
  7. Defender may play the "Cancel" card
  8. Attacker assigns dice to their board
  9. Repeat as needed.
There is still a minor issue with that thread as posted - it doesn't address the "only one power/card per roll" thing with regards to the Defender's cancel option. But that may be just for simplicity's sake in the post. The poster (Sean Jacquemain) is someone I know and trust (he's a former Asmodee Demo Guy, and an all-around great guy).

I may put together a reference with that timing that I can laminate, print out, and keep in the game.

Again, because this bears repeating occasionally while I tear this game apart:

This is a fun game. It is the only board game that we brought home from Origins that was 100% new-to-me. We'd planned to bring Delve home, and there are a few other games that we'll be picking up when they appear at Fantasium (which reminds me: I need to e-mail them to touch base ... ).

The game has a handful of (minor) component-based shortcomings, too.
  • The floor tiles are blank on the back. Had they been double-sided with different terrain on both front and back, there would have been a wider variety of arena types available. It's a missed opportunity, but not a deal-breaker.
  • There are only nine floor tiles, and there are a limited number of ways to assemble them into a "legal" arena, because four of those nine are corners and one of them is the center. It's another missed opportunity to make the arena more dynamic and interesting.
  • The insert is weird. It's plastic-molded to hold the robots perfectly, which is fine, only one robot is on the back of the insert (so you can see it through the window on the back of the box). So you need to remove the insert to put the game away. 
  • The game includes two kinds of dice and there are two spaces in the insert that could be for those dice, but it's really not clear. 
  • There's no space in the insert for the board itself. If the board were a traditional four-fold (or even two-fold) board, that'd be one thing. But when the board is nine separate squares, there really should be a spot for it in the insert.
  • The insert won't hold sleeved cards.  This is a very minor complaint and should be filed under "Eric whining."
Again:

THIS IS A FUN GAME.

I don't buy games I don't enjoy enough to want to play them multiple times.

There is errata for this game (follow that link and scroll down). Honestly, it's very minor. Two boards say "upgrade" when they should say "power" instead. Of course people are complaining about it. Personally? Errata happens. And sometimes you only find rules flaws once a game is in the wild.

So now that all that negativity is out of the way, let's talk about the fun of the game:
  • Timing issues aside, the game is very simple and easy to learn. You can almost play it with eight-to-ten-year-old children. And there are probably children in that age who could handle it.
  • The included bot figures are adorable and awesome. Which improves the Kid Appeal.
  • The dice are brightly-colored, and the player control boards make it clear which faces are opposite one another for purposes of "flip."
  • The bots themselves not only look different, they also (mostly) play differently, as each bot has a different set of powers and the attacks do different amounts of damage.
  • Each bot has a "duel" version for two-player games as well. Again, these play differently from the non-duel versions of the same bots.
  • There are six bots, and the game caps at 4 players. This, combined with the (somewhat) modular board means that it won't be The Same Game every time you play. The fact that there are cards is a further level of randomness to shake things up a bit.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

That Light Bulb Moment

I know I've talked in the past about "that light-bulb moment" that I get to see with some games. Mr. Jack is the one where it's most common.

What I haven't mentioned is how rarely I get to have those moments about myself.

See, I know what I like in a game, and what to look for. Most of the time, I can tell from a rulebook whether I'm going to like a board game or not, based on the elements in play.

For example, I love auction games.

But I'm not very good at trading and diplomacy. Part of that is because my circle of friends just assumes that I'm going to backstab, because I'm the experienced player, here, right?  Part of it is because people assume I'm really good at these games, and so they trade more harshly with me than they do with other players. And a not-small part of it is because I'm an extreme introvert. Trading games are exhausting, because of the amount (and type) of interaction with other players that they require.

A few weeks ago, I was playing Mega Civilization again. My on-board play was good. I had (mostly) non-aggressive neighbors, and I was able to support my cities. But I wasn't getting any traction. I wasn't going anywhere (I wound up in twelfth place out of eighteen players - and that was an improvement over the previous game).

The folks there were (mostly) friends that I'd gamed with at Phoenix. Folks I don't see very often, anymore.  Between turns, I would retreat to a quiet corner (or a separate room), because 17 people is an exhausting number to interact with. My friends know me, and they approached me in ones and twos to just chat during down time. Because they apparently miss me, too. It was a good time.

But I was complaining to one friend about how poorly I was doing. "I'm doing everything well but trading ... " and I trailed off mid-sentence.

Because the heart of that game is all about trading.  You can be perfect on the board, but if you don't trade well, you won't be able to afford any civilization advances. Or, more accurately, it'll be forever before you can afford the advances.  You can have passive neighbors and plenty of room in which to grow, but if you don't trade, you aren't going to win that game.

I traded decently well, but I'd do one or two trades, and then I was done.  A room full of people shouting, "Looking for Ore!" or "I have Wine!" is just draining.

But now that I've had that moment, I think I'm now better-prepared for next time. I need to grit my teeth and just trade.

And it'll probably make all the difference in the world for my score.  Provided people trust me enough to trade with me.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Designers

While playing a game a few weeks ago, discussion came up of one of my old favorite games, Snit's Revenge.  "Oh," I said, "That was one of my favorite Tom Wham games!"  Because it is.

Way back when I started this blog, I challenged folks to list game designers for some of their favorite games. And it was a challenge.  For many folks, it still is.

Tom Wham was the first designer whose name I recognized.  My friend Steve introduced me to his games with The Awful Green Things from Outer Space, which has been printed and reprinted and reprinted so many times ... but it's a great game.

The first Tom Wham game I ever owned was The Great Khan Game. It, sadly, has gone out of print and is unlikely to see print again anytime soon.

Tom Wham has a very clear signature art style (he did the art for most - or all - of his games). It's light, it's goofy, it's silly, and it's just fun.  The game itself was inevitably entertaining. Not always well-balanced or great, but playable and fun. I knew that when I saw his art on a game, I was going to enjoy playing it.

I think that Tom Wham did more to get me into game stores than anyone else. I bought a ton of Dragon magazines hoping for a Tom Wham Centerfold Game, and those are what got me hooked on Dungeons & Dragons.

My path into hobby gaming started with a playground D&D game. I dabbled, but didn't play much. Then in Jr. High, my friend Steve introduced me to Tom Wham's games at about the same time my friend Anna introduced me to Axis and Allies.  Steve also introduced me to Talisman and FASA's Star Trek RPG. Not much later, Zach introduced me to Illuminati.

Once I hit high school, I went to Strategic Games Club, expecting more Axis and Allies and Risk and the like. Instead, I played Gamma World and Shadowrun and (yes) Rifts.

If you'd asked me when I was in the midst of all of that, I would not have been able to name any game designers or RPG authors (including Gygax) other than Tom Wham. His games were that distinctive, and made that much of an impact on me.

So it's probably weird that I only (currently) own The Great Khan Game and Dragon Lairds.

...

I should fix that.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

ENnies

I'm not a big fan of ENWorld. Never have been, really. I'm not a fan of the board culture. It's not a toxic cesspit like other forums I've visited - it's just not for me.

That said, however I do pay attention to the ENnies, because usually, they reward decent things. And, flawed though it is, it is the most relevant award in the RPG end of the hobby gaming pool. Although the Origins awards keep trying to course-correct, and I think they'll eventually get there again.

The ENnie nominees were announced early last week, and I wanted to take a quick post to highlight a few things in there, because there are some really good things in there. And some interesting gaps.

Let's talk about the gaps first. You can see a complete list of everything nominated right here.  The process for the ENnies is this:  Creators (publishers, bloggers, whatever) submit to a jury, who narrows it down to a Top Five in each category (other than Product of the Year). Then the general public votes on a winner.

Things that are underrepresented on their list:
  • Wizards of the Coast, with one short list nominee (out of four products submitted).
  • Paizo with ... one short list nominee (out of ten products submitted).
These are shocking to me, especially given ENWorld's history as a d20 forum.

Things that are overrepresented on the list:
  •  Lamentations of the Flame Princess has four different products on the list (spread across seven categories).
Sorry, guys, I just don't understand the love.  I have the game, I have a few supplements. It's not a bad game, but I don't find it great, either. It's like ENWorld: Just not for me.

Also, this being ENWorld, LotFP is likely to win in most (if not all) of the categories where it's nominated. Not because it's the best product in each category, but because the publisher (and writers) are really good at motivating their fans to vote.

So let's go through a few categories. I'm going to ignore categories where I haven't seen or read enough to make an informed guess or have an opinion. 

Because you all care what I think, right?

Best Aid/Accessory
We have the 13th Age Icon Tokens. They're really neat and very well-done.  The Kobold Guide series of books has, without exception, been fantastic. Midnight Syndicate appears to have created a great album for a terrible board game. The Call of Cthulhu GM Screen is a beautiful thing. And I haven't seen the pirate coins.

This category is a weird one, because it's props and atmosphere enhancers mixed with tools. The Keeper's Screen is the most useful item at the table. The Kobold Guide is the most useful item away from the table. The others are - like I said - atmosphere items (although the Icon Tokens do have an at-the-table use).  I'm going to vote for the Kobold Guide, personally, but I expect the Call of Cthulhu GM screen to win.

Best Art, Cover
These are all great examples of cover art, but Blue Rose definitely has my vote.

Best Art, Interior
I actually bought into Polaris because of the art from earlier (French-language) editions. And I was disappointed by the system, so there's that.  

The Baby Bestiary series has been absolutely amazing, and Andreas is a really cool guy. I've flipped through the others on the list, and they're good, too. There is no bad choice in this category, but there's also no standout choice.

When all other things are more-or-less equal, I always vote in favor of things that support people I like, so the Baby Bestiary has my vote here.  And I think it has a good chance of winning overall.

Best Game
Tales from the Loop looks really awesome. 7th Sea is very good (and is playable). Timewatch is both the GUMSHOE system (which I love) and is a nostagia kick, as it reminds me a lot of the Time Wars series by Simon Hawke that I read when I was a kid). Bubblegumshoe is GUMSHOE Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys/Scooby Doo. It's a simplified take that you can play with kids.

I suspect that Bubblegumshoe will win Best Family Game, and isn't likely to win this one as well. I'm voting for 7th Sea, and I suspect that it'll be the eventual winner. 

Best Rules
This is a crazy-diverse category. I'm likely to vote for Bubblegumshoe, here. But Veins of the Earth is probably going to win. 

Best Setting
Tales from the Loop looks fascinating, and I've read a lot of stuff about the setting (but I haven't ordered it, yet).  Numenera was ... okay. It didn't push any buttons for me that the classic Dark Sun setting hadn't pushed for me two decades ago (Its sister game, The Strange, struck me as being much like Planescape).  Atlas of Earth-Prime is a superhero setting, and those are always a tough sell for me. The Dark Eye is the German game that fills the same local niche as D&D does here. It always struck me as a bog-standard fantasy setting with the darkness turned up a few degrees.  Polaris is a post-apocalyptic undersea game. It was innovative when the setting was newer - twenty years ago. These days, it's almost a by-the-numbers setting. It's only hitting awareness now because it's only just been translated into English following a Kickstarter.

I may not vote in this category, but I'm guessing Tales from the Loop is going to win this one.

Best Writing
I'm a sucker for Unknown Armies. I love The Book of Changing Years. The One Ring has consistently been excellent. But neither has a patch on UA for me. The third edition steered further away from "Modern Urban Fantasy with Horror Trappings" and into "Modern Urban Horror with Fantasy Trappings." Honestly, it's a very subtle steering, but it's done so very well.

But there's LotFP product in this category, so the probable winner is clear.

... and that's my thoughts on the short list.

As to my thoughts on the award as a whole?  

I think it's backwards. I think that the general public should narrow down the short list and an anonymous jury (as impartial a jury as possible) should pick the winners. The ideal jury will include publishers, distributors, writers, artists, designers, and at least one fan. That reduces the "I have a lot of fans that I can motivate into voting" problem.

There is no such thing as a perfect award. "Good" games are not always successful games. It's like the movies. Avengers: Age of Ultron made a pile of money, but it clearly didn't win (or deserve) the Oscar for Best Picture.

The Diana Jones Award frequently comes close to perfect, but there is only one winner, so it's not a great measuring stick for outsiders to use to see what's new and good (and/or hot). And I'll be shocked if GenCon doesn't win this year.

The Origins Awards are trying. They're now basically a juried award, but they also give out "people's choice" awards for the products that are most popular among the congoers. That kind of split is, I think good. Separate "We're in the industry and we like this product" and "I play games and I like this product" awards is more work for the award team, but (IMHO) worth it in the long run.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Origins: The Show

Despite the nightmare that flying to Ohio seems to be, we did eventually reach Columbus.  Jason Paul McCartan of Infinibadger Press was waiting in the airport for us - some of you may recall that he and I are engaged in a #PonyWar of exceeding viciousness.

This was the first time we'd met in person, and he'd driven to the airport multiple times over the preceding two days expecting to pick us up.

When we piled into the car with our stuff, we found a crocheted pony waiting for us. Apparently the Badger's wife decided that she wanted to be a party to the #PonyWar, too.

Steph and I were delivered safely to our hotel, and we thanked Badger several times. "It's no big deal," he told us, "You're family."

We heard that a lot over the weekend from a number of folks.

Thursday morning, we hit the exhibit hall fairly early.  The usual plan is "Do one pass without spending money and then go back later to spend."  And we mostly stuck to it.  We went back to the room and talked about every purchase we made at the entire show.

We ran into Stephan Brissaud pretty early - he's the VP of GAMA, and is the guy in charge of Iello US. He's also someone I worked with when he was with Asmodee (in fact, he's the one who first asked me to join their demo team).

We knew CMON was at the show, but we didn't see them in the exhibit hall, which confused us.  We later went back and found them in the gaming area next door.  It was Pete and Ruby and a ton of the Asmodee Demo Team in that booth.  They were all glad to see us. "You're part of the family," we were told several times.

I played Gekido: Bot Battles, and enjoyed it enough to pick it up. It's not a deep game, but it's fun. It's too long to be filler, but it's a decent enough warm up / cool down game. There are a few unexplained timing issues in the rulebook, but I expect CMON will publish a FAQ soon enough.

Pete co-designed a game with Richard Launius that I knew was going to be available at the show, so I asked him where to get it. "I'll show you," he said, and walked Steph and I over to the Indie Boards & Cards booth.  There were only a few games in the booth, but I looked straight at Pete and asked him which game was his.

I managed to keep a straight face, too, so it took him a minute before he realized I was pulling his leg.  The look on his face was priceless.  I later got him to sign my copy.

Steph and I got a sneak peek at the upcoming Cutthroat Caverns expansion. Cutthroat Caverns is one of those excellent games that I don't get to play very often. Everyone has to work together to overcome the obstacles, but only one player gets to win the game. It's very Republic of Rome or Castle Panic in that respect. The new expansion looks meaty and flavorful and awesome.

I walked past the Asmodee area a couple of times. It was really weird, because I didn't recognize a single person there. Not one. The crew were wearing a mix of uniforms - some were Asmodee shirts from years past, and some were wearing Fantasy Flight Games' "Flight Crew" shirts. But it wasn't uniform, and it (sadly) looked sloppy.

While wandering the hall, I kept getting stopped by people, too. "Hey, Eric," I'd hear, "You taught us to play [GAME] a few years ago, and you recommended [OTHER GAME], and we loved it. What are you teaching this year? Any new suggestions?"  Random people who I only vaguely recognized, because when you run 200 demos at a show, there is almost no way you will remember all of the faces.

I also demoed Rise of Tribes. It was decent enough, but I wasn't sure so I took Steph back the next day to check it out and she liked it enough to back. They'll be funding the day after this post is scheduled to go live, so if you're thinking about backing, look quickly.

"Kickstarter," is another of those words I heard a ton at the show.  "We just funded on Kickstarter," or "We're launching the Kickstarter for this shortly," or "The Kickstarter is live now," or (in a few cases), "We're currently fulfilling our Kickstarter for it, with retail copies hitting distribution shortly."

The number one question, by the way, that we asked at every booth was, "Are you in distribution?" Because getting books and games home from a show can be a huge pain, and we'd rather pay a bit more and support our Friendly Local Game Store.  If they were in distribution, we usually grabbed a business card and moved on.

I also demoed The Supershow. This game was not for me. I figured that out a few turns in, but gave it a full game just to make sure. It's because the game was so random. It's theoretically possible for one player to never get a turn.  Unlikely, but possible. And dice hate me.

Thursday evening, I went out for drinks with the Badger and discovered that I like Scottish Ale. Since I'm not a fan of beer in general, this is a useful thing to know.

Friday was more of the same, only we ran into Carol (formerly of Asmodee, now with CMON). Her face lit up and she gave us both big hugs.  She almost didn't recognize me initially, but she definitely recognized Steph.  Later in the booth, she introduced us to a few of the new people, and added, "They're part of the family."

I almost wanted to grab a CMON shirt and start working then and there, because it's a weird thing not having a set schedule at a con.

Steph and I demoed Onitama, which put it on my list to get eventually. It'd be higher on the list, but Steph beat me pretty quickly. It also has an expansion out now.  It was a surprisingly-deep game given how fast it was to teach and play.

I'd been meaning to check out Dropzone Commander since our booth was across the aisle from theirs at GenCon a few years ago, so I got a chance to sit down and play a demo.  The game has a lot going for it, but it was just a bit too fiddly for me. I definitely understand all the love it gets, though. The role specialization of each unit means that larger armies than the starter box will be significantly more interesting to play, but since no-one locally plays it, I'd need to buy whatever armies I wanted to play with or against. Or convince a friend to buy in, but that gets expensive for them, too.

That's how the whole weekend went, honestly.  On Sunday, the CMON crew invited us to join them for dinner, but Steph was asleep and I was pretty peopled out. Otherwise we absolutely would have joined in because they are family.

Over the course of the show, five different publishers/teams asked if we'd be interested in joining their demo team for GenCon or PAX Unplugged or even next year's Origins. Or other shows.  Apparently we have a rep of some sort. I almost want to eBay our services, just to see what kind of attention we can get (probably not much - getting approval to bid on eBay through your corporate office is not an easy thing to do).

On Monday, Badger picked us up and we headed to Bob Evans for lunch.  He'd been raving about it for a while, and we don't have them locally.  It was good, but I don't like it as well as he does.  It's like a cross between Shari's and IHOP.

After lunch, we headed to the airport for the trip home.

While on the way there, Steph's phone rang.  Our flight had been delayed.  When we reached the airport, we learned that it'd been delayed enough that we were going to miss our connection in Minneapolis, so we needed to be rebooked.

"I don't know what I can do," said the gate agent, "Because this is a United ticket."  We were booked to fly Delta.  Apparently when we bought the tickets, United sold us tickets on a Delta flight.

I don't know if I mentioned it in our last travel post, but we booked First Class, because I had never flown First Class before. I wanted to know what it was like.

After a bit of hemming and hawing and calling a supervisor, he got us rebooked to fly through Detroit instead on a flight that was supposed to be boarding right away.  So we grabbed our tickets and got through security as quickly as we could.  We got to the gate and discovered that the flight had been delayed.  In fact, that flight had originally been scheduled to leave before 11:00 that morning. It was now 3:00 pm.

Suddenly, we were in danger of missing our connection in Detroit.

But we got free (room-temperature) soda, water, and snacks.

After about 40 minutes, we were able to board. There were only five passengers going to Detroit at that point, everyone else having rebooked.  Spell check, by the way, hates the word "rebook," and it's very distracting.

Steph and I got off the plane and rushed to make our connection. I know I haven't mentioned this before, but Steph uses a cane to get around sometimes. Monday was one of those days. We got to the correct gate as they were about to start boarding. And ... we lost our First Class status, but we got onto the plane. We were going to be home a few hours ahead of our original schedule, so it was a mixed bag.

This sums up my thoughts pretty well:

We got home and just collapsed. It was an exhausting day, and an exhausting trip altogether.

A decade ago, I told someone "Origins is where you go to play games, GenCon is where you go to buy them."  And I stand by that statement.  There were no RPG dealers in the exhibit hall. There were RPG Publishers, but the shops that were there were all minis and board game shops.  In fact, it was impossible to buy D&D books at the show (despite an official presence there). It's probably for the best, otherwise one of the Badger's children would now own Tails of Equestria. And we would have needed a new ride to the airport.

I want to go again, but it really depends on a number of factors.

I guess we'll see.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Giveaway Results / Amazon Giveaways

As I mentioned when I started my giveaway for a set of Rory's Story Cubes: I don't know how this Amazon Giveaways thing will turn out. I don't know what king of information I'll get from them, and so on.

I wasn't sure what information I'd get about the winner, either.

Turns out, I got one piece of info - and only one.  I have a name.

Amazon contacted the winner and took care of getting the cubes shipped. At least, I hope they've shipped by now.

The winner's name was Zoya. And that's all the information I have.

That's good, by the way.

Here's a screencap of my Giveaways Dashboard:


It strikes me as just the right amount of information. It's enough that I can announce the winner, but not so much that I can cause problems for them.

So congrats to Zoya. I hope you enjoy your new Story Cubes. I hope you find them as awesome as I have.

And thanks to the rest of you for entering.

Next week, I'll write more about Origins and the fun we had, and I'll talk about a game or two I've played that I think you might enjoy.

You know: get things back to normal around here.

As ever, thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Origins: The Trip

Our Epic Journey So Far

The Plan:
Leave Seattle around 1:30 pm.
1.5 hour layover in Chicago
Arrive Ohio around 11:45 pm.

Seems reasonable on the face of it. I mean ... getting people around is what airlines do, right?

We arrived at the airport shortly after 11 am. SeaTac airport is one of our favorites, and not just because it's home.  The drawback is that their security lines are not very efficient.

We got through in plenty of time, however, and were soon seated at our gate, waiting for time to board.

The first leg went without any problems. Landed in Chicago on time, checked the location of our next leg, and headed to the gate.

When we arrived, there was a mob of folks already there. Waiting for an earlier flight to Indianapolis that was already late.  That was a bit of a red flag, but out of our control.

Someone is going to pop up and tell me, "United sucks! They do this all the time!" And they'll be right, but here's the thing:

EVERY US-based airline sucks. It's all a matter of who sucks worse this week. Seriously. Airlines lose dogs, smash guitars, fly to the wrong airport, put children on the wrong flights, and serve as fashion police ALL THE TIME.  There is no good option when choosing an internal flight in the US.

Either way: The Indianapolis flight had a crew, but no airplane. A short while later, they delayed our flight. WE had an airplane, but no crew. Why they didn't just steal our plane for the Indianapolis flight, I do not know. And will probably never know. But they didn't.

Long story short: They ended up cancelling both flights, after stringing us along for several hours.

And they cancelled both at the same time.

And didn't warn their customer service desk that two flights full of angry people were inbound.

Steph found a brochure that told us not to expect any sort of vouchers. No hotel, no taxi, no food.  Nothing.  Thankfully, however, they DID give us vouchers. Taxi. Hotel. Food.

The hotel was the Schaumberg Renaissance. It was ... weird. In some ways, it was crazy-swanky and classy. But in others, it was kinda redneck. Like putting a television in the bathroom mirror.

I'm allergic to down. It's not a life-threatening allergy (yet), but it's annoying. I break out in this itchy little rash that can take days to pass.  And the Renaissance didn't have any feather-free rooms available AND their housekeeping was gone for the day. So we asked where the feathers were, and Steph stripped them from the bed while I showered.

With no blankets, I slept poorly. It's damn near impossible to turn off hotel air conditioning these days, so it was cold.

Oh - the bed was an oversized twin bed. Which makes sense for a convention center.

Our replacement flight was scheduled for 2:45 on Wednesday. We were there in plenty of time, grabbed a bite to eat at the airport, and ... our flight was delayed. First the plane was late, and then the weather.

Then we boarded, taxiied out to the tarmac, and ... waited for three hours while the weather changed several times.

There are a TON of FAA regulations about time. Once you're on the tarmac, after three hours, they have to feed you.

The Chicago to Columbus flight is a little one-hour flight. I don't think they even loaded food for it. So, before that three-hour timer was hit, we were brought back to the gate and deplaned.

Another FAA timer is crew time. It's like long-haul truckers - you can't be working for more than a certain number of hours per day/week. It's a safety thing that actually DOES make sense.

We hit our crew's max time, so needed a new crew. And one wasn't available immediately.

At this point, the passengers were divided into three groups: People who were tired/resigned/apathetic towards the delays, people who were angry about the delays, and people who found the whole situation hilarious. Me? I fit all three categories at various times during the wait.

Apparently, the FAA can grant variances/waivers for the "overtime" on the crew. United got these for our entire flight crew, and we left Chicago shortly after 8 pm.  For our 2:45 pm flight.

After that, we got off the plane, and found our luggage waiting for us. The Badger (a friend who we hadn't met in person) picked us up (after having made MULTIPLE trips to the airport over the course of the last few days), and we got to the hotel, checked in, and crashed.

Now we're headed to the convention center, where we will FINALLY start to enjoy the show.

I hope.

Origins Giveaway: Rory's Story Cubes

To celebrate being at Origins, I figured I'd give something away.

This link is to an Amazon Giveaway.  One lucky winner will get the basic set of Rory's Story Cubes. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

The giveaway is open to US residents aged 18 or older, and is being handled by the Amazon Giveaways program, so I have no control over eligibility.

Good luck - and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Origins

Just a reminder: I'm at Origins this week, so no normal post.

I may post updates from the show, however. And I'm back on Instagram, so expect a few images to appear there, too.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

One Good Day

I don't know if y'all know this, but I do play video games, too. Not as often as I play board games these days, but often enough that I spend money on the occasional Season Pass or other game.

And yes, I am allowed to use y'all in a non-ironic manner.

Here's the thing, though.  In my circle of friends, I have a reputation for being good at board games. We've done mixed tournaments (meaning "more than one game involved") and I always do well. Not because I win a lot of games, but because other players score high at some games and low at others - I tend to take second or third at everything.

Now everyone has their preferred styles of game. I'm not especially discriminating: I love auction games. I love dexterity games. I love trick-taking and ladder games. I love worker placement. I love hidden information and asymmetric play.

But I'm not good at everything I like. I'm terrible at dexterity games.  Among the worst, even. It's the one category of game at which I am virtually guaranteed to wind up near the bottom of the standings.

Now let me swing this back around to video games:

The vast majority of what I play is First-Person Shooters. I love FPS games. I play a few sports games from time-to-time. Once in a while, I can be talked into a fighting game. On my computer, I enjoy real-time strategy. But when I'm in front of a console, I'm nearly always playing an FPS game.

I love the hardcore crunchy player-tweakable games, too. You know, where you pair X gun with Y scope and Z ammo and your loadout includes this accessory and that accessory ...

Right now, that means Battlefield 1. It's not as adjustable as Battlefield: Hardline was (and is), but it's a definite step up from Star Wars Battlefront (which I wanted to love, and just ... didn't). I unabashedly love this game, and I have wasted entire weekends sitting in front of my PS4 playing it.

But I'm not very good at it.  Allow me to demonstrate how bad I am:


As they say: A picture is worth 1,000 words. Those numbers are bad. Because, although I love FPS games, I'm bad at them. I play for fun.

That said, sometimes I have a good day.

I nearly always play support-type roles. In Battlefield 1, that means Support or Medic. And I'm usually decent at anything that doesn't involve pulling a trigger.  You see those 1700 kills?  803 of them are with a mortar. And I'm a terrible sniper.

So with their first DLC pack, they introduced weapons that could only be unlocked by meeting certain criteria. Some of those are the kind of thing I can brute force. "30 Kills with ," for example. If I play a thousand games and get one kill every thirty games, I'll eventually get that 30 kills.  Some of them, however, are more difficult.  "5 Headshots In One Round with ."

Ugh.  That's ... that's more difficult. See that "ACCURACY            0.15" up there in the image?  Yeah. Headshots with a sniper rifle might be out of my reach.

But then I was playing while talking to my wife, and I got one. Probably my first sniper headshot since the days of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. And I had an unfair advantage with that one (I had a large HDTV when most players were still playing standard-def).  "Did you see that!?" I asked her.

And then I got another. And another.  In fact, I got all five.

It was a good reminder:

Even if you're bad at something, sometimes you will still have a good day. Once in a while, the dice will fall your way and you will succeed at something you'd thought beyond your reach.

It makes me want to play more Ice Cool. Because maybe I'll have a good day at that.

Next week, I don't think I'm going to have a normal post - I have one written, but I'm going to delay it until after the show. I'll be at Origins, so I may do some of what I usually do at GenCon, where I post daily updates of how the day went/what I did.  I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Change Is Inevitable (And Not Always Bad)

Remember a few weeks ago when I was talking about giving Games Workshop another chance after more than a decade away?

I took the plunge. I managed to snag a copy of Shadow War: Armageddon from a local game store (not just the rulebook, either - the boxed game), and picked up some minis to use. And some assembly supplies (glue, for one).

When did Games Workshop go all plastic?

I also bought a few 40k novels, because I was curious what the lore was. And I'm enjoying them. This series is printed like YA books - largeish print, an undersized hardcover.

I also sent a couple of queries to GW's customer service, and received prompt (and polite) replies.

All in all, it looks like there has been some significant turnover at GW, and it sounds like their anti-fan policies are either changed or not being enforced anymore.  I am 100% in favor of this.

So ... yeah. I'm back in the GW customer fold, as it were.

Time to warm up the 3D printer - I have terrain to print!

I also dug out all of my miniatures painting supplies.  I've been bitten by that bug but good. Again.


I figured I'd start simple, with the Kaosball teams. They're relatively simple figures, and I'm not bothering to prime them. It makes them an excellent step forward. And ... wow have my skills atrophied.  But that's okay.  That's part of why I wanted to do this.

I'm also not going to take this all too seriously. Because I look at the RPG.net monthly painting thread, and I just cringe.  Because these guys are sooo gooood.

But the fact that I'm not that good is oddly freeing at the same time. Because it means I can go nuts with bizarro experimentation. Like interference colors. I think that this will look awesome on some of my Necrons.  Those of you who don't know what it is - it's paint that changes color depending on your perspective relative to the light.  The linked paint is purple and green, but they also make a green/blue and a green/orange.

I also don't feel bad about using $2 craft paint for much of my work. I've had good results with it in the past, and I expect to get good results with it again.  The only time I'll always choose miniature paint over craft paint is for metallic paints.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I also bought into Guild Ball, via the two-player starter that they make. It's a really good game.  Tons of fun.  We're going to be buying more teams for it. And more players for our current teams.

So ... yeah.  My gaming is in transition right now. I'm not playing fewer board games, but I'm playing more miniatures games.  So expect periodic updates on how that's going here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

News Snippets

One of the disadvantages of my weekly posting pattern is that I very rarely get to scoop folks - even when I have news early. And that's okay - I'm not doing this to make money or boost my personal fame.  I'm a small corner of the internet that tries to have good information.

Nothing here is something I knew in advance, but I think that these are notable happenings that you should be aware of:

Rory's Story Cubes have been sold to the Asmodee group.

Not The Creativity Hub (the company that currently produces the cubes), not their team. Just the brand. Honestly, knowing as many folks at Asmodee as I do, the game is in good hands.  Especially as:
Over the next few years, we (Rory, myself and The Creativity Hub team) will work with Asmodee to help with the brand philosophy and product development of Rory’s Story Cubes.
 AlphaGo defeated the #1 Go player in the world.

It's only the first of three games, and AlphaGo only won by half a point, but this is as significant as Deep Blue defeating Kasparov a while back.  There will be another game tomorrow and then one this weekend.

I once saw Go described as a game with rules "so simple that they feel like a force of nature." At the same time, there is a depth of strategy to the game that I cannot even begin to fathom.

The AlphaGo team will be live-streaming on their page, and I hope to watch.

I have to wonder how long before we see similar matchups for other games - Shogi, for example.

The 2017 Spiel des Jahres nominees have been announced.

The link is in German, but you should have no trouble figuring out which games are nominated.

This year, I've only played two of the games on the final list - Ice Cool (on the Kinderspiel list) and Terraforming Mars (from the Kennerspiel list).  Both games are excellent and worth grabbing.  I've also played two games on the "recommended list," both of them are on the Kennerspiel list: Captain Sonar and The Grizzled.  Great games, and well worth your time.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rory's Story Cubes: The RPG

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Origins!

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

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

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

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

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

I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Tabletop Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Credit Where Due: Noble Knight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Trevor. I appreciate the help.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Conventions

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

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

Notably: Growth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

So Blessed, Second Chances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Boycotts

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

And those things are not always good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that's different from a boycott.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Mechanisms I Like: Trick-Taking

A few weeks back, I wrote about a game mechanism that I really like - Programmed Action.

Today, I'm going to do that again, for a different mechanism. Today, I'm going to discuss trick-taking games.

I'd say that all trick-taking games are card games, but someone somewhere would pop up with a game that breaks that mold. I will say that all trick-taking games that I know of are card games. And all of them have at least a little bit of strategy to them.

In a trick-taking game, players throw one (or more) cards into the middle of the table, and other players play additional cards into the center of the table usually in an attempt to beat the exist card(s) and win the cards which have been played.  Some games feature a trump suit that automatically beats other cards of different suits.

Honestly, when I encountered someone who wasn't familiar with trick-taking a few years ago, I was stunned. It's extremely common, and there are _thousands_ of games that feature it.

Many of these games use a standard Poker deck, so it's cheap to get started. In fact, you probably have a deck somewhere in your home.

Here are a few of my favorites (note: I'm only posting games I'm personally familiar with, so don't freak out when you don't see Contract Bridge on the list, for example):

Hearts
I first encountered Hearts not with my family (like so many kids do), but with friends. And then I re-discovered it when it was pre-installed on Windows '95. It requires a standard poker deck, and players throw one card per trick. The goal is to avoid taking cards of a certain suit (Hearts), and avoid another specific card (the Queen of Spades).  Each trick is one card per player, and players must follow suit whenever possible. If you cannot follow suit, you can throw anything. There is no trump suit.The game ends when someone reaches 100 points, and the lowest score wins.

Spades
This is - for me - a relatively new one. I know it's hugely popular, but it's just not one we played in our house. Probably because it's a partnership game, and we had an odd number of players. Each hand starts with a round of bidding - players bid how many tricks they will be able to win that hand. Spades are always a trump suit, and you must follow suit if able.  If you cannot follow suit, you can throw anything. Each trick is one card per player.

If you fail to meet your bid, you lose points equal to ten times your bid. If your team meet your bid exactly, you score ten times your bid. If you take more tricks than you bid, you score ten times your bid plus one point per additional trick taken. If, as a team, you ever take a total of ten extra points, your team loses 100 points.

You can bid "nil," which means you won't take any tricks that hand. If you succeed, you score 100 points for your team. If you fail, you lose 100 points for your team.

There are a number of variant rules for this one, including "Blind Nil," bids, which are worth 200 points but which must be made before you look at your hand. Some variants allow partners to pass a card back and forth.

Rook
I first learned Rook over a holiday break at my great-grandparents' house in Oregon. I think Grandpa White was just trying to get my brother and I to shut up and calm down. The game itself requires a special deck of cards. The deck is pretty inexpensive, but the paper cards will wear out quickly, so I bought a copy of 57 Cards. If you think you'll be playing a lot, I recommend doing the same ...

The game itself is pretty standard. Certain cards are "counters," and one card is played per trick. Players must follow suit if possible, and may play trumps if they cannot follow suit. Like many partnership games, it starts with a bid, and the bid winner gets to choose the trump suit. There are a ton of variants. I actually grew up playing a variant that isn't on that page.

The wrinkles that Rook brings to the table are the Nest and the Rook card itself.  When dealing the cards out, there is a separate pool of five cards that is created. The player who wins the bid picks those cards up and then lays down five more cards. Each trick is one card per player, and you must follow suit if possible. Whoever wins the last trick gets to take those five cards for scoring - it may be nothing, but I've seen valuable nests.  The Rook itself is usually the highest trump card, regardless of suit. Some variants (including the one I grew up on) features the Rook as the lowest trump card.

At the end of the trick, the bid-winning team checks to see if they made their bid (or more). If they did, they score what they took. If they didn't, they go negative by their bid. The other team just scores what they took.

Pinochle
Pinochle is the game I played the most with my family. It's another single-card trick-taking partnership game, but it requires a special deck of 48 cards. There are tons of regional variations (for some reason, double-deck Pinochle is the most commonly found online).

The team that wins the bid gets to pick the trump suit.

The unique feature of Pinochle is the meld.  After bidding, but before players start taking tricks, certain combinations of cards are worth points. So a King and a Queen, for example, is a Marriage. "Kings Around" means you have a king in each suit. You can also have runs (9-J-Q-K-10-A) in the trump suit. Some variants have runs as Jack through Ace (and note that 10 is between the King and the Ace in this one), with bonus points for the nine of trump. The "Pinochle" is a Jack of Diamonds and a Queen of Spades.  And it's possible to have doubles of most of these, as there are two of each card in the deck.

Another unique feature is that you must play to win each trick, with a few exceptions.  Tricks are single cards, and you must follow suit. If you cannot follow suit, you must throw Trump (if possible). So if you throw a Queen of Spades to lead, I must throw a King, Ten, or Ace of Spades if I have them. If I don't have them, I can throw any Spade. If I don't have any Spades, then I must throw a trump card. If I throw trump, the next player must play Spades if possible (but my trump means they can throw any Spade because now I'm winning the trick).  If they can't throw a Spade, then they have to throw trump, but it has to be a higher trump card than what I played (if they can). If they can't beat my play, then they can play anything in the trump suit. If they're out of both Spades and the trump suit, they can throw anything.

Gang of Four
The first Days of Wonder game I ever bought was Gang of Four. And not this second edition, either. I bought it before I knew what I was doing. It was ... not bad. It's the first trick-taking game I had played where players could play more than one card to a trick. By "more than one card," I mean both "can play sets instead of singles" and "the trick keeps going until all players except one pass." I still really like this one.

No bidding in this one, just play. Before playing, however, you'll pass cards to other players, and then the cards themselves determine who plays first. Scoring is based on the number of cards people have in hand when one player runs out.

Tichu
Tichu is the highest-rated trick-taking game on BoardGameGeek. It's almost in the Top 100. At the time I write this, it's #103 overall. It has a lot in common with Gang of Four - it's a trick-taking game where you can throw sets of cards, and not everyone needs to play every trick. In fact, there will be times where you can't play.

Tichu has a different set of special cards that do different things. And it's a partnership-based game. The goal is to run out of cards before your opponents do, and the special cards include one card that passes control of play to your partner. After the deal, you'll pass one card to each other player.

Players also can call "Tichu" at two times - one is after only part of the hand has been dealt.  This is a "Grand Tichu" and is worth a lot of points. The other "Tichu" call is before you play your first card, and it's worth a smaller number of points.  If you fail to go out first after calling Tichu, you lose points equal to what you would have gained from that Tichu.

And Tichu also has a card combination that is called a bomb, which you can play at any time - even out of turn.

Haggis
Haggis reminds me a great deal of Tichu and Gang of Four, only this game is optimized for 3 players. There are vanishingly few games that are good with three, so this deserves special mention in that respect. It also gives each player three wild cards at the beginning of the hand that are worth points if they're not used.

Each trick is a set of cards, and you must beat the existing set to play. Or you can bomb it.

Haggis starts with a bidding round, but unlike most games with bidding involved, failure to make your bid doesn't cost you points - it gives points to your opponents.  It means that a game if Haggis is always moving forward. Unlike the other games on this list, every hand advances someone towards the in.  It's possible for a game of Pinochle to last a crazy-long time because players fail to make bid and slide backwards. In Spades, you can bid 'nil' and then take a trick causing you to slide backwards. In Haggis, an error like that that just increases your opponents' scores, driving the game forwards towards its end.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Game Recommendation And Another Kickstarter For Your Attention

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

I say that about a lot of games.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The game really is that simple.

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

You know.  Fun.

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

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

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

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