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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Hugo Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

MegaCivilization

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

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

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


... just like the game.

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


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Gaming As Grownups

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

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

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

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

Here are the dates of our last few sessions:

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

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

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

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

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

Because we are not cheaters, that's why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Roleplaying Games Are Cooperative Games and the GM is a Player

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh.  Responsibility.  I just want to play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The important word in that sentence is "together."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Being "That Guy" And Proud Of It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm that guy. And so are you.

Be that guy.

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

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

My 2016 Gaming In Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Mechanisms I Like: Programmed Action

Some of you may have noticed a lack of post last week - that's on me. I've been fighting a (really bad) cold, and lost a cat. Both things together kept me away from my computer for just over a week, and now I'm behind at everything.

A few weeks ago, I was at Fantasium's Beer & Board Games, and one of the people there commented to me, "you really like your programmed action games, don't you?"

And I do. I really do.

Programmed Action Games are games where you plan your turn (or turns) in advance, and then resolve them in a pre-set order. Usually (but not always) every player is planning simultaneously.

BoardGameGeek lists (as of this writing) 113 games that are categorized as Programmed Action.

Here are a few of my favorites:

The first time I encountered this mechanism was with the original Robo Rally, back in 1994 or 1995. Each player had to program eight actions each turn by playing cards. There were upgrades that granted special powers, and ways to blast each other. It was wild and chaotic and fun - despite being very controlled due to constraints on what you could do.

There is a new edition out, by the way, that dramatically changes some elements of the game. It's (reportedly) faster-playing and easier without losing any of its chaotic fun.

I spent weeks playing Robo Rally. Its miniatures were among the first I painted reasonably well.

The next time I remember noticing the programmed action mechanism was when I picked up Wings of War. Each round, you program your airplane's next couple of moves. If an enemy plane is in one of your firing arcs, you get to shoot at them. I didn't play this one very much, because my group was lukewarm on it. And then it was re-themed, tweaked, and re-packaged as X-Wing. And I couldn't afford to keep up with the collectible nature of that one.

Room 25 has been a favorite of mine for a very long time. Each round, you program two actions. Move, shove, slide, peek, or (character-specific) special. You can play fully-cooperatively with everyone working together to escape, or you can play semi-cooperatively with one or two players working against the rest of the party. The new Ultimate edition (which is where the link above goes) is the base game and the expansion together in one box. The previous release was marred with issues - first they did a small box for the base game and a larger box for the expansion. Then they re-released both, flipping the box sizes. People didn't know if the two boxes were compatible (they were), and it just caused a ton of confusion. The Ultimate edition clears all the confusion up. And, as an added bonus, they tweaked a couple of rules about revealing identities in the semicooperative mode of play.

I only recently encountered Risk: Europe, but I hope it sees a lot more play.  Each player has eight cards, and you'll choose two per round. Those cards define what you can do that round. You can tax or spend, expand or maneuver. Players get their cards back only when they've used all eight. It's not a huge hit like Room 25 is for me, but it's definitely good and something I want to play again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2017: First Game Played, Goals for the Year

I think that the first game played in a new year is critical. It sets the tone for the rest of the year in a lot of ways. In 2016, it was Ultimate Warriorz.

To kick off Game Night in 2017, we played Deus with the expansion.

I think it was a great way to start the new year.

So here are my goals for the year:
  1. Keep on being awesome.
  2. Acknowledge to myself that I am awesome.
  3. Play games.
  4. Write about games.
  5. Photograph games.
  6. 3D print things.
  7. Photograph some of that 3D printed stuff.
Not a long list, really. And it doesn't include my seekrit projects (which aren't due this year anyhow).

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2017: What I'm Looking Forward To

It's still crazy-early in the year - and many of the things I'm going to list here are already out in some areas (including mine), I just haven't played them, yet.

But here are a few things I'm really looking forward to playing this year:

Room 25 Ultimate - Room 25 is one of my favorite games. Especially when paired with Season 2, which adds a lot to play without significantly increasing the complexity of the game.  Room 25 Ultimate is the base game and the Season 2 expansion in one box. The rules have been laid out slightly differently, and there are some very minor rules tweaks (that improve the game by quite a bit), but I will be bringing this to every game gathering I'm involved with. Because I want to play it more.

Room 25: Escape Room - As if a re-release of the base game and expansion in one box wasn't enough, there is a new expansion coming with new rooms and new modes of play. This one should be available in May, according to a comment from the publisher on BoardGameGeek.

Cyclades: Monuments - Cyclades will always be a special game for me. I first played a prototype of the game a year before its release. The base game was the first time my wife and I both worked together on an English translation. And it's a really good game, which always helps. The Hades expansion drastically reduced the "stockpile money and then cycle creatures with Zeus until you get Pegasus so you can win the game" strategy that dominated play with just the base game. The Titans expansion made for a radically different style of play. This looks like it'll shake things up in a different way. It makes deciding which buildings to construct more important.

Barony: Sorcery - Barony is a game that I worked on a few years ago. It's a good game that is more challenging than its rules would suggest. It's simple to play - you only have six available actions, and so you're fairly constrained in what you can do. Sorcery adds a fifth player and a few more action types. Even if you strip the magic option, that fifth player has potential to radically shake the strategy for this game up. I love this game with four, in large part because of how challenging the strategy becomes. I can't wait to see what it's like with five.

Deus: Egypt - Deus was a pleasant surprise a few years ago. We showed up at GenCon and ... there it was. It was fairly simple to learn, and the strategy was not hard to puzzle out. A very good entry to tableau-building games.  Deus: Egypt is a new set of cards to add to the base game. Or, rather, to exchange with cards from the base game. They are more complex than the base game cards, but not drastically so. EDIT: Between writing this and its going live, I had the opportunity to play this expansion, and it's as good as I'd hoped it would be.

Inis - Inis is a big-box Matagot game. And it's already available and/or in stock in most areas. I just don't have my copy yet, but Matagot seems to do really good big box games. See also Giants, Cyclades, and Kemet. This is area control with a Celtic flavor.

Captain Sonar - This was the most-talked-about game at GenCon and Essen last year. It's an eight-player strategy game that is unique. Matagot managed to find a style of game that is completely unlike anything else on the market. I've seen a few reviews of this that weren't glowing, but most have been very positive. It's a team game where your goal is to find and sink the enemy submarine before they do the same to you. Every player has a different role to fill. The captain tells the ship where to go, the Engineer tries to keep it running. The radio operator listens to the other team.  It's a bit chaotic, honestly, but chaotic and bad are two different things.

Hyperborea: Light & Shadow - This should come as no surprise to anyone who's gamed with me in person.  Hyperborea is a fantastic bag-builder and a personal favorite. A lot of people compared it to Orleans when both came out the same year, but have played both, I can attest that they are very different games. This expansion adds two new colors of cube to the game, as well as throwing in artifacts and some additional racial powers. Unfortunately, it's unclear if this will get wider release - the initial print run sold well at Essen, and then the remaining copies were sent to Uplay.it - an Italian game retailer. Currently, they are the only way to get a copy, and it's very expensive for what it is (I received my copy last week, so I speak from a position of experience here). It was around $50 for black cubes, white cubes, replacement red cubes, and three sheets of die-cut cardboard.

... huh.  Most of what I'm looking forward to is expansions. Again. Almost like I really enjoy the games I play and just want a bit more variety occasionally to keep them fresh.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Holidays

So.  This is 2017.

I hope the end of your 2016 went well. If you celebrate holidays, I hope they were pleasantly spent with friends and/or family.

Mine went well. I gave my copy of PitchCar Mini to my nephews, because it hadn't hit the table since 2009. They love it. I got to play a few games with them, too. It was a ton of fun and reminded me why I enjoy that game so much.

We also bought Looping Louie for them. Because fun is fun.

I received Shogun.  The Big Box edition. I've really enjoyed Shogun for a while.  The Big Box includes the expansion.

For New Year's Eve, we went to Fantasium. I'm slowly getting to know the crew of regulars there, and it was the first time they've done a NYE thing. We played Ice Cool and Patchwork. Patchwork was the last game I played in 2016.

We had a great time, and I'm looking forward to next year's event.

I also received a package containing a couple of games, and I'm told there is another package due soon. I have a few guesses what's in that second package, but I'll let you know when it arrives.

... and a friend came over and we burned some 2016 calendars.  It was oddly cathartic.

I have not played my First Game Of 2017, yet.  I deliberately chose to save that for game night tonight. Because the best games are shared with those you are close to.