Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Legend of the Five Rings

Some of you know this already, but there's a new Legend of the Five Rings game in town. Instead of being a collectible (or trading) card game, it's now a living card game.

What's the difference?

Barrier to entry. In theory.

Instead of random packs, when you buy a Living Card Game, you get the same cards in every pack. No more buying 600 booster packs in hope of getting that one rare card. Now you just buy the pack that has the card(s) you want.

So you buy a $40 starter to get going, and then it's $15 per month to keep up.

That's great! Right?

FFG has historically done a pretty good job with these. The Game of Thrones game was solid. Netrunner has fans, too. With good reason. They also did a Star Wars one for a while (EDIT: Star Wars: The Card Game is still a thing, apparently).

But there is a significant frustration with Legend of the Five Rings, and it has to do with the contents of the box.

L5R is set in the land of Rokugan. Rokugan is dominated by seven major clans, and the core set has cards for each of them. It's understandable - L5R fans are very vocal about dedication to their clan of choice, and leaving one (or more) of the clans out would have led to a major hue and cry.

There's already been some of this crying, as the core set doesn't allow for ronin/unaligned decks. Or monk decks. Or minor clan decks. Or Shadowlands decks. Or nezumi or naga or ...

Honestly, I don't have an issue with most of that. I expect we'll see all of these decks in expansions later. Storyline wonks will probably remember that the first edition of the card game didn't include Scorpions - they were added later, as they revealed themselves in the storyline.

Oh - right.  FFG has rebooted the storyline, too. I'm not sure where we are compared to the original timeline, though, because the presence of Scorpions has thrown me off. There are people who have issues with that, too, of course.

None of these decisions are necessarily bad. Including all seven Clans gives new players the chance to see what they like. That's good. It means the game is more approachable for new players.

The cards, by the way, look great. The included rules are (mostly) clear (more on this in a few). And it has two small training decks pre-designed. You can easily modify these training decks by swapping out all of the Lion for Dragon or the Crane for Unicorn or ... whatever. They're not great decks, but they'll get you through a training game or two so you can figure out where you want to focus your energies.

Here's the big problem, though:

The game includes deck construction rules. You need a minimum of 40 cards in each of two different decks. You are allowed to use any cards from your clan and any neutral cards in your deck at no cost.  You can add a second clan's cards to one of your decks, but there are limits on how many of them you can use.

There aren't enough cards in the box to create a tournament-legal deck. Even if you use all of the neutral cards in there, you can't build even one complete playable tournament-legal deck. You need to buy a second core set - which includes sets of cards that you probably aren't going to want to use. It's close, too. It's about ten cards shy. I think I'd be less irked if it were further off and this were billed as a "learn to play" set.

That's not just irritating. That's not even a minor thing. That's a huge issue. Suddenly this $40 buy-in has become an $80 buy-in. And that's just to hit the minimum level for tournament play. Serious players will need three starters for $120.

Once the first expansion drops the first week of November, you will probably still need a second core set. The first wave of expansions (they're releasing six expansions in six weeks - that is, "Instead of $15 per month, it'll be $90 in two months to keep up) also introduce the Imperial faction. So there will be cards in every pack that are Imperial. So assume they're introducing  cards evenly for each Clan.  Each pack has three each of 20 unique cards.  So I'm guessing that'd be ... two for each Clan, and three for the Imperials. That's already seventeen out of twenty slots. Leaving three neutral cards. But there are fourteen cards that they've already "spoiled." Two from each Clan. And half of those are going to be banned cards in organized play before they are even released.

Realistically, I think that they should have pushed the price point by $5 to be able to include enough cards that buyers would have a playable tournament-legal deck. And a full rulebook (more on this in a moment). This would not necessarily be a good deck or a competitive deck, mind you. But still a playable tournament-legal deck.  The other option would be different packaging - a base set that is 100% neutral, sold alongside clan-specific boosters. Or two-clan starters that - again - are playable right out of the box. Or do what FRPG and AEG did with the collectible game and release clan-specific starters that are playable as soon as you open them.

Why does "tournament-legal" matter?  Because even casual players tend to build to tournament-legal standards. When I still played Magic: the Gathering, we built tournament-legal decks for casual play. In fact, I've never played a deck for any game that wasn't tournament-legal, unless it was solely for teaching the game. Because almost every casual player wants to be a tournament player, even if they never sign up for a single event.

Remember when I said I'd get back to the rules?  There's a notable issue with the rulebook: It's not in the box. There is a "learn to play" booklet, which will get you up and running, but for complex timing issues (and tournament play), you need to go to their website and download the 30-page rules "reference" that they created and chose not to include in the core box. And that rules reference? It's not printer-friendly and there is no printer-friendly version available.

I know that any rulebook for a card game is going to be art-heavy - and I'm okay with that. But a version without the background would be very welcome, because ink and toner are not cheap.  Not even close.

I have one core set right now. I need to play the demo decks a bit before I make up my mind whether or not it's worth spending a significant amount of money before I can actually play the game with my friends.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Another Kickstarter To Check Out

I don't know if you guys know this already or not, but I actually really like Dungeon Crawl Classics. In theory. I've not gotten it to the table, yet.

It's designed to be a game with an old school feel. A high degree of lethality is built into its core assumptions, and the "character funnel" where players start with half a dozen farmers and townsfolk who die off like crazy until someone gains a level and becomes the full-fledged PC is completely unique.

One thing that DCC did to keep that feeling of newness was to reject the (by now) standard sets of dice. Instead, the system uses a different collection that includes the d5, d7, d14, d16, d24, and d30. It hearkens back to when anything other than a d6 was new and weird.

Most of the DCC dice I've seen were made by Impact! Miniatures. They're good people who do good work, and they're always trying to push the envelope when it comes to dice designs.

The Impact! team have a new Kickstarter project to launch four new types of dice - a d17, d19, d26, and d28. These guys have created a number of projects, some of which I've backed, and they've always delivered (and on time, too).

Even if you're not interested in the new dice, you can use this project to get sets of DCC dice for less than you can find them elsewhere. And they're good dice, too.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Modern Art

I firmly believe that every single human being on the planet is very good at at least one game. Whether or not they are interested in that game or - honestly - ever even encounter that game is another question entirely.

For me, that game is Modern Art. The game's been through a couple of publishers - it was originally published in German by Hans im Gl├╝ck in 1992. Mayfair Games published an English-language version in 1996, and again in 2004. And this year, CMON tossed their hat into the ring. In between, it's been published in several languages by a bunch of different publishers.

Many (most, even) of these publishers have used new art.

Modern Art is a Knizia game. This means that it's mathematically sound. A lot of people dislike Knizia because his games often almost play themselves. This does not. This is an auction game, so players need to interact with each other, and that interaction can be unpredictable.

I first encountered this game in about 2001, when I was starting to spin away from RPGs and into board games again, and I'm very glad I did. This was one of those rare games that instantly clicked for me. Everything made sense.

Rules-wise, it's pretty simple. There are a handful of artists whose works are being auctioned off. Players are museum buyers whose goal is to make the most money by selling their works while simultaneously buying other works.

Each card represents one work from a specific artist, and each indicates what type of auction will be held for that piece. There are five types of auctions - free-for-all, once around, fixed price, closed fist, and companion pieces. The actual names vary depending on the edition and translation of the game. A free-for-all is a traditional auction with players bidding against one another.  Once around means that each player bids (or passes) once (and only once) in turn. A fixed price auction is really just a sale. In a closed fist auction, each player secretly bids by hiding money in their hand with a simultaneous reveal. Companion pieces aren't sold on their own - if you play one, you'll generally want to play it with a second piece from the same artist.  That second piece determines what type of auction it will be.

Companion pieces, by the way, are the one rule that I can find that's changed over the various editions.  If Player A plays a companion piece and can't (or chooses not to) play a second, then the next player clockwise can play the second piece from that artist. In the original German, the second player gets all the money from that auction. In the first Mayfair edition, the two players split the money from that auction (I don't know if it was changed for the second Mayfair edition).  In the new CMON edition, it's back to the original German rule.

The round ends as soon as a fifth card from any artist hits the table, and then players determine what each artist's paintings are worth. At the end of the round, all art purchased that round is sold to the bank. Only the three artists who sold the most works are worth points. The other artwork is worth $0. So bid wisely.

Artists who sell more works are worth more money at the end of the round. Artists who are in the top three for multiple rounds get to stack that value, so the best-selling artist in round one will always be worth more money if they're a best-seller in later rounds.

There are four rounds. After the fourth round, players total their money and the player with the most wins.

It's an interesting game - you want to sell art for as much money as possible. So you want people to think that the art you are selling will be the most popular art in the round. At the same time, you want to buy art as cheaply as possible - and you want the art that you buy to be the most popular art of the round. It means that you want to buy art for artists that you have cards for in hand, so that you can increase the value of what you've bought. But you also really want to sell art that will be worthless at the end of the round, because that's money in your pocket that your opponents aren't getting back.

It's a tricky game with a great deal of player interaction and not a lot of downtime. It's smart, it's fairly quick-playing, and it's just plain awesome. I heartily recommend this one.

As an added bonus, I'm really really good at it. I won't claim to be undefeated, but I'm close. This is the one game in my collection that people who game often with me will refuse to play because I win so consistently.

Have I mentioned, lately, that CMON is killing it with their game releases lately? Because they are. I haven't seen a dud from them in a while, now. Fantastic job, guys. Keep that up.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Powerchords

Remember two weeks ago when I mentioned Powerchords as a project that was much-delayed but where I wasn't going to harangue the project creator?

It was my longest-delayed Kickstarter project.

But the PDF arrived on the 16th and has since been released for purchase on DTRPG. I'd held off on posting about this last week, because I was hoping I'd have time to read it before posting about it, but there's just no way.

I'm still waiting for a print copy, but this has kinda knocked me off my step. Because I'd almost given up on this one.

I'm still reading it, but what I've seen so far is pretty good. It's not amazing, it's not earth-shattering, but it's solid. Solid enough that I would use this in an urban fantasy game. Not as a standalone, mind you, but most of that is because it's mostly systemless.

Either way, for those of you waiting for long-delayed or forgotten Kickstarter projects, this release is proof that completion is possible.

And there's a three-part post-mortem that's worth reading.  Part 1 is here.

Notable in the post-mortem? No excuses. No finger-pointing.  A lot of what is in there are things that experienced backers now see as "classic" crowdfunding pitfalls, but it's still very much worth the read if you have time to do so.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Star Trek Adventures Again!

I've now had a chance to play Star Trek Adventures, and I am pleased to report that my fears (what few they were) were (mostly) groundless.

The game isn't perfect, don't get me wrong, but it flowed reasonably well and it felt like Star Trek.  That second one is the more important qualifier for me.

Here's where I nitpick the game, though:

  1. The game mentions Communication Officers, but it's not clear which Attribute or Discipline is used for communicating (or languages).  The "Learn a new language" that's in the career events table uses Command, which makes sense, but Communications Officers are Ops Officers. Ops is Security and Engineering, neither of which is a perfect fit for Communications. Especially if they use Command. As to Attribute, I'm likely to go with Insight for learning from scratch and Reason for remembering a language you used to speak.
  2. The adventure that is included in the book starts with a roll that has no consequences for failure. If it were a Difficulty 0 roll, that'd make sense, but it's Difficulty 2. I patched this by deciding that a successful roll would put the party closer to their objective (giving them more time in the timed parts of the adventure and cutting out one or more of the combat bits, as appropriate). I understand that it's (realistically) probably there so that players have a shot at picking up some Momentum early, but that's not explained.
  3. I raised the question on the RPG.net forums of "Why Bajorans?" - the game doesn't support Bajoran characters very well. There aren't any good Upbringing options for them, and Bajor isn't a part of the Federation. The answer I got ("We know a lot about Bajorans and they're an interesting and popular part of the setting") made sense, but what didn't make sense is why there aren't Lifepath options tailored to them.
  4. A few things are trickier than they appear in character generation. For example, each Species in the game has one or more Talents that are only available to members of that Species. Several of my players took all of those Talents, not realizing that they're optional (except for Betazoids). And then they tried to take additional Talents at each step in the lifepath that grants them. In reality, being a member of one of these species just adds that Talent to the list you can choose from. Also, there's one part of Finishing Touches that caught most of us. There's a paragraph at the end of the section on Attributes that tells players to spend two more points on Attributes. There's a similar paragraph for Disciplines.
Again, though, it was fun. We had a good group of enthusiastic players. I didn't give some players enough of a chance to shine, and I also should have had them introduce their characters before we started, but that's on me. The next session will be better.

And the adventure, despite a few oddities, felt like Star Trek. And did a decent job of hand-holding people through the system's basics.

After the game finished for the night, I dug out my Mutant Chronicles book to compare, and ... it's like a completely different system. STA has six Attributes, MC has eight. MC has a fairly deep skill list, and each skill has multiple abilities that are connected to it. STA adds Values to the game, which help define the character as more than what's on the sheet. MC tracks encumbrance and carrying capacity and ... it's like comparing a bulldozer to a steamroller. Sure, they're both things you use when building a road, but they do different things and can't be realistically compared to one another in any meaningful way.

Then I dug out my copy of the new 2d20 Conan game, and it was different from either of the other two. Closer to Mutant Chronicles, yes, but still different (and not cross-compatible).

The lack of cross-compatibility is a little bit annoying, to be honest. I was hoping to use MC monsters or Conan spells to represent various species and powers and abilities in STA. I still can, it'll just take some work.

All in all, this is definitely a line I will be supporting (with the exception of the books that Skarka has worked on), and I'm very much looking forward to playing more.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Back To The Table Again

I am of the opinion that that you should not let games in your collection stagnate.  Go back and dig out some of those games that haven't seen the table in a while and see if they've held up.

Last weekend, I had a chance to do exactly that. I dug out Pix. And I'm glad I did.

Pix was part of a rush of "drawing games for people who can't draw" that hit a few years back. It was a good time, honestly, because I can't draw.  Pix also hit when 8-bit nostalgia was peaking.

Pix is a bit overproduced. Players are each given a magnetic board, twenty black magnets, one red magnet, and a small red carat/arrow magnet. The magnetic boards are color-coded, because two players will be interpreting each word.  And everybody "draws" simultaneously.

Everybody.

So in a six-player game, there are three words that need guessing.

You "draw" by placing the magnets (called "pixels") onto the grid on your magnetic board.  Once someone finishes their drawing, they call, "PIXEL!" and flip a timer.  Everyone else has until time runs out to finish their drawing.

Then you start with the player who flipped the timer. They and their color-matched opponent (who drew the same word) compare pixel counts. Each black pixel is one pixel, the red pixel is four pixels. The arrow is worth two pixels (and doesn't have to be on the grid).  Lowest total goes first - they flip their board (and the timer) while the other players try to guess the word.

If they succeed, the artist and the person who guessed correctly each get a point.  If they don't, the other player with the same word flips their art (and the timer) and people get to keep guessing.  If someone guesses it on the second piece of art, then both artists (and the correct guesser) gets a point.  If they still can't figure it out, the card has a one-word hint that can be given. At this point, only a correct guesser will score points.

You then proceed to the next word, and the next, and the next.  And then you'll deal out a new card to each set of players to draw.

The game plays for three rounds. Most points at the end of three rounds wins the game.

It's a unique experience. I don't have any games that are similar (Lego Creationary is the closest I can think of). And it's just ... fun.

The game isn't flawless, however. The word list has a few words that are crazy.  Like "Chalet." I'd never guess that word. Not in a million years. I'm sure it's more commonly used in Europe than it is in the US, but ... wow.

It's also worth noting for Americans that the game is European (Swiss), so the clue for the word "Goalkeeper" is "Football," for example. Whereas we'd call it "Soccer." There are a few other similar "gotcha" words hidden here-and-there throughout. This isn't a problem, it's just something that players should be aware of. When we played last weekend, I didn't read the clue as "Football," I read, "Soccer" to the other players.

Word list aside, however, it's worth tracking this one down. It's a fun game and it plays fairly quickly - and it supports up to nine (!) players.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Feet To The Fire

I try to use this blog to write about things I love. Highlight the good in our little community of gamers. Show off awesome games and say great things about good people.  But I can't do that this week.

A couple of weeks ago, we passed the sixth anniversary of the funding Far West on Kickstarter.

For those of you who aren't aware, Far West has become the poster child for poorly-run Kickstarter projects. Six years, no game. And the author/designer/publisher has given more than a few release dates, all of which have (obviously) been broken.

So I tweeted about it on the anniversary, which led to this conversation:


I took this screencap from Tenkar's Tavern. I couldn't grab it on my own, because Skarka blocked me on Twitter. Which is fine - that's his right. His Twitter, he decides what appears in his feed and what notifications he receives. If I cared enough to check, I could open Incognito Mode or Private Browsing or whatever and read his tweets that way.  But - honestly - the only thing I care about from Skarka right now is Far West. And, even that, I don't care about that much.

Here's the thing, though: Far West isn't my most-delayed or latest Kickstarter project.  That honor goes to Powerchords. But I'm not holding Phil Brucato's feet to the fire the same way I am Skarka for a few key reasons:

  1. Brucato has never failed to treat his backers with respect. I'm sure he's had bad days, and I've a hunch he's bitched about us from time-to-time in private or to friends. And that's fine. But it's never spilled over into his comments or updates.
  2. If you ping Brucato by e-mail, he responds with an update (by e-mail). Yes, he needs to update the Kickstarter, but the fact that he is willing to fill us in is significant.
  3. If I were to ask Brucato for a refund, I would get it. I asked Skarka for a refund, and was turned down. I ended up going to my local attorney general, and managed to get a partial refund. 

Far West isn't the only project that has been delayed by its creator's illness, either. Lee Garvin, author of Tales from the Floating Vagabond spent some time in a coma. But he's kept his backers more-or-less updated and has kept his spirits up. And he's treated his backers with respect.

What baffles me is how many people in the gaming industry are being apologists for Skarka. Sean Patrick Fannon, for example, responded to my anniversary tweet with this:


So I guess I won't be buying Savage RIFTS after all. In fact, I'm a lot less likely to buy any Savage Worlds product because of this kind of attitude. See, I believe in getting what I've paid for. It's a quirk, I guess.

Skarka will argue until the cows come home that we "backed a process, not a product." And he'll highlight that Kickstarter T&C have changed. And they have. They're less restrictive than they were. They used to required the project creator to complete their project and ship the promised goods. Now they only require that the project creator do their best and issue refunds if they can't complete the project.

Their guidelines that were live during the project included this paragraph:
All projects must offer rewards. Kickstarter is not a general fundraising site, it’s a form of commerce and patronage. If you’re not viewing rewards as core to your project, Kickstarter may not be for you. Please note that raffles, discounts, coupons, financial returns, and investment offers are prohibited.
That's right: According to Kickstarter themselves, this is a form of commerce and patronage. Commerce and patronage. Commerce, of course, is "the exchange of currency, goods, and/or services for other currency, goods, and/or services." Other definitions suggest that it's "the activity of buying and selling." At present, Skarka's backers have given him currency and have received scorn, excuses, and arguments. And, of late, silence.
At the time, their FAQ also included this:

Who is responsible for making sure project creators deliver what they promise?
Every creator is responsible for fulfilling the promises of their project. Because projects are primarily funded by the friends, fans, and communities around its creator, there are powerful social forces that keep creators accountable. Creators are also encouraged to post regular updates about the progress of their project post-funding — communication goes a long way.

"Powerful social forces" would suggest that Kickstarter believes that a project creator's peers would hold them accountable. But they're not.

Last week, I wrote about Star Trek Adventures and how excited I am for the game in general (and the one I'm running in specific).  I almost didn't buy in at all, because Modiphius has hired Skarka to work on the line.  As it is, I won't be buying any of the products that Skarka worked on, because I vote with my wallet. Skarka will not be receiving a nickel from me (even indirectly) until Far West is released. This makes him unique on my personal boycott list for a couple of reasons:

  1. He's the only individual on the list. Ever. I won't buy Palladium Books product, but I won't single out any PB employees or freelancers and refuse to buy their work from other publishers. Update: my good friend James reminded me of a couple of individuals who are on the list that is forgotten about, so disregard this point.
  2. It's the only item on my list with a set end condition. Most of the companies on the list are there until they "change their anti-fan behavior," which is vague and subjective. "Until Far West is released" is oddly specific.

Modiphius has stated publicly that they'll make it known which products he worked on, so I don't have to worry about buying a book and then finding out later that he'd worked on it, which is a relief.

Had he treated his backers with respect or even given me a full refund when I requested it, I wouldn't be carrying this grudge now. I was a $75 backer. now I'm a $10 backer - but it's past the point of money for me. Now it's principle.

I backed Far West because I was a fan of Skarka's work. Hong Kong Action Theatre! had some very interesting ideas about the intersection of character and role. UnderWorld was ahead of its time in a lot of ways. It was urban fantasy before urban fantasy was as explosively popular as it is now. But after this fiasco, I will never buy Adamant Entertainment product again. Or the product of any future publishing companies that Skarka creates when Adamant eventually fails.

I'm only one person. I only have one wallet. And there's not a large crowd reading this - I have no illusions. I'm a small blog in a small corner of the internet. Honestly, my personal boycott is not likely to be noticed by Modiphius or Evil Hat or Cubicle 7. Well, noticed in their bottom line - it was (partially because of) my posting on Twitter that got Modiphius to disclose which products Skarka worked on.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Star Trek Adventures

It hasn't come up much, here, but I am a huge fan of Star Trek.  When I was younger, I was very much the stereotypical Trekkie. I was rarely found without at least one Star Trek novel in my backpack, I could ID a dozen or so classes of starship (both Federation and hostile), and I could rattle off numbers and statistics and trivia like nobody's business.  I was obsessed.

So it's appropriate that the first RPG book I ever owned was for FASA's old Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game. The book was the Star Trek: The Next Generation Officer's Manual, and I owned it long before I owned a copy of the game. I didn't even know it was a game book (and neither did my parents, or I would never have acquired it ...).

One of my first gaming experiences was with FASA's game. I won't say it was a good game, but it wasn't bad. We were handed pregens by the GM, and we went from there into a more-or-less typical D&D-style hack-and-slash adventure with phasers instead of crossbows and Klingons instead of orcs and so on.  It was oddly dissatisfying even at the time, because this isn't what Star Trek was about.

A few years later, I acquired a copy of the game, and I even ran a few brief campaigns. I tended to base the campaign premises off of some of the novels (which still, I think, was not a bad idea - depending on the novel). One of my favorite games was set on the USS Excalibur (before the M-5 insident as seen in "The Ultimate Computer"), and I based it on the novel The Abode of Life (which I need to re-read to see if it's held up as well as I remember).

I loved character generation in the game. The guided lifepath was a great way to handle it, and it allowed for a great deal of diversity in characters (and skill levels). I read somewhere that Gene Roddenberry also really liked the lifepath process, and made it a condition of the license for future Star Trek roleplaying games.

Fast forward a decade or so, and Last Unicorn released Star Trek: The Next Generation Roleplaying Game. Mechanically, it was very different from the old FASA game. Its production values were very different. Instead of three little blue books, it was one glossy hardcover book that was quite a bit thicker than the three blue books combined. And it still had a lifepath for character generation. They also published a Deep Space Nine game, and a classic 'Trek version.

I never actually got to play LUG's version of the game. The friend who was going to run a campaign dropped off the face of the earth before the campaign started. And then the license expired and someone else picked up the ball and ran with it.

Decipher, who I knew from the TNG collectible card game, had snagged the license after LUG was bought by WotC and lost it. Decipher's Trek was similar to LUG's in presentation, but it was two hardcovers (at first), one for players and one for the GM. It still had a lifepath, but the system was almost d20, only with multiple d6s instead of a single d20. I bought it. I read it. I ... wasn't interested in playing it. It just ... didn't feel right.

Last year, Modiphius announced that they had acquired the license. They did a huge open playtest (that I did not participate in), and early reviews were ... pretty good.  So I did a bit of research, and I discovered that they'd be using their house system - the 2d20 system.

I grabbed Mutant Chronicles (another universe that I have a deep fondness for), and started to learn the system. And I was ... nervous. The 2d20 system has a lot of moving pieces, with multiple player currencies in play.  I didn't understand how this system was getting such rave reviews for Star Trek.

I backed Conan on Kickstarter, and it's that same system. And Conan was ... okay. Not amazing, not game-breaking. Still a bit clunky with all those currencies to keep track of. My fear for Star Trek grew. But I resolved to pre-order anyhow.

When the pre-order went lived, we bought in that first day. GM Screen + limited-edition core book.  A short time later, we had the PDF (because Modiphius is really good at getting the PDF out there). And I read the PDF. Devoured the PDF.

It's still recognizably the 2d20 system, but it's both streamlined and altered. Where Mutant Chronicles has a sizable skill list, Star Trek Adventures has six skills, and they related to the various departments found on a starship - Command, Conn, Medical, Science, Security, and Engineering. Want your character's stats to be more detailed than that? Use a Focus to narrow it down.

This change streamlines the system quite a bit, and, at the same time, results in the sort of hypercompetent characters you tend to see in Star Trek.

Star Trek Adventures also added character values. They're almost like Aspects in Fate - they define your character, and you can pull a couple of mechanical tricks with them, too. This increases the feel of Star Trek. It means that the game is about your characters' beliefs and goals and - yes - values, just like the TV series and movies have been.

The more I drilled into the PDF, the more excited I got. Your ship is treated like another character, with its own separate character generation process. You're not limited to the eight PC species included in the core book, and they give a few guidelines for creating your own species. It's simple enough to homebrew ship classes that you find elsewhere.

There are still a few currencies for players to keep track of - they can spend Momentum or add Threat to the GM's pool or spend Determination on a roll, and some of these things go to party pools and some go to the GM's pool and some are just ... spent. It's not a completely intuitive system (like I'd prefer), but it's solid and seems functional without a huge number of "Gotcha" bits.

My good friend Wade went to GenCon this year, and he texted me on Thursday morning. Modiphius' first sale of the day was a copy of the core book. For me. "But Eric," I can hear you saying, "Didn't you already buy the limited edition book?"  Yes. I did. But I am a player who likes having multiple copies of the core rules at the table. That way, the GM has one to reference, and so do the players. If there's a rules question in the game, there are two sets looking for it. With PDFs, I can hand both physical copies to my players and search the PDF, resulting in three sets of eyes looking to answer questions.

The only real bad thing about Star Trek Adventures is that it's sucked me back into Star Trek fandom. And not a little bit, either. I am all the way back in. I went out to the garage and I dug out Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise, and my Star Trek Technical Manual and my Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual and half a dozen other "in universe" books with varying levels of canon compliance. I filled my Kindle with novels and novellas. And I started playing Star Trek Online (which - for the record - could do with a decent help guide for the PS4 version).

And I've decided to run a campaign again. But, looking at advancement in Star Trek Adventures, I think it'll work really well for a new-to-me structure of game. What I'm doing right now is assembling a player pool. A large one. More players than any GM ever wants around their table.  When I have an episode idea, I'll figure out when I have time to run it, and I'll send a message to my players. That message will read something like this:
Season 1, Episode 1: "Pilot, Pilot, Who's Got The Pilot?"
The Tethys' new helmsman has disappeared in transit to the ship. It's up to an away team in a runabout to follow his path and figure out what happened to him. 
This episode is for four to six players, and will be played on Date at Time.
 Then I wait.  The first six players who let me know they're available at that date and time will be the featured characters for that episode. If I don't get at least four players for that time, I go back to my calendar, figure out a different date and time, and try again.

Most of the advancement in this game is small. "Lower one number to raise another." That means that if Player A makes it to 15 sessions and Player B only makes it to two or three sessions, there won't be an overwhelming experience advantage for Player A. And it feels "in universe" accurate to have different characters featured periodically.

It also means that grown-up players with busy lives who can't make a regularly-scheduled game very often should have no problem still fitting around my table occasionally.

So thanks, Modiphius. I look forward to exploring the galaxy with you.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Good Game Stores

About a year ago, I wrote three posts about the FLGS and where they fit into gaming for many folks (especially, of course, me).

I left a couple of things out of the second article in the series, and I want to rectify that now.

Before I do this, though, I want to emphasize that I'm talking about good Local Game Stores. You'll find that, as with any industry, there are bad game stores that don't deserve your money. Even if it's the only game store in town.

Again: I'm blessed, because I live in the Greater Seattle Area, where we have a ton of good game stores. And I've been doubly-blessed because two of the best ones have been the two closest ones for a long time - first the late, lamented Phoenix and now Fantasium.

A good game store does special orders for you.  I can't call Amazon and say, "Hey, I don't see this game on your site, can you track it down for me?" If it's not on their site, I can't order it. But when I go to Fantasium, I can ask them, "I don't see on the shelf - is that something you can get?"

The same applies to pre-orders. I can call Fantasium and tell them, " is releasing in a few months. Can you get one in for me?" And they will.  I can't do that with most online retailers. Of course, a game-focused online retailer (like Funagain) will often put things up for pre-order as soon as pricing is announced.

In fact, Fantasium's special order system is the best FLGS special order process I've ever experienced in a game store. I suspect that this is because Fantasium was a comic book shop first, and then grew into being both a comic book shop and a game store.

The most important thing that a good game store does, though, is that is good game store becomes family.  I'll admit that I'm not as close with Paula and Rachel and Brian and Sarah and the rest of the Fantasium crew as I was to Brian at Phoenix. But I'm getting there. Slowly.

They smile when they see me, and they notice when I'm not there for Beer & Board Games. Which is good. I was in the other day picking up some sleeves, and Paula mentioned that they'd been missing me on Saturdays (I've been roleplaying on Saturdays). It was a fantastic feeling to know that I'd been specifically missed.

And it doesn't feel like a generic retail smile. It doesn't feel like they miss my money. It feels like they miss me. I've spent time chatting with Brian about Guild Ball (which you really should play if you haven't).

Gaming is one of my personal stability anchors. When I have a rough day, I don't go to a bar. I go to a game store because the people there understand me and can communicate with me in ways that no-one else can.

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.