Wednesday, June 13, 2018

That Random Element Again

I know I've discussed this before, but it's time to talk about randomness again.

Every game has at least some random element. Every game.  Yes, even chess. Sometimes that random element is resolved before play starts.  In chess, it comes down to "Which player will take white and thus play first?"  Because it does make a difference.

And I don't hate the random element.  I really don't.

I'll often say that a game is "too random," when discussing it with friends - that just means that (for me), there is too much luck and not enough skill in play.

I like games where - over the long term - skill will trump luck.

I actually enjoy Risk once in a while (although there are a ton of better variants like Castle Risk or Risk Europe or even Risk Legacy).  There is a skill component there - knowing when and where to push or reinforce is huge.

For the record: My wife is significantly better at the game than I am. Regardless of version.

I absolutely love Empires in Arms, too. It's a fantastic game. If you have the time and a group invested in playing.

In both cases, though, my fondest memories aren't "and then I outmaneuvered him!" but "And then the dice did this crazy thing!"

Like that one troop in Kamchatka who successfully defended the province from forty-seven attackers that one time and almost cost Steve the game because he refused to stop pushing.

Or when my Turkish Feudal Corps managed to break the morale of the attacking British army.  Yes, part of that was choosing tactics well, but if the dice had been even a little bit different, I'd have been slaughtered.

And I think that's part of why I don't object to a degree of randomness.

The skill factor in a game keeps me coming back so that I can improve. There is a reward for repeated play (above and beyond 'getting to play games with my friends'): Improved skill, which leads to more wins down the road.

But skill doesn't always make for good stories. Or even interesting stories. When two opponents are well-matched, skill-based games either become stalemates or they get very swingy. Stalemates are dull to watch. So are games where the last player to take a turn is always the one in the lead, because "Who's winning?" should never be the same question as "Whose turn is it?" And that ... happens.

At the same time, games that are 100% pure luck with no skill will occasionally have those fun stories. Like the game of Fluxx that ended after a turn because the starting player had a Goal, both Keepers for that Goal, and a "Play All" card in their opening hand.

Side note: Best game of Fluxx ever. I never even had to take a turn.

I've played some really good games, lately.  Over the next few posts (which could be weeks or even months at my current rate of posting), I'm going to talk about some of the games I've played and how they balance luck and skill. And why I think it's well (or poorly) balanced in that regard. I'm not only going to talk about the luck/skill balance, mind you, because there is so much more to a game than that.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich

Do you want to know what the best breakfast sandwich I have ever eaten was?

Of course you do.  That's why you come to my blog, right? All cooking all the time.

Start with a croissant. Warm it up. Toast it slightly so that it's crispy and flaky on the outside and buttery-smooth and warm on the inside.  Cut it in half like it was a hamburger bun.  Slather both sides with cream cheese. Use just a bit more cream cheese than you would on a bagel.

One one side, put a couple of strips of bacon. The bacon should still be warm, and I (personally) like it crispy.

On the other side, put a couple of sausage links. Again: they should be still warm. If you want the maple-infused links, those work, but it's fine with just about any links.

Put the top half onto the bottom half and dig in.

Right now, there are really three groups of people who are responding mentally to that sandwich.

The first group is drooling a bit and vowing to try that some time.
The second group is curious and may try it, but it doesn't sound like the best sandwich of all time.
The third group is frothing at the mouth.  Why would you put CREAM CHEESE on that?

The point is this:

Not everyone likes the same things. For me, that is - seriously - one of the best things to eat in the mornings. I don't do it very often, because I like having a functional heart. But once in a while ... mmmmmmmm.

I hate Fluxx. It's a terrible excuse for a game that can run ten minutes or ten hours. The skill element of play is so minimal as to be basically absent. It's an excellent meta-discussion of "What is a game?" but it is not, itself, actually a game.

I don't like Munchkin as a game - the cards are fun to read occasionally. The art is amusing. The game sucks. It's dull and it drags and the last half of the game is everyone doing their best to beat down the leader.

Both of these games are runaway successes. Huge victories for their publishers - to the point where these games are largely why those publishers have survived. This fact actually makes me very thankful that not everyone has the same tastes I do, because I want more Icehouse games. I want more GURPS books. I want to see what Looney Labs and Steve Jackson Games are going to put out next.

So when I say something negative about a game you like, it's not an attack on you. If I sneered at everyone who like Fluxx, I'd be all out of friends in near-record time.

By all means: Continue buying games I don't like. Play them. Have fun with them.  Please. Because even games I don't like support games that I do like. And more games are always a good thing for someone.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Old Thumb Drive

I recently stumbled across an old thumb drive of mine.  It was acquired as a gift at a time when thumb drives were rare and expensive, and is all of 128 MB in size. And it's an interesting snapshot of where I was about a decade ago.

There is a folder called "Asmodee Games" and that, in turn, has subfolders for BonQ (released in the US as Good Question!), Ca$h'n Gun$ (the first edition), three different Dungeon Twister expansions, Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga, Wicked Witches Way, Hell Dorado, Iliad, and Mission: Red Planet (first edition).

There's a folder called "DT Tournament Stuff" that is - unsurprisingly - information on running a Dungeon Twister tournament.

There's a folder called "HeroScape" that has an Excel spreadsheet listing all of the Heroscape figures that had been released to date (including a bunch of promos).  I spent way too much money on that game. Especially considering how little I played it before I gave it away.

But most interestingly to me, there is a folder called "Games by Me."  And it contains four subfolders. "Bridal Party," which is a light game about seating arrangements at a wedding (that I might polish up and make available print-and-play some time - I still like how it's turned out); "BSpot" contains is a bunch of half-complete blog posts from the time when Blogger didn't allow us to schedule posts for the future.  "Bunker," which is a half-formed asymmetric wargame that would need a ton of work to get into a playable format, and, finally, "Conquistadors," which wound up being an artifact trading game.

Of the three games, I think Bridal Party is salvageable. Maybe even almost playable - it just requires some balance.  Conquistadors needs a new name - and it's playable. But I don't remember it being fun, so I may scrap it completely.  And Bunker is a bunch of ideas in search of a game.

But the folder full of blog posts.  It has some real gems.  There's a subfolder there called "Uploaded," that contains posts that I made in ... 2006.

Have I really been at this that long?

There are a dozen or so other posts in there, all in various states of 'done.' Most of them wouldn't meet my filters these days.

At least one post contains the complete rules for yet another game. That ... could be good.  Maybe.  I think I may need to try testing it out, too.

Either way, it's interesting and eye-opening to see where I was a decade ago. Reading through these posts remind me a lot of how I've changed (mostly for the better). I'm writing better, and I'm more confident (even though I do still have occasional weak posts).  It hammers home for me something that every writing teacher and book will tell you over and over and over: keep writing. You'll get better.

Edit 5/4: Somehow this saved as a draft instead of publishing on time. Probably my bad. Oops.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What's Been Going On

So here's what's been going on that has caused my posting to be sporadic, and it's not especially organized, but here it is:

In November of last year, my wife lost her job. Steph made more on her base rate than I did on my overtime rate, so her losing her job triggered all kinds of fun anxiety and panic from me.  Thankfully, she qualified for Unemployment and we were able to stay afloat.

She was out for five months. Even with a good chunk of cash in savings, it wasn't easy. But she is now gainfully employed once again.

In December of last year, the owner of the company for which I work sold the building. It was not immediately clear if he was going to move the Seattle office or shut it down. Seeing as I was already having anxiety-related issues, this didn't help.

My office is moving, not shutting down. That move is ... not convenient.  My commute has almost exactly doubled in terms of distance, and has probably tripled or quadrupled in terms of how long it's going to take.  We're moving this weekend.

A good friend of mine passed recently, as well.  He'd had cancer, and then beaten it. And then it came back, more aggressively and in an inoperable way. His funeral is this weekend.

Steph and I are cat people. In January of 2017, our 18-year-old Ramses passed.  In August of 2017, our 18-year-old Feina passed.  We'd adopted another cat in mid-2016 to cushion the blow of one of the older two passing (because we knew they wouldn't last forever). And it helped. Daisy is the best-behaved cat I have ever met.  With Steph getting ready to go back to work, we adopted a new cat so Daisy wouldn't be bored and lonely all day.  And Daisy's first reaction was hissing and swatting - both at the new cat and at Steph and I.  That was a surprisingly emotional blow.

Daisy is getting used to the change. She's still not pleased, but she's no longer angry at Steph and I. We think.

The new cat (Nefertari) looks like Ramses and acts like Feina did (only a bit more energetic).  I'll eventually get her to hold still long enough to get a good photo.

On the gaming front, I think I'm probably done with the Demo Monkey gig. It was good while it lasted, and I met some truly awesome people while doing it, but it's a lot of work.  Instead, I'm going to focus on the game(s) I'm hosting and running. Realizing that and setting it aside was tough, because I've been a Demo Monkey for a significant chunk of my adult life.  On the other hand, maybe some day I will attend GenCon as a member of the general public instead of working.  I enjoy attending conventions (as I learned at Origins last year).

My roleplaying mostly vanished over the holidays. In fact, I roleplayed twice in November, and then there was a gap until February.  So a lack of roleplaying lined up almost exactly with Steph's unemployment.  My next few weekends are looking to be full of some fun gaming, too.

So ... yeah.  That's what's been keeping me away from the keyboard.  And I'm going to continue to be spotty here until after we figure out what the office move is going to do to my sleep schedule and things stabilize a bit.  I realized after I read my Dusk City Outlaws post a few weeks ago that I'd rather run silent than post something bad (and that post was not good - sorry, all).

I'm not giving up. I'm not walking away.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Inserts Again!

I still don't know why publishers don't release games with inserts that will hold sleeved cards. This goes double for publishers who also produce sleeves (Fantasy Flight Games, I'm looking at you, here).

Or when publishers just throw cardboard in there to provide a "channel" in the middle.

One of my favorite entry-level games of the last few years is Deus. I've probably written about it before. But the game's original insert will barely hold sleeved cards, and there is just no way that you can fit the base game and the expansion in there when both are sleeved.

As much as I love the game, by the way, the expansion has done a ton to keep it from being the same/same.

Either way, I got tired of hauling two boxes everywhere to play the game. So I bumped it to the top of my "to do" list for a custom insert.

With the expansion, there are still six colors of card - but you chose before the game starts whether you're using the base game or the expansion cards for each color. Which means that I needed to keep the cards sorted, too. Twelve small (15-ish) cards decks of cards. Which means a ton of foam core.  Too much, actually. The stack of foam core needed to sort that many decks would have been almost as thick as the decks themselves, and there is no way I would have been able to fit the rest of the game in the box.

So, even though it was at the top of the list, I had to backburner it.

And then I saw this tutorial. Yes, it's all about making boxes, but I reasoned that there wasn't any reason you couldn't use some of the same tools and techniques to also make inserts.

So I ordered some chipboard and some glue. I dug out my X-acto knife and ... realized just how much work this was going to be. Lining up twelve vertical dividers and then holding them while the glue sets would take hours. Or so I thought.

Then I remembered that I know someone who could do this. Someone whose skills with such things is nearly unparalleled. My dad.

I recently had a birthday. I don't really celebrate my birthday, but my parents do. So I asked them for a few hours of Dad's time. I explained that we'd be making box inserts and I roughly sketched out what I had in mind.  I showed him the chipboard and the glue and my first few attempts at it.

That weekend, he came by and we started work.

I should tell you a bit about my dad.  When it comes to crafting, my dad is one of the best. He draws, paints, sculpts, and sews. He does cross-stitch, reupholsters furniture, builds models, and designs jewelry. And it's not just "he does these things." He's good at these things. And that's just barely scratching the surface. He's terrifying.

First we made a basic insert for Century: Spice Road (which is fantastic and you should all own a copy). It was a pretty basic insert, but it familiarized Dad with what the chipboard was capable of.

So I dug out Deus, and explained the problem.  He grabbed some quick measurements and went right to work.


"This is really good chipboard," he told me. "I would love to have had this when I was in college. Where did you get it?"


"I like this glue," he told me. "You get that on Amazon, too?"

He had to go before we were done, but his instructions were clear enough that I was able to continue the work the next couple of days.



And, after less than an hour (not including dry time for the glue, it was starting to look like a game insert.

And then: the acid test.  "Will this fit in the box?"


And is there enough room to hold everything?


It was a win all the way around. I got a new box insert and reassurance that my techniques were good. I also got a few new techniques and ideas for future inserts. And, most importantly, I was able to spend time with Dad.

Dad got to work with his hands and do something for my birthday in a way that didn't make me uncomfortable about being the center of attention.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Dusk City Outlaws

I told you I was going to be sporadic for a bit. In a future post, I'll explain what's been going on in my day-to-day life.

I have backed fewer and fewer projects on Kickstarter. There are a ton of reasons for that, but the end result is that a project needs a really good hook to grab my attention.

Early last year, I saw a project on Kickstarter called Dusk City Outlaws. The pitch was good, and the team involved was phenomenal. John Rogers, Scott Lynch, Saladin Ahmed, and Steve Kenson are all people I am familiar with and like.  I wasn't familiar with Susan Morris at the time. The involvement of the Penny Arcade guys gave me pause.

So I dug in, and found that it was definitely interesting. So I dropped $65 in as a Day One Backer.

And then ... I forgot about it.  It funded. It delivered its PDFs.  A week or two ago, I had shipping confirmation.  I told my wife to keep her eyes open for delivery of an RPG boxed set.  I figured it'd be a digest-sized book in a slightly larger box with a couple of dice and some cards.

What I got looked more like a board game than an RPG, and the contents failed to dispel that impression - the Player's Guide was less than 30 pages and looked like an FFG rulebook. The Judge's book was similar. It included all the dice you'll need, a pad of character sheets, some Cartel and Specialty sheets, tokens, and a digest-sized setting book

The form factor was  unique enough that I decided not to just add it to my Pile of Shame. I decided to have a quick read, and I'm really glad I did.  This game is unique, and I expect it'll be a ton of fun, once it hits the table.

Mechanically, it's simple.

At Character Generation, Players choose a faction (Cartel) and then a role within that faction (Specialty). Each combo gives a character a set of skills and knowledges. Just copy that information onto a character sheet (there is a pad of them included). Some Cartels and Specialties are Rare.  You may only have one Rare character per party.

Skills are percentile, and characters have a limited pool of Luck.  Luck functions like Hit Points, but it does more than that - for example, you can spend Luck on failed rolls to turn them into successes.

The GM lays out the Job and its time limit. Players then have that time to do Legwork scenes to set up their success or Drama scenes, in which maybe something goes wrong. Every Day and Night, each player gets to take lead in one scene.

Some things that most games relegate to "background work," this puts front-and-center. One example in the book is that your characters are likely scruffy lower-class folks, so going into the richer parts of town is going to draw attention.  Most games would let you just make a Disguise roll and call it good - in Dusk City Outlaws, you'd need to spend a Legwork scene to get your disguise together. And that eats up time.

As the session goes on, characters generate Heat, which gives the GM a few more toys to play with.

There are (8-sided) Advantage Dice and (10-sided) Challenge Dice that can adjust the outcome of your rolls. Each die only has one symbol (but it appears on multiple faces). Advantages and Challenges cancel one another out. These don't change the numbers on the percentile - or its outcome - but they do other things. So you can succeed but roll a Drawback which delays you enough that the Watch realizes something is up. Or you can fail your roll, but get a Boon (you aren't able to pick the lock, but your being shadowed by the doorway means that the Watch patrol that is strolling by doesn't notice you).

So what got me to write about this one?

It was the packaging. I have a fear that RPG folk will see a board game when they look at the box (despite the words "Role-Playing Game" on the lid), and might overlook it.

I think that this has potential to be a good gateway game. I think that people who have never role-played before will be able to jump into this one with almost no problem(s). It'd be better to have an experienced GM behind the screen, but it's not necessary for this one.

All in all, I think that this game looks fantastic, and I hope to run (or play in) a one-shot sometime in the very near future.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Hugo Nominators: Get Those Nominations In Soon!

Not game-related, but I know a bunch of you that I know in the real world are eligible to nominate (and/or vote) for the Hugo Awards.  Since my online life tends to mirror my meatspace life pretty closely, it's likely that people who read this are also Hugo nominators.

The deadline to submit your nominations is in two days.  This upcoming Friday.

And no, I don't know what time.  So get your nominations in soon.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Slash Game Store

Until the last few years, I've not been a fan of what I call "Slash Game Stores."  That is, "It's a hobby-slash-game store." Which is really odd, because "pure" game stores are so much rarer than slash game stores are. But more and more, I'm learning that there are definite advantages to some of the slashes, and here are a few of the more common ones:
  1. Hobby/Game Store - These stores are really really good for miniatures gamers. They have a variety of paints, and most of them have model railroad supplies that can be used for minis terrain. As a bonus, model railroad terrain is frequently less expensive than minis terrain that was designed and built specifically to be minis terrain, too.
  2. Comic/Game Store - These shops are fantastic at special orders. There are new comics coming out every week, and so the Comic/Game store is likely to be placing weekly orders with their distributor. A good comic shop is also able to create "pull" lists for their customers, so they are already well familiar with the ability to do special orders quickly and in an organized manner.
  3. Book/Game Store - These shops are generally similar to Comic/Game stores in a lot of ways.  Interestingly, even the big book stores (Barnes & Noble, I'm looking at you, here) are starting to carry more tabletop games - and not just mass-market ones, either.
  4. Computer Parts/Game Store - I only bring this one up because of the late, lamented Nybbles & Bytes in Tacoma. Because that's what this place was.  The game section was mostly a typical gamer Clutter Hole, but they were very enthusiastic and passionate about that section of the store.
Honestly, I'm not entirely sure why I developed my dislike of slash game stores. My first game store experiences (outside of the local Waldenbooks) were All Hobbies in Puyallup (now close), O'Leary's Books in Lakewood, and Nybbles and Bytes in Tacoma.

And then Phoenix closed, and I was forced to change game stores.  I'm near Tacoma, so there are a few to choose from. I spent my time checking them out. I visited all of them - and there was a wide variety.  Several stores just ignored me until I approached the counter with product in hand. A couple of stores were clutter holes (and I've grown intolerant of those stores over the years). Some stores didn't do special orders. One or two stores had crew who stared at Steph because apparently they'd never seen a woman who games. A bunch of them didn't  host a regular board game night or do in-store demos of board games (one store even had a sign on its tables that they were for scheduled events only).

These, by the way, may be local game stores, but they're not stores I'd be willing to support.  If that's all I had, I'd throw my game money at Amazon and not feel the slightest bit guilty.

But we ended up settling in at a local comic/game store. It's the closest store to the house. The staff recognized me (by name) within a few visits. Steph feels comfortable there. It's clean and well-lit with a few demos. Their special orders are quick and painless. They host regular gaming events.

In short: I think I've gotten over myself. I think there is definitely a place for /game stores in the market (and they are sometimes going to be the best choice, even in a crowded market).

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Hitting The ... Tablet. The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game

Most of my boardgaming lately has been solo - on my Kindle Fire tablet. It helps that there are a number of really good digital versions of some fantastic board games.

A couple of years back, Steph backed The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game (DFCO) on Kickstarter. It delivered in a reasonable amount of time - late, but not obscenely so. And the game itself ... sat.  The physical version has only hit our table in solo play as I read the rules and figured it out.

It's good. It really is. And if the digital version weren't such a ridiculously faithful recreation of the physical game, I'd be doing two posts on the game - one for the physical, and one for the digital.

Because the app version was released earlier this month. It's in the Google Play Store, it's in the Apple App Store, and - relevant for me, it's in the Amazon App Store as well.

Gameplay is simple.

Here's the thing with cooperative games: They're pretty much all either crazy-random or they're puzzles that can be solved. If they can be solved, their replay value is usually low. DFCO has a random element, but that randomness is entirely at game setup.

You'll be playing a book. One of the Dresden Files books. Each book is 12 cards. A mix of cases, foes, obstacles, and advantages.  Different books have different mixes - Storm Front is 4 cases, 4 foes, 2 obstacles, and 2 advantages. Some of these have interdependencies - "When you solve this case, inflict 2 hits on this foe."  "You cannot take this Advantage until that case is solved."

These cards are shuffled and laid out in two rows of six. This order matters, and is the first random element in this game.

Then each player gets a character.  Someone must be Harry Dresden.  Each character has two cards listing their specials and another deck of cards.  This other deck is shuffled and each player draws a hand of cards. The size of this hand depends on the number of players. This is the second random element in the game.

Harry chooses which character gets the first turn, and play begins. At this point, it becomes a puzzle more than a game. Players have cards that deal with the game's cards. Attacks put damage onto Foes, Investigation cards put clues into Cases. There are other cards that deal with Obstacles or take the Advantages.  Player cards all have costs associated with them, and have a set range.

To win, you need to solve more cases than there are foes remaining on the board. Which means that Attacks tend to be more important than Investigations, but you need to solve _at least_ one case.

Players can't openly discuss the contents of their hand. You can say, "I can inflict some hurt on that foe," but you can't say, "I have Pyrofuego!"

There's another random element, too. Player cards list a cost, and a range, and a number of hits (or clues).  Mostly, they're just a number.  Sometimes, they're a number with another number in a box next to it.  So, for example, a card might list its range as 3[2].  What that means is "3 plus 2 Fudge dice."  Fudge dice, of course, have two blank faces, two faces with plus signs, and two faces with minus signs.  So 3[2] is usually going to be 3, but it could be anywhere between 1 and 5.

The game is ... good. It's a different puzzle every time you play it, which is not to everyone's liking. I like occasional puzzles, but this isn't a game I can play with other people very often. Which makes the tablet version all the better for me.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Kickstarter Update

It's been a while since I updated folks on the status of the delayed gaming Kickstarters I'm a backer of

A few months ago, I wrote about how most of you don't need to worry about mis-packed/defective game copies, because I'm the one who seems to get most of them.

It happened again.

You all should know by now that I'm a huge fan of Rory's Story Cubes. Last year, they Kickstarted an RPG.  It's called Untold: Adventures Await. And it's good. It's more co-operative storytelling than role-playing, though. As written, it's GM-less.

My copy, however, was mis-packed.

See, the game includes five decks of tiles that are used to guide the storytelling. Each deck has six tiles, and there should be no duplicate tiles.  I had a duplicate set of tiles.

I contacted them, and they (promptly) sent out replacement tiles (after figuring out which one(s) I needed). No hassles, no hoop-jumping, just ... sent.

It's worth mentioning that the Story Cubes IP was sold to Asmodee in between the Kickstarter and its fulfillment, but the customer service I dealt with was the Creativity Hub customer service, not Asmodee Customer Service.  And - again - their customer service was fantastic.

The game itself hasn't hit the table, yet.  In fact, over the holidays, I played fewer games than usual because of weather and illness.

Either way: Check that off the arrived list.

Also on the long-delayed but showing progress:

Alas, Vegas arrived. Alas, Vegas was funded in February of 2013, and it arrived the day after Christmas. I'd never had any fear that it wouldn't arrive - James Wallis has always been late (but he also always comes through). All the way back to when he ran Hogshead and was the publisher behind Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play. The best example of this is Realms of Sorcery. If I remember correctly, it was the last product that Hogshead published for WHFRP. It came out in 2001 or so. after its having been promised for something like five or six years.

UPDATE: Between the time this post was written and the time it went live, Alas, Vegas arrived.

Remember Powerchords? Funded in late 2010, and then there was a looooong radio silence. We got the PDF in September, and it looks like I may have this one by the end of the month. Powerchords my longest-outstanding project, by the way.

UPDATE: Between the time this post was written and the time it went live, Powerchords arrived.

Far West, meanwhile, continues to not appear. And there's been no update since May. We're well past the Statue of Limitations for fraud (I don't think Skarka deliberately defrauded his backers, but that's definitely the apparent end result). I'm glad I got most of my money back for this one, and I feel bad for backers who acted too late or who had to deal with attorneys general that either don't understand Kickstarter or just plain don't care.

Fae Nightmares has seen some recent activity. I received the PDF for this in September of 2014, for reference.  13th Age in Glorantha is slowly chugging away. Tales from the Floating Vagabond is still not updating often enough - but I have faith that it's coming.

Ironclaw: the Book of Horn and Ivory has shipped but (as of this writing) not arrived, yet. Ironclaw is one of those guilty pleasure games.  If I'm being completely honest with myself, it's not a good game, but I still like it. Mechanically, it actually reminds me quite a bit of Cortex Plus, where you'll roll mixed pools of dice when attempting tasks.  Somewhere, I've got a post about furry games that needs some polish - I could probably summarize it here to save myself from having to edit it up and post it: "Nearly every furry game I've seen did something mechanically that I thought was fantastic."

UPDATE: Between the time this post was written and the time it went live, The Book of Horn and Ivory arrived. I'm not 100% complete on this project, yet (I'm still waiting for a different book, but it's shipped and I have tracking).

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hitting The Table: Mistborn: House War

A while ago, I backed Mistborn: House War on Kickstarter. I'm both a fan of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn universe and I generally like what Crafty Games produces, so it was a no-brainer for me.

I'm really glad I backed.  This game is awesome.

Players take the role of Great Houses, trying to hold the Final Empire together. It's semi-cooperative, but there is only one winner.

Each turn, the active player starts their turn by collecting income. Each Great House has a different income. This income is made up of a couple of types of resources, taken from a (limited) pool (or from other players if that pool is empty) and one or more Personality Cards.

The next step is escalating existing Problems. The active player chooses the order in which they worsen, which can cause things to get dramatically worse. If a problem pushes past a certain point on the board, it "erupts."  Most Problems have an eruption effect - some of them will destroy resources (removing them from play forever), some of them will give negative victory points to players, some of them will ruin resource production, and so on. A few of them do have beneficial eruption effects, but not many.

Once existing problems have escalated, a new Problem is added to the board.

And then we hit the meat of the turn: Solving a problem.

The active player can choose to pass, which gains them one resource of choice from the (limited) pool. Or they can choose to tackle a problem.

Each problem has a cost to defeat printed across the bottom of its card. The cost (of course) varies. Most problems require more resources to defeat than players are likely to have in their stash. Because of this, players who want to defeat problems need to negotiate with other player. Personality cards can increase or decrease the cost to defeating the problems.

If you can gather the resources to defeat a problem, then you will score victory points. Most of the negotiations with other players are for a share of these victory points, but you can also give or trade resources.

An important rule: You can't start negotiations until the active player decides which problem they're going to tackle. This means that if you want to negotiate deals over which problem to tackle, then you need to do it one or more turns in advance - which is important because deals made for future turns are non-binding (unless certain characters enter play).

Remember those Personality Cards?  Some of them give you bonus victory points. Some of them make problems easier to solve. Some of them make problems harder to solve. There are characters who increase your income, and there are characters who can make those "next turn" deals binding.

Most of the time, your best option is clear. There will be three or four problems in play, and you can only solve one of them (even with help), or else there are problems whose eruptions won't hurt you but which will hurt your opponents.  If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you'll know that this is (for me) a serious strike against the game. I like games where there are difficult decisions that need to be made. Unfortunately, that means that every play of this game feels like every other play of this game.

Because so much of the game is negotiation, this game is very dependent on the group you're playing it with. For some groups, that's good. For some groups, that's bad. It's fine for my group, but it means that I, personally, am pretty screwed because my friends have played too many games with me to be able to trust me.

There's also a strong luck factor. The Problems that come up are randomly drawn from a deck, as are players' hands and their Houses. Several times, now, we've had Problems pop up that no-one produced the resources to solve. Yes, you can do a two-for-one trade, but that gets expensive quickly.

Many of the reviews I'm seeing complain that players are the "bad guys" from the books. They want to be the resistance. Allies of Vin and Kelsier. They also want a very different game.  This game is what it is - it's a semi-cooperative resource management game with some light backstabbing. Players are trying to preserve the Final Empire.

The art is great. The components are great (I don't have the super-deluxe version with foil cards and pennygem resources, either). There's an expansion coming, probably next year.  Maybe that'll fix some or all of the complaints I have.

Until then, this will still hit the table occasionally - it's a solid and playable game, even if it's not especially inspiring. There are people out there who will really like this one.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

More on Kindle Pricing

So yesterday, I posted about Games Workshop's Kindle pricing.

It was pointed out that I never actually stated what I feel is reasonable pricing for Kindle books:

I'm of the opinion that Kindle Book pricing should be comparable to physical book pricing. If a book is only available in hardcover, then the Kindle book should be similarly priced.  If a book is available in mass-market paperback, then the Kindle should - again - be similarly priced.

If I think a book is worth $15, then I'll spend $15 on it.

And yes, I know that physical books are often sold below MSRP online. I think that Kindle books should be similarly priced to the actual price not the MSRP.

But that only works for in-print books.

I think that, once the physical book is out of print, the Kindle price should drop. $5 is not an unreasonable price for an out-of-print book.  As I said yesterday: It's not like that book is taking up actual space anymore.  By the time it goes out-of-print, it's either made its money back (and is profitable for the publisher) or it isn't ever going to (at which point the electronic book isn't going to make much money either way).  Every electronic book sold after the physical book is out-of-print is (or should be) either pure profit for the publisher or will partially offset losses taken from the physical version..

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Games Workshop: Now on Kindle in the US

... but you're not gonna like it.

Now that Games Workshop is off my "No Buy" list, I've been trying to get caught up on some of the lore. Because GW has always done a decent job of backing their games up with a ton of storytelling and background.  Not all of it's good, mind you, but there are hugely passionate fan communities who dissect the minutiae looking for clues to what we might see in the games, and trying to figure out the mechanical elements.

Last year, I'd noticed that their Black Library books were on Kindle in the UK but not in the US. So I e-mailed them, and got a brief "soon," message back from them. That was in March or April. Sometime in November, they flipped the switch to sell their books on Kindle in the US.

And ... I don't understand Games Workshop's Kindle strategy. At all.

For example: Let's look at Horus Rising.  It's the first book in the Horus Heresy series, and it's by Dan Abnett.

Here's the UK page for the book. You'll notice that it's on paperback for £7.99. Or on Kindle for £9.99. That's right: The Kindle edition is more expensive than the paperback.  (Note that if you're in the US, you may need to open that in an Incognito window to see the Kindle pricing.)

As of this writing, BTW, that's about $10.73 in paperback or $13.42 on Kindle.

Here's the US page for the same book. It's currently $8.41 in paperback and $15.99 on Kindle.

Worth mentioning: that paperback is on really low-quality paper. Honestly, $8.41 is too much for the book, too, even though it appears to be out-of-print.

That's one novel.  Their omnibus editions are ... well. Check out Eisenhorn. As of this writing it's $49.99 in the US. On Kindle.

In 2011, I paid $22.00 for a trilogy. A very good trilogy, actually - not a Games Workshop publication, there. One of the Big Five publishers. In fact, poking around, most books that are out in paperback are in that $7-$10 range on Kindle here in the US. But not from Games Workshop.

There are Kindle books that are in that $15 range - they're usually new releases or books that aren't out in paperback, yet. But most books that are in publishers' back catalogs are hovering in the $7-$10 range.

Horus Rising is the very definition of back catalog. It was first published in 2006, and has also been included in an omnibus edition. It's a low-demand novel, and it's not going to be driving sales.

And that's setting aside the issue of writing quality. Because GW novels are frequently ... uneven in quality. They have some great authors in their stable (I really like Dan Abnett's writing, for example), but a lot of their authors are not as talented.

It's clear that GW is used to being the only game around, and they price appropriately. Realistically, they were the most successful miniatures gaming company for a very long time. They probably still are. And their games were priced in a way that reflected that. Their goal was (and is) to be a "premium" brand. And part of that means keeping prices high so that customers feel more invested in their purchases.

Yes, it's weird. Retail psychology is weird across the board.

But Games Workshop isn't the only game in town on the fiction front. I have to wonder if they're helping or hurting themselves with their pricing - hardcore fans are going to pay whatever price they set, but casual folks like me? I'm not. There are thousands of non-GW novels published every year, most of which are probably better-written.  A lower price on their fiction will provide lower profit per book to GW, but will sell more books. And, unlike physical books, storage costs for Kindle books are negligible. You create the file once, and can sell it repeatedly.

I'm not saying that creating a Kindle book is free - you still have to pay the author and editor(s) and so on, but if you're creating both Kindle and physical books, then it's only a couple of extra steps (depending on your software), and - again - there's no physical storage requirement for electronic books. Over the long term, you can afford to pay the storage costs of an ebook with one or two sales (or even half a sale at GW's prices ... ). Honestly, selling through Amazon means that Amazon handles that storage cost. Once the file is created, there is no running cost other than (maybe) royalties, and that depends on the contract you have with the author.

Either way, I don't know how much more I'm going to bother trying to catch up on GW's lore. Uneven writing with high prices are not the combination to unlock my wallet.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

That One Rule

We were playing Haggis a few weeks ago, and I was just certain that we'd missed something.

Haggis is a trick-taking card game. I've probably mentioned it before - it's one of the best games you can play with three players, because it was designed to be played by three players.

But I learned that I've been playing it wrong for a while.  I'd missed that one rule.

In this case, I'd missed that players who bomb don't collect that trick - they choose an opponent to gather those cards (and the points in there). Every bomb in Haggis is worth points, too.

It got me thinking about all of the other times I'd missed just one rule that changed the tone of a game. In Modern Art, for example, the first few times we played, every artist was worth the amount of money showing in their column, instead of only the top three finishers being worth the money showing in their column. It meant that there was a lot more money floating around in later rounds and we kept running out of money in the bank.

When you discover a rules error mid-game, there are only three real options for what to do about it, and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Option One: Play It As It Lies
This is the easiest. Just ... finish the game with the incorrect rule(s) and fix it the next time you play. The problem with this is that you're not really playing the game as the designer intended. Missing that one critical rule can turn a good game into a terrible experience. Only on very rare occasions does a rules mistake like this improve a game.

Option Two: Finish The Round, Then Fix The Rule
This is changing horses mid-stream. Finishing the round gives everyone the same number of turns with the flawed rules interpretation, but you can really screw players who have built their strategy around a particular error. This can also cause significant swings in terms of final scoring. With Haggis, it's a non-issue - each hand requires you to reconfigure your strategy to begin with. With board games that aren't cleared every round, however, it's a potential issue.

Option Three: Start Over
This is only a good option if you've only just started or if a game is very short. Otherwise, you wind up with (potentially) several hours wasted and nothing to show for it. But with relatively quick games, it's not usually a huge problem.