Friday, September 08, 2023

... Whaaaaaaat?

 I'm gobsmacked!  It appears as though Skarka actually got the PDF of Far West released.

Now taking bets on how long before the physical copies are released to backers.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Synnibarr: Kickstarter Nearing Completion!?

 A while ago, I talked briefly about Synnibarr.  I found the game to be nearly incomprehensible (and, honestly, I still do).  I even used the word "bad" to describe it. 

But, despite my experience with the game, I backed the Kickstarter because I was super-curious what three decades had done to Raven's design sense. Maybe he'd absorbed some of the lessons of newer story-focused games like Apocalypse World.

I mean ... it's not like his game could get any crunchier, right?

Realistically, I didn't expect to get anything from the Kickstarter. I honestly expected to just be throwing my money away. But, at the time, $80 was laughing fun money for me (oh to be there again). And there was always a chance I might get the game out of it. And, if I didn't, it was probable I'd get a good story or two out of it.

And then, two years post-funding, I got some PDFs from DTRPG. This was 2015, after just over a year of radio silence from the project. I figured that was all I was going to get from the project, and - I'll be honest - I've been too busy (yes, for seven years) to actually look at the PDFs.

Last month, nine years post-funding, there was an update letting us know that the game was live on DTRPG and we should e-mail them for fulfillment.

And it's true.  The game is live on DTRPG. In all honesty, I think their pricing is too high. But they have been listening to feedback - even indirect feedback.  For example, when it launched, The Ultimate Adventurers' Guide I had print and PDF available, but there were no bundles.  Now there is a print + PDF bundle available that saves a chunk of change.

So I e-mailed them for fulfillment, thinking I was going to get three DTRPG coupon codes.

I did not.  

Instead, I got two PDFs direct by e-mail and a note that the third was too large to e-mail and they were going to figure out how to get it to backers.  I e-mailed back asking about coupon codes, and ... the next day I had a coupon code for that third book.

Again: They are listening and learning and improving.

I say "they," because I don't know how many folks are involved with this.  It might be just Raven, chasing his passion, or he may have a team backing him up.  No clue. And I don't really have a way to find out (I mean ... I could ask Raven, but I kinda like the ambiguity that comes with not knowing).

So I have, in fact, now started to look at the PDFs, and ... maybe I'm just too sleep-deprived for this, because I'm still bouncing off of it.  The setting is as gonzo as ever it was, but the system is still not something I can wrap my head around. Even having read the quick-start and watched a couple of the videos Raven has shared on the World of Synnibarr Facebook page.

One of my goals for 2022 is to wrap my head around enough of the game that I can run a one-shot for some of my regular group. So that thumping you hear? It's me, beating my head on a wall as I try to understand what Raven wants me to do with his game.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Dungeon Twister: Still Playing, Still Learning

 I don't know if y'all realize this, but Dungeon Twister is still - nearly two decades later - my favorite game. And I love to play it. Just love it.

I know I mentioned a few years ago that it was on (which is where most of my gameplay lives these days, although I do get to play in person on Wednesdays again). It's still there, and it's only gotten better. They've been slowly adding expansions, including the rooms (but not the gameplay) from the 3/4 player expansions. And if I'm reading this correctly, it's not Premium-only anymore!

A few weeks back, I spent some time playing rules support for a new player - there are new players for Dungeon Twister!

Then, a week or two later, I got an e-mail out-of-the-blue from someone I'd been e-mailing back-and-forth with when Prison had just dropped.  He's introduced his son to the game - another new player!

I'm not going to scream that the community is growing - but I don't think it's shrinking as much as I'd thought it was.

I'm also really loving the gameplay on BGA. I'm seeing new tactics in play, and watching new players grow and develop.  I'm still a mediocre player, but that's okay. I honestly don't mind losing games.

There are occasional bugs, but I've also learned a few things. Like, for example, I'd had a couple of details about the Anti-Magic room dead wrong (for nearly 20 years, I'd thought only the spaces next to the Artifact in the middle were anti-magic, for example).

Feel free, by the way, to challenge me.  I'll play any DT, provided you make it turn-based. I'm a good opponent for when you need to boost your rating a bit.

There are other reasons for playing multiple games, too - if you play enough different games, you can qualify to test games that BGA has in Alpha. Some of these games are super-buggy, or need some work on their UI, but it's very cool to see what's coming (and just as cool to be able to contribute to the discussion of what needs fixing).

Either way, I'm still here and still chugging away. I hope you and yours are still doing well.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Getting Ready To Go Again

 In early 2020, we put in-person Game Night on hold. The state had banned in-person gatherings, and, realistically, it wasn't safe. I was still dealing with the general public and going in to work every day, and several regular attendees were either immunocompromised or were one step removed from folks who were. I had (and still have) zero interest in my weekly game gathering being responsible for illness or death.

We had a couple of sparsely-attended in-person game nights in August of 2021, when our crew was vaccinated and the governor loosened restrictions on gatherings. And then numbers went up again and we put Game Night back on hold.

Our local mask mandate was lifted in March. At the time, I expected numbers to skyrocket upwards again - like they have every time restrictions were loosened. So I told the crew, "We'll give it some time to see what happens."  Because there's no point in launching gaming if we're just going to turn right around and cancel again two weeks later.

But it's been a month, and the numbers haven't gone nuts.  They're up, yes, but not rocketing up. And the core group is fully vaccinated.

So I'm steeling myself to get things rolling again. And ... it's scary.

We're starting over from near-zero. And we may need to stop again if things get bad again.

But we're gonna try.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Blood Bowl

A good friend of mine passed unexpectedly about a month ago. He's someone I gamed with in the mid-Nineties, in between high school and moving out on my own. Jeff introduced me to a lot of games - and a very different approach to some of them. If you've enjoyed reading my blog over the years, then you owe Jeff a small amount of gratitude, too.

The most impactful introduction he made for me was Blood Bowl, and so the weekend after he passed, I went to a Games Workshop store, and I picked up the new (2020) edition.

I have a ... complicated ... history with GW. They, for their part, have vacillated between rabidly anti-fan moves and actively supporting fansites, depending on who was in charge at any given time.  Right now, they're starting to swing back to being anti-fan.

But Blood Bowl has always been That Game for me. Prior to it, I'd never played a board game that had an advancement mechanism - that'd been something I'd considered a dividing line between RPGs and Board Games.  I'd also never enjoyed a sports-themed game - I'd tried a few, but they were always either oddly clunky or super-dry. Or both.

But Blood Bowl hit that sweet spot for me. They've released it a couple of times, and each time, there were some minor tweaks and adjustments. I got good at the game - I even won a couple of tournaments, including an official Rogue Trader tournament which gained for me the World's Ugliest Trophy.

Since then, other games have hit similar spots - especially when Games Workshop was at their absolute worst. I really enjoyed Elfball and Dreadball and Guild Ball, for example. But I kept coming back to Blood Bowl.

A week ago, I spent my weekend assembling figures.  For 3rd Edition, the Blood Bowl figures were pretty much all two-piece single-pose or one-piece metal figures (other than some Big Guys and Star Players). When they re-released the game in 2016, they upgraded the figures to the current GW standard, which is ... a mixed blessing.

With 3e (which was 1994 all the way up until the 2016 release), I could buy a box and press-fit the Orc and Human players. I was ready to play in less than an hour from the time I opened the box.

With the Second Season Edition, I spent hours assembling figures. And the instructions in a couple of cases were so bad that I had to keep going to their website to see what the finished product was like. It was a continual exercise in frustration.

And that's bad.  Blood Bowl had been an excellent gateway game for budding miniatures game hobbyists. Their simple figures meant that rookies who painted them often got decent results (but experienced hobbyists could still get spectacular results). 

For example, here is the classic Champions of Death team. They're all metal figures, and it's clear which figures are zombies and which are skeletons, ghouls, or mummies...

The new version is all-plastic - and the poses are much more dynamic. But these guys are not easy to assemble, and are difficult to paint, too. Especially if you want to make it clear which figures are ghouls vs zombies or wights vs skeletons.

Every team is similarly changed. And, while they look nice, they're not a good entry point into the miniature painting hobby like they used to be. The assembly is frustrating, and the painting is - frankly - intimidating.

With all of that said, however, I've got a team of snotlings on their way to me. Because one of my first memories of the game was Jeff showing me a snotling, and expressing dismay that they were not playable in the (then-new) 3rd Edition.

When they get here, I'll be painting them in Seahawks colors. Classic Seahawks colors, not the current ones. Because Jeff loved the Hawks.

If things ever open back up again, I may look into joining (or hosting) a league again, too.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Games Played!

 We successfully played some games last week.  It wasn't a large crowd, and the games weren't new. But it was a definite turning point for me.

We started with Bohnanza (which was new to one of the players). It's the new edition, which doesn't include the Third Bean Field.  I was initially puzzled by this, but then I read a ton of forum threads and learned that that third field is a trap. Players who buy it rarely win. Which - now that I think about it - matches my memory of the gameplay.

We followed that with a game of Skull & Roses (I know that the current edition is just Skull, but I have both of the original boxes).

We wrapped up with two games of We Didn't Playtest This At All. The game continues to be everything Fluxx wants to be. That is: good, random filler fun. If a game lasts ten minutes, you've probably missed a rule somewhere.

We wrapped a bit before ten. I was exhausted - I'm out of practice at dealing with people in person, and even when I'm used to people, I still find them tiring at best.

But it was good. And a start. With more to follow.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Horror Games: Why I Think I'm (Mostly) Done

 Last time, I mentioned that I think I'm done with horror RPGs, and, since then, I've spent some time thinking and percolating and trying to figure out how to say what I'm going to say here.

To explain my issues with horror gaming, I first need to talk a bit about Player Agency, Railroads, and Sandboxes.

Player Agency is the ability of the players (and their characters) to influence the story being told at the table. A lot of this is mechanical - AD&D, for example, didn't have any "Story Points" that players could spend to influence die rolls (or anything else). But a lot of it was the available adventure template(s), too - players are unlikely to negotiate with mindless undead in a dungeon. Even when adventures moved out of the dungeon, things mechanically didn't work well unless the players followed the path laid out for them by the GM. It's a style of play often referred to as a "railroad" - players must follow a set path in order to meet the adventure's goals.

Fast-thinking or flexible GMs were able to tweak this, allowing players to head in pretty much any direction. But, if you (for example) ignore that small-time necromancer a few towns over, he's going to get more powerful and be a bigger problem by the time your players decide to deal with him. But players can go anywhere they want. This is more of a "sandbox" game. A good GM either knows what's going on in various parts of the world )or can fake it well) - and players can do pretty much anything in the world.

Railroad vs. Sandbox is a lot like the Lord of the Rings series. Sam and Frodo are players in a railroad campaign. The rest of the party is playing a sandbox game.  Had they not split the party up early, we might not have seen the battle of Helm's Deep, and Wyrmtongue might still be the effective ruler of Rohan. Gondor would still be ruled by the Steward. Even after the (full-strength) party got to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring, I don't know that Sauron's influence would be immediately dissipated in some of those places. It'd still be an interesting story, but it'd be very different. And readers wouldn't know nearly as much about Middle Earth and its residents. 

Mechanically, there have been a lot of innovations that support Sandbox play. The clocks in Blades in the Dark, for example, are spectacular. And can serve as a reminder to players - "Do that petty crime all you want - the Big Bad's scheme is still advancing until you stop them."

Sandbox games tend to give the players more agency, because players decide the paths they take.

Many recent games have given players tools to help define their setting (and even frame and re-frame current scenes).  13th Age, for example, lets players do a bit of worldbuilding via their skills and One Unique Things. Other games let players establish facts about the scene by spending points - Cortex Prime lets players create Assets that they can use for the scene ("We're fighting in a cave? I'm going to break off a stalactite and use it as a club!"). Scenes can also have Distinctions that players can use to their advantage.

But horror gaming throws all of that out. Horror games nearly all rush players in the direction of predetermined outcomes. "By the end of this adventure, most (if not all) of your player's characters will be dead or insane" is a not uncommon fact of horror gaming. Even the good ones push players in the direction of insanity. And in many of those games, that insanity removes the player's ability to control the character.

I try to be a sandbox GM. I'm not perfect, but I try. And I'm a more traditional GM - my players are players, and I'm the GM. But the line I don't like crossing is "Players control their characters, the GM controls the rest of the world."  In horror games, that line is all too easy to cross. Because horror often has a pre-determined end point.

There are exceptions. Dread, for example, is an excellent horror game with little railroading, and where players control their own fates (although the game's survivability does favor dexterous players).

But, all in all, when I sit down to play a game, I want my players to (mostly) control what happens to their characters. And that's super-hard to do in a horror game without a lot of railroading. And I'm not a conductor.