Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Most Dangerous Game

No, not hunting people.

Jungle Speed. I've never seen a game which so completely changes people.

My wife is a beautiful woman. She's not a very competitive person when gaming - that's not to say she isn't a skilled competitor. She's just not very trash-talking or in-your-face.

But get Jungle Speed out, and this happens:

Jungle Speed

If you look at the cards played, you can see that this is an "All-Grab" card. Two players have just barely started to move, and two are already fighting over the totem. One of the two blurs struggling over the totem is my wife.

The game's impact is such that we require all players to remove all jewelry from their hands before playing. And we can't play in the presence of children.

My wife isn't the only person impacted by the game, either. My good friend Dawn doesn't swear. She has a son and works as a newspaper editor (and freelance edits for WotC), so she is very aware of her language choices. She's very particular about the language she allows to escape her mouth.

Now, my Wednesday night game night is held at a game store which is open to the public. We sometimes have small children about, so we're pretty particular about our language as well.

The last time we played Jungle Speed, Dawn caught herself swearing. A lot. It doesn't help that I'd included the expansion.

There are a few games designed to cause pain or suffering, such as Shocking Roulette, Really Wild Bug Eating Party, Quelf and Nautilus (have you tried it?) but they hold no interest for me.

I have games which have cut me, games which have fallen on my toes, and games which have caused me to injure myself in other ways (Curses nearly always causes a strain). But Jungle Speed is the only game which I have played which nearly always draws blood or causes bruises. It's the only game I own which has put holes in walls and dented ceilings.

And I just keep coming back for more ...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Remember a few weeks back when I mentioned that WotC didn't have any big GenCon announcements?

I was wrong.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Why You Should Go To KublaCon!

I'm guessing that a fair number of you have never heard of KublaCon.

Here's why it's worth the trip, even though it's a fairly small Con:

1) It's a small con. This means more face time with the special guests. There are some good ones this year, too, including Guido Teuber.
2) Their annual Game Design Contest. Even if you're not participating (their deadline for submissions was last week), it's still worth checking out.
3) The chance to play Senji before anyone else in North America. It won't be available for sale, but will be available for demoing.
4) Kubla pins.

I was asked if I could make it this year, but my boss has that weekend off, so I wasn't able to get the time off for myself. My wife attended last year, and had a great time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Laying Blame

As most of you know, I'm pretty active over on BoardGameGeek. I'm not one of their most active or recognizable members, it's true - but if you've had a rules question on an Asmodée game, I'm frequently the one to answer.

It means that I see a lot of complaining about how far behind the French our Dungeon Twister releases are. People point fingers at Asmodée more often than not.

I'd like to point a few things out, however, and suggest another possible villain to this picture.

When Dungeon Twister was first released in English, there were four French sets that we lacked. That is, we were four sets behind. Looking now, there are ... four French sets that we lack. Asmodée has kept pace with the French releases - we have neither gained nor lost ground.

The American audience is different from the French audience. When I'm demoing expansions at conventions, the first question most players have is "Are these pieces available for multiplayer?" In France, the multiplayer expansions are reportedly the slowest-moving expansions. The difference is extreme enough that we may not get Fire and Blood in its current form - Asmodée is talking about an "Ultimate 3/4 Player" set that will include red and green characters from all of the English sets released thus far. That means we will have multiplayer for some characters before the French do!

And, finally, the new villain:
The American release of Dungeon Twister was delayed for a year or so, because Asmodée (France) licensed the rights to a North American release to Upper Deck, who then failed to publish. Most of you probably didn't know that - I don't think I'm even supposed to know about it. When UDE eventually dropped the project, Asmodée decided to go forward. Since they started from scratch, it set the original English release back by at least a year.

Dungeon Twister was the one of the first games that was not yet available in English to crack the BoardGameGeek's Top 100 games - it was far from the last, however.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

GenCon Bankruptcy Update

Well, okay. It's not a full update - it's just more information.

Living Dice did some digging and got a copy of the bankruptcy filing that GenCon made. It's an interesting post that is well worth reading. It also bears mentioning that most of the debts appear to be related to the Star Wars Celebration. Some of it may be from GenCon SoCal, but I can't tell for sure with the information provided.

It's also possible that the biggest debt (to The George E. Fern Company) may include GenCon Indy, as George Fern provides convention services for them. Yes, the reason given is decor for Star Wars Celebration IV, but it seems like a lot of money for decoration. I could be wrong, however as I honestly don't know how much it costs to put on a convention.

It's also worth pointing out that Hidden City Games, the last creditor on the list on Page 6, is owned and operated by Peter Adkison.

Even if you don't speak legalese, the file itself is worth downloading and reading. There are some very interesting things in there that may impact GenCon this year - and have probably already made an impact. For example, how many of you noticed that Wizards of the Coast dont have any big GenCon releases scheduled? In fact, D&D 4E isn't releasing at a convention at all - a significant break from the norm for them.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Gaming Soundtracks

I was listening to the soundtrack to Last Night On Earth: The Zombie Game the other day. It's a beautiful soundtrack, and I love its sound.

It just doesn't sound like a B-movie horror soundtrack to me. It sounds like the kind of music I listen to while playing Engel or In Nomine.

As a role-player, I've been listening to soundtrack music for a very long time, with mixed results.

One GM used the score from Dune (I admit that I used Dune when I ran Blue Planet). It hung in the background without being too distracting.

One GM had a 200-disc CD changer, and it was all cued up. When we were heading into battle, he'd push three buttons, and the music would immediately let us know what we were in for.

One of my World of Darkness GM's had a soundtrack to describe the game to new players - he'd loan you the mix tape two weeks before you started play. It was supposed to give you an idea of what the world was like. He had one song for each Vampire Clan, one song for each of the other World of Darkness factions - and it gave you an idea of what to expect from them when you met them in-game.

There haven't been a lot of soundtracks released specifically for gaming - it's difficult to do, as every game feels different.

Midnight Syndicate has put out a batch of game-oriented CD's that work. They're listenable. But they don't describe my games very well. And that's the problem with most of the game soundtracks that have been released: They describe the artist's games, not your own.

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets did an album for Call of Cthulhu d20 that I liked - but it wasn't very good as a game soundtrack, as it got in the way, and didn't fit non-Modern games.

Here are a couple of pointers to help you come up with a soundtrack for your game:

1) Don't choose music that will clash with the game. German Death Metal works just fine for a post-apocalyptic setting, but probably won't go well with your Golden Age of Piracy games. One GM I remember used the Conan soundtrack for his homebrewed Victorian Steampunk game.

2) Don't spend too much time nailing down "the perfect battle theme," and the like. Your music should describe the setting as a whole, not just situations PC's are likely to encounter.

3) Speaking of situations, you should assume that music will play at the wrong time. Will your "Zombies Attack" song destroy the feel of the King's Palace when the PC's are visiting? "Ride of the Valkyries" is not good music for the Netrunner's hacking attempt, but it works just fine when the Rigger is trying to clear a barricade.

4) Try to keep it to a single CD. The GM with the 200-disc changer sometimes spent more time looking for the right disc than he did running the game. It was frustrating more often than it worked. If you're using an iPod or similar, try setting up a playlist of ten to fifteen songs.

5) Avoid trying to change songs to give clues. If the PC's know a battle is coming, that's one thing, but you don't want to warn them that they're about to walk into an Orc ambush. Or that the Chancellor is secretly working for the Guild.

6) Your music should reflect how you think your world sounds to YOU. Not everyone will agree with you - I thought that Dune and Blue Planet shared a number of thematic elements, so I used the soundtrack as background music and totally confused my players.

7) Don't use music to cover up holes in your GMing or to create emotion that isn't already there. Music shouldn't be a crutch. If your players are climbing the Eternal Mountain of the Five Winds with the Horn of Truth to bring the Gods back, there should be enough depth there already. If you and your players have told the story well, you don't need the music to provide goosebumps.