Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thank You!

According to Google Analytics, my readership is up about 40% this year when compared to last year. Last year was up 40% over the year before.

More of you are reading me, more of you are linking to me, and a few of you are even discussing me.

Either way, thank you. It's been a good year, and next year looks to be even better. With a bit of luck, I'll be at more conventions.

That said, here are my game-related New Year's Resolutions:
Play All Newly Acquired Boardgames Within A Month of Purchase - This is a re-run from 2009. With exceptions made for GenCon purchases, it went pretty well. There are a few games that got backburnered, but not many. In general, I've played more games this year than in prior years - and loved every minute of it.

Continue Tracking Games Played on BoardGameGeek - This year, I struck a good balance between obsessive attention to detail (there are people who track their scores and who they've played) and not tracking. This year, I've tracked every game played and where it was played. I plan to continue this.

Finish A Project - As I mentioned last week, I've got a lot of irons in my fires. This year, I plan to finish one.

Put Some Games In Storage - There are games that we just don't play. Usually because they're bad games, but sometimes because someone just doesn't like them. Or because they don't fit my group's demographics (I only get to play as many two-player games as I do because I make a specific effort to do so). Currently, my small apartment is filled with games. I need to make room for the living.

Continued My Weekly Update Schedule - I've been updating weekly with only a few hiccups here and there. I plan to continue because (as noted at the beginning), it's working for me.
I'm dropping my RPG one-shot resolution - I plan to do more one-shots last year, but I'm not letting them put the brake on my purchasing. Especially with the advent of the .pdf game book.

If you lack plans for New Year's Eve, we are still having our annual Game All Night gathering. We'd love to have some fresh faces with new games (and old classics).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Game Design and Next Year and Me

This year, I've had some interesting brushes with game design.

They are interesting enough to me that I've made a resolution for next year.

Next year, I am going to finish one of my game-related projects.

My solo play cards for Dungeon Twister are nearly done - I have playtesters looking at the first batch. I still need to come up with a few special abilities for some of the "classic" characters, but a lot of progress has been made.

I have two board games which are nearly ready. Both of them have rules, but I need to balance them and then ... playtest.

I also wrote a scenario for Claustrophobia, and I hope to have it looked at by someone official. If they don't want it, I'll probably throw it at BoardGameGeek.

I have a few RPG-related projects partially-completed, too. I'll probably end up using FUDGE, Cortex, or a hybrid of the two for at least one of them. One of them is being written with Cortex in mind.

My wife gave me the Amber Diceless RPG for Christmas. I can see why it became such a huge hit. It's still available in .pdf format (legally) if you poke around a bit.

My gaming next year: I have a Cthulhutech one-shot scheduled for January. Other than that, I'm wide open. Hopefully, we'll see some Dungeon Twister expansions this year.

Beyond that ... I don't know. My job allows me to accrue a maximum of 120 hours of vacation time per year, and it looks like I will be capping out in June. Perhaps I should find some conventions to attend earlier in the year - any suggestions?

I expect that next year, I will spend more money on RPG .pdf files than I have for the last few years. Once I get that Kindle DX I've been eying, my RPG purchases will explode. I should write about that sometime ...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

One Step Forward, One Step Back

Sometimes, I grow hopeful that boardgaming is starting to gain more and more mainstream acceptance.

I see Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan on the XBox. I see Purple Pawn's regular "Game Pimping Roundups" which are lists of mainstream articles about hobby games. I see that my readership is up 40% over last year - mostly due to Google searches for specific games. This means that more people are using Google to look for some of these games.

Then I see articles like this. Purple Pawn linked to it on the 8th, and it's been picked up by several other hobby sites (including BGG) as well.

Purple Pawn summarized their reviews as follows:
•Loopit: Grade A. “Loopit is like Scrabble, only for people who don’t want to fight with their relatives over a word choice.”
•Clue: the Office: Grade A. “The weapons are all inside jokes for those who watch the show and kept us laughing.”
•WordQuest: Grade B. “Attractive, easy to learn and play.”
•Pandemic: Grade C. “Pandemic is too complicated. Just setting up the board took half an hour the first time, thanks to multiple sets of cards, cubes, tokens and pawns.”
•Pop the Pig: Grade D. “A few minutes of entertainment for smaller children.”
•Incan Gold: Grade F. “Our 16-year-old was writhing on the floor with frustration because after 25 minutes, we still couldn’t figure out how to start the game and play the first round.”
•Ticket to Ride: Grade F. “Unnecessarily complicated. There are no dice or “action” modes.”
When I read the summaries, I wanted so very badly to believe that the writers over at Purple Pawn were exaggerating. Sadly, they weren't. If anything, these summaries understate some of the original descriptions of the game.

I disagree with the vast majority of these grades. Well, on the games with which I am familiar. I don't know Loopit or Pop the Pig.

That said, however, the response from the gaming community has been exactly the sort of response that will keep us a niche hobby. Gamers have responded by attacking the writers, including attacks suggesting that the Goliath Games were rated highly because of writer bias. In fact, it has become the target of a great deal of "Nerd Rage." While some of the comments were genuinely calm and reasonable, many of them were not. And some of the calm posts contained subtle attacks.

Even people who I generally like and respect posted attacks on the reviewers. The most beautiful attack1: "There's a reasonable chance that this is the most misinformed review of anything ever." The rest of the comment is fine - but the attacking opening sentence means that the original writers are unlikely to ever see it.

To grow the hobby, we need to be seen as a welcoming group. Eight pages of (mostly) attack comments and mockery do not make us seem very welcoming.

1 There is a specific reason for this phrasing. If you don't get it, it's not aimed at you.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Geekiest Refrigerator Around

DT Magnets!

In October, I won some Bohnanza magnets in this lottery. The actual lottery item is down, now, but you get the point.

The GG lotteries, BTW, are addictive. You take fake BGG-only money and turn it into games! If you win. There is a subscription thread here, if you want to keep track.

But that's beside the point.

I asked the member offering the magnets if he could do other games as well.

"Sure," he said, "Just give me an image I can work with."

So I scanned some DT tokens. Sixty of them, actually - the Base Set and 3/4 Player Expansion (including the square action markers). I sent him the link, and he set to work.

The magnets weren't free, but you can see some of the results above. I'm very happy with the results.

I now have the geekiest refrigerator you are ever likely to encounter:


Oh - before I forget - someone on BoardGameGeek posted this link, which shows Games Workshop's stock prices. They're down 20 (British Pounds, I assume) since they issued the BGG C&D. Or, more accurately, since the C&Ds they've issued over the last few weeks became such significant news across the gaming blogosphere.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Why I'll Still Play Games Workshop's Games

The World's Ugliest Trophy

I'm sure a number of you have heard about the recent Cease & Desist letter received from Games Workshop.

A lot of users - myself included - are calling for a boycott of GW and their games. Yes, I said "Myself included." In fact, the discussion has already made me publicly angry, something that doesn't happen very often. So this post is the last word I'm going to have on this subject for now1. Because I do stupid things when I lose my temper.

Here is the letter I sent GW:
To Whom It May Concern,

I am a Games Workshop customer, and have been for many years, now. I had a great run with my Warhammer Fantasy Battle Undead (later Vampire Counts) army, as well as my WH40k Squats army (for the short time it lasted). I have also run several local leagues for Blood Bowl, Necromunda, and Mordheim.

Recently, I have also enjoyed a number of GW-licensed products (including the Warhammer RPG, Chaos in the Old World Board Game, and the new Living Card Game) which were produced by Fantasy Flight Games.

I am not by any stretch your biggest customer, but I have been a reliable customer for well over twenty years, and have spent several thousand dollars over that period of time. I have also, by running leagues, encouraged a number of my friends to invest in GW products as well.

However, your recent actions towards fan-created materials on and other sites (see and are troublesome. For the last several years, many of these (now removed) resources have been nearly critical in the running of my leagues. They’ve provided a wealth of non-official ideas, variants, scenarios, and so on.

It is beginning to seem as though you have lost sight of the fact that gaming is a niche industry that is driven by hobbyists and enthusiasts.

To that end, I am joining the rising number of voices who are participating in a boycott of your products (and those products based on GW-licensed products), and I will be encouraging my friends to do the same. I have no beef with Fantasy Flight Games, and will continue to purchase their (non-GW-licensed) product.

I will be watching BoardGameGeek (and other sites) for signs of a change or reversal in your policy. Should that change come, I will end my boycott.

Thank you for taking the time to read this,

Eric Franklin
So why do I say I'm going to continue playing their games? Simple: I sank a lot of money into them. There will be some changes, however:
I won't be buying any more GW product. This gives money to GW.
I won't play in GW stores. This serves as a "living advertisement" for GW. This gives money to GW.
I won't buy GW-licensed products. I was excited about the upcoming Blood Bowl game for the XBox 360, but I won't be purchasing it, now.
I won't be running any new leagues for Necromunda, Blood Bowl, Mordheim, Gorkamorka, or Battlefleet Gothic. Otherwise, one of my friends might spend money on GW product.

Are there GW games I still want to buy? Yes. But I'm not giving them any money until they learn not to attack their fans.

But I'll still play 'em. Because some of them are a lot of fun.

1 It's worth noting: Mr. Nikitas (Luftwaffe Flak on BGG) was correct. I should not have called out the dollar amount he donated. It brought nothing to the argument and made me seem like I was trying to seem better than him. My wife asked me point-blank what I meant by it, and what I meant didn't require calling him out. For the record: I already sent him a private apology by e-mail.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

D&D 4E: Where Did The Cursed Items Go?

As I think I've mentioned before: I like Dungeons and Dragons, 4th Edition. And yes, I am aware of its flaws. Well aware.

D&D has never had good XP guidelines for actual role-playing, so the fact that it isn't really present here, either, is not a surprise to me. D&D has always been about kicking down the door, killing the monster, and taking its treasure. If you take 4E as the latest iteration of the same formula, then some of its flaws are less important.

But 4E has one gap that is really starting to bother me: There are no cursed items. In fact, PC's can pretty much auto-recognize magical items with no need for special spells or the assist of a Bard (or Artificer). It's a bit annoying to me. I admit: part of that is because I used to play Bards. My party relied on me to tell them items were safe for use. Or, more accurately, my party relied on me to be able to point out actively hostile items as opposed to the dangerous-but-sometimes-useful items (like the Deck of Many Things - remember those?).

I know that flat-out cursed items don't fit into 4E. I've accepted that. But what about items which aren't ... necessarily good? For example: The Sword of Empires.

If you're a player, now would be a good time to stop reading. If you're a DM, please feel free to continue.

Using the Sword of Empires requires two things:
1) There is some sort of cyclic Empire in your campaign setting. Either it's risen and fallen multiple times through the centuries, or there are a variety of near-identical empires which keep showing up in the same region.
2) The culture is one where dead people are buried with their valuables. Since most Western cultures do this to a limited extent, this should not be a big problem.

Start with your PC's investigating some ruins of the Empire That Was. Maybe the town is having issues with undead (real or imagined), and blame it on the nearby ruins. Maybe the party is a roving band of treasure-seekers. Either way, they will eventually wind up in the Crypt.

As they approach the crypt, an image of a long-dead Wizard will appear to them and speak to them in the Old Tongue. Wizards will understand, Clerics will probably comprehend it. The message is basically, "This is the Burial Place of the Emperor, woe will befall you if you disturb his slumber." Being PC's, they'll assume that the Emperor is some sort of Undead Liche Lord, arisen after centuries of rest to reclaim his empire, and they'll probably burst into his burial chamber.

What they'll find there is an ancient corpse, outfitted in ceremonial armor with his sword clutched in his skeletal grip.  He is clearly dead (and does not appear to be Undead).  He is, in fact, the sword's current Wielder (see below).

If they’re like typical PC’s, they’ll loot the place. If they don’t, then you may need to prod them a bit – use the Sword’s “Take Me” power (below). It should grab at least one of your PC’s.

Now we need to differentiate between the sword's Wielder and its Bearer.  In short: The Wielder is the character who is attuned to the sword.  To become the Wielder, you need to kill the previous Wielder (which requires using the Sword).  The Bearer is simply the character who is carrying and/or using the sword.  It is possible to be both the Wielder and the Bearer simultaneously.

The Bearer may not even realize that there is a difference between being the sword's Wielder and being its Bearer.

So what does the sword do?

1)  The Sword's Bearer can treat it as though it were a Sword of Sharpness +3. In fact, that is what identification rolls will reveal it to me (without a critical success). It's a powerful item, and definately worth holding onto.  The DM can grant one or more Daily or Encounter powers, as well.  Ideally, the Sword's power set make it desirable to the PC, as its goal is to increase the power and health of the Wielder.

2)  The Sword's Wielder can only be killed by the Sword.  While the Wielder can be reduced to zero (and fewer) hit points, the Sword's Daily "Bring 'Em Back" power will always work to return them to one hit point.  The Sword's Wielder gains no special immunities, but they do lose all of their Healing Surges.  This means that they cannot be healed by most Cleric abilities.

3)  The Sword itself has powers that are controlled by ... the Sword itself.  I can't do HTML formating, so you don't get convenient charts for these.  I suggest that the GM roll an initiative number with no modifier for the Sword.

Heal Him Up
At-Will * Weapon
Immediate Reaction   Melee
Trigger: The Bearer attacks and does damage with the Sword.
Effect: The Wielder gains hit points equal to the damage dealt with the Sword by this attack.  This Power cannot be used if the Wielder has less than one hit point.

Restore Him
Encounter * Weapon
Standard Action   Melee
Effect:  If the Wielder has less than one hit point, return the Wielder to one hit point.  This Power can only be used after the second round of combat.

Take Me
Daily * Weapon, Charm
Standard Action   Close Burst 3
Target: Each creature in burst
Attack: +10 vs. Will
Hit: The Target must attempt to obtain the Sword for their side of the conflict. If an ally already has the Sword, then defending that ally becomes the top priority for the Target, even at the cost of their own lives.

Notice: None of these powers is necessarily evil or bad - the Sword is designed to support the health of its Wielder. The Take Me power should keep the Sword in the hands of the stronger faction, when there is a division.

If the PC's manage to resurrect a long-dead Emperor in this manner, it may not be a bad thing. It's not as though the Emperor will wake up with a pre-assembled Empire. They will have to start from scratch and work their way up. And not all Emperors are bad, either. For every Caligula, History has a Constantine.

Either way, it drops a few possible hooks into the campaign that can take years to develop - if they ever develop.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


As I mentioned previously, Claustrophobia is set in the Hell Dorado universe. The rulebook mentions the connection once, and there are some minor references that fans of Hell Dorado will catch - but you don't need to know anything about Hell Dorado to enjoy Claustrophobia, as they are very different games.

The basic story behind Claustrophobia is that the city of New Jerusalem is under constant attack by demons, who are attacking from the catacombs below the city.

Enter the Redeemer:


Joined by a small force of convicts, the Redeemer has been entering the catacombs, and has had some small successes at beating back the Demonic menace.


So how does it play?

Surprisingly smoothly.

Step 1: Human Initiative.
The Human player rolls as many dice as he has Warriors. Each warrior is then assigned one of the dice.


In this image, the die is a '1', so the Condemned Blade for Hire uses the top line of his stats - Movement of 1, Combat of 3, Defense of 3. If the Blade had taken damage, there would be red tokens in the holes next to the stat lines. If you assign a die tied to a damaged stat line, the character is Exhausted - that is, Move 0, Combat 0, Defense 3.

Step 2: Human Action Phase
The Human player activates each Warrior in turn. The warriors will explore the maze and fight Demons during this phase.

Step 3: Demon Threat Phase
The Demon player rolls 3 dice, and assigns them to their control board.


Each space on the board does something different. Some of them allow the Demon player to draw cards, some give them Threat Points which are used to summon Demons, and some of them temporarily modify the stats and abilities of the Demons.

During their Threat Phase, they also spend their Threat Points to summon Demons.

Step 4: Demon Player's Action Phase
During this phase, the Demons move around the board and attack the humans.

Obviously, there's more to it than that. For example, many of the rooms cause special effects - some double the damage dealt in combat, some of them slow movement down. Each Human warrior has a different skill (or skills) in addition to their ever-changing stat line.

The game is scenario based - in the first scenario (for example), the goal is for the humans to find the exit and escape. If two Human warriors escape, the Humans win. If all of the Humans die, the Demons win. Any other result is a draw. Every time the Humans reveal a room (along the side with the d10), the d10 is increased and moved to an exit on the new room (or the nearest room if the new room is a dead end). When the die reaches ten, the next tile is the exit.

Each Scenario has a different reference card for the larger demon. Sure they could have used some of their Hell Dorado sculpts and included more minis - but they would have significantly increased the price and not actually added much to the game.

What does it look like in play?


In fact, I may not play this on a table very often - it's big. Very big. I have a large table, but not everyone will. So be prepared to play this on the floor.

The game is also expandable. The rulebook says to watch for new scenarios on their website. I suspect that new scenarios will have new demon reference cards.

If the game does well enough, I wouldn't be surprised to see expansions with more warriors (for both sides) and a variety of new scenarios.

I have a package waiting for me in my apartment complex's office. It contains Dungeon Twister: Prison and several other games. I'll probably get around to discussing them next week.

I've paused work on my solo cards until I get a few solo games under my belt. I want to make sure that my work plays similarly to the official version.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Claustrophobia Unboxing

Claustrophobia Unboxing
Originally uploaded by Gamethyme
A quick update: I received Claustrophobia today. I'll be going over it more in-depth hopefully for next week, if I get a chance to play it this weekend.

I have to say that I'm really impressed by the component quality on this one. I'll be taking some photos with more detail, but the paint jobs on the minis are good, the rooms are nice and thick - even the box seems very sturdy.

There will be copies of this game at BGG.con, as well.

The game itself should be hitting stores in December.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Claustrophobia is coming!

I don't know about you, but I was very disappointed when Hell Dorado was cancelled. I guess that's because I had more invested in it than most of you.

See, I ran demos at GenCon Indy 2006 (remember when we used to have to specify which GenCon?). The English translation we were using was ... functional.

Since then, I've seen three additional translations - two official, one fan.

And I've got to tell you - honestly - I love this game. I think the setting is completely unique, the system was simple and had some very distinctive elements, and the figures were beautifully sculpted.

Earlier this year, I started hearing about a "Hell Dorado board game." In July, I received a set of rules for review. I did what I usually did and tweaked the language so that it made sense.

That game is Claustrophobia. There is currently (from what I have heard) one English copy in North America, and it will be at BGG.con.

One more reason to wish I was in Texas, I guess.

Not that I plan to move any time soon - I love Seattle too much.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Next Few Weeks

These next few weeks are going to be a lot of fun for me:

At GenCon, Christophe with Asmodee told me that there were ten games releasing between GenCon and Christmas. That's a lot of games, so I figured it'd be a bunch of small boxes (such as you see for You Robot or Werewolves of Miller's Hollow).

I knew about Cyclades. I'd heard about Mr. Jack in New York. Of course, Dungeon Twister 2: Prison was on my radar. I knew about Ghost Stories: White Moon. I've seen the rules to Nostra City, Space Pirates, and several others, but the reality of their releases is starting to hit me.

That's a lot of big boxes!

I saw the rules to Claustrophobia a few months ago (and I now have the green light to discuss it). So I'm going to discuss it sometime soon. There is apparently one English copy in North America, and it will be at BGG.con.

I also have some magnets that I need to photograph and rave about, because they are excellent. I won them in the first GeekGold for Games Lottery, and I was so impressed that I have ordered more from the gentleman responsible.

So that's what you have to look forward to over the next short while. I hope to be far enough ahead with my posts to carry me through the holiday season, but we'll see.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dungeon Twister Terrain

I'd like to talk - briefly - about terrain today.

See, someone did the math on my reference sheet and called me out via GeekMail:
The numbers for your Dungeon Twister File seem odd when I look at room pair 7 - it looks like you have more than 25 squares in your file!
Since I'm going to be releasing an update to it within the next two weeks, I figured it would be a good time to explain the "Rooms" tab, which appeared a few updates ago.

I don't know if anyone uses this tab or not, but I decided that I wanted a list of how much of each terrain appeared in each room. I figured it might help me gauge the usefulness of certain characters and/or help me pick a tournament force.

I ran into a problem pretty early, however. Room Pair seven has two squares that troubled me. Square #25 in Room 7A has both Mist AND Falling Rocks. Square #18 in Room 7B has Mist and a Trap.

So what do I do when there is Mist over a Trap - is it a Mist Square, a Trap Square, or both? How do I count it?

What I did instead was classify Mist as an "Overlay Terrain" - Thus, room 7A has 25 total squares - 21 of them are floor tiles, 1 Rotation Gear, 1 Trap, and 2 Falling Rocks. Of these 25 squares, nine of them are covered by Mist.

I did so with a handful of other terrains as the project went on.

I debated the Portcullises for a good long while - I ended up leaving them as a "base" terrain, rather than as a Wall Overlay. There were two reasons for this:
1) They were introduced in the base set.
2) They have their own set of markers (Open/Broken). (Okay, not really. It's because the rules for walls are not the same as the rules for portcullises - the Wall Walker can go through arrow-slits, for example, but not through Portcullises. The Golem can break walls, but not ... you get the idea.)
The Overlay Terrain Types are (in order of appearance):
Pentacle Room
Small Bridge
Wall Sconces*
Secret Passage*
Fallen Tree
Snowy Ground
Ice Bridge
Ice Mirror

Terrains marked with an asterisk (*) are wall overlays. The others are floor tile overlays.

If you do have comments or corrections to the file, please e-mail or GeekMail me. I appreciate and accept corrections (because I want the file to be perfect.

And your weekly DT1 Solo Card Update:
I have a few cards done. This isn't an easy project - especially when my goal is to have the same number of Character cards as DT2 does. For each set.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


It's that time of year, again. Essen.

Do you not know what Essen is?

It's here. For eurogamers, Essen is like GenCon for Roleplayers - all of the new games release there. It's a place I want to go. Every year.

This year, I have a personal connection to a release - Cyclades, which I had a chance to play at GenCon, will be released there.

Even more important (for me, at least): Cyclades is my wife's first print credit.

Hrm. I have personal connections to several releases:
Ghost Stories: White Moon, Werewolves of Miller's Hollow: The Village, Mr. Jack In New York, Nefertiti Expansion, Nostra citY. And, of course, the official English release of Dungeon Twister: Prison.

In fact I've seen the rules to all but two of those ...

Looking through this GeekList, it looks like the Old West is a popular theme this year. A very popular theme. The Mafia are also a popular theme. Now if only there were a way to combine them ...

And I'm seeing more and more games from Poland that catch my interest (and that of the community over at Boardgamegeek).

My goal is to, at some point, attend Essen.

We'll see how that shakes out.

Oh - and if anyone reading this is attending and feels like grabbing me a gift, I'd love to have a copy of Powerboats Expansion 1.

Next week, I may have my copy of Dungeon Twister: Prison. I'm working on trying to adapt the Solo rules to the other (already released) sets. Since the 2E cards have all the "triggers" for solo play, a copy of DT2 will still be required. I'll keep you in the loop on my progress, as there are items which don't easily fit into solo play.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Random Dungeon Twister Updates

One of the many things I enjoy about Dungeon Twister is the ability to rewind a few turns and show people where the game went South for them. Not everyone can pick out "that moment" in a game - and I can't pick it out every time. But I love being able to define the key moment.

Even when it works against me.

Frequently, that key moment is only a turn or two before the end of he game.

One of my more regular opponents of late is a man named John. We've been playing a game every few days - and I nearly always win. Before this weekend, I would have said "Always win." See, he beat me for the first time the other day.

And I can exactly trace back the critical moment - but it's only a turn before.

We were playing Paladins and Dragons, and he was ahead. In fact, the score was four to two in his favor. I'd struggled for effectiveness for he entire game. P&D is my weakest set in play. He did an excellent job of making my characters completely ineffective.

His Elf Scout was in a position to score that critical fifth point - I saw this, and moved my Paladin (who was in the area) to block one of the possible routes. I then moved my Pickpocket in to try to block his other possible route. Unfortunately, I misplaced my Pickpocket by moving him one space too far. Had I moved him one space fewer, I would have completely blocked his exit to the point where he would need to engage in combat in order to escape (and I didn't think he had enough actions to fight and escape). As it was, John had enough actions to run past my Pickpocket and out of the maze.

The day before, we played the with just the basic set. I beat him because of a jump his Goblin made about three turns before the end of the game - had his Goblin jumped to the right instead of directly across the track, he would have been in a position to grab a Potion of Speed and a treasure and make it out of the maze. Since he jumped directly across, I was able to ignore the Goblin as a threat and just sprint for the exit myself.

This, by the way, is not to say John is a bad player - he's not. And his skill improves noticably after every game. He's a very quick study. I give him two to three more games before he starts to beat me more often than I beat him.

I also suffered a rather humiliating defeat the other night. I learned a few lessons that game, which I hope to be able to share later. The first lesson? I play DT really poorly against French-speaking opponents. Seriously. These days, I seem to do very well against English-speaking opponents.

It may be my opponents - I seem to only play people who are active in the French and Belgian tournament scene.

Speaking of which, congratulations to Fabrice "Sherinford" Weils. As of this weekend, he is the Dungeon Twister World Champion. Phil Goude (LIDT President) posted the standings here.

I've also been appointed to the LIDT Board of Directors (as has Geoff Heintzelman) for the LIDT. This will last at least until elections which are held at the end of February.

Again, I would like to encourage you to join the LIDT. Even if you choose not to join, you should check out the forums. There is a lot of good discussion - if you don't speak French, do what I do and use Google Translate. And don't be afraid to post in English - or to respond to French posts in English. I do this all the time, actually. And I usually receive responses in English. In other words: Language is only a barrier if you allow it to be one.

And, in blog news, I've also made it a bit easier for those of you looking for character advice - this link will bring you all of my "Dungeon Twister Characters: Multiple Uses" posts. The link is also on the side of the page, under "Key Posts From This Blog."

My file listing characters, items, terrain, etc. has been updated. It now includes characters from Prison.

Next week, I may talk about Cyclades, or Steam, or Stronghold or Neuroshima Hex. I may also break down and talk about Eclipse Phase or Cthulhutech - both of which deserve discussion. I may also discuss Terrain or Items in Dungeon Twister - after all, there's more to the game than the characters.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Dungeon Twister Characters: Multiple Uses Part VI - Prison

Here's the same warning I've put on each of the other Multiple Uses posts: The following is my analysis. There are very good players who disagree with me. There are very good players who agree with me.

This is my sixth set-by-set entry in the series - I'm skipping the French-Only sets for now, but will get back to them, because they bear discussion. This entry will discuss Dungeon Twister: Prison.

Base Set Average Movement: 3.625
Base Set Average Strength: 2.00

Prison Average Movement: 3.875 (Includes 3 characters repeated from the original base set)
Prison Average Strength: 1.875 (Includes 3 characters repeated from the original base set)

As you can see, this set is a hair faster and not quite as strong as the original base set was. This set also includes three repeat characters - the Wizard, the Cleric, and the Mechanork.

I'm not going to rehash the Wizard, Cleric, or Mechanork - you can find them here.

Chris did a great job with this set - there isn't much in the way of ambiguity about what these characters are meant to do. This makes Prison an excellent intro to the game, so this is more of an overview of these characters than necessarily multiple uses for them, although I hope to hit a few of those as well.

The Colossus is an excellent Hitter. In fact, he's the strongest non-Dragon Hitter in the game. He has a few advantages over the Dragons in this role, too - he's only worth 1 VP if killed and he isn't vulnerable to the DragonSlayer.

He's slow, but he can help your Runners by breaking the portcullises open (just like the Warrior could previously). Just be sure to back him up - there are three characters in this set alone who can run right between his legs. I suggest leaving an empty space between him and his backup (unless there is an intersection to slip through) - it makes Group Combat more likely.

The Naga's ability to move through the Arrow-Slits combined with his Speed of Six makes him an excellent Runner. You can also use him very effectively as a flanker to set up Group Combat, or as a retriever to grab items you want (or want to keep away from your opponent). Give him a Rope, and he's nearly unstoppable anywhere on the map.

For 2AP, the Banshee may push any character in line of sight back one space. The Banshee is a ranged Ring of Repulsion. Those of you who have played Fire and Water are cringing already. The ability to push a character back a spaces is a nice quick way to kill off your uncareful opponents.

A lot of people complained at how dramatically the Ring changed play when Fire and Water was released. By including the Banshee in the new base set, people get to start paying attention to positioning right off the bat. The Banshee also introduces a bit more Action Management by having a special ability which requires an additional Action Point.

With the Banshee's speed of 5, it's also a good Runner, especially if given a rope.

The backstabber can open Portcullises like the Thief. She's a bit slower and has the same basic combat stats as the Thief, but she has +2 Strength in Group Combat if at least one unwounded friendly is involved.

She's completely straightforward in terms of ability, and I expect a lot of people will have her following the Colossus around. I'd argue that doing so is a waste of the Backstabber's ability - she should follow one of your runners around. Pairing her with the Colossus means you'll have combat strength of 9 + card, which is completely overwhelming. Pairing her with the Naga gives you 6 + card, which is nearly as difficult to overcome and means you have a fast-moving flexible hit squad that doesn't look all that scary until after their first combat.

In extended play, pair her with the Assassin.

The Telepath chooses his opponent's combat card in one-on-one combat. This ability reminds me a great deal of the Weapon Master from Paladins and Dragons, but it's both more and less useful - for one, the Telepath has a base strength of zero. Since he can't choose to force his opponent to play a '0,' he will have to play at least a three in order to beat even the weakest characters. And that number goes up the more often he's in combat. If your opponent hasn't thought through this themselves, his ability looks pretty scary. It means your opponent may devote significant resources to taking the Telepath out, making him an effective decoy.

The best use I've found for the Telepath involves cleaning up wounded opponents - since the Strength for wounded characters is zero already, it's easier for the Telepath to be useful against them.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Heroes of the World

So, after several on-again/off-again posts about what was in the booth at GenCon, it's time to talk about what (in my opinion) was the best new game in the booth.

That's not to say the other games in the booth were bad - in fact, one reason I like demoing for Asmodee is the fact that I won't get stuck demoing a lemon. I can honestly and without hesitation say that I liked every game in the booth. I'll admit that I'm a bit burned out on Ghost Stories, but I'll still tell you (honestly) that it's a good game.

The Game of the Show for me? Heroes of the World.

It's funny that I like this one, too - after reading a few of the comments posted about it on BGG, it really doesn't sound like a very good game. In fact, it sounds boring and derivative.

That is not at all the impression I have of the game. At the moment, I have more recorded plays than anyone. I don't know if that makes me an expert, but it does mean I've played it more than just about anyone.

The game is very simple. Each turn, players will add a Hero to their hand, and then choose a Hero from their hand to play.

You then run through four steps with each Hero.

Step 1: Add population to the board. You get to add a number of population markers equal to the number shown on the Hero you play. They can only be played in regions influenced by this particular Hero, however.
Step 2: Educate the People. Some Heroes provide Discovery Markers, which are drawn from a bag and must be played in the regions influenced by that Hero. These are things like "Pottery" and "Roads." Each Marker also has a point value. There are "bad" advances - Slavery and Epidemic, for example, are worth 0 points. If playing a marker causes one Region to completely fill, then the turn pauses so that region can be scored. I'll go over scoring in a bit.
Step 3: Make War. Not all Heroes have a conquest value. If they do, you may choose a region (which, again, must be on the Hero's card), choose a target, and roll the die. Four results are good for the Attacker, one is good for the Defender, and one is bad for both.
Step 4: Make & Spend Money. Each Hero has a Treasury number - this is what is added to the player's pocket. You can then spend money on one of three things: Moving population around, Wonders (which have a variety of effects), and Victory Points.

I mentioned that I'd get to scoring:
Once all of a region's Discovery Marker spaces are full, each player counts the number of Population markers they have in that space. The first three places may score points - First place scores the total value of the Discovery Markers in that Region. Second scores first place, rounded up. Third place scores the lowest value Discovery Marker in that region. The scoring timing gives an edge to the player who triggers the scoring, as they have the ability to inflate their numbers before triggering the scoring.

Once four of five regions are scored, the game is paused again to set up for the Modern Epoch. The unbuilt Wonders are discarded, and the draw pile of Heroes is swapped for a different set. There's a different set of advances for the modern world, too.

The game ends when seven out of eight regions are scored.

So what's new mechanically?

Not much, actually. Area Control is old hat. Role Selection is old hat. Card Drafting isn't new. Using money to move pieces isn't new, either.

But re-using old mechanisms doesn't mean a game is bad - Mission: Red Planet is a lot of fun, and it's mechanics are all recycled. It borrows its role selection from Citadels, and its area control (and scheduled scoring) from El Grande.

Heroes of the World sold a copy every time we demoed it. Over the last five years, we have had some really good games in the booth, but never before has every single demo led to a sale.

Of all the games in the booth this year, it's the one I've played the most post-GenCon, as well. It's also held up very well to repeated replays - I love Ghost Stories, but I got burned out on it after GenCon. Although I'm getting the itch to play it again ...

I love Senji, too. Again: Burned out on it.

Part of the reason for the lack of burnout is the "weight" - Heroes of the World is a fairly light game. But don't mistake its weight for anything resembling weakness.

Next week, I'm probably going to talk a bit about Dungeon Twister: Prison. It's out in Europe and the rules are available online, so I can talk more freely, now, and I have a few things to say.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This Week

I'll be a bit late in posting this week - my boss has been out of town, so I've been too tired to write and edit. And believe me when I tell you that I need the editing.

She'll be back on Wednesday, so I should be able to get my post finished on Thursday evening. I hope.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Game Overview: Magnifico

I mentioned previously that there were three new games sprung on us at GenCon - I already discussed Dice Town. The second of these games was Magnifico.

On Wednesday evening, my wife and I borrowed this game (and the third one), and took them back to the hotel room to learn the rules so that we could demo them effectively on Thursday.

This one was mine to learn. I read through the rules, but was too tired to make sense of it.

Too tired? Before GenCon even started?

Yes. You see, on Tuesday evening, the Asmodee team went out for dinner together. As we do every year. We had a great time, but we didn't get back to the hotel room until after midnight. Then we spent Wednesday setting the booth up, which is where the new games appeared. The dealer's room during setup is hot. Very hot - as in "they don't bother with air conditioning" hot. And setup is a lot of physical labor.

So after that, we were exhausted. And I couldn't make sense of the Magnifico rules. So they had to wait. After I played it, I regretted having waited.

On the face of it, Magnifico resembles Risk - moreso than any game I've played in the last few years. How does it resemble Risk? Plastic armies conquering territory. Six-sided dice for combat resolution. A colorful map. Yep, that's it.

How is it different?
1) Auction Phase. Players bid on blueprints for tanks and airplanes that they can build. Players also bid on art and unit upgrades.

2) Income. In Risk, you gain income based solely on how much territory you control, and that income is all new armies. In Magnifico, your income is based on territory held and your castles, and that income is money. Army growth is simple: Do you hold a territory? Place an additional unit there.

3) Expansion. In Magnifico, you spend money to build Tanks and Airplanes, you spend your money to develop upgrades for your units, you spend money to upgrade your fortification, and you spend money to attack.

... wait. What? You spend money to attack?

That's right. You can't just attack anyone you want to attack. You have to spend 10 Ducats to attack an unoccupied territory, and you have to spend 30 Ducats to attack an opponent.

4) Multiple unit types. There are infantry, tanks, and aircraft. Each uses their own set of rules when attacking, as well. Infantry is straightforward - each hit rolled on the die inflicts one hit on the enemy. These hits are then reduced by the fortification level of the defender, and casualties are removed. Each tank rolls multiple dice and does a certain number of hits (reduced by fortification, of course). Aircraft work similarly to tanks, but they can ignore fortification when they attack.

Didn't I mention the fortifications?

Your castles serve as factories (each castle and build one Tank or Airplane per turn), but also help protect your infantry when you are attacked. Since all casualties are taken out of the infantry, this is potentially huge. And you can upgrade your castles. Every tower increases the number of hits your castle absorbs by one.

Oh - and since the Tanks and Airplanes can be captured, they are cast in a neutral color. If I attack with three infantry and two tanks, and you kill my infantry, my tanks become your tanks.

5) Victory Conditions. Risk plays until there is a sole survivor. Magnifico plays until someone has 30 Victory Points. Victory points are scored by winning the auction at the beginning, having the most territory, having the most castles, having the most DaVinci cards in play, and so on. In practice, the game plays in about an hour.

The game has a surprising amount of depth - the unit upgrades can swing a game, and knowing what upgrades you want can make a huge difference in the auction. Aggressive players need to bid enough to get what they want, but can't bid too much or else they won't be able to afford their attacks.

This is a good game - it's a solid game, and I liked it very much - but it wasn't the best new game in the booth.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Seven Years Strong

As of tonight, the Wednesday Game Night I host has been running for seven years. In the last seven years, well over a hundred different people have attended. Somewhere, I have a list of people who had attended as of a few years ago.

We've played hundreds of games, ranging from a variety of unpublished prototypes to games that are hundreds of years old. Here is a list of the games we played in the first year.

We've had to reschedule twice (that I can recall), but we have always met at least once per week.

The crew grows and shrinks and grows and shrinks. New people move to the area, and they move away (and we do miss you), but the games go on.

We've been hosted at Phoenix Games for close to five years, now, and it's been good for us. It's increased our visibility and, at the same time, has helped sell games.

To celebrate, we're having a potluck.

Normally, we charge $5 per person to attend. Tonight, it's free if you bring food.

We'd love to see you there.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

PAX '09: How I Got A Badge

Originally uploaded by Gamethyme
I can't figure out how to scheduled a post with Flickr, so this will be up a few hours earlier than normal. In fact, it'll be up Tuesday Night instead of Wednesday Morning. Don't get used to early posts, however.

I need to write about PAX. And I still haven't given GenCon a full writeup, either.

I will do both of these in detail later. For now, the Tale of How I Got A Pass.

As long-time readers of this blog will know, my home Game Store is Phoenix Games (at the moment, this may be a better link). Phoenix is where my weekly Wednesday gathering is held, and it's where the bulk of my boardgaming dollar goes.

You will also know that I demo games for Asmodee Editions. This is not restricted to Phoenix. One of the game stores I visit often is Uncle's Games, as it's about a mile from where I work and is a well-run game store. I spend the bulk of my role-playing dollar there.

I had been asked for feedback on whether or not Asmodee should consider a booth at PAX. My plan was to buy my pass on payday. Unfortunately, PAX sold out.

I had loaned my copy of Dixit to the Uncle's Games district manager in hopes that they would pick the game up (they did, by the way - they loved the game). When I swung by to pick my copy up on Monday, there was an employee there that I didn't know. We spent some time chatting, and I'd discussed a desire to attend PAX, as I was loaning a number of my games to the game library.

"Let me pull some strings and see what I can do," she said. I left her my name and number and e-mail address.

Thursday morning, I had voice mail. "This is Jodi from Uncle's," she said, "I have a PAX Pass for you, but you have to be willing to spend some time in the tabletop gaming area."

What? You mean I have to spend time in one of the two areas where I had planned to scout most heavily? In exchange, I am free to wander the convention for a few hours?

So, to make a long story short, I wound up at PAX, wearing a badge that said, "Uncle's Games," a very odd feeling. (If you're reading this, Jodi, thank you again!)

I took a few photos, and compiled a report for Asmodee. I even got to play a few games. Some of you will notice that this list is very similar to another list I recently compiled.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to talk about PAX and GenCon and the games I played. I think we all know how good I am at keeping to my plans, however.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

PAX Confirmed

Just a quick note to confirm: I will be at PAX this weekend, so next week's post may be late.

It will certainly include The Adventure Of Obtaining A PAX Badge.

Many thanks to Jodi from Uncles Games for making it possible.

Tale to follow.

If you happen to be at PAX, be sure to drop by Tabletop Gaming to say "Hi."

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Dice Town

I had one of my Twitter friends ask me what I thought of Dice Town. I explained that Twitter was not exactly the best stage for a full game review - that 140 character limit makes good reviews very difficult.

I promised him a more in-depth review here, "soon."

Those of you who read my Geeklist of games played at GenCon will have spotted that there were three games that were sprung on us shortly after arrival.

All three of them were great games - one of them was (in my opinion) the best new game in the booth. "New," in this case meaning "Learned since July 20, 2009." That includes everything included in my pre-GenCon prep shipment and the games I learned at GenCon.

Here is an overview of the first game of the three "surprise" games:

Dice Town
First of all, let me explain: Dice hate me. Games such as Yahtzee leave me completely cold because of this hate (and yes, I realize that there is a great deal of strategy to Yahtzee, if you look for it).

And yet, I love Dice Town. There's something oddly appealing about it.

I didn't have a chance to look at the game until late on Thursday - we had a guy in the booth who knew the game already, and that table was constantly busy, and frequently had a line of people waiting to demo it.

The game itself is simple: Roll the dice. Decide how many dice you want to keep. Pay the Stagecoach for every die you'll be keeping past the first. Set kept dice aside and roll the remaining dice.

Once someone has five kept dice, everyone else gets one last roll, when they are required to keep all dice (at no cost).

Then go through each stage on the board - do you have the most nines? Grab one Gold Nugget for each nine. Every number has a benefit associated with having the most of them. One player will get "General Store" cards, which have a variety of effects. One player will get to rob the bank. One player can steal a card from another player. One player becomes Sheriff and decides who wins ties.

The best hand gets the Deed to some property. If that hand has any aces, you will get some bonus Deeds.

Any player who didn't win anything else gets to vist Doc Badluck, for an additional benefit.

Once the Gold Nuggets or Property Deeds are all gone, players check their score. Each gold nugget is one point. Each dollar is half a point. Some of the General Store cards are worth points. Each property deed is worth points.

Most points wins.

I don't know what it is about this game that appeals to me. Maybe it's the fun of the poker dice. Maybe it's the fact that you can win the game without even once having the best hand.

The game is simple enough to teach in five minutes, and plays quickly enough to qualify as filler. My regular Wednesday group has asked for it for the last few weeks.

Was it the best game in the booth? No. Sorry. That was Dungeon Twister (Did you really expect a different answer from me?).

Was it the best New to Me game in the booth? No.

Was it the game which most surprised me? Yes, absolutely.

And the most telling question: Will I voluntarily play it again? Yes. Absolutely. I'll probably even play it tomorrow ...

Next week, I'll try to discuss one of the other two surprise games - it depends on PAX and how much time I have this weekend. Don't worry, though. I'll get to them eventually.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Collections: Just Another Game

I was all set to rant and rave about a couple of the games we managed to bring home from GenCon, when the head of the credit department at my office threw me an interesting curve ball.

"I'm not," he told me, "a gamer myself, but I like hiring tabletop gamers for Collections."

This was a sufficiently interesting statement that I pressed him for more information, and here's what he had to say:

Gamers understand the concept of turns.
When making collections calls, sometimes it's your turn to talk, sometimes it's the other guy's turn to talk. Non-gamers have a habit of interrupting or of spending too much time talking. Roleplayers especially understand the concept of whose turn it is to talk.

"In my experience," he said, "knowing that it's your turn to listen is an important skill that isn't easy to teach."

Gamers understand and follow the rules.
We want to win on our own merits. If a rule doesn't make sense or conflicts with another rule, we try to follow the spirit of the rules.

"Not every call will be covered by the rules," he explained, "so you need to be able to follow the intent of the rules. The rules don't make allowances for family illness or road construction in front of our building."

Gamers want to win.
Yes, gaming is a social affair. Yes, we all have our own reasons for playing games. But when you get right down to it, we want to win.

"In collections like we do," I learned, "the goal isn't to make the customer pay off completely - the goal is to get the customer to the point where we can sell to him again. That's not to say we never want our customer to pay off - because we do - but as a wholesaler, we are vested in our customer's success."

Gamers are problem-solvers who can adapt to changing situations.
Similar to being able to follow the rules, gamers are able to change strategies if the existing strategy isn't working.

"Obviously, all customers have different circumstances. Some customers can make small payments weekly, others can pay monthly or quarterly. The trick is to figure out which type of customer you are talking to, and create a plan that works for them."

Now, I'm not going to be joining the Collections team any time soon. This is partly because I have no great desire to move to Portland and partly because I like the job I have now. If I ever do join a collections team, however, I'll remember this:

"Collections is just another game. The best collectors are already aware of this and play to win."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mission #200

Mission #200
Originally uploaded by Gamethyme
I'm still recovering from GenCon. It was good/great/magnificent.

It was a show filled with highlights for me - I'll try to get a post up later this week about it, but it may be next week.

The image you see here is one of my highlights: It's the scorecard from my 200th Virtual World Battletech Mission. It's also the first time I set foot in a VWE pod since the Wizards of the Coast Game Center in Seattle closed, nearly a decade ago. I'd saved my 200th mission for my birthday, and the center closed between 199 and my birthday.

I just want to thank John and Katie for recruiting enough players to fill an Advanced-level mission at GenCon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

No Post This Week

I'm tied up in final prep for GenCon, so there won't be a post this week.

Head on over to my twitter account to keep up. I can't promise a lot of tweets, as I will be working.

You can also follow #GenCon on Twitter - there's an RSS link to the right. It'll give you a good overview of what is going on all over the place, not just in and around the Asmodee booth. :)

Saturday, August 08, 2009

System Still Matters

Here's what we've covered so far:
System Matters because it sets up the expectations of the players.
System Matters because it provides a reward system, impacting the style of play.

Here's today's discussion:
System Matters because the system chosen restricts player choice.

This restriction begins at character generation:

If I tell you "Make a character for a game," you will probably first ask me what game it will be. After all, if we're playing D&D and you show up with a GURPS Traveller character, we have a problem.

If I'm more specific with my request - "Make a GURPS Swashbucklers character," then you have more information, but still not enough to get started. At this point, you need to know what power level the character should be, if there are any off-limits Advantages or Disadvantages, and so on.

Every choice that I, as a GM, give to my players modifies their available choices. "Make me a 150 point GURPS Swashbucklers character. Some GURPS Steampunk and GURPS Space skills and Advantages are available. Disadvantages worth more than 5 points require specific approval. Humans only, unless you have a really cool concept you want me to work in. No magic-users."

I've just told my players what I want - and have given them a clue about the game we'll be playing. I slammed a lot of doors shut - I won't be seeing a party of Elves, for example. But they know to expect Steampunk Swashbucklers in Space. Since magic is not a default in any of these settings, my mention of magic-users hints that magic does exist in the setting. It also suggests that it's rare - or problematic in some way. And non-humans do exist - that is made explicitly clear in my instructions.

System Matters because it can support the setting.

In Dungeons and Dragons, you very rarely see Wizards on the front lines going toe-to-toe with monsters. Instead, Wizards tend to stand back and fire spells from a safe distance.

The setting1 says, "Wizards are not melee fighters - they are support characters." In response, the rules give wizards fewer hit points and it's harder for them to wear armor.

Many games have system "tweaks" to respond to specific setting differences. The Fuzion system is an excellent example of this: Even with the same rules, a Champions: New Millennium character would not fit into a Bubblegum Crisis campaign - even if you ignored the setting clash.

Why? Because Bubblegum Crisis is a fairly gritty setting where guns are a thing to be feared. Superheroes, by contrast, don't usually use guns (or fear guns). Because of this, the Champions character will eat most Bubblegum Crisis adventures for breakfast. And a Dragonball Z character will overpower a Champions character without breaking a sweat.

In general, I'm not fond of universal systems in part because people will inevitably try crossovers between two very different settings, and then get upset when it doesn't 'Work.' This is partly because of publishers who get lazy and don't tweak their engine for different settings - In my Fuzion example above, the system is tweaked for each setting.

Part of my general dislike for universal systems is because of this lack of subtle setting reinforcement - a GURPS Swashbucklers character will be equally as effective against a sword-wielding medieval knight out of armor as against a WWII soldier in the trenches. In theory, any 100-point GURPS character is on par with any other 100-point GURPS character.

This is one of the few areas where I give credit to Palladium Books. If you look at the Rifts setting and all of the hundreds of thousands of available character options, it rapidly becomes clear that certain character options are dramatically more powerful than others. The various authors and designers involved don't even try to maintain balance. There are character races which are clearly better than others. I'd go so far as to guess that there are options that less than 1% of Rifts players take because they are so dramatically inferior. At the core of this inferiority is the Mega-Damage settings, where some character are 100x as tough as others just because they're from a different universe. There's actually a decent rant on this here.

I've got more to say on this, but this post is long enough already, I think. I'll be at GenCon next week and will be spending my normal writing time packing. This means a two-week disruption in posting here2. In the meantime, feel free to watch my Twitter feed, which will be active next week.

I'll see you after GenCon.

1 I say "The Setting" - the same applies to all published D&D settings I can think of, many of which are virtually identical.

2 The Wednesday AFTER GenCon may just be an overview of my haul.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Late Again!

This week's post will be late - My nephew's first birthday party was Sunday, so I haven't had a chance to finish my pending post.

Also: RPG.GEEKDO.COM is now open. It's from the minds behind BoardGameGeek, and hope to have similar utility. So far, it looks pretty good.

Go poke around a bit while you're waiting for me. :)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bakong: Why I Should Never Run A Game Company

As you may or may not know, I spend a lot of time communicating with people about games, and I'm learning more and more what it takes to run a successful game company.

And I couldn't do it - there are just too many things to balance.

For example: What games would I choose to publish? Right out of the gate, Game publishers have to decide whether they are targeting the hardcore or the casual gamer. There are publishers who do both - but you need a starting point, and veering too far from the starting point loses you fans. Asmodee has managed a middle-of-the-road strategy thus far - but they had a head start, as they are France's largest game publisher and had a number of excellent games to choose from.

Even so, were I in charge, I would have made some serious mistakes. For example, I would probably not have published Jungle Speed, which was (arguably) their first US hit.

I also would have passed on Bakong as being "too simple."

Bakong is very simple:

Start by laying out the "board" - basically, make a line of tiles from the starting camp to the Temple and back.

Then roll two dice. Use one die to flip a tile somewhere in front of you and use the other to move. There are hazards which can stop your movement or hurt you. Your move may allow you to pick up one or more emeralds. You may pick up some equipment to ignore one or more of the hazards. Picking up equipment and emeralds fills your backpack, by the way. You don't have room to carry everything you want.

Either way, each turn you have one decision: Which die do I use to flip, and which one is my movement die? If you manage to obtain equipment, it adds the further question, "Which piece of equipment is best for me?"

As soon as you reach the temple, you should take the largest Emerald still there and start back. The emeralds are large and impose some severe limits on space in your pack. In fact, if you have the biggest emerald, you can't fit the best equipment. The biggest emerald also prevents you from healing.

The first player to reach the Temple and return gets a bonus tile. After that, it's a matter of waiting to score.

You score points for Emeralds (the big one you'll have as well as the little ones), and lose points for wounds. Most points wins.

That's it. The game really is that simple.

It's a game that could do well if it found a spot on the shelves at Target or Wal*Mart. That's not to say it's a bad game - because it isn't. It's a very good game, and could very easily become an excellent gateway game, if given a chance.

It also fills a niche that is frequently overlooked by game companies: Games for children. There aren't many games which bridge the gap that falls between Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders and Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne. And most of these gap games aren't likely to be on display at GenCon, as they are mass-market.

Last year, we had some kids come to our booth to play games. The same five kids, over and over and over and over. While they could understand the rules enough to play the games, they just as clearly weren't grasping the strategy involved. This led to games where other people may have gotten negative impressions of a game because of how the kids played. These kids, for the record, were not dumb. They were just young.

If those kids are back this year, I'm gonna try to show them Bakong.

I'm also going to try to sell a copy to my friends Dawn & Jim. I think Eli is about the right age and attention span for this one.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

GenCon Games

GenCon Games
Originally uploaded by Gamethyme
As I'm sure you know by now, I work the Asmodee booth at GenCon. If you didn't know that already, then you probably haven't been reading very long.

So I'd been wondering what games we'd be focusing on at GenCon this year. I'm still not sure which games will be our focus, but, after receiving a package this evening, I now have a much better idea.

I was specifically told to be familiar with the rules for these games:

Bombay, Snow Tails, Dixit, Two expansions for Formula D, Bakong, You Robot, and Ca$h 'n Gun$: Live.

Not a problem. I also expect to play a fair amount of Giants, Jungle Speed, and Ghost Stories. And, of course, that old convention standby, Werewolves of Miller's Hollow.

This year, we're sharing Booth 1601 with Repos Production.

My lovely and talented wife, Stephanie, will be present again this year. It means that our booth has three languages covered - I speak English, Stephanie is fluent in Spanish, and, of course, the Asmodee and Repos folks all speak French.

We have less than a month to go until GenCon. Because of this, I'll be spending the next few weeks getting ready - it means my updates will be probably shorter than you've gotten used to. As long-winded as I've been lately, this might be a good thing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More Dungeon Twister Thoughts

Back to boardgaming.


In fact, I may not get back to roleplaying until after GenCon at this rate.

See, I have more Dungeon Twister 2: Prison info than I am allowed to share.

I just finished updating my DT Reference file. I can't upload it until the game comes out - and I haven't updated the "Rooms" tab, yet, either.

But I have some numbers on the new set that those of you who are numbers geeks will appreciate and the rest of you may find interesting:

One of the biggest complaints I've seen lately about DT is that the Hit is significantly more powerful than the Run. I don't necessarily agree with this assessment, but it looks like Chris has noticed it as an issue - the average Speed of this set is 3.75, and the average Strength is 1.875. It means that the speed is almost exactly equal to the overall average (which is 3.77) and the Strength is about .5 lower than the overall average (which is 2.361).

In fact, this box has the second-lowest Strength so far - only Fire & Water has a lower average Strength.

The three returning characters were known - Cleric, Wizard, Mechanork. The remaining five are ... different. And very interesting.

The "Human-Snake" that was previously mentioned has been renamed. He is now the Naga.

The "Loop-holes" are the Arrow-Slits which were introduced in Sylvan Creatures, and they will continue to be called Arrow-Slits in no small part because that is what the English-speaking fan community already calls them.

Item-wise, I don't think anyone will be surprised to see the Rope or Key returning - since the Thief isn't in this set, they are both pretty much essential.

LIDT Members have now seen three previews - an image of Room 37B, preview art and photos of La Traitresse (Backstabber), and information on her special ability. If you're not a paid member, these links will give you the main page.

I also still need Regional Managers and Tournament Judges. Please let me know if you're interested in either of these.

I've given up on trying to predict what I'll have ready next week. :) There will be a post, but I have no idea what it'll be. I do still have some things to say about roleplaying and systems and the like. I also have a lot to say about GenCon, which is now less than a month away ... so tune in next week.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

System: Player Expectations and Style of Play

Since I'm going to be talking about system and how it impacts games for a bit, I think that it would be good to start by defining system.

For role-playing, I define a system as follows:
System: A set of rules used to determine the success or failure of characters within a role-playing game.
There are other elements which nearly every system has, but they are all designed to support the core success/failure mechanism of the system. For example, most games have a character generation system of some sort.

The most common core mechanisms involve dice, and can be summed up in a single sentence - "Roll one die, add appropriate modifiers and compare to a target number." "Roll a number of dice. Count the number of those dice which equal or exceed a certain number."

Systems also provide reward systems. Most of the time, this takes the form of experience points which allow characters to change and grow.

Each system brings with it certain expectations, which can drastically color how players react to it.

Where do the expectations come from? A variety of sources.

The most important and influential piece of the player expectation puzzle is the game's reward system. In Dungeons & Dragons, defeating monsters1 and disarming traps give you experience points which are added to your total. At certain threshholds, you gain more abilities which make you more effective at defeating monsters and disarming traps. The system doesn't spell out rewards for outwitting NPC's or avoiding combat. This leads to a specific style of play.

In the Tribe 8 (and other Silhouette-system games), you gain experience for being involved with the game, for advancing the story, for staying in character, and for working as a team. Yes, you can get experience for defeating enemies, but you can potentially obtain more experience for a dramatic act of self-sacrifice than for that defeat.

In other games, survival is its own reward. Call of Cthulhu is probably the most infamous game in this respect.

Other games provide additional rewards - King Arthur Pendragon, with its Winter Phase allows players to build dynasties, not just characters.

While it's the major contributor, a game's reward system is not the only element which impacts a game's style of play. So what else influences player expectations?

Rules focus. In Ars Magica, for example, devotes more than two-thirds of the rules to the magic system. Not surprisingly, the game focuses on magic. In fact, the combat system is almost underdeveloped by comparison.

Skill Lists. Tales From The Floating Vagabond had a skill list which included, "Swing Nasty Pointy Thing with Panache." With a list like that players knew from the outset that the game didn't take itself too seriously. It's worth noting that the game (and a number of its supplements) are now available at Drive Thru RPG.

Interior Art. CthulhuTech is illustrated throughout, and there are a number of images that make me think, "I wanna be that guy."

Game Fiction. I'm not talking about the Dragonlance novels, here. Nearly every game includes one or more bits of introductory fiction. These are frequently incomplete and end with a cliffhanger of sorts before introducing the rules elements demonstrated by that fiction. More importantly, they give you an idea what the setting is.

So what about Universal Systems? That is: systems which don't tie to a specific setting or genre. Universal systems generally lack a specific rules focus, they have very diverse skill lists, and the interior art and game fiction are all over the map in terms of quality and flavor. GURPS, FUDGE, Silhouette, and d20 have all tried to be completely universal systems - how well do they succeed? I'll talk about universal systems next week.

1 Until fairly recently, "Defeating" always meant "killing." Now, if you can force them to retreat or flee, you get credit for defeating them.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Late This Week

I will have a post up this week - it'll just be late.

I'm still recovering from a (quite good) trip to North Carolina, where I didn't have any access to a computer and so wasn't able to get anything written.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Briefly Back to Boardgaming

Remember last week, when I said I'd probably have something to say about Dungeon Twister or Ghost Stories: White Moon or something?

Well, I do have something to say about Dungeon Twister. And a few other games.

See, I forgot that last weekend was Origins. And the SdJ announcement. Many congratulations to Rio Grande Games and Donald X. Vaccarino for winning both with Dominion.

Also, congrats to Archaia Studios Press and Luke Crane for Mouse Guard's upset win! I'll be ordering a copy from IPR after GenCon.

Remember when I mentioned that the LIDT was accepting paid members, now? Well, there is now a benefit to having paid: An exclusive preview of one of the DT2 rooms. Room 37B. It can be found here, if you are logged into as a paid member. The LIDT will also be handling tournaments and goodie distribution with the new edition. Information on membership is here.

I also tweaked the sidebar a bit - I now have a Google Voice account, so if you have a DT Rules Question that can't wait, you can call me. I don't know if it works outside of the US, but it doesn't hurt to try.

Next week, I'll talk more about System and RPG's. I promise. If this weekend's wedding in North Carolina doesn't kill me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

System Matters

Let's get to the meat of the discussion, shall we? I have two words for you - they are words that the large sections of the RPG publishing industry spent the better part of a decade trying to convince you were incorrect. Words that the rest of the industry spent the same amount of time trying to reinforce and remind you of.

These two words?

System Matters

In 2000, Dungeons & Dragons released its third edition. The game was a huge step forward for D&D - it transformed the game, and advanced the system so it was almost caught up to the rest of the industry1. But it did one thing that advanced the entire industry - it opened its system up to third-party publishers, with a few restrictions. This meant that anyone could publish product that used the same system as the best-selling game in the industry. They were even allowed to claim compatiblity. Did I say allowed? I mean "required." Each book said on the front, "Requires the use of the Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook." Sales exploded. For everyone. We saw d20 Superhero games, d20 Pulp Noir Detective games, d20 Cyberpunk games, d20 Horror games ...

For the first few months, all you needed to do in order to sell product to a distributor was slap that d20 logo onto the product.

And everyone that produced d20 product spent time telling you, "System doesn't matter. The flavor of the game comes from the Game Master (GM)." In essence, "The d20 Version of Game is just the same as the non-d20 Version of Game. If you are noticing a difference in your game, it's all your GM's fault." More on this later. And by "later," I mean, "Probably next week."

What these publishers forgot - and hoped you would forget - is that each system brings with it its own set of player expectations. Someone who enjoys GURPS is probably not going to enjoy a system with fewer rules, such as Vampire: The Masquerade, because each game has a completely different reward system. And yes, I know about the train wreck known as GURPS Vampire: The Masquerade. It took the Gothic Punk setting of the one and shoehorned it to the system of the other. The problem was that most GURPS players weren't interested in the setting, and most V:tM players preferred the system they already had. Steve Jackson Games published a few other World of Darkness adaptations

In fact, I suspect that GURPS Vampire: The Masquerade is a large part of why White Wolf and Steve Jackson both approached the d20 system the way they did - White Wolf published a series of settings and adventures that were completely unrelated to their World of Darkness setting (and didn't use the White Wolf name), and Steve Jackson Games waited a few years, and then began mocking d20 with The Munchkin Player's Guide.

Meanwhile, other games quietly started to take advantage of a growing d20 backlash. In 2001, Sorcerer (a game which had existed since the mid-90's) was a success in its print incarnation - not a huge success, but enough that smaller independent publishers started to take note. Discussion of game theory on the Forge took off. A few years later, the Indie Press Revolution took off. While they haven't billed themselves as such, these groups are to role-playing what the Punk movement was to music. But that's another subject for another time.

Is this to say there is no such thing as a functional universal system? No. Not at all. I'm also not saying d20 was a bad game - I thought some a few d20 versions were actually superior to the "original" versions of some games. I'll talk more about both of these later, as well.

I know it seems like I spend more time talking about what I'm going to talk about instead of just talking about it.

Here is why:
Every sentence I type spills fifteen more ideas into my notebook. Just in the last few paragraphs, I've realized that I have six different Cthulhu games (Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Toon2, Call of Cthulhu d20, GURPS Cthulhupunk, and CthulhuTech), that I have two different universal systems within arms reach (GURPS and FUDGE), and that I haven't played a White Wolf game in nearly a decade.

And, once I start to talk about one of those, they spill even more ideas. For example, it occurs to me that the Cthulhu games are a perfect example of how system matters. Each has their own way of dealing with sanity, and each has a different "feel" to it which is based in large part on the system. I am also aware that d20 tried to be a universal system, and it succeeded to a limited extent, but it still isn't as universal as FUDGE. I should write about universal systems and where they succeed and fail.


So join me next week, when I continue talking about system and how it matters. And, in a few weeks, I'll talk about setting and how it matters and how it interacts with system.

I'll get back to boardgaming, I promise. In fact, next week - despite what I've said here - I'll probably have an entry about Dungeon Twister. Or Ghost Stories: White Moon, which I've now seen the rules to. If, of course, I'm allowed to say anything about it.

It's also worth mentioning that Asmodee Editions and Repos Productions are sharing a booth at GenCon this year. I'm looking forward to meeting the Repos team.

1 Care to see the history of the d20 system? Check out Talislanta sometime. Especially the 3rd edition, written by Jonathan Tweet and published by Wizards of the Coast.

2 The Tooniversal Tour Guide has a section entitled "The Crawl of Catchoolu." It's a parody, but it's a functional parody.