Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Games To Spur Creativity

I have a lot of friends who are authors. Some of them are poets, some of them write nonfiction, and some of them write a variety of fiction.

I'm constantly looking for games to sharpen their creativity or to provide them with prompts.

I may have mentioned Dixit before. The images in the game are extremely evocative, and can easily be used as writing prompts for any type of creative writing.

To be perfectly honest, it's yet another of those games I didn't think I'd like after reading the rules. But the art sold me, and - as mentioned - I think it has a role beyond that of "game."

A few weeks ago, I received Dixit 2. Marie Cardouat continues her excellent work crafting art which contains hundreds of small stories just bubbling below the surface. If you're a writer or a teacher, I heartily recommend it.

And now Repos Productions has a new creative game: Cyrano.

Cyrano is all about writing quatrains - that is, four lines with two rhymes. You can use the ABAB, AABB, or ABBA rhyme schemes. Your group may allow mid-line rhymes and half-rhymes.

But it's another game that I didn't think I'd like until I tried it.

The rules are simple: Each round, you are given two rhyme sounds and a theme. Asmodee's recent contest (which may not be over, yet ... hurry and enter!) used -ICE and -OVE as the rhymes, and "Being a Teenager" as the theme. Everyone writes a quick quatrain.

You get points for using rhyming words that other people don't. So if my wife and I were playing, and both used "Love" in our quatrains, neither of us would score points for that word. But if she rhymed it with "Dove" and I rhymed it with "Glove," we would score points for those words.

Then everyone votes on which poem is best. You get points based on how much you agree with the group (not based on whether your poem was best, which reduces the writing pressure).

I'll admit it: This didn't sound like fun to me. While I have been known to occasionally spit out a poem or two, it isn't something I thought could be fun in a game setting.

I was wrong, and I freely admit it.

Not only that, but this, too, can be used to teach and to sharpen creativity. A lot of really good books on driving creativity tell you to free-write the bad stuff out of your system first so you can focus on the good stuff. The Artist's Way pushes this with early morning freewrites.

I think that Cyrano can be used as this early morning freewrite. Wake up, draw a couple of cards, write a quatrain. Repeat several times until you're ready to focus on your writing.

Teachers can use it by restricting rhyme schemes or meter or both.

All in all, I think you'll like this one if you give it a shot.

Especially if you still need to finish your morning pages.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is Gaming All I Think About?

After reading last week's post, a friend of mine had the following to say to me:
It's interesting, Eric. You tied all of the fiction you have been reading back to gaming. Do you ever think about anything else?
Yes. Yes I do. I spend a lot of time thinking non-gaming thoughts. But not when I'm reading. Even non-fiction keeps throwing game ideas at me.

For example, Salt: A World History. When I read this book a few years ago, it sparked all kinds of RPG ideas to the point where my wife and I are working on a setting using some of the ideas from this book.

When I read fiction, I try to figure out which game system will best model that story. Allow me to qualify this just a bit. See, I'm a firm believer that RPG's and literature (or, for that matter, novels) are two different animals.

Wolfgang Baur put it very well in The Kobold Guide to Game Design, Volume 1: Adventures:
The worldbuilding I do with these fiction writers tends to be all about the telling detail, building the world from the character out (or building the character from the setting), directing reader attention to just the parts that matter and so on. None of this works for gamers because, as a designer, your first audience is the DM, not the players.
There's more to it than that, though. You see, writers have to come up with dialog , and most gamers don't spend a lot of time talking - action is more central to adventure RPG's than conversation is. Players don't want to chat up the guard to find the clue he has - they want to knock him out and then bring him around and beat the clue out of him. But that's a much longer discussion for another week.

That said, however, when I read The Night Angel Trilogy, I was trying to figure out which system would best model the action (and magic) of the story. I wound up figuring it'd have to be something like Sorcerer, where the rules for what is possible are extremely flexible. But there are ideas in the book that I'd love to tie into a game of my own sometime ...

When I read Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It, I was trying to figure out how to work this into a Deadlands game.

Even when I'm using Google Reader, I keep seeing links like this one, which I easily could work into a Call of Cthulhu game.

And sometimes, my reading goes from game to book - for example, I recently read that Cubicle 7 was doing a book based on The Atrocity Archives. So I checked out the Wikipedia entry, which intrigued me enough to download the sample onto my Kindle. I liked the sample enough that I bought the whole book. And the sequel. And I read the two short stories that are on And I added the upcoming third book to my wishlist.

Speaking of fiction-to-game:  the preorder for The Dresden Files RPG is up.  We preordered earlier this week.

So yes. If I'm reading a book (or my Kindle), odds are about 90% that my brain is still working on games.

Do you think that's a problem?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reading, Prepping, and Playing

This post is basically just an overview of what I've been reading, prepping, and playing for the last few months. And I'm only going to talk about the ones I like. Fair warning: It's long, and I'm naturally a bit long-winded (as I'm sure you know by now).

I have been excited about this game since I played a prototype at GenCon last year. And now it's mine, received in my latest care package from Asmodee. It's also my wife's first print credit. And I've found that I really like the game. As it's distributed by Asmodee, you can find it at your FLGS, on, Thoughthammer, and Boards and Bits.

Another gift from Asmodee. I've been a fan of Bruno Cathala's games for a while, now. This continues the trend - it's fast-playing and simple. And oddly entertaining.

Heartily recommended.

Dixit 2
I honestly hadn't expected to like Dixit. I don't tend to like party games, you see. I don't like games with subjective elements most of the time, either. Just looking at the game, it looked like both of these.

I'm glad I gave it a shot, though. The art was totally enchanting, and the stories and fragments that spilled forth once gameplay started ...

This expansion is more of the same. Marie Cardouat continues her pattern of hauntingly beautiful story-drenched art which often tiptoes along the edge of disturbing.

If you liked the original, don't miss the expansion.

Ghost Stories
I'm still playing Ghost Stories. After playing it constantly for all of GenCon last year, I'm still playing. And the expansion has just improved things for me.

And no, I still haven't won on Wednesday. Soon. Soon.

Battleground: Kingdoms
I had a match a week or so that reminded me just how much I enjoy this game. Battleground: Fantasy Warfare is fun, and adding the campaign system from Kingdoms kicks it up a couple of notches in my book. Provided you and your opponent(s) can make your schedules work.

Dungeon Twister. Of course. I love this game, and need to write more about it. Especially since the XBox Live version is due in June.

I just acquired this one. The game play is not hugely awesome, but it is entertaining. I think my issue is a lack of deep decision-making; once you've drafted your team, you only need to make one decision per turn. Well, two. Which of your characters will act (usually an easy decision), and which opponent to target. It reminds me a bit of Pokemon. It also provides an excellent segue into what I'm reading, as the designer published a book to go along with the setting of the game.

This one is currently only available from the designer.

The World Of Rynaga: Prelude
I've barely started this one, but I like how it's put together. The art is phenomenal, and it provides an excellent travelogue. And its laying roots in my head that I may be able to create an RPG setting for. I'd love to see an RPG in this setting.

Io9 has a Book Club. This month, the book is Infoquake. I look forward to the discussion - it's a Cyberpunk-genre novel with some definite posthuman elements to it. You could definitely run an Eclipse Phase game with this setting and a bit of tweaking, but it'd fit a Cyberpunk game better.

Speaking of Eclipse Phase, I'm also reading The Quiet War. This is a novel which reads as though it were designed as an alternate setting for Eclipse Phase. Characters are locked into a single body, but the main conflict of the setting has its roots in several elements, one of which is the fact that the "Outers" have significantly modified themselves to better survive in space. You could also use Blue Planet V.2 for this setting.

As a bit of an alt-history geek, I was excited to hear about a book, Lost States, on NPR recently. It's a very funny book, but has a great deal of fodder for alt-history geeks who want to incorporate one (or more) of these states into the game. And it makes me wonder, too: How would Congress be different if we had a state of Lincoln in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho? How would the various Dakota divisions that were proposed have changed the political landscape? The (beautiful) maps are just gravy on an already tasty feast.

I just recently read The Night Angel Trilogy. These books would not work as a D&D setting, but I think it could really shine with Fudge. Or you could use the Cyberpunk system (just rework the setting, of course).

The Kobold Guide to Game Design is the single best resource I own with regards to adventure building. Volume 2 is also very good, and, even though I'm not an adventure designer, I think it'll be useful as a tool for critique. And if I ever feel the need to publish, I'm sure I will find this invaluable.

A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying reminds me of Pendragon crossed with the Legend of the Five Rings RPG. In a good way (in both cases).

Speaking of Pendragon, that's the next one-shot I'll be running. Once I'm ready. I have a good group of talented roleplayers who are actually interested in both trying and actively engaging these one-shots. I'll admit that I have some concerns about a one-shot of this one, but that's a discussion for another time.

I'm also reading Traveller (the latest edition from Mongoose). It reminds me a lot of the classic game, with a few of the old rough patches ironed out. It's "on deck" for the one-shots. Unless I can talk someone else into running one so I can play.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be writing more about Dungeon Twister (especially with the XBox Live Arcade version due in June). I've got a guest post coming (at some point) from my wife about gender and gaming. And, of course, more randomness. Just like you have come to expect from me.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

2010 Origins Awards: My Predictions

The 2010 Origins Award Nominees have been announced.

Some of these categories are not a big deal to me, but there are a few surprises buried in there. Here are my thoughts in the categories I pay attention to:

Card Game:

Martian Fluxx? Really? I guess there weren't a lot of good card games this year. It's also worth noting that Poo is no longer a Catalyst Game Labs product.

I'd like to see The Stars Are Right win this one, but I suspect that Thunderstone will take it.

Board Game

I don't have a lot to say here, oddly. I hope Steam or Endeavor take this one, because I strongly disliked Small World.

I suspect that the winner here will be Small World.

Children's Family, or Party Game

I was disappointed not to see Dixit on this list. That said, Pack and Stack is my favorite on the list, but four of these games are worth playing.

My bet for the winner? No clue, but, since I have to guess, I'm going with Pack and Stack.

Roleplaying Game

Eclipse Phase is amazing. A Song of Ice and Fire is phenomenal. Supernatural Roleplaying Game is tried and tested. Dr. Who: Adventures in Time and Space is much beloved of geeks.

I don't know FantasyCraft, but I should look into it.

I'd like to see A Song of Ice and Fire win this, but my money is on Eclipse Phase.

Roleplaying Game Supplement

Big Damn Heroes is the only one I've read from this category. I know Pinnacle did Weird War II originally as one of the best d20 Products on the market. I suspect it's just as strong, now.

My guess (and this is a total guess) is that Big Damn Heroes will squeak this one out.

Miniatures Figure or Line of Figures

No clue on this one. No real comments I can add, either.

I'd like to see Monsterpocalypse take this one, but I suspect that the Skaven will win it.

Miniatures Rules

Battletech: Strategic Operations is good, but my money is on Warmachine Prime, Mk II in this category.

Game Accessory

Knights of the Dinner Table is still in print? Excellent! I used to love that comic. Somewhere, I have a near-complete run from issue 3 through about 80.

Somehow, I don't see a dice set winning this. Nor do I see a poster map winning it.

Unfortunately, I think the winner will be Games Workshop with their Fortress of Redemption.

Game-Related Book

This is always an interesting category for me. Unfortunately, this year it's five books I haven't read. Sorry, guys. But I have heard about a few of them.

So my wild guess for a winner: Cthulhu 101.

Historical Board Game or expansion

Some strong contenders. My money here is on Conflict of Heroes, Storms of Steel. I like the system - it's more approachable than a lot of wargames are. And make no mistake - these are all wargames.

Historical Miniatures Figure or Line of Figures

Another category that I am unfamiliar with. The odd man out here is the Wings of War Albatross D.III - it's for a board game, and is pre-painted plastic.

Since I have to pick a winner, I'll go with the 15mm Ming Chinese from Old Glory. I've been impressed with their minis in the past.

Historical Miniatures Rules

Is Wings of War, World War II: Deluxe Edition really a miniatures game? I guess it is ...

My expected winner is Flames of War: Open Fire

And the last category on the list: Historical Miniatures Rules Supplement

Again, as I'm not a hardcore miniatures gamer these days, I have to go with what I've heard of. In this case, it's Flames of War: North Africa.

So there you have it.

Congrats to all of the nominees. We'll check back this summer to see how I did.