Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking Forward, Looking Back

2010 was, for me, a good year.  Here are my highlights, and a few comments on what you can expect to see next year.

First, my overview of 2010

More Hits
According to Google Analytics, my numbers this year were up considerably over last year.  This was helped in part by two significant spikes in readership that I'll cover below.

A Swing In Focus
Previously, this blog has been 90% boardgaming content with occasional posts thrown to roleplayers. This year, that focus shifted slightly and I started throwing in more and more RPG-related posts. In all honesty, I went a bit too far on this - but I'll discuss that when I go over next year's goals.

Affiliate Programs
Both and DriveThuRPG have affiliate programs which I signed up for this year.  It was easy to do and - honestly - hasn't interfered with what I'm already doing.  I haven't found myself writing posts just to sell stuff, either - which I had been afraid of.

Character Generation is Interesting
Who knew?  When Stephanie and I started on our Character Generation Project, I figured that it would be interesting only to us. Oddly, it wasn't. In fact, it's become one of the more popular features of the blog. People seem to be very interested in the response of a relatively new gamer struggling through character generation over and over and over.

The Kindle
Early this year, I acquired a Kindle DX. It's dramatically impacted my reading habits (and my RPG purchasing habits). Previously, I was hesitant to spend money on RPG PDF's, as my computer doesn't go with me everywhere.  My Kindle does.  My Kindle is directly responsible for the upswing in RPG-related posts you've seen here.

Expanded Availability
This blog is also now available on Kindle. At Amazon's original $1.99 price, I had no takers - but they recently dropped it to $0.99/month.  I have (or had) one UK reader (my data on UK readers is two months behind). I don't know who you are, but thank you!

More Attention
I received two huge spikes in readership.

The first was when Wil Wheaton somehow noticed my blog and then linked back to it on Reddit. I don't know if he's a regular reader or not, but that was pretty exciting for me. (And, if you are reading this, THANK YOU!)

The second spike was when I was critical of Fantasy Flight's latest advertising scheme. Several gaming news sites (starting with Purple Pawn) picked the story up, and it was off. Let me state here and now: I don't dislike FFG. I like a number of their games, and have had nothing but good experiences in dealing with them. I was just skeptical about this particular device and the terms of its license.

A New Domain
I know - I should have posted this earlier. But the purchase of as a domain was a big step for me.

A Contest
I gave away a couple of PDF's, courtesy of Cubicle 7.  I actually very much enjoyed being able to give something away. While I didn't have a huge number of entries, I had more than expected - and thank all of you for entering. I hope to have another contest or two next year.

SO: What's on tap for next year?

More Balance
My goal is to adjust my focus so that I'm writing more or less equally about boardgaming and roleplaying. I love both ends of the hobby, and don't want to neglect either one.

More Photos
I don't want to hit you with just Wall Of Text, week after week. Images, illustrations, and photos make the blog more interesting.

More Criticism of FFG
Just kidding. While it did bring in lots of hits, I do genuinely like the vast majority of their products and I have never had anything but good to say about their customer service on those rare occasions in which I needed to contact them.

Although I did recently twitch pretty hard when they recently announced the upcoming release of the "new" game Magnifico, a game which has been on my shelf for a year and a half ...

More Characters
I have several Character Generation Project posts nearly ready to go. I figure that if you want to read it, I'm willing to post it.

More Reviews
I applied to several publishers to be on their reviewer lists last year, and I made it onto a few lists. It helps that I only applied to publishers to generally print things I like. That said, however, my reviews have been favorably received even by non-publishers. I'm no Tom Vasel - nor do I plan to be - but I enjoy writing about what I've been reading.

More Conventions
Last year, I only went to one Convention. In 2011, I'm going to at least two. Hopefully more. In fact, the first one - SCARAB - is only a few weeks off.

A Better Buffer
Through most of the year, I had a comfortable 1-2 week buffer of posts so I could be sick or lazy and not panic.  At one point, I had more than a month's worth or cushion. I hope to stay in that 3+ week zone, as it gives me a great deal of flexibility. If something happens, I can always reschedule a post or two to give you the Breaking News, as it were.

Continued LIDT Membership
This is a reminder for current LIDT members: Membership runs from January 1 to December 31st. You may want to get your 2011 dues in fairly soon. If you're not a member, I would like to encourage you to check it out.

So there you have it: Two Years In A Nutshell.

Oh - and if you're not doing anything for New Year's Eve - I do have a suggestion for you.

I'll see you next year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blockers: Stopping the Run

Sounds like a football post, doesn't it? I'm actually talking about Dungeon Twister again, here.

I've mentioned previously that I divide the game's characters into four groups - Hitters, Blockers, Runners, and Specialists. Hitters excel at attacking other characters. Runners are all about escaping the board. Blockers slow down opposing Runners so that your Hitters can inflict pain. Specialists do everything else.

In general, Hitters are characters with a Strength greater than 3; Runners have a Speed greater than 3; Specialists are all over the map in terms of Strength and Speed.

Technically, I think Blockers are a subset of Specialists - they are characters who excel at slowing opposing runners down. Most Blockers will have Strength and Speed hovering around 3 - but not all of them.

Using the Block as your strategy is very similar to using the Hit - the difference is that you wait for your opponent's runners to come to you before you pound them. It's a little riskier, because your opponent's fast characters will be close to your starting line (and their freedom).

To block effectively, you need to be aware of the choke points on the map. The key is to force your opponent to choose the wrong ones. To do so, you need visible menace near a few of them to steer your opponent towards the less-safe ones. The goal of the Block is to get your opponent's characters to a position where your Hitters can reach them.

The Wizard with the Fireball Wand is one of the better route deterrents - but he's a one-shot.  If he's sitting (visibly) a few AP away from a choke point, your opponent should be hesitant about wandering in his range. But he's one of the most versatile characters in the game - he can Hit (once), he can Run, his magic-using makes him a Specialist ...

The Stone Elemental is an amazing Blocker. His Speed of 3 makes him an effective mover. His Strength of 8 makes him ideal for planting in front of a choke point.  The fact that he can't attack means that you just need to put him in the way, forcing your opponent to attack him in order to get past.

The Ice Dragon is excellent for stopping your opponents in their tracks. His power to freeze opponents makes him extremely useful for the Block. He's a bit too slow to be completely effective, however.

The Living Trap is ... odd, but extremely useful when forcing your opponents to find another way around.  If your opponent is having trouble dealing with Traps, he's an excellent Blocker. Because you can't move from one obstacle to another with a rope, he can very easily be placed next to a trap, forcing your opponent to find another way around.  And he's fast enough to reposition himself in a hurry.

The Araknis is another good Blocker - provided your opponent isn't using torches.  Torches are one of those items that not everyone takes. They're potentially critical.

Any character who can drop more characters into play - the Breeder or the Necromancer - can be useful. More characters makes it easier to set up group combat.

The Red Dragon with a good line of sight makes an excellent Blocker - much like the Wizard with the Fireball Wand. Only significantly less flexible.  He can cover a single choke point (or more, depending on how the rooms are).

The Prophet let you decide how rooms start. I've mentioned numerous times that controlling the rooms is one of the keys to the game - the Prophet gives you an edge right from the beginning of the game.

The Mechanork is the king of Room Control. I've talked a great deal about him previously, so I won't belabor the point here.

The Illusionist is one of the best Blockers in the game. Her ability to throw up illusory barricades should not be underestimated, as there are very few ways to clear them.

So what about items?

The Fireball Wand should always be in play if the Wizard is in play. If you didn't bring your Wizard, don't bring your Wand. Which, I realize is, common sense that doesn't need to be repeated.

Ropes help your Blockers get into position without a great deal of re-routing. Just don't let the rope fall into your opponent's hands.

Armor makes your Blockers more durable when you start fighting. In general, I prefer Armor to weapons. I think I've discussed this in the past.

The Charm Scroll is useful for forcing your opponent into places they don't want to be in. The only drawback is that it requires a Magic-User to use. Mind you, since you should have the Illusionist in the party, you have that covered already.

Cursed Items are useful for forcing your opponent to either find another way around or suffer the consequences for the remainder of the game. Placing one in a choke point makes that choke point a whole lot less appealing.

The Ring of Chaos is another tool of room control that not only strengthens your control, but it can also weaken your opponent's control.

Hopefully these pointers will help your game more than they've helped mine.

One quick reminder: We're only a few weeks off, now from SCARAB. I'm going to be there.  Stephanie will be there. I hope it'll be big.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

AFK Tavern

A few weeks ago, Stephanie and I went to check out a new local business, the AFK Tavern.

They're here for gamers.

A lot of my friends posted reviews of the place - most of them were glowing reviews, with ... a few hesitations. There were a few reviews from people who I didn't know, as well. Most of them were hesitant. The biggest complaint was slow service - which, given that it was opening weekend, is a completely understandable issue.

Reading their blog and watching their Facebook page, I saw that they hired more staff, and made some other tweaks due to customer feedback.

My wife and I arrived on a Friday evening, and waited to be seated. "Oh," said one of the staff, "We took the sign down. You can just seat yourself - I just need to check your ID." And then we were shown to a table. I saw numerous customers over the course of the evening being seated.

The menu was entertainingly written. And they had "Games on Tap," - an odd mix that I suspect was from the owner's personal collection. Some of the games were ill-suited to this sort of environment - Diplomacy, for example.(AFK folk, if you stumble across this, a suggestion: Local Game Stores tend to have a number of store copies of games, and some of them have game rental services. You may want to consider some sort of mutually beneficial partnership.)

We sat near the door, so I didn't get a good look at the layout. From where we sat, we could see a couch facing an XBox and a PS3 with Rock Band. The central table had Magic players at it - and, based on the number of empty glasses in front of them, they'd been there for a while.

The atmosphere reminded me a bit of an upscale Denny's. It was loud enough that I had trouble carrying on much of a conversation with my wife - playing a game was the best option, as you can (usually) play a game without much conversation. Depending on the game, of course. Increasing the height of the booths will cut down a lot of this - but it'll also remove part of the geek social element.

Now Denny's makes much of their money be cycling people through regularly. And by being open all night. At night, they're slow. Gamers love it because they can be there all night without interruption. But if gamers head there by day, they're not nearly as welcome. Because Denny's needs those tables for customers who will spend money. When your business is designed for gamers, you need to encourage them to keep spending money. Otherwise, you're renting a table for too low a price for your business to be viable. It's a potential future problem, but doesn't appear to be an issue, yet. The Magic players at the central table kept ordering more food.

Speaking of the food (and beverage): They have mead. It's one of the many meads my wife and I have tried before, and it's decent. They also have a hard cider and a root beer and a number of beers, ales, and wines. I'm not fond of Snoqualmie Root Beer, but it did seem to be the only non-alcoholic item on their drink menu (unless I overlooked soft drinks, which is possible).

We ordered cheese sticks to start with, and I ordered the Orc Burger with extra cheese. Stephanie ordered the Dragon Burger with the salsa on the side. When trying out a new restaurant, special orders are important.

Yes, service was slow, but not on par with what had previously been reported. The place was still extremely busy. We had no less than three staff members checking on our table, however. Making sure we'd been able to order, that we had drinks, that we didn't need anything further ... Enough that, when it was time to pay and leave, we weren't sure who had our check.

The Mozzarella sticks were crispy and warm on the outside, and the inside was warm, but not as melted as I tend to like them. Either they didn't cook them for long enough, or else they sat for a while after they came out of the fryer.

When the burgers arrived, mine looked both dry and burnt. The cheese wasn't melted - it wasn't even in contact with the patty, in fact. It sat on the bottom bun, with the ham stacked on top of it and the patty was over the ham. The top bun held the salami. The burger was lukewarm. Much like the cheese, I suspect it'd been sitting for a few minutes after it came off of the grill. My wife's Dragon Burger was similar. They got our special orders right, though.

My burger was tasty, however. And not as dry as it looked. Really tasty. My wife said her burger was good, too.

I do plan to return - the food was tasty. The prices were a bit higher than similar places, but that may help offset the table rental issue I mentioned earlier. And they're not unreasonable.

All in all? I give the place a B-.

The food was tasty and not unreasonably priced, if a bit cold.
The service is a bit scattered (Are they seating customers or not? Who is my server?).
The atmosphere is loud, but social.
There was a little bit of Gamer Funk, but the ventilation was good enough that it was only an issue if we walked near the offending tables.
I would eat there again.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

New Year's Eve

Do you have plans for New Year's Eve, yet?  If not, you may want to consider joining us at Phoenix Games for our annual Game (All) Night event.

The Game Night crew has been doing this since before Phoenix opened, and so we usually pull in a pretty good crowd of enthusiastic gamers.  Last year, we brought in 60 or so folks, and I played Pack & Stack, Great Dalmuti, Neuroshima Hex, Power Grid, and Race for the Galaxy. Other members of the group played Battlestar Galactica, Dominion, Caylus, Le Havre, Vegas Showdown, Heroscape, and PitchCar Mini.

And those are just the folks who recorded their games that I've been able to find - so a huge variety of games will be there and available to play.

Brian generally kicks the event off around 5 pm, and I'm usually there until 9 or 10 am.

If you bring food or drinks to share, this event is free (no alcohol, please). Otherwise, there is a $5 cover which will be used for plates and cups and forks and the like.

We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Gale Force 9 and Alea Tools: Tabletop Gaming Markers

At GenCon, Gale Force 9 was showing off their DM's Token Set, which was the first released item for their D&D Token Sets. I looked at it skeptically - there were some good ideas, but the DM for our tabletop game already uses Alea Tools - he has one of the Game Master Packs.

But the pricing difference made a true apples to apples comparison of those two products impossible. Or, at the least, unfair in the extreme.

So I was excited when Gale Force 9 rolled out their PC Token Sets. Since I play a Cleric in my face-to-face game, I picked up the Cleric Token Set at my FLGS. They make token sets for most (if not all) of the PHB classes. Rangers, for example.

The token sets are about $13, which is not that different from the Neo-Markers Player Pack made by Alea Tools, so now I can do an apples to apples comparison.

And, having used both, I can fairly easily compare them.

So, the contents:
Alea Tools Player Pack: Ten unlabeled one-inch circular magnetic markers in six different colors. For just a little more, you can get one of their GM's Packs (there are three available).

Gale Force 9 Player Pack: 1 "Status Tile," 1 Action Point marker, 1 Mount token, 1 Teardrop-shaped Bloodied token, 1 Dying token, 1 Light Source marker, 1 "Marked" token, 1 "Full Defense" marker, 1 Invisibility Standup, and 13 tokens in three different designs. Most of these are in a "dragonscale" shape that allows them to fit to the one-inch base of a D&D Mini. Or to one of the Alea Tools markers.

Now, the art on the GF9 Packs is nice. And the fact that you can use dry-erase (or wet-erase) markers on them is a bonus.

The Status Tile is almost like a mini character sheet, with spaces for hit points, statuses, and other effects. I don't like the art on this tile, because it doesn't resemble my character. In fact, they could have saved a couple of bucks by having a more generic version of this particular part of the set. But then people would have griped about the lack of art. Especially when compared to the rest of the set. I also find its surface not great for markers - it's too smooth, and the marking pen has trouble gaining traction to drop ink. Pencil & Paper was more convenient overall than this tile.

How useful are the tokens?  The "Mount" token - when combined with Kobold Quarterly #15's article on mounted combat - is likely to be useful. The "Marked" token? Not that useful for a Cleric. I can't think of any Cleric powers that Mark a target - but I could be wrong. The "Invisible Cleric" cutout figure? Not honestly all that useful. How often is your party invisible? Especially the non-Wizard members of the team? Every one of their player sets has a different "invisible" cutout. In practice, you will probably only need one or two cutouts at most. The "Light Source" marker? Theoretically it could be very useful. But not in any game I've played. In any edition. This is a good candidate for a GM's pack rather than a Player's pack.  The "Bloodied" and "Dying" markers are ... useful. To a point. And the Dragonscale-shaped markers? They're nice, as long as your character doesn't plan to move around. And the unlabeled aspect is both good and bad - are the glowing hammers a +1 to attack?  A +1 for an ally to attack? Maybe they're a defense bonus? An indicator of vulnerability to Radiant Damage? The same goes for the other two types of tokens.

Also: What are the odds I'm going to need thirteen tokens in play?

So what does Alea Tools bring to the table?

Ten tokens in six different colors. They're sized to fit under the standard 1" D&D miniature bases. But they won't stick there unless you've attached magnets to the bases of the figures. Alea Tools does sell magnets with a sticky side that are designed to be attached to the bottom of the minis. Remember the complaints I had a few paragraphs back about the unlabeled aspect of the GF9 tokens? These have the same problem. But some colors here are pretty straightforward - a Red marker is "Bloodied." The colors are - in some ways - more intuitive than the art on the Gale Force 9 sets. And the magnetic aspect makes these easy to move as a stack when your character moves. The drawback is that - if you have a lot of markers - your character's mini will tower over the rest of the party.

All in all, neither one is a bad buy. I give the edge to Alea Tools in this one.

I'm also keeping my eye on Glowing Glyph's Condition Crowns (Photos here and here) - unfortunately, their Twitter and Facebook accounts haven't been updated since mid-August (as of the time of this writing, that is), so I don't know if it's still a viable product or if it fizzled.