Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Reading, Prepping, and Playing

It's this blog's equivalent of a clip show!

I'm only half joking.

Here's what has kept me occupied through the end of 2011 and is likely to keep me going through the first part of 2012:

A co-worker bought a copy of Lu Zhan Jun Qi for me for Christmas. It reminds me strongly of Stratego. In a good way. The copy I received is as pictured on the page I linked, too.  It's gorgeous.

Asmodee gifted me with a copy of Eclipse.  It scratches that Twilight Imperium itch in about half the time. Not only that, but I like it quite a bit more than TI - the rules are clearer with less errata and no need for an expansion to fix its problems.

Tonight, I hope to introduce my usual Wednesday crowd to Quebec.  It was (for me) the Game of the Show at GenCon. I hope the Wednesday crowd takes to it as quickly.

Takenoko was in the same package as both Eclipse and Quebec. My first thought was, "Cute panda figure!" And then I had a chance to play. I like this game - it's cute-looking, but don't late that deceive you.  There is a surprising amount of game in the box.

I'm enjoying Mongoose's participation in the Bits and Mortar program. I've filled in my RuneQuest II (now Legend) PDF's, and have grabbed most of my Traveller PDFs, as well. I really only need the core book most of the time.

Speaking of Traveller, I grabbed Chthonian Stars. It makes me really want to run a Traveller game.

I have also taken advantage of Pelgrane Press' participation in the Bits & Mortar program.  I have most of the Gumshoe core books (lacking only Night's Black Agents), and so got those PDF's.  And finally had a chance to read through them and spend some time thinking about them. Wow. I knew Gumshoe was an awesome system, but on re-reading, it really shines. Most games have an "automatic success" threshold somewhere in the rulebook - Gumshoe basically says, "if it's essential to drive the story, then it's an automatic success.  Players can exert themselves for extra information if they want to."

I managed to acquire another PDF reader for the table, too. A customer gifted me with a Cydle M7.  It's less powerful than my Kindle Fire, but will work as a PDF reader. We plan to use it as a cookbook in the kitchen - its built-in stand makes it ideal for that purpose.

And Cubicle 7 continues to hold my interest. I now own all of Qin: The Warring States. Well, all of it that's available in English, that is. The next book is reportedly suffering from some translation issues - which is perfectly understandable from where I'm sitting. Of course, I've spent most of the last decade working with a French publisher on translations ...

I hear from people that I don't give FFG enough credit for their good games.  And it's true - I don't. Part of that is because I'm not buying any Games-Workshop licensed products. This removes the vast majority of FFG's output from my shopping list immediately. But I've played a few of them - and, for the most part, I do enjoy their board games.  In the next year, however, two of my most-anticipated games are coming from FFG, both of them reprints of a sort (and neither of them is Merchant of Venus).

Rex: Final Days of an Empire is FFG's rethemed reprint of the old Avalon Hill/Eon Dune board game. I have a copy already, but the reprint means I may be able to actually get it to the table.

They're also reprinting WizWar.  Again: I have a copy, but it never sees the table these days. Which is a shame, because it's fun.

And, finally, a reminder of my post from yesterday: Gaming at Phoenix Games in Mukilteo for New Year's Eve. We'd love to see you there.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Year's Eve

Got New Year's Eve plans, yet?

If not, you should consider joining us at Phoenix Games' annual Game (All) Night.

Kicking off Saturday at 5pm and wrapping up on Sunday when everyone goes home (Brian scheduled it for 2:30, but I've not gotten out of there before 8am).

It's $5 (or you can bring a dish for the potluck). The $5 goes towards basics like plates, cups, napkins, etc. So don't feel bad if you bring cash instead of food. The usual guideline for food is to bring enough for your group plus one. And we always need real food (that's not to say that chips and cookies are unwelcome, mind you).

Tomorrow: What I'm reading, prepping, and playing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Wishes

... and this is the post where I take a week away from discussing gaming to wish each and every one of you a happy holiday.  I don't care if you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, a birthday, the coming of the New Year, or any of the dozens and dozens of holidays which are celebrated this time of year: I hope this season is filled with joy and love and laughter for you.

I pray you are surrounded by family and/or friends who appreciate your company and enjoy your presence.

I hope you get to play that game you've been trying to get to the table. And I hope you win, even if your opponent is another of my readers.

Next week, I'll have a longer post covering what I've been reading, prepping, and playing - look for a batch of capsule reviews, and an overview of 2011. Maybe a few bits of info. on 2012 (if I can get permission to post them).

Thank you for reading - it's the best gift most of you can give me, and I very much appreciate it.

I'll see you next week.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

GenCon 2012

At about this time every year, I start to stress out about GenCon.  I worry that I screwed something up the previous year and won't be invited back.  I worry that maybe they needed me at some point when I was eating lunch and couldn't find me, and so I'm done.

I worry because I haven't seen any new rules in a few months, so maybe they've found someone else who will cost them less money and do a better job ...

It's all completely ridiculous. I know.  I work hard for them, and they know it. Have known it for a good long while, in fact.

Even so, I was greatly reassured a few weeks back to get an e-mail from Asmodee.  They're sending me some games. And I've had a sneak peek at the GenCon 2012 plans.

I can't spill the beans, but I really want to.  All I can say is that 2012 will be one of the Best GenCons Ever for me.  I say "one of" because that first GenCon will be hard to top - not because it was particularly great, but because it was My First GenCon.

Either way, the e-mail has reminded me that GenCon is coming. And, even though GenCon is only a part of my schedule for a few weeks per year, there are people working year-round on it. I wonder if Asmodee didn't finish last year's convention only to start immediately working on this one.

In fact, I have a hunch that it's always in the back of people's minds in this industry. I'm sure that, as they decide what to publish when, they have the various conventions marked on their calendars.  "This game is a big box.  While we could release it at any point between July and October, it'd be a good release for GenCon."  Or Origins. Or Essen. Or whatever convention they choose to push.  Larger publishers can probably release games at multiple conventions - "If we release this game at Origins, that leaves us that game for GenCon and that other game at Essen."

All of which is a reminder to me. My work in the gaming industry is part-time and seasonal. I do the non-demo work a few months before games are released, and it's sporadic at best.  There is no way I could make a living at it. But there are people who do make a living in the industry. Some of them make a pretty decent living at it - and they can't afford to lose sight of little things like convention dates.

And - even more amazingly to me - the folks working to make GenCon entertaining and wonderful are a microcosm of the industry as whole, which is people working to entertain us in our homes on our own schedules.

It's really rather intimidating for me to think about - that's a lot of people trying to keep us entertained ...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Designers & Dragons

I first saw a blurb on Designers & Dragons on (which shouldn't be surprising, as Shannon Appelcline is one of the bigwigs there). Hmm, I thought, that could be interesting. But it's likely to be a long dry read.

Then I saw it on Amazon. Fifty bucks? Who would pay fifty bucks for a book of gaming history? But I wishlisted it - in part to keep track of its availability. See I have a large wishlist. Terrifyingly so, at times.

It's also available as a PDF from DriveThru. Yet again, the price put me off from buying it.

Then, a few weeks back, my good friend Wade showed up at my house for a planned day of hanging out. "Have you seen this?" He pulled the book out of the trunk of his car.

The first thing I had to say was, "Wow. That thing's a tome." Followed almost immediately by, "I see why it's fifty bucks!"

It's big. And it's beautiful. And, at that point, I knew I had to own it.

Wade graciously allowed me to flip through it for a few.

It's few weeks later, and I now own a copy.  This book reminds me of the Hero system's core book from the 5th Edition - the one everyone called FRED?  It's massive.

Rather than writing in a strictly chronological order, Appelcline wrote his history publisher-by-publisher. He separated them into a number of different eras, and then handled each era in roughly chronological order.

The entries are well-researched and filled with interesting information. And Appelcline's writing style is very approachable (with occasional bits of snark, where appropriate).

The real beauty of this book doens't become clear until you hit the end of an entry. You see, Appelcline didn't write this book to be read straight through.  You can if you want to, but you'll miss out on the ability to follow a single thread - Gary Gygax's career, for example. Game Publishers which Sue Their Fans. The Future Publisher(s) of RuneQuest.

It's a very different way to read the book, and it's oddly engrossing. My only complaint with this is minor - a page reference would be helpful for this thread-jumping.

I have caught a fair number of editing hiccups - wrong words, missing words, misspellings, and the like. It's a bit distracting at points, but doesn't detract hugely from the book itself.

It's clear Appelcline loves his hobby, and a lot of research went into this volume.

The book won't be for everyone. If you aren't a hardcore gamer, this book isn't for you. If, on the other hand, you know someone who is hardcore, then this would be an excellent gift, provided they don't already own it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Player Goals

I received an e-mail from one of my Dungeons & Dragons DMs a few days back.  He's having doubts about continuing the game because he's read on a number of blogs and forums that Epic Tier "blows" in 4e.

Apparently a lot of game bloggers have different goals when playing games, and there are either mechanical issues or balance problems or something that bugs these other bloggers that doesn't bother me.

You see, when I play games, my goals change as the game goes on.

At lower power levels, my goal is to learn the system and have fun with Kewl Character Powers. This is also when I'll start to look at higher-level elements to figure out what direction I want the character to take, including  powers and abilities to pick up in the future.  At low levels, I get an idea of a character's potential - and it doesn't matter if the game is D&D or L5R or Burning Wheel.  This is also the point at which I start to get a handle on a character's personality. Thorssen, my first-level Paladin of the Raven Queen, for example, started out looking at moving towards a Warlord multiclass, but he wound up being much less warlike than I had expected once he hit the table.

Lower levels are also when the party dynamic is figured out - this is a group goal. It's when we figure out that Thorssen and Kaden (the party's Cleric) will banter back and forth and try to convert one another. Both respect the other (and the other's God), but they communicate best via light teasing. Thorssen is a bit afraid of Thava, our party's Dragonborn Wizard - you can tell in part because he tends to move away from her when a fight starts. Out of combat, he barely speaks to her at all.  He's got a soft spot for the party's Thief, and he respects the fighter. He often moves to help either with their flanking. He also has a habit of making himself a target so that the rest of the party can maneuver around him.

The mid-level game is when the party dynamic is pretty well set. My goal for the character may change, depending on what personality turns he's taken. For example, Thorssen had initially multiclassed into Bard (it did the same thing as the Warlord without being ... well ... warlike). And then, a few levels later, he retrained out of it, as it didn't fit. It was too social for him.  Thorssen is a high-Charisma character that isn't particularly social by nature. And no, we're not using Charisma as Attractiveness (at least, I don't think we are ... ).

As we head into higher levels, my goal in play will be working on the internal party relationships more and more.  Do I have kewl powers? Yes. Do they matter?  Not really.  It's great that I can be a part of the team.

At all levels of play, however, my biggest goal as a player is getting to interact with my friends. Not Thorssen's friends - my friends. John and Katie and Jim and Dawn and Stephanie and (occasionally guest-starring) Wade.

In fact, that social aspect is my biggest goal no matter what game I'm playing. I don't care if it's No Thanks! or Burning Empires or Fireborn. I come to the table (whether a real physical table or a virtual web-based table) because around that table are people I like with whom I want to spend more time.

I might even play Fluxx, if that's what it'd take to get these folks to the table with me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kindle Fire

It's not often that cnet's Eric Franklin and I both talk about the same thing. In fact, I tend to avoid discussing too many tech things in part because I don't want to be mistaken for him - he's an expert in his field, and electronics are his field.

Last week, however, my Kindle Fire arrived.

Fair warning: This post has three videos in it, so those of you reading via RSS (or Kindle) may not be able to see the videos. I've filled in text overviews so that the videos are optional, and I am really hoping that their formatting doesn't make this entry illegible for you.

When gaming, I like having two copies of the necessary books - one for the GM and one for the player(s). Having a tablet gives me a shortcut for this - I can have one print copy for the players, and then the tablet for my own reference. DriveThruRPG has been a godsend for me on several fronts - and, with the addition of my Fire, it has potential to be even more useful (and dangerous to my wallet).

Some of you may recall that I have a Kindle DX that I have been using to read PDF files for several years, now. As a pure reader, it was exceptional ... most of the time.

Some of you may also recall that there is one PDF that has been the bane of my Kindle's existence: Houses of the Blooded.

It took upwards of ten minutes to render a single page of this particular file on the DX, which made for some very frustrating reading. Even then, the render was ... less-than-perfect. And the "convert" option that Amazon advertised turned it into an unreadable hash. So did conversion via Calibre.

Now, keep in mind: I have had my Fire all of two days at this point.  There is probably something I'm overlooking for one or more of these programs that would improve the few negative portions of this experience.

So here is my Kindle Fire with its built-in PDF reader showing how it can read Houses of the Blooded:

Not too shabby. It loads quickly, it scrolls smoothly, it zooms well.  In fact if I were just reading the PDF and not trying to use it to run a game, I'd use this built-in reader nearly every time. It's fast, it's smooth, and it looks good. Not only that, but it remembers where I left off.

But it won't work At The Table, because there's no search option. If I don't know what page something is on, I have no fast way to look it up.

Adobe also produced a version of their Acrobat Reader for the Android Platorm.  It's free for the Fire, so I gave that one a spin, too.

I was less impressed with this one.  It was slower than the built-in reader, and just plain didn't look as good. But it has a few bells and whistles that the barebones reader lacked. Most notably, the ability to search the file.

For a free At The Table file reader, this one gets the nod - If I'm looking for a rule, I can search for a word that is in that rule and have a shot at finding it relatively quickly.

Finally, I used QuickOffice Pro - it's not free, though. This software allows you to open more than just PDF files - there is a free version that lets you read these other files, but not change them.  The pro version lets you both open and modify Word and Excel files and, as an added bonus, lets you read PDF files.

It had a few rendering artifacts here and there, but on the whole it was much faster than the Adobe software AND was searchable.  If I were using my Fire at the table, this is the app I would use. QuickOffice can integrate itself with your Dropbox and Google Docs, too, making it easy to put the files onto your Fire without needing to move them around (most of my DriveThruRPG library has been migrating to my DropBox as a convenient storage area).

All in all, I will definitely be packing my Fire along as a game aid. For the first time to see if it's as useful as having the book (without being too distracting). After that, I suspect it'll be just another game aid. Much like dice or pencils are.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

AFK Tavern: Second Visit

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about a new local business - the AFK Tavern. I wrapped up with, "I would eat there again."  It took me nearly a year to do so, but we went back for another shot.

We were promptly greeted even before we made it to the door - a significant change from last time.  We were offered a tour and were shown to our table almost immediately.

We noticed pretty quickly that the menu had changed.  Their drink menu had grown significantly, for one. There wasn't a list of Games On Tap on the menu anymore, either.

We picked something that looked promising, and our server took our drink order very promptly.

And then we waited.  It was close to twenty minutes before our drinks were served. Mind you, the place was packed, so I expected a delay when I ordered.

What I hadn't expected was that there were only two servers (or "NPCs") on duty that night plus two other folks who must have been managers.  It was about five minutes after our drinks arrived that we were able to order our food. And then - again - we waited.

Last time, the mozzarella sticks were barely warm in the middle, as if the fryer temp was too high.  I think they have lowered their fryer temperature since then, because this time the mozzarella sticks were much better. They were crispy on the outside and still mostly hot on the inside. A HUGE improvement over last time.

The fried pickles were tasty - but a bit cold by the time they made it out to us. And they could have done with a dip of some sort (ranch dressing is a fairly common dip for deep-fried pickle slices - Food Network offers this recipe).

Shortly after the appetizers arrived, we requested glasses of water, and I ordered a glass of mead (I'm a sucker for a good mead). When the mead arrived, it was room temperature.  Mead should be chilled - it reduces the burn and enhances the sweet.

Our food arrived a few minutes after our appetizers were finished. My Orcburger was good.  On the previous visit, it had been both cold and burnt.  That was not a problem this time - it was really good.  It took a while for the water to arrive, however.  Our server wandered past the table three or four times before bringing it to us.

The dessert selection was impressive.  My wife's mousse was really good and rich enough that she couldn't finish it. My lemon drop cheesecake was tasty and had the perfect texture (which is make-or-break for a cheesecake).

In fact, my only real complaint this time around was the slow service. I still have some of the same concerns as I had last time, but they seem to be turning the tables over quickly enough. And they've managed to stay open for a year, now.

This time, out, I can give them a solid B.  The only thing they need to bump that to an A is to increase the service.  I will definitely be back, just not on a Friday.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Jack Vasel Memorial Fund Auction

This will be a shorter post than usual:

A few weeks back, I talked briefly about some of the game-oriented and gamer-driven charities that are out there.  One of those that I mentioned was the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund.

They are hosting a fund-raising auction on BoardGameGeek.  Go! Bid! You only have about a week left!

In an ideal world, everything will go for more than double cover price.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

GeekGirlCon Debrief

Sometime last year, I remember getting a business card announcing something called GeekGirlCon. The icon looked very interesting, and what little I heard made it sound interesting. I started hearing more about it as it got closer, and when I realized that it was happening near us, I figured it would be worth a shot.

Since it’s a first-time convention, I was expecting it to be fairly small, and probably slightly un-organized. While it was small, I was pleasantly surprised by how well-run the whole thing was. The panels were in two different locations at the Seattle Center, with about a 10 minute walk between them. The moderators were kind enough to end the panels about 10 minutes before the scheduled end time to give both the panelists and attendees the time to get from one location to the other, which I appreciated - it meant that I didn’t feel as rushed when trying to go from one panel to the next. There were clear signs showing where things were happening, which was good, as the panels were being held in rooms in much larger buildings and would have been a bit hard to find if you didn’t know exactly where they are.

There was a dealers’ room, which was pretty small and cramped, but full of some incredible vendors. One of the really neat things was how happy all of the vendors were to be there - every sale was a moment of victory. A lot of them seemed to be either local folks or people who sold primarily online, so conventions still seemed new and exciting. The vendors were all of the people that I look for at other conventions - costumes, jewelry, books, board was a very dangerous room for my wallet. The University Bookstore had a stall and used it for author and artist signings, which led to a bit of a backup in the aisles. Little things like that are pretty easy to fix, though, so I don’t see that it would an issue next year, depending on the venue.

The panelists were amazing - there were some pretty big names mixed with some local talent. My dear friend Gwen was on a panel about audio drama (insert shameless plug here), and an incredible panel on YA included Scott Westerfeld (of Leviathan and Uglies fame) and Hope Larson, who recently finished drawing a graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time. There was a really interesting panel on killing cattiness in the geek community, and I realized that it’s the kind of panel that couldn’t happen at many conventions. The panelists and attendees managed to discuss cattiness without descending into cattiness themselves, which is impressive - they were able to calmly discuss issues they’d seen (and, in some cases, participated in), without calling names or getting into any fights themselves.

I think that demonstrates one of the best things about this convention - the overall atmosphere was incredibly welcoming and open. I’ve always talked about geekdom as being like a group of different languages, and most conventions focus on only one or two different languages - video games, board games, anime, that sort of thing. This convention, however, incorporated everything - there were panels about costuming, video games, writing, and a pretty decent open gaming area. The main thread that connected everything was not the language of geek we all speak, but the fact that we were women. There were plenty of guys there, too - some of them looked like they were dragged there by their girlfriends, but most looked like they were happy to be there on their own. The different kinds of geek were mingling freely, and the costumes ran the gamut from anime characters to many, many Princess Leias.

Overall, it was the most welcoming environment that I’d ever been in, and it was probably the most comfortable I’ve ever felt at a convention. I’m hoping to help out next year, and I am definitely looking forward to going again and seeing how it grows. If you’re in the Seattle area next fall, I highly recommend stopping by and watching GeekGirlCon demonstrate how a geek convention should be run.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Merchants of Venus

There was a bit of a stir last week at Essen, when two different publishers announced that they had secured the rights to the (out of print) Merchants of Venus game.

Stronghold Games has been working with the original designer, Richard Hamblen. Fantasy Flight Games has been working with the descendents of the original publisher, Avalon Hill (now a division of Hasbro).

So who legally holds the rights to produce the game?  That's the million dollar question.

Something that I haven't mentioned before, 

It's entirely possible that both publishers could do versions of the game, provided one of them doesn't use the original art and rules text.

Yes, really.
Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.
Of course, then one of them may claim the other has published a derivative work and another kettle of fish (which I freely admit to not understanding at all) is opened.

We could have another Scrabble vs Scrabulous situation, here - and there is some excellent analysis of that (now old and resolved) situation here. It may also turn into a Steam/Age of Steam debacle.

Personally, I'd like to see both versions hit the market - Stronghold has a history of doing an excellent job with their various reprints, and Fantasy Flight has done an excellent job of cleaning up and/or chroming their reprints.

But that's not likely to happen.

As one BGG user said:
So the situation on the rights of old Avalon Hill-games is as unclear as people always said, eh? Very bad for all involved parties and maybe no one really is to blame.
Here's hoping that it ends well for all - including the fans.

But you'll forgive me if I have my doubts of a positive outcome.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Claustrophobia: De Profundis

For those of you just joining us, it's the expansion to Claustrophobia which is due late this month (or early next month), if CROC manages to retrieve the copies from the South Pacific.

A few weeks back, I shared an unboxing video for Claustrophobia de Profundis.

A few days after that, Asmodee posted a video they shot at GenCon of me, talking briefly about the game.

So what's left to say?
A fair amount - the video doesn't show off just how well-put-together the pieces are. Seriously: Check these beauties out:

Claustrophobia 012
Now, because this is the internet and people on the internet seem to need to complain, allow me to complain about these figures for you. Or more accurately, allow me to list the complaints I've seen about these figures:

1) The Sicaria need eyes.
2) The clothing the Sicaria are wearing is too bright.
3) The Hellhounds don't seem to be as detailed as the Troglodytes from the base game were. 
Sounds like ... really minor complaints, honestly.  Would the Sicaria look better with eyes?  Probably. But I don't know that I'd have been satisfied with poorly-done eyes, either. My Redeemer has slightly crazy-looking eyes - it's appropriate, mind you. The Redeemer always comes across (to me, at least) as a bit unhinged.

The clothing for the Sicaria isn't actually bright.  They're armored. So the Sicaria (Angela and Ruth, according to CROC) are the only characters in the game (other than the Redeemer) wearing any sort of armor.  In fact, these are not cheesecake figures by any stretch of the imagination, which is nice.

So what's in the box?

Sphere covered this. What he didn't mention is that there are TWELVE scenarios in there - that's double what was in the base game.

I've played a few of the scenarios, too - it's good. Really good.

A few months ago, Asmodee posted something on their websitesite that caused my wife to comment. They basically said, "If you dislike Claustrophobia, you're going to hate the expansion." She thought it was bad marketing. But it's true.

What this set does is take the base game and turn it up a few notches. Everything I liked about the base game is enhanced with the expansion.  The Demon player has difficult decisions to make with their dice every turn - do they need to get more TP? What's a better choice: 2 TP to buy a Demon or an extra die next turn? Will a card help? What's more important in this situation: A Demon or a Troglodyte?

With the addition of the expansion, the Demon player has to keep track of their Hellhounds, too. They only cost 3 TP to summon, and get a free die in the turn in which they're summoned. But in later turns, they use of one of the Demon player's dice.

The Humans previously had to decide where to put their dice to do the most good during initiative - the Sicaria don't make that decision any easier, as their skills make them different both from one another and from the rest of the team.  Not only that, but the question of attacking the Demon or the Trogs is harder, because it's possible to attack Demons, Troglodytes, and Hellhounds.

All in all, it's a very strong expansion that doesn't detract from the base game at all. It maintains its strong theme and continues to be a joy and a delight.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Short Bits

I pre-ordered a Kindle Fire. I'll let you know what I think once it gets here - the appeal to me is the statement that it'll have a "desktop-quality" PDF reader.  While I love reading PDF's on my Kindle DX, it's inconvenient when gaming because it's not as easy to search for a specific rule if a question comes up. I will post a full review once it arrives. Well, a few weeks after it arrives. I need to test it thoroughly, first.

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is a bit like Fiasco backwards. In Fiasco, things start out messed up and then continue to go bad.  In Do, the PCs are there to fix a problem and, more often than not, should succeed. And, as an added bonus, it's much more kid-friendly. Definitely worth picking up.

Jungle Speed is now available at Target, Toys-R-Us, and some Wal*Mart stores. I've personally seen it at Target at Toys-R-Us. I hope they sell a billion of them. There's even a commercial that is airing on Nickelodeon and Cartoon network. It's worth noting that the game no longer includes a wooden totem - it comes with a soft rubber totem. To my mind, this is a good thing - no more property damage from when the totem goes flying.

The Dungeon Twister video game has apparently been delayed. Again. The last word I'd had said "September 14."  Obviously that date came and went.  There's a fairly recent video on that shows Chris Boelinger talking about the game. If I spoke French, I'd love to translate it. Sadly, I only speak English, and I'm not even terribly good at that. I hear that it may be playable at Essen this year - it was playable at the recent Asmoday. When I get more news about its release, I'll share it with you. Believe me, I want this at least as much as most of you. Probably more, actually. After all, I've written more about Dungeon Twister  in all its forms than nearly anyone else out there, including Chris. Also? I've seen several teasers for the next set, Traps. I can't wait to see how the finished product plays.

The game I'm most excited about from Essen?  I'm not sure.  Takenoko looks amazing (and simple). Cyclades: Hades looks to be a lot of fun. Ghost Stories: Black Secret should be good. There's a standalone 51st State expansion coming, too. Of course Claustrophobia de Profundis is good, but I already have it. It's hard to get excited about the release of a game you already have ... there are just so many good games hitting all at once.

Speaking of Good Games, Tikal II won the Games Magazine Game of the Year. I don't always agree with their decisions, but I've been saying since I got it that Tikal II  isn't a bad game - it's just that people are too busy comparing it to the original. I honestly think the game has been hurt by its association with the original. The only thing they have in common is their theme and their designers.

I'm not sure if you noticed, but now has a favicon.  Those of you reading via RSS obviously haven't noticed.  Thanks for the change, Blogger team! It's small but (for me, at least) important.

I'm considering changing the name of the blog from "Talking Game" to "Gamethyme's Talking Game" or "Talking Game with Gamethyme."  Something like that.  I don't want to drop "Talking Game" because I get a LOT of Google Hits from it, and I want to more deeply incorporate "Gamethyme" to the title. Thoughts and suggestions are, of course, welcome - just leave me a comment.

I went back to that game store I mentioned a few months ago.  As soon as I was half-way through the door, I was greeted warmly and asked if I needed help finding anything. The guy knew right were it was, guided me there, and helped me find the exact one I needed.  It still had the obnoxious Yu-Gi-Oh duel machine thing and the signs warning people not to use their table or their chess sets, but the staffer was a huge improvement. When I asked him what was new and good this week, he pointed out that new Games Workshop naval game. "Just about everything else," he told me, "is in a holding pattern for Essen." It means that he was at least marginally aware of the industry, unlike the folks that had been there during my previous visit. I'm happy with Phoenix Games, so I won't ever spend a lot of money here, but it means I can use this place as an emergency backup for supplies like sleeves or occasional games that Phoenix can't get for whatever reason (and there aren't a lot of those).

... and that about wraps up what I have to say this week.  Next week, I'll be talking more about de Profundis. Unless something big drops in the meantime.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Ten Years of the Toyota Prius

I saw something on the news the other day about it being the tenth anniversary of the Toyota Prius. Has it really, I thought, been around for that long?  Yes. It has. Eleven years, actually.

When it first came out, it was exciting and different and new.  My friends would eagerly point them out whenever we were on the road and spotted one. "That's one," we'd say, "That's the future right there!"

But here's the thing: It's no longer an oddity on the roads. It's become just another car.

These days, it's the Tesla that draws our eyes and interest that way.

This year, Vampire: the Masquerade turns 20.  White Wolf has put out a 20th Anniversary version of the game. I remember when it came out - it was new and revolutionary and different - a system that supported storytelling more than combat.

And now it's just another game. When you look at its influence, dozens of other games have taken cues from it. Or have tweaked some of its ideas and then improved upon it.

In fact, I've grown to dislike their system a great deal - in large part because other people have taken their ideas and improved upon them to the point where the original looks dull by comparison. But that's beside the point.

The real point is this: What was new and revolutionary a decade ago is now just another _______. Newer games have taken ideas from older games - mechanical ideas, mostly - and refined them. Polished them. Made them something new. There are more electric cars on the road than there used to be.

So, even though The One Ring is new and a "compelling blend of indie and old school designs," it is still standing on the shoulders of giants. And, in another decade, someone will be standing on its shoulders, too.

But that doesn't mean I'm not going to look as it representative of what is yet to come.

With ideas as diverse and unique as we're starting to see these days, I really can't wait to see where we're going.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Early this year, I had that minor issue with someone using one of my images without permission (and without following the terms of its Creative Commons license).  In that post, I mentioned that I had requested a $50 donation to Child's Play.

Since then, I have received a number of e-mails from folks asking about game-related charities. At the time, I only knew of Child's Play and Toys for Tots. A few more have shown up since then.

Since it's now well into September, we are nearly to the holiday season. This is when charities start to gear up for their busy season, and I want to encourage you to give to charity.

These are the charities I know of who are either game-related or are tied in some way to gamers which I can recommend to you:

Childs Play - Originally started by the Penny Arcade guys, Child's Play initially focused on getting video games and video game systems for low-income or otherwise disadvantaged children. Over the years, it's grown well beyond that. I can, without hesitation, recommend Child's Play as a charity worth supporting.

Jack Vasel Memorial Fund - Tom Vasel is one of the internet's best-known and most prolific board game reviewers. Over the years, he's done an excellent job of letting us into his personal life in bits and pieces. Tom is also an amazing human being. In 2010, his son, Jack, was born too early. After struggling for longer than anyone had expected, he passed. The boardgamegeek community rallied and raised tens of thousands of dollars to help with the medical bills. Tom wishes to pay that forward. The Jack Vasel Memorial Fund gathers funds which are then given to gamers who are in need.

Foodmachine - I only recently became aware of this one. Apparently, a bunch of New Jersey-based Warmachine players formed it to give money to the local food bank.What started small and local has snowballed, with prizes now provided by Privateer Press. It's a great idea.

Toys for Tots - The USMC's annual toy drive also accepts games. My FLGS participates every year by putting out a big box for donation collection. They collect year-round, however, and also accept cash donations. Check the website for the local chapter near you.

And not game-related, but relevant to me, is Movember. I've decided to participate this year.  Those of you who know me know that I have facial hair. In fact, I have had this facial hair since the mid nineties. I shaved it off for one month a few years back (and was paid $300 to do so). On October 31, I will be shaving it all off again, and then regrowing just the mustache, with normal facial hair to begin resuming in December.

I don't get any kickbacks or prizes for any donations to any of these charities. I support the missions of all of them (in one or two cases, I do so financially).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cursed Items for D&D

Apparently Wizards of the Coast does listen to its fans.

Remember when I ranted about a lack of cursed items in 4E?

They're now available.


It probably sounds weird that I'm so excited about this, because I'm not currently a 4E DM.  I'm a player.

It's not as odd as it seems. I promise.

Currently, I know that every time I slay a foe, I can (and should) grab anything they drop that I can carry. I don't need to worry at all about drawbacks - it's a matter of, "Is this stuff better than what I already have or not?"

I miss the mystery of, "Is this safe to use?" or "Will this item have a drawback of some sort?" I miss powerful items that forced PC's to remove their armor. Or which had a risk associated with them - the Wizards article linked above makes it sound like the curses are added to the existing awesomeness of an item - so you might get a Dragon-slaying Backbiter blade +4 that has the power to do significant damage to Dragons (and nearly anyone else), but inflicts half-damage on its wielder in the case of a critical.

It means that PC's will need to think before mindless grabbing handfuls of loot. It may be that that blade +4 is better than my Longsword +2 - but is it worth the critical effect?

I, for one, can't wait to start seeing some of these items in play.

Jim and Jason: I'm not kidding. I'd love to see a few cursed items in our games from time to time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design

The Kobolds did it again: They've released another Kobold Guide. And offered me a free PDF to read.

The previous Guides had loads of solid information on writing and publishing RPGs and RPG Adventures. How to approach publishers, various models of design, and so on. I really loved them - enough that I purchased print copies after reading the free PDF copies.

The new one, however, hit me in a particular weak point missed by the others: Board Games.

The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design is structured similarly to the three RPG-flavored volumes - that is, there is one "core" author, who does the interstitial work as well as an essay or two.  This time, it's Mike Selinker who fills this role. There are also essays by Richard Garfield, James Earnest, Matt Forbeck, Jeff Tidball, Andrew Looney, and several others - all of whom I recognized (which says something about me).

It's divided into four parts: Concept, Design, Development, and Presentation.

Part 1: Concepting is just what it sounds like - working on coming up with an idea for a game, and it includes some thoughts about game design in general. I especially recommend reading Richard Garfield's essay in this section, in large part because I agree with him. I don't always like his games, but I do like what he has to say more often than not.

Part 2: Design overlaps a great deal with Part One. It does include the first thing in the book that made me actually laugh out loud - Andrew Looney's chart detailing his creative process.  It ends with PUBLISH and then START FAQ FILE. It was an excellent reminder that publication is never done.

I particularly enjoyed Rob Daviau's essay from this section, where he discussed how a small rules tweak can clear out multiple paragraphs of rules text and make a game easier to learn.

For those of you who don't know, Mike Selinker has a Livejournal account dedicated to the "most beautiful" things.  Each time he posts, he picks a category, and discusses what he finds to be the most beautiful example of that category. So it was not a surprise to find an essay here called, "The Most Beautiful Game Mechanics."

Part 3: Development has (no surprise) some overlap with the previous section. Rob Daviau's essay could easily have fit into this section. It's all about taking your game and then polishing it some more - generally it's polish that is out of the hands of the designer, too.  Dave Howell's essay could easily have fit into Part 2, as it outlines a series of design rules.

Part 4: Presentation is all about that final coat of polish and what to present to potential publishers.  Steve Jackson (of Steve Jackson Games) has the first essay in here, with a long list of "This is a bad idea and why." It's written interestingly, and demonstrates a solid understanding of gaming and gamers. Having been in business for as long as he has, it should come as no surprise that he has this depth of understanding.

Michelle Nephew's essay in this section seems to my (unpublished) mind to be the most useful. It summarizes much of the rest of the book, and does so clearly and concisely.

Even if you aren't thinking about designing a board game, I would still pick up a copy of this book - the sneak peek into the mind of some truly excellent designers is well worth the price of admission.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

ICONS Contest: Results

Sorry for the delay in posting - I got home late last night.

Here are the answers:

My favorite comic book character?  Lobo.  No-one got this one. Not surprising. Most of the guesses I received were fairly predictable - Batman, Superman, Wolverine, and Green Lantern led the pack.

My favorite superheroic system?  The old Marvel Super Heroes FASERIP system. After a brief discussion with my wife last night, I would also have accepted Smallville (which I think of as being a soap opera game, even though it is a super hero-genre game. FASERIP got a fair number of guesses. HERO system received a fair number of guesses. Mutants and Masterminds was the most popular guess.

No-one got both questions correct.

The winner was Uriah Otting, who did not have any correct guesses. Uriah, please check your e-mail and get back to me. Thanks to all for your participation.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Pax Prime 2011

I had an excellent time at PAX Prime this year. Like most conventions, it was a fair amount of work and a huge pile of fun.

I was there to help Mindspan Labs demo ZoxSo. Going into the weekend, I was filled with dread - it'd been a while since I'd played, and I wasn't feeling as sharp as I usually do. And - to be perfectly honest - I'd like the game, but I wasn't a huge fan.  So the prospect of playing a game like that over and over ... well ...

Friday morning, I met with Dave to go over our plan for the weekend.  He re-taught me the game (and managed to show off a few of the strategies in the process). Which helped a lot - suddenly, I wanted to play more.  He wandered off to check on something, and by the time he returned, I had an opponent at the table and was already mid-game.

I'll discuss the game in depth some other time - this post is about PAX, not ZoxSo - but it's fast-playing, fun, and has a surprising amount of strategic depth. Enough that I played it 70+ times this weekend, and I still want to play more.

I've been to GenCon and Origins. I even visited PAX a few years ago. And all three conventions have a very different feel from one another.

Origins is about playing games and teaching games. It's the focus of the con. It's the smallest of the three, but it holds the Fun of the Game above all other considerations.

GenCon is about selling the game. Sure, people are playing games all hours of day and night, and I play a lot of them there, but - at its heart - GenCon is much more mercantile than Origins.

PAX is ... different. For me, PAX is about the people. I had an opportunity to meet dozens of folks while teaching ZoxSo. I also got to teach the game to a number of good friends who I game with regularly.

I met a game store owner from the Midwest. I met a gentleman who works for Best Buy in the cellular phone department. I played with an insurance agent. I played with scientists and doctors and lawyers and game developers. I met the wife and mother of the designers of The Ares Project (coming soon from Z-Man games). I became re-acquainted with a friend I hadn't seen (or heard from) in over a decade.

And I got to keep an eye on the tournaments and board game area. And deal with the Enforcers.

PAX has the best volunteer team in the convention business. No question. They are unobtrusive, but omnipresent. And I saw them heading off problems before they even developed. Stuck in a long line and getting irritable? Odds are good that an Enforcer will be along shortly to entertain you.  Vendor stuck at a table? Enforcers will bring you water, if you ask politely.

At one point, a cookie seller came by - they were selling cookies to raise money for Child's Play. It was all up to us what we donated, but if we hit the $30 level, you could get a "Yo Dawg" cookie. The woman who was selling to us had bacon-wrapped Nutter Butter cookies which were inside an Oreo cookie brownie made me wish I had $30.  It also bears mention: Child's Play is one of two of my charities of choice.

In short: PAX was amazing.

If you have the chance to attend PAX at any point, I heartily recommend that you do so.

Also: If you haven't already entered my ICONS Contest, you still have a few days.

Friday, September 02, 2011

ICONS Contest

I recently purchased a print copy of ICONS from Cubicle 7.

As is their policy, when you purchase a print copy of one of their games, they will send you a free PDF from DriveThru RPG.

In this case, however, I already own ICONS in PDF. I bought it a few months ago, and very much enjoyed it.

This means that you can win my bonus PDF copy of ICONS.

All you have to do is answer a few quick questions that you probably don't know the answers to.

Here's the skinny (and it's much like my previous contest, also thanks to Cubicle 7 - keep distributing all the great games, guys!):

To enter, e-mail your answers to the following questions to by the time I check my e-mail one week from now (that is: On the 9th).

Your names, e-mail addresses, or other information about you will not be saved after the contest, and will not be shared, sold, saved, or used in any way that is not directly related to this contest.

You will receive one contest entry just for entering. Each correct answer also gains you an additional entry. As there are only two questions, no contestant will have more than three entries into the contest.  On the day of decision, I will use to determine a winner.

For the record: I don't think any of my friends know these answers. And I will not answer these questions if they come up in conversation with my friends until after the contest is completed.

Here are the questions:

Question 1: Who is my favorite comic book character?

Question 2: What is my favorite super-hero RPG system?

Good look, and I look forward to your answers.

Special thanks to both Cubicle 7 for offering PDFs with purchase and Adamant Entertainment for publishing ICONS.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Claustrophobia: de Profundis is Coming

A few weeks back, I posted my GenCon Haul.

Right in the middle of the the photo was a box containing Claustrophobia: De Profundis, a game which will not release in the US until late October or early November.

I shot an unboxing video, and uploaded it to YouTube. It had originally been set 'private,' so you could only watch it if you had the link.

Somehow, somewhere, it lost that setting. I don't know if it was a glitch on the part of YouTube or if I clicked in the wrong spot while tweaking information on the video. Either way, someone found it.  So the cat is out of the bag on that front.

It's not a great video, but here is a sneak preview of the contents of the box.  I will share more as I obtain permission to do so.

Next week, if I get a chance, I'll be discussing PAX. I had a great time, and reconnected with some really neat people that I hadn't seen in a while. It was a good (if exhausting) time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I have gotten really tired of the word "Steampunk." Really really tired of it. Because it's come to mean, "Gears + Red Velour or Velvet + Goggles." It has completely lost the punk aspect to it.

See, Victorian Fantasy is all well and good, and most supposedly Steampunk fiction (and games) are actually Steam-Driven Victorian Fantasy as opposed to Steampunk. But that's such a mouthful that people just call it Steampunk out of laziness.

The key component to any "-punk" game is one of rebellion against the existing order - and Steampunk is ripe for this sort of thing. The Victorian era was one of the most racist, classist, and sexist periods of recorded history. There was a lot to rebel against - poverty was rampant and child labor was common. Vast swaths of the non-European world was held by Europeans, and the natives had few (if any) rights.

It was also an era where technology continued to put people out of jobs as the cottage industries which had dominated manufacturing continued to be replaced by (unsafe) factories - the actual Luddite riots occurred roughly twenty years before the beginning of the Victorian era, but the problems that caused the riots were not remedied during the era.

It was the era in which the infamous London Fog - caused by a blend of actual fog and coal smoke - caused thousands of deaths. And - in the real world - the Fog continued until the 1950's. How much worse would this have been in a Steampunk setting?

In short, it's a setting ripe for rebellion.

But you don't see it in most of the game fiction out there.  Space: 1889 is widely regarded as the first "Steampunk" RPG, but it lacks that sense of rebellion. Instead, it's more of a pulp-style adventure game with steam technology with occasional hints at Victorian classism. It could be because gaming tended to shy away from genuine social issues in the eighties (having said that, now, someone will inevitably point out a game or two which is all about their pet issue). My friend Geoff reminds me that the Steampunk billing, by the way, is from its fans, not its publisher or press. Which is a fair comment.

But I have friends who are huge "Steampunk" buffs. The way I figure it is this: If I want to add punk to steampunk, I could choose a fairly vanilla game and introduce whatever story elements I needed in order to make it work.

So I ordered Victoriana. I'd heard a few good things here and there, and, in general, I have liked Cubicle 7's products. So it was worth a shot.

Now, the first thing I look at when I have a new game book in my hands is the character sheet. That sheet can tell you a lot about what the designers thought was important about the game.

At the very top of the page is the non-stat information - character name, player name, all that sort of thing. For me, this is half of the reason to look at a character sheet. Victoriana had a few surprises for me.

Social Class, for example. Social ... Ethics?

At that point, I hoped I had - in my hands - the first Steampunk game that hadn't left the punk up to the GM and players. And, on reading the book, I was not disappointed.

I continued to read the introductory fiction, which featured class conflict between different levels of society. A good sign, but al too often, game fiction is an idealized version of the rest of the book. Then I got to page 33.
Some readers may be wondering why we're putting all this stuff about sexism and racism in the game. It's possibly controversial and certainly politically unpopular - that's why it's here. Victoriana is a game about revolution; corrupt laws and the bitter taste of a corrupt society's values. Player characters are among the rare individuals who see society for what it is. Without all this stuff about sexism, exploitation, class stigma and poverty there isn't much to fight against - so use it as intended and fight the good fight against it!
The first time I read that paragraph, I was floored. In one short paragraph, they had highlighted what had bothered me about nearly every -punk game I have ever read. While I love Cyberpunk in all of its incarnations, it always seemed be more about looking cool than about true revolution. Shadowrun had potential to look past that with its persistent theme of racism, but I never had a GM who got it (and it was never explicitly spelled out in the book).

Victoriana has a chapter on religion. It's not a long chapter, but it discusses the main faiths of the setting with enough detail that a GM could hang a good plot hook off of them - a failing of most RPGs.

And there's a section on social ethics, along with some political factions and what they think of the various ethics (as opposed to their thoughts on one another).

I really like the flavor of the book. I like the setting and how it is detailed. And I like the layout - they give you a (brief) overview of the system before you start making characters, so you have a rough idea of how things work.

Unfortunately, I'm not that fond of the system.

It's a d6-based die pool number-of-successes system. Starting characters will roll 3-4 dice in their strong skills (depending on their race/social class/etc). The game is also level-based, allowing the designers to limit how many dice characters at each stage of their career will roll. It's possible for a starting character to roll up to seven dice (again, depending on race/social class).

When I'm playing a die pool game which counts successes, I like "roll high" or "roll low."  Victoriana is ... weird. It uses the d6, but that's not the odd part. The odd part is what determines a success: Ones and sixes are successes. Sixes "explode" - meaning you can re-roll them and hope for more successes.

So your average starting character on a roll at the typical difficulty (more on this later) will get one success more often than not.

Because it's not a set High/Low roll, the difficulty adjustment is weird, too. Most games can just say, "+1 Target Number" to make things harder. Or they reduce the number of dice being rolled. Unfortunately, the number of dice starting characters have is so low that rolling fewer dice will cripple them. Instead, as the difficulty increases, players add "black dice" to their pool. Black Dice which roll a one or a six remove successes from the player's pool. So moving from standard difficulty to the next step up adds 3 Black Dice. So your average starting character will tend to get 1 success ... and that will probably be gobbled by the Black Dice.

Black Dice appear in combat, too. When you take damage, you add Black Dice to your next roll. When you take enough damage, it reduces your die pool for all actions. Until, of course, you die.

I don't actively dislike the system. I just don't actively like the system, either. It's weird, but seems functional. Running a couple of sample combats with the included sample characters, it seemed to work.

Victoriana has a number of supplements available, too. In both print and PDF.

The system used for Victoriana is called the "Heresy Engine," and it's also in use in at least two other games - Dark Harvest: The Legacy of Frankenstein, and Airship Pirates (based on the music of Abney Park).  All of the Victoriana supplements are compatible with the other games. I particularly recommend Faulkner's Millinery and Miscellanea - a book of steam-powered gear and gadgets.

Do I recommend the game?

Yes, actually, I do. Even though the system doesn't grab me, the attitude and the setting did. While I'm sure there are internal inconsistencies, I haven't spotted them, yet. The fact that there are three games with the same system means that there is a lot of support with a variety of supplements.

All in all, I think it was absolutely worth my gaming dollar.

Monday, August 22, 2011

PAX Prime

Will you be at PAX Prime this weekend?

I will be there, demoing ZoxSo for Mindspan labs. I'll have more to say about the game after the convention.

Stephanie will also be there, helping run a 7 Wonders tournament on Friday evening, and several other events over the course of the weekend.

Be sure to stop by and say hi (and try out a game or two).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

GenCon Wrapup

I'm still fighting the Con Crud, so this will be a fairly short post.

Here it is in all its glory: Our GenCon Haul from this year:

GenCon 2011 Haul

If you click on the pic, it'll take you to an annotated page that lists (briefly) all the stuff. Some of it is gifts.

Asmodee shot video of the convention, too.  Here is the short video they did of our booth:

The video reminds me that I need to lose a bit more weight ...

The Asmodee management is very good about making sure we have breaks for food and shopping - it's usually half an hour each day with an hour on Sunday.  This year, I didn't take those breaks. Stephanie went and got food for me and picked several products up for me as well. She fought the line for Airship Pirates. And ran back-and-forth  for Victoriana products when I wasn't 100% sure what we already had.

I was the only one in the booth who knew Claustrophobia de Profundis, so I spent a lot of time demoing it. Asmodee was kind enough to send me home with a copy - I'll be taking more photos and posting a full review in a few weeks.

I didn't play as many games as I usually do, because I had other responsibilities. For example, I didn't get to play Werewolves this year. But one evening, Asmodee asked me to play an unpublished prototype and provide feedback. It's the first time that's happened to me.

I also got to play Quebec and Blood Bowl Team Manager.  Blood Bowl Team Manager left me a bit cold - there were terms that were on the cards that I couldn't find in the rule book. In fact, I found the rule book less-than-useful. Mind you, it was late at  night, and I was pretty tired ...

Quebec wound up being my Game of the Show. Before playing it, I was skeptical - how interesting could a game that detailed the history of a single Canadian city be? Not only that, but how widespread could its appeal be?  I'm pleased to report that my doubts were unfounded.  The game could theoretically be rethemed, but it would do the game a great disservice. The game was well-balanced with some very interesting mechanisms.  Not only that, but a variety of strategies seemed to be equally effective. I did better than I had expected - I took third out of four players, but I was only four points out of first place (I had 128 points, the winner had 132). Fourth place was ten or fifteen points back. Going into final scoring, there was a pretty wide spread of points, and I thought I was going to lose by a fairly wide margin.  I'll definitely be grabbing a copy of this one when it drops.

Next week, I'll be prepping for PAX, where I'll be working to demo ZoxSo for Mindspan Labs, so expect an annoyingly short post, with my usual level of content returning to normal by the end of September.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gamethyme's Game of the Year 2011

It's that time, isn't it? When I tell you who won?

This was not easy. There were a lot of really good games (and expansions) released in the last year.

There were even some very good late entries - Tichu and Haggis, for example, are both really good games - and I almost gave it to Tichu, because of how well my usual group has taken to it.

But there is one game to which I have returned over and over all year long. And it was new this year, not just new to me. It wasn't the best game released last year, but it is the game I enjoyed the most.

That game is Gosu.

I spent a lot of time working on this. Reviewing my notes, looking through my games played, and replaying games I had liked earlier in the year to see if they'd held their fun, or if they'd grown stale. It's amazing how many games go stale as soon as you figure out the trick to the game.

While working through this, I stumbled across, and had a chance to play Gosu online, as well. It reminded me of just how solid this game is.

When I first glanced at the Prototype at GenCon 2010, I didn't think the game looked that great. The rulebook was exceptional, and the art was amazing - but the game itself looked flat. I dragged my feet before bringing it to Game Night, because I was afraid it'd be one of those rare Asmodee-gifted flops.

After reading it a few more times, I finally brought it to my group. The reception was initially mixed, until I realized who it was that I should be playing with.

See, like most large groups, we have a few established "tables" - they're not factions or cliques, as anyone can (and will) play with anyone, but players with similar preferences tend to group up.

So I grabbed my copy of Gosu, and wandered over to see the Magic and Pokemon players. A few minutes later, I'd recruited my friend Ian and a couple of others and we fumbled through our first game. "I kinda think I like this," was the initial reaction from them. After a few more games, that spark had grown into a full-grown flame.

And, somewhere in about the third game, I moved from liking the game to really liking the game. And that verve helped me get some non-Magic and Pokemon players excited about it.

Like most of the games I enjoy, Gosu isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. I suspect that it's impossible to make a game that everyone will like, but there's no way to prove that.

Was it the best game I've played since the last GenCon? I honestly don't know. I do know that I keep coming back to it. More than any other new-to-me game of the last few years (with the possible exception of Cyclades).

For me, it was the obvious choice for Gamethyme's Game of the Year.

Monday, August 08, 2011


Brief layover in Chicago. The rain here reminds me of home.

I can't wait for next year, though. There are some excellent games in the pipeline.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Day Four Has Arrived

Day Four is a mixed blessing every year. On the one hand, GenCon did not kill you. On the other, you will need to say good-bye to all the neat people you met this week. Or old friends you had the opportunity to meet.

It also means that, at four, they turn the air conditioning off. And then the general public leaves, and then the hard work of palletizing everything begins.

Today is the day of price cuts and haggling guests.

It's people's last chance for that demo they've been waiting all convention for.

This, by the way, was the first convention where I have had to make appointments for demos.

Most of the team - as I said previously - knows most of the games.  Apparently I'm the only Claustrophobia de Profundis person in the booth, though. And I'm the primary go-to when there is a question on another game (Other than Quebec, but that's because the designer is in the booth).  The boss has had me speak with several distributor representatives to give them a game overview or two, and I also had a chance to chat with Dale Yu yesterday, which was neat.  It's always cool to meet people you see online.

Tonight, the Asmodee team will gather for dinner before we head home. And then we split up and I don't see any of them until next year.

Two weeks from now, Stephanie and I will be at PAX.  Stephanie will be working for Asmodee and I'll be working for Mindspan Labs (I'll be demoing ZoxSo all weekend). If it goes well, Asmodee may have a booth at PAX Prime next year. At the very least, I hope they continue to send Stephanie and I to help demo games in the open gaming area.

Need to get going - Day Four awaits, and I still have to put my shoes on.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Games Played/Day Three

This year, I have played very few games. As some of you know, I log all games played over on BoardGameGeek.  In theory, there is a widget in the sidebar of this blog that lists games played.
I only list games played against humans, and I only record full games - if I bow out early or am tagged out to run another demo, or if I teach people to play without actually playing myself, I don't record that play.

By this measurement, I have played fewer games this year than in any previous year.

But this year, I also have not taken a full break at any time. I have taken five minutes here and there to visit nearby "Red-Zone" booths to drop a bit of money and receive goods (Purchases today include the new Mouse Guard box set), but I haven't even taken a meal break.

Stephanie will go to get food for me. "I'm going to be rude," I tell whomever is receiving a demo from me, "and eat in front of you." So far, no-one has had a problem with it.

There are booths I need to visit tomorrow.

Tonight, we had dinner with Jim & Dawn, two very good friends who used to be local to us in Seattle, but are now California natives. We only get to see them regularly at GenCon. We bought them dinner. Caught them off-guard in doing so, too. They have vowed revenge.

Dawn thinks I should take one of the many thousands of game and story ideas I have floating in my head and actually publish it. I ... I have some ideas I'm kicking around. So we'll see. My many blogs keep me pretty busy. But I do bounce ideas off of my wife and other friends nearly continuously, so we'll see.

Today's purchases included the new Mouse Guard box and Cthulhu Brittanica: Shadows Over Scotland. And several others.

And now, I'm off to crash. Before midnight. At GenCon.

Our Team + Games In The Booth + Old Friends

Our team this year is probably the best team we've ever had in the booth. Most of the team knows most of the games, with two exceptions:

Stephanie and I demo Dungeon Twister.  I demo Gosu.

I also think that, game-wise, we have the strongest booth we've ever had.  Sobek is going over extremely well (as it should - it's a very fun game). Double Agent is getting mixed reviews, which is a shame. Trust me on this: Play it at least twice. The more you know the cards, the better this game is.

We have most of the games I'd expected (and a few more). And some pre-production prototypes for Ghost Stories: Black Secret, Claustrophobia: De Profundis, Dixit Odyssey, Le Donjon de Naheulbeuk (English title to follow), and Takenoko.  I'm excited about all of these games.

Ghost Stories: Black Secret lets one player take the role of Wu Feng (the villain). It reminds me of the Sauron expansion from the Lord of the Rings co-operative game that came out ... a decade ago?

Claustrophobia: De Profundis is just good. It's more of the same, and adds a few new twists and wrinkles to the mis.

Naheulbeuk was a hair-pulling frustrating exercise in translation. It was three months of beating my head into a wall. But the finished product looks to be a lot of fun. It's more a party game than a gamer's game, but it looks like a fun party game. It's based on a French audio drama that is somewhere between The Order of the Stick and Knights of the Dinner Table. A completely inept party of adventurers is bumbling through a dungeon trying to recover an ancient artifact in order to fulfill a prophecy.  Players will have to overcome a variety of challenge types - minigames which test your dexterity, memory, endurance, and ability to spell. And it's had almost zero press. No-one knew it was coming except us.

Takenoko is a game where you are tyring to meet specific goals by building, irrigating, and cultivating a garden. And trying to keep the Giant Panda from completely destroying it.

Dixit Odyssey is ... well ... 84 more cards, and better components than before - the rabbits don't fall as easily, and the scoring track has been improved, as has the voting mechanism.

I"ve met a couple of people I have been e-mailing with. I always feel bad when someone says, "We've been e-mailing back and forth about Dungeon Twister," because I e-mail back and forth with a LOT of people about Dungeon Twister. I can remember Mike Dougan (even though I had to e-mail Geoff to remember what his name was), but most of the rest of you are blurs - sorry.

I have also gotten to see some old friends - David Miller from Purple Pawn seems to always stop by when I'm mid demo. He's one of the nicest guys to deal with, and I always feel bad that I don't have more time to talk to him. I did manage to play a couple of games with him last year on Wednesday.

My old friend Mark Kinney from All Games Considered also dropped by. Again: I wish I'd had more time to talk. Partly so he had info for his podcast and partly because I've known Mark since before I was heavily into board games (I used to be more roleplayer than boardgamer).

Todd and Kris are two of our Werewolves of Miller's Hollow regulars. I think we've been playing Werewolves together for ... five years, now. Todd and I also found a bit of time to talk professional wrestling on Wednesday before we made it into the dealer's room for setup.

We're at the half-way mark. Actually a bit past it, as Thursday is long and Sunday is short. This is the point where - every year - I start doubting my sanity in being here. Because my feet are blistered, my back is sore, and I haven't had a good night's sleep since Monday night.

Then I remember that it's GenCon.

... and I need to get going. I have work to do. :)