Wednesday, January 26, 2011

SCARAB, Part 2: Travel and the Show Itself

SCARAB 2010 143
What's the first thing you do when you decided to take a trip? Find the cheapest rates.

The convention had made arrangements with a local hotel for a special rate. We gladly took advantage of that, and Stephanie immediately started checking out airfare.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, it was cheaper to fly into Raleigh/Durham than it was to fly directly into Columbia. A lot cheaper. Part of this is because we flew Southwest Airlines - it's no-frills and cheap. And the flight attendants aren't afraid to demonstrate their personalities.  Which is nice.  It makes for a flight that's entertaining and a pre-flight briefing that isn't completely generic.

Our first flight was early.  Our second flight was late.  When we got off the plane, I called Geoff. We then headed to his place for the evening. And by "evening," I mean "late night."  Geoff had a spare room, and we crashed there overnight before driving down the next day.

The drive was ... well, it was a drive. Nothing particularly good or bad happened. Well, other than breakfast at Chick-Fil-A. That was good.  And we saw two accidents. Those were bad.  But that's a typical drive, right?

We arrived a bit later than we'd planned to.  We had no problem checking into the hotel, and the convention was very conveniently close.

SCARAB 2010 009
Registration was fast and easy.  We got our badges and our swag bags and headed to the open game area, where Geoff and I set up and started running demos (and playing games).

It wasn't a big convention - I'd guess just over 100 the first night, and 150-200 at its peak, but that's just a guess.  I haven't seen any actual numbers anywhere. But what it lacked in numbers, it made up for with enthusiasm. It's worth noting that I've attended smaller conventions here in Seattle.

At one point that first evening, we started a game of Dungeon Twister: Prison, but didn't have the time to get through it.  That's for the best, though, as he was beating me quite badly.

Geoff, you see, is better at the game than I am.  It's like I tell people in person: I understand the game. I know the theory. I know why characters are set up as they are. The balance makes total sense to me. I also have an excellent objective grasp of the strategy. That is: I can tell you (by watching you play) where you're going wrong. I can help other people improve.

What I can't do is put that strategy into practice for myself. Most of the time.

We had a small but enthusiastic group there playing DT late into the night.  Most of them had come down from North Carolina for the convention. There was a mini-tournament/training Friday night. It went well - Geoff has posted the results on Boardgamegeek and on the official League website.

The next day started early, with more play.  I got in a game of Paladins and Dragons with Geoff, and I won - you see, Geoff's weakness is that he gets flustered when his opponent does something stupid.  I'm not making this up, either.

I teleported my Red Dragon and fireballed his Dragon and one other character - but it left the Dragon within reach of his Dragonslayer.  Which was stupid, as it gave him his third or fourth point, and he had superior board position at the time.  He got flustered, and then took the bait - he immediately killed my Dragon, allowing me to walk my Illusionist up to Charm his character into some falling rocks.  One AP later, and my Night Elf was in the Pentagram Chamber for a fifth point.

Saturday was spent playing more games of DT, and teaching more games. Later in the day, we broke out the 3/4 Player Expansion (even if you already own it, you should click through and check out that price), which went over like gangbusters. And by "gangbusters," I mean "we had to break out multiple sets for the players, as they were having so much fun."

On Sunday, we had the tournament for the big prizes.  Ten players total - we used Swiss Perfect to handle pairings.  We ran for three rounds (before running out of time - a fourth round would have been a good idea).  When the dust had settled, I wound up doing much better than I had anticipated. Second.

The biggest deal for me this weekend was something that may not make sense to some of you.

SCARAB 2010 164You see, I've been writing and posting this blog for more than five years, now. If you check back through the archives, you'll find more posts about Dungeon Twister than about any other subject.

Hundreds of posts. Analysis, strategy tips, pointers. Overviews.  The works. Lots and lots of strategy tips.

As I mentioned previously, I have trouble actually being able to put these tips into practice. I rarely win the game.  Sometimes that's deliberate - the point of a demo is to give the new player the flavor of the game. A five-minute game doesn't even come close to the full experience.  But usually (for me, at least), it's because I can't seem to make it work.

This weekend, however, something finally clicked.  I stopped struggling with some of the pointers I've dished out, and managed to get a few of them in play. Some of those multiple uses I've been talking about actually saw play.  It was a good feeling - and it led to my winning. Or being in a position to win.

I'd also been a bit burned out. Somehow, with all these pages and pages and pages of writing, I forgot that DT is a game, and games are for fun.  This weekend, I managed to rediscover the fun of the game.

Thanks, Geoff, for introducing SCARAB to me. It was a weekend well-spent.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Creative Commons

The World's Ugliest Trophy
I'm going to step (briefly) away from writing about gaming this week. Just for one week - I won't do another game-free post until at least April.

Also worth mentioning before I get any further: I am not a lawyer. I am actually about to start meeting with one about an unrelated matter, but that doesn't make me an attorney any more than standing near the ocean would make me a fish.

So, then, to my rant:

See that image? The one of the extremely hideous trophy I won at a Blood Bowl tournament a few years ago?

Like nearly all the images I post to my Flickr account, it's posted under a specific Creative Commons license.

This license allows other people to use my images, provided they attribute the work to me and include information on the license under which the image is available.  It's also not available for commercial use.

Creative Commons doesn't void my copyright or make the image fair game to all comers - you need to follow the (fairly simple) rules of the license to be able to use my images.  The image is not magically public domain unless I specifically release it to the public domain. If I see you using my image outside the terms of the license, I can go after you for damages.

BoardGameGeek is not the only game-related website I browse. I do read a variety of sites, keeping an eye on what's going on in the boardgaming and role-playing communities. There are even sites I browse where I have not even set up an account.

One of these sites is Fortress: Ameritrash. I'm not active there, both because I'm not big on Ameritrash-style games and because they tend to take a confrontational attitude towards non-AT gamers.

Imagine my shock when I saw my trophy photo (the same one I posted above) on their site! It was on this page, in fact. Unfortunately, they provided no attribution and did not make the license clear. Because of this, I used the 'contact us' link and requested three things:
  1. A link to the CC license.
  2. Attribution.
  3. In lieu of damages (for using the image without permission) or a licensing fee, a $50 donation to Child's Play, which is a lot less than most image licensing fees.
I gave them one week to comply with the first two, and one month to comply with the third. Or, alternatively, they could remove the image from their site and I would pursue no further.

To their credit, I received a response the next day, informing me that the image was to be removed from the site. To their further credit, it has been. Not only that, but the individual who posted the image admitted his mistake - something that is far too uncommon these days.

I will admit - I'm a bit disappointed.  I would have liked to have seen them step up and give $50 to charity. As it is, I'm going to pony up the $50 in a week or two (when I can afford it). Someone has to, right?

What's the lesson here?  Google Image Search doesn't tell you what right you have to use a photo that they find. Click through. Do your homework. Someone who is a lot less forgiving than me may find you. And linking back to your source is polite, too.

In an unrelated note, I will be at SCARAB this weekend. It'll be their first convention, so I don't expect it to be very big.

Next week, depending on how much time I have, I'll be either discussing one of the games I mentioned last week (I had a request for Tikal II) or talking about how SCARAB went. I also have a couple of RPG posts in the pipeline.  Stay tuned - and thank you for reading.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

SCARAB Sunday Night Update

Here are nine of the ten participants in the SCARAB 2010 Dungeon Twister tournament:

SCARAB 2010 175

We had a great time, and met some really great folks.

As an added bonus, I ended up taking second. Had it gone for another round, I'd have faced the eventual winner - I'll leave it to Geoff to make the appropriate announcements over on BoardGameGeek and elsewhere.

There are a lot of photos from SCARAB in my Flickr photostream, and a few more to follow in a couple of days. Players, pieces, a Warhammer 40k Titan figure that caught my eye ...

In a few weeks, I'll get my thoughts together on the convention. Stay tuned!

Thanks to all those responsible for an excellent weekend.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Penny Arcade on Game Stores

Tycho at Penny Arcade had something to say this morning that I thought was worth quoting (and linking):

There's a shop Gabriel frequents for his tabletop needs, even though... well, we'll go into it.
I feel strongly that the Hobby Shop as a concept and as an actual physical coordinate is crucial.  I craves me some conveniences moderne, but I've watched entirely too many little shops emaciate over the last decade, culminating in that day I stop by "because I'm in the neighborhood" except now it's a teriyaki place and the only miniature they have is a cat statue which cannot stop waving. I mean, yes. I still go in. But I want to do right, which (according to empathy-matrix/45-dir-com, qualifactor α) means that optimally I need to give my hobby dollar to a person I can see.
 I'm not an obsessive Penny Arcade fan, but I do read the comic regularly. I love the fact that, although the writers are primarily video gamers, they have such a love of tabletop gaming in all its forms (and aren't afraid to poke fun at the tabletop hobby as well).

SCARAB, Part 1: How I Came To Attend

A short post, today, as I'm still in pre-SCARAB preparation mode.

I first heard about the convention from my friend Geoff Heintzelman.  Those of you who have been reading this for a while will remember Geoff as the other North American member of the LIDT Board of Directors.

He mentioned that there was a local convention starting up.  "I think," he told me, "that I'd like to run a Dungeon Twister tournament there."

I looked at the site.  If only, I thought, I had any vacation time left after GenCon.  I mentioned it to my wife in passing.

"Well," she asked, "Why can't you go?"

I forgot that I accrue vacation time year-round.  And GenCon only uses up about half of my annual allotment. Meaning that I will have time.  If I can afford hotel and airfare ...

Geoff didn't help. "You do know," he said, "that there is a Chick-Fil-A less than half a mile from the hotel, right?"

I have a weakness for Chick-Fil-A, and the nearest branch that I have access to is in Utah. For those who don't know already, I'm Seattle.

Geoff took the initiative on the DT tournament - he e-mailed Ludically, who contacted Asmodee, who sent prize support. Quite a bit of it, actually.

In August, we ran the numbers and realized that SCARAB was a possibility for us. We started actively planning to attend the convention.

We ran the numbers several times.  It's cheaper for us to fly into Raleigh-Durham than directly into Columbia for the convention.  And yes, I know it's the wrong state. But Geoff lives in North Carolina and he will give us a lift to the show.

I'm not expecting it to be big. It's the first one.  But I expect to have a good time.

Of course, as long as I get to have Chick-Fil-A, I'll have a good time.

Next week, I'm going to talk a bit about creative commons. It's a little rantish, but it's just for one week.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

New Games - Water Lily

So Asmodee sent me some games a few weeks ago.

Six of them and one expansion, actually, spread out across two bundles of goodness.

Water LilyIntrigoGosuand Mr. Jack Pocket, Sobek, Tikal II, and Formula D (well, not the core game - the third set of new tracks, containing Singapore and The Docks).

So far, I have played three of the four. These games highlight the strength and diversity of Asmodee's current portfolio, and I'm going to discuss all four of them - but not all at one time.

I've got to keep you coming back somehow, right?

This week, I'm going to discuss Water Lily.  At first glance, it was the one of the four that least interested me. The bright colorful art made it look like a children's game, and the fact that the rulebook was so thin didn't do anything to dispel that idea. And I'm not alone in that - if you look at it on, it's described as a Children's Game.

Reading through the rules, however, I began to get the idea that there might be more to the game than there first appeared to be. There are only eight rules - and they're spelled out very clearly in a fairly large font. The translation is very well-done (and, before you ask, I didn't have a hand in this one).

And then I tried it.

This game was the biggest surprise of the four.  What starts as an easy "advance-the-pieces and score the points" quickly turns cutthroat. The memory element adds an additional wrinkle that is really the key to the game.

At the start of play, the frog tokens are stacked on the platforms furthest from the "pond." Setup is fixed. Then the players draw a token to (secretly) determine which color of frog is worth points to thenm.

On a player's turn, they chose a stack and then move the top frog in that stack in a straight line.  That frog can move  a number of spaces equal to the number of frogs in its stack.  When they reach the end of the lily pads, they slide into a scoring groove. The grooves are covered, so you have to remember which grooves contain how many frogs to maximize your points.

Unlike race games, you don't want to be the first one into each groove - the first frog is only worth one point. You want to be fourth. Both because that's 4 points and because later frogs in that groove are worth zero points.

There are five colors of frog.  Once the last frog of any color is removed from the board, the game ends. You remove the cover from the chutes, and determine a winner.

It's very simple, but it's a lot more cutthroat than you'd suspect, given its cute art.

Edit: And, of course, in the same week I schedule this post, Tom Vasel posts his video review. He didn't like it as well as I did, and called it "quick" and "light," neither of which fit my experience.  Well, maybe it's a bit quick - but it's cutthroat and not light. It leads me to wonder who his opponents were. If you play it with young kids, it won't be cutthroat at all. If you play it with my usual group, it becomes an exercise in brutality.