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. :)

Friday, August 05, 2011


Bits and Pieces from GenCon

Fiasco has won the Diana Jones Award this year. Well-deserved. Many congrats to the winner.

Margaret Weis Productions announced that they have the Marvel RPG license. Marvel, of course, being the home of the X-Men, the Avengers, the Hulk, and a number of other comic books.  It will use the Cortex+ system, which is the system used in Leverage and Smallville.

Today's purchases included Airship Pirates (the Abney Park RPG) and Smallville High School Yearbook.

Next year, the danger value of Cubicle 7 will be upgraded, as we also have Cthulhu Brittanica and several other books from their booth.  Upgraded for Stephanie as well as myself, that is. The booth is just too much of an econohazard.  It's on par with IPR this year.


This year, we're staying in the new JW Marriott, which is connected to the convention center by skybridge. It's nice. Very nice, in fact.

I only have two very small issues:

1) We have a gorgeous shower. It's really amazing. But, after a full day of demoing games, I like to soak in a tub. This room has no tub.

2) It's too far away for Exhibitors. It's all the way at the other end of the center from the exhibit hall. Because of how the skybridges connect, I honestly think we're walking close to a mile each way.

If I were here as an attendee, I would stay here again with no hesitation. As an exhbitor, however ...

This is the third hotel Stephanie and I have stayed in for GenCon. Our arrangement with Asmodee is simple: They will pay for a cheap hotel room all the way across town, if we want. Or we can pay for our own hotel room and they will give us the money they would have spent on that cheap hotel room (at the end of the show).

The first year, we stayed in the Crowne Plaza. It was a decent hotel, but it wasn't connected to the convention center (it was just close). I didn't want to do that again, because I hate the outdoors when it is six hundred degrees in the shade and you have to drink the air because the humidity is so high.

Last year, we stayed at the Westin. We had a series of minor issues that added up and frustrated us (our AC didn't work reliably, the non-stick things in the tub were worn to the point of being slippery, and so on). I'd like to note that the staff was phenomenal, and bent over backwards to make things as right as they could - but there is only so much they can do.

Next year, I think I'd like to go back to the Crowne Plaza. It's close to where the Exhibit Hall has moved to, and I can handle a block or so outside if I have to.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Quiet Today

Er ... yesterday.

I've been busy running demos.  And this was the slow day.

If I don't lose at least five pounds while I'm here, there is something seriously wrong.

Purchases today: The One Ring, Oz: Dark and Terrible, and Part-Time Gods.

Had a good chat with Gareth-Michael Skarka. Wish it'd been longer. Have I mentioned how much I'm looking forward to Far West?



Wednesday, August 03, 2011

More Setup

Yep. That armature is new. And awesome.


Unlike several teams we have had in the past, this group seems genuinely interested in working.

My Evening?


Hotel Window Shot

Here is the obligatory shot from our hotel window.

We are on the 22nd floor of the new JW Marriott. First time in this hotel - it's the first year it's been open, in fact.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Indy At Last!

Have arrived safely in Indianapolis.

Writing this from the back of a cab enroute to the hotel.

It's after midnight here, but it's still warmer than Seattle. And muggier.

Words cannot express how thankful I am that AC is a standard in all hotels everywhere.