Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 In Review

I hope you all had an amazing Christmas.

This was a good year for me, game-wise.  A bunch of new games, and a bunch of expansions.  And some really good ones, too.  It was also a year with some significant changes for me personally.

Let's look back, shall we?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Famous Items

I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey the other day.  It was really good. My brain kept shouting at me, "THAT'S NOT HOW IT HAPPENED IN THE BOOK ... but that is kinda cool."

It was an odd feeling. And spoilers follow. Be forewarned.

There is a scene in the film where the heroes are taken hostage by goblins. They are disarmed completely, and are surrounded on all sides by angry armed goblins, including the Great Goblin.

Then one of the goblins pulls one of their blades out of its scabbard, and shrieks, calling the Great Goblin's attention to the weapon. The Great Goblin also shrieks and jumps back.

Why? Because they have recognized the sword in question.  It's Orcrist, the Goblin-Cleaver. It doesn't matter that none of the nearby dwarves is holding it. It doesn't matter that it's sheathed and lying on the ground. The Goblins are scared of it.

The Great Goblin had previously recognized Thorin Oakenshield. And he wasn't afraid, despite the stories which had surely sprung up around the dwarf.  But he was afraid of an inanimate object. One that may or may not have magic powers of some sort.

It reminded me of Fred Saberhagen's Twelve Swords of Power. I don't know if his books deliberately pulled influence from Tolkien's named swords or if it was coincidental. Either way, you have ordinary people with weapons which are earth-shattering in their power.

But it got me thinking.  And it reminded me of The Arsenal of Heaven. A bit.

And the concept of famous weapons or named weapons goes back, too.  A good long ways.  Roland's sword was Durendal in The Song of Roland. And his wasn't the only named weapon in the poem, either. Of course, everyone thinks of Excalibur and Caliburn (Arthur's swords). Geeks often know the Gae Bolg (Cuchulainn's spear). And, if I keep digging, I'm sure I'll find others.

But the real question is this: How do you make sure that items have this sort of ability to move the story without making the characters secondary? It can be as easy as naming the weapon.  Most of Tolkien's blades seemed to have been named.

13th Age gives each magic item a personality. And, if your character has too many magic items, then they start to take the character over. "Too many," is defined as "more than your current level," so a first level character can have one magic item before they start running into problems.

Dungeons & Dragons gives some items bonuses against certain targets - but that's not quote the same.  At what point do the Goblins recognize the sword and flee rather than face it?  Does a +2 vs Goblins make the blade known among the Goblins? Or do you need a +3 or +4?  And does that +2 blade influence your personality? Is it telling you to kill the Goblins? Because a character with a +2 vs Goblins is going to attack them more than any other available targets ...

But the blade's name isn't "+2 vs Goblins." That's its mechanical effect.  The flavor could (and should) be completely different. You could name it just about anything - but if you want to keep Tolkien's flavor, then it shouldn't be English and it should sound archaic to the characters.

But both games assume your famous weapon is magical.  What if it isn't? What if it's just famous?  You can do that easily in 13th Age through use of your One Unique Thing. "I was chosen to bear the Hammer of Farhaven." Or it could be something earned later through play. "To thank you for saving our town, we grant to you the Medallion of Nearhold."

I'm not suggesting that all famous things should be weapons, either.  Obviously when dealing with medieval (or pseudo-medieval) cultures, your characters should have coats of arms. Provided they are knights, that is.  Or descended from them.  If my great-grandfather was a war hero, and I'm now the head of the family, I'll have his same Coat of Arms. Those should be instantly recognizable.  My little brother will have a differenced version of the same arms.  Roland had a horn as well as his sword. There have been other famous items scattered throughout the history of ... well ... history. Banners and flags and suits of armor. Medallions and signet rings. Scarves and veils.

The fame can add bonuses to non-combat rolls with appropriate people - maybe the merchant they're dealing with does good business or owes a favor to someone in Nearhold, so that Medallion gives them +2 to their negotiations with that merchant. Or a discount with that merchant. It's also possible to give combat bonuses to rolls that aren't to-hit or damage - maybe the bandits who were going to ambush them recognize your grandfather's arms and are more likely to flee (bonuses to an Intimidation check used to end combat or penalties to a morale roll).  And they can grant penalties, too. If your grandfather was a merciless hunter of Orcs, and you're wearing his colors, then any negotiations between the party and the Orcish warlord who claims this land as his are likely to go poorly because they'll mistrust you from the start more than they otherwise would.

Just keep in mind that every single item a PC picks up has a history.  It may be a short as "this river stone was plucked from the river last week for use as a sling stone." But it is there. And every item has potential for fame. Even sling stones.


Hmm. Now I kinda want to run a Pendragon-esque game where the PC's play the various wielders of specific items through several centuries ... that could be interesting. And potentially awesome.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An Odd Week

I threw my back out a week or so ago. It's not something I usually comment on, because it's not unusual for me and it's completely unrelated to my gaming most of the time.

But I apparently threw it out worse than usual.  To the point where it's impacting my ability to sit upright for more than a few minutes at a time, which makes gaming and blogging both difficult.

This means that this week's post may be a bit more scattered and/or disjointed than usual, as I'm writing a sentence or two, and then lying back down for my back.

This is the second year in a row I've served as a double-blind for someone's Secret Santa. Basically, he tells me what to buy his target, and then I make the appropriate arrangements and he sends me the money. It works pretty well, and I enjoy it. I am actually considering setting myself up as a double-blind for all comers.

I can't believe it's the holiday season already!  Time to start the New Year's Eve planning ...

I've also been asked by Asmodee to write an article for Game Trade Magazine.  It's a new one for me, because I'm used to setting my own deadlines and policing my own word count.  Which, admittedly, has led to some mediocre posts from time to time and some long rambling posts from time to time.  Even better: I was asked to write about a game that won't be out in the US until February. So they had to ship a copy to me. From France.

It's a huge deal for me - I've always been connected to Asmodee in a more-or-less unofficial manner. I help them out with their translations, and, in exchange, I get trips to GenCon and free games.  This is a task that normally a full-time employee of the company would handle.  So it's very strange for me to be writing it.  Thankfully, I have a solid support network, including one friend who has written things for GTM previously and has agreed to look over my article before I send it in.  Which is a HUGE relief.

And I keep getting translation projects.  Mostly info sheets.  You know those one-page "here's info about this game!" things?  Someone has to write those. And translate those. And clean up the translations.

I've seen some other interesting things, too.  But I don't know if I can discuss them, yet. All I'm going to say is that Good Things Are In Sight.  And 2013 is going to be a good year for gaming.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

A New Game! 13th Age

The next few weeks are going to be chaotic and hectic in my Real World, so it's possible that I will have late and/or short posts.  I'm sorry in advance.

This week, however, is neither.  See, a friend just started running a 13th Age game - and, one session into actual play, I'm really enjoying it. Enough that if we hadn't already pre-ordered the game, we would be doing so now.

13th Age is a d20 variant or derivative - but don't let that scare you off.  Because it's brilliant. Yes, it's a class-based system at heart. And yes, it's still level-based. But there is so much going on.

To start with, there is no set list of skills.  None at all.  Much like Over The Edge, you choose "skills" that reflect your character's background. My character, for example, has three Backgrounds that tell you quite a bit about him - Orphan Street Thug, Cloistered Historian, and Imperial Inquisitor. But I could have as easily gone with High Street Busker, Baker, and Highway Bandit.  Any time you would roll a skill, choose an appropriate Background. "There is an excellent ambush point six miles up the road."  "Imperial Law says his possessions are forfeit to the Crown." "Actually, this sword is likely much older than that - the Numanian Dynasty dates from the Fifth Age," and so on.

A good Background not only tells the GM what you want from the game, it also tells them something about the setting. In fact, there is an aspect of world-building in your backgrounds.  Was there an Imperial Inquisition before I chose that background for Hochnor? No. My GM hadn't even considered the possibility.  But then I dropped it right in front of him - and, in so doing, forced him to deal with it in some way. I have a hunch other players have done similar things.

Each character in 13th Age also has One Unique Thing about them. It's not usually something with a mechanical benefit. Or, rather, I don't believe it should have a mechanical benefit. I guess your DM could give you a benefit.  I decided to use it to add motivation to Hochnor - as we are now living in the 13th Age of the World, Hochnor wanted to know what caused the other 12 Ages to end. In fact, he sacrificed two of his fingers for that knowledge. And now he is trying to stop this age from ending.

And yes - it's another world-building thing.  If I'm the Only Orc Paladin, then there are no other Orc Paladins anywhere in the world.  If I'm the Diabolist's Secret Apprentice, then he doesn't have any other apprentices out there.  I could be the World's Tallest Dwarf or the Elven Ambassador to the City of Fillintheblank - all of these things change the setting in some way.

Oh - and one more thing that a lot of games miss: The characters' connection to the world at large.  13th Age does this with Icons.  There are 13 Iconic Characters, and you will have a relationship with at least one of them.  You don't need to define it - just rate it (1-3 at start), and decide if it's positive, negative, or conflicted. This gives your character a tie to the real movers and shakers in the world. And, ideally, invests you in the world just a bit more.

They also tweaked the level progression for the game - there are only ten levels of play. And you can get partial progression between levels - as in, "I'm Level 1, but I have one or more benefits of being Level 2,"  Depending on your class, this could be a number of things. Extra Hit Points, new Spells, new Class abilities.

And you know how much it sucks to fail a critical roll?  13th Age has you covered there, too.  They call it "Fail Forward," - if you blow a roll, you don't necessarily fail at what you were attempting. You probably still succeed, only with a complication. Maybe it took extra time.  Maybe you were undetected, but you moved one of the roof tiles slightly and now rain is falling into the house and someone will notice sooner rather than later.

All in all, it's a very well-put-together package that takes the best parts of D&D and packs them all together in a modular way.

Oh - did I not mention?  Each of these three things?  Since the game is d20-based, you can easily tweak most of its new ideas and put them into your Pathfinder game. Very easily.

I'll keep you in the loop on how the game is going.  So far, however, I'm really loving it. And I don't see that changing any time in the near future.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Photographic Toy

As I've mentioned a time or two before, I really only have two hobbies - gaming and photography.

And I'm blessed - they are two hobbies that work well together. Really well.  To the point that I can justify spending more money on camera gear because it makes this blog more entertaining. And my wife lets me get away with this justification.

A few days ago, I got a new photographic tool.

Okay.  I lied.

I got a new toy that happens to take photos.

It's called a Lytro.  Those of you who know photography and have been paying attention will know exactly what I'm on about, now.  Those of you who don't should check this out:

Click anywhere on the above image. I'm sorry if you're reading via Kindle or RSS - it won't process in either place (last I checked), but if you click through, I think you'll find that it's fascinating.

So expect to see a few of these images here and there.  I'll try not to make them the focus of the post, as I know a few of you are reading via Kindle or RSS.  And by "A few," I mean "Just over 100" which, by the way, is a little intimidating at times.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Perfect" Games

Over the weekend, some friends and I were talking about movies - we do this fairly often. Because we are social geeks who spend a great deal of time together.

The subject of "Perfect Films" came up.  A Perfect Film, by our definition, is a film which does exactly what it intended to do, without tripping over itself. A Perfect Film is not necessarily a good film, by the way.  There are plenty of terrible films which were perfect.

The Expendables, for example. It was not a good movie.  In fact, it was terrible.  The plot was thin, the characters had about as much depth as most D&D characters, and so on.  It was basically an excuse to get a bunch of over-the-hill action stars together to blow things up.

I saw it in theaters, and walked out with a big smile on my face. Because it was fun. It did exactly what it was intended to do. On my way in, I wasn't expecting Hamlet.

The discussion got me thinking - are there games out there which are perfect?  I'm sure there are.

For me, a Perfect Game is a game should be well-balanced and doesn't have That One Flaw That Brings It Crashing Down (okay, the link is, perhaps, not the best for this, but it's still worth reading).

I love Eclipse, for example. It's an excellent game. It's very good, and very well-balanced. But it breaks down, for me, when Plasma Missiles come into play.  They're not broken, but they definitely require more thought/discussion than any of the tech advances. For me, Eclipse is a Plasma Missile away from being a Perfect Game.

Chess is very nearly a perfect game. Were it not for the (admittedly slight) First Player Advantage issue, I'd probably include it.

Sorry Sliders is, for me, a perfect game.  Seriously. It's fun, there's no theme to get in the way, and the rules are clear and simple. Given that I'm not a fan of Dexterity Games, that's a huge admission.

Shitenno is a perfect game. Your decisions are meaningful, and every turn is a challenge. But it keeps moving - the game doesn't bog down very often.

Dungeon Twister is close.  Very very close.  The Goblin and Treasure lead to wild potential scoring swings, and, over the years, this has finally started to bother me a little bit.  Dungeon Twister: Prison, however, is a perfect game. Mark this date on your calendars, by the way: This is the first time I've said something even vaguely less-than-positive about DT.

Sabotage has been one of my favorites since I was in Junior High. It's an abstract strategy game in which the first player doesn't necessarily have an advantage.

We Didn't Playtest This At All is also brilliant and perfect.  It's the only filler game I have that takes longer to explain than to play.  There isn't One Broken Rule - every rule in the game is badly broken.  Deliberately. Asmadi also publishes Win, Lose, or Banana - the best $1 game you will ever play.

So what games do you find perfect and why?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Spam Lottery + Housecleaning

In December of 2010, I wrote a year-end wrapup post that appears to have won the Spammer Buzzword Bingo Prize, because I am averaging three spam comments per day on it, lately.

Seriously.  It's kinda terrifying, actually.

I knew that eventually the spammers would notice my blog - it's why comment moderation is on (and has been since the beginning). It's just odd to me that I'm attracting so many comments on a two-year-old post.

I figured now would be a good time to do a bit of housecleaning and clarify a few things about this blog that most of you are probably already aware of, but it never hurts to be crystal-clear on.

If it's not a spam comment, I'll let it through.  Unless you are offensive.  I don't draw a lot of comments here, but I don't filter or censor for content provided you (in my judgement) are adding to the conversation. I think I've only ever had to delete one comment.

Link Exchanages
I don't do them.  There's just too much potential for spam - I don't want to unwittingly link any of you to spam, even if the site looks legitimate on the first glance.

Guest Posts
I'm open to hosting guest posts, provided you're not a blatant spammer.  I won't give you posting access, though.  Instead, I'll cut-and-paste your post and type a paragraph or two about you and thank you for your post.

Paid Reviews
I don't do 'em.  If you give me product, I'll review it. If you send me download links for product, I won't download products that I won't review. But my review will be honest - I don't like everything, you know. And I'll try to get the reviews up in a timely manner, but Real Life sometimes intervenes.

Linking Back To Me
I always laugh at sites which insist that you need permission to link to them.  Feel free to link to my site.  You can even quote me - just please don't cut-and-paste full posts for your blog or page. And credit is, of course, always appreciated.

Images and Videos
Most of the images I use on my blog are my images, but a few of them are provided by publishers. Before you re-use an image from this site, please check with me first. If it's my image, I'll usually grant permission (most of my Flickr photos are released under a Creative Commons license, anyhow).  If it's not my image, it should either be CC licensed or I have permission to use it - either way, do your homework and don't just link it.


And that about sums it up.

I'll be back next week with more game content.  Promise.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012


A few days ago, I received a message from a friend asking what I thought of this year's Essen Crop of games.


Essen?  Did I somehow miss it this year?

Apparently, I was so wrapped up in last-minute Essen projects that I missed noticing the fair itself.  And apparently a few of the projects I worked on didn't make it for one reason or another - which is sad.

So what did I work on that was at Essen this year?

An ant-themed Ystari game.  I only learned today that Asmodee wasn't doing the North American distribution for this one - it's a Rio Grande game, with Ystari publishing. It has a lot of good early buzz, and I liked the game based on the rules.  This is the second Rio Grande project I've done - and the second time I didn't know it was a Rio Grande project.

I was really excited about this one. My wife loves Egyptian-themed anything, and this ... well, it fits the bill. It helps that the rules are pretty solid and the initial translation only had a few oddities.  I am really looking forward to my copy.  Matagot is publishing and Asmodee is distributing in North America.

The latest from Christophe Boelinger.  I don't know if he's done a game that I've disliked, yet. With the possible exception of Fantasy Business.  This was an interesting project to work on, because they e-mailed me a Word document to tweak - and it was too large for me to e-mail back. And it needed to be done in a hurry.  Ludically is publishing and Asmodee is distributing in North America.

Room 25
Of all of the Essen games, this is - honestly - the one I'm most excited about, after having read the rules.  It's simple (rules-wise), and has some interesting decisions to make. And the fact that there are so many different modes of play ... If you haven't seen or heard about this one, look into it.  The rules are already up in a couple of different places. Matagot is publishing and Asmodee will be distributing in North America.

City of Horror
I talked about this one a few weeks ago - and I'm going to echo myself, here, but Repos did an excellent job with this one. It fixed many of the issues I had with Mall of Horror at the cost of ... well, not much, really.  Cardboard standups instead of minis.  Repos Prod. is publishing and Asmodee is distributing in North America.

River Dragons
It's a new edition of Dragon Delta. I'm not sure why they changed the name. I enjoyed Dragon Delta the few times I had the opportunity to play it, and I'm really looking forward to owning a copy of this one in the near future.  Matagot is publishing and Asmodee is distributing in North America.

I know this had some availability prior to Essen, but it's really good. At first, I thought this one was a bit of a mess - dice and cards and counters and ... and ...  but it's good. Really really good.  Libellud is publishing and Asmodee is distributing this one.

Mythic Battles
I really like this two-player card/board battle game. It was mostly available before Essen, however, so I debated whether or not to include it on this list.  This one earned a spot in my car pretty quickly.  Iello is both publishing and distributing this one.

It's a really strong crop of games. It's also the most Essen-ish games I've worked on yet, and they all reached me at about the same time. As usual, I'll be watching the rules forums on these games pretty closely (once my copies arrive) so I can help fix any mistakes I made. But I'm oddly confident about this batch.

As usual, thank you to all of the various publishers and designers who trust me with your work. I appreciate the opportunities.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The PC Effect and Chekhov's Gun

As I've mentioned several times (and am likely to mention several times again), I'm getting a Cthulhutech game together.  I have a handful of interested and involved PCs who are almost done with character generation.

So I wanted to talk a bit about that generation - the most difficult one first.

You see, I have a player who - when given a choice - will nearly always play a magic-user.  She uses the term "witchy chick," and not inaccurately.  Were this a Buffy the Vampire Slayer game, she would use the Willow archetype.

And there's nothing wrong with that.  In fact, as a GM, it's nice having a rough idea where my players are going to go.

In Cthulhutech, magic users are called sorcerers. And they don't necessarily start with spells.  In fact, nearly any PC can become a sorcerer merely by taking the Occult skill and learning a spell.  PCs can theoretically start with up to six spells - in practice, they'll only have one or two.

And did I mention that these spells have casting times measured in hours and days?

At first, she was badly rattled by the significant difference in the spells from those in other popular fantasy games. But I eventually managed to get through - you see, in D&D, the casting time is ... hours.  Seriously.  Wizards spend many many hours studying and memorizing and locking in the spell, except for the last few triggering words and gestures.

It's the same way in Cthulhutech.  PC's spent hours and hours casting and effect that can be triggered later.

The next hurdle is that a lot of the spells seem less-than-useful from a gaming perspective.  And that is where Chekhov's Gun comes into play. That's where we start to see the PC effect.

You see, gaming is a cooperative thing. While the GM controls a lot of things, he can't make the PCs go anywhere or do anything. The characters that they players have made should tell the GM what kind of game they want to play, and the GM needs to make sure that the game is sufficiently tailored to that taste.

See, the GM provides (or should provide) guidelines - for the Cthulhutech game, the biggest guideline was "Police or Police-Affiliated in some way." I even made it clear that there were other options - bloggers, members of other city departments, and so on.  So far, all of my characters are actual police officers.

But, by looking at their skills, it reminds me a bit of the (sadly short-lived) TV series The Unusuals. I have a bunch of eccentric misfits. I have a group of characters who are ill-suited to facing the Mythos. Which, in a way, is absolutely perfect. But it tells me that they want to be out of their depth.

When a character spends a lot of their points on a certain thing, they want that thing to appear in the game. If one character spends all of their points on guns and gun skills, then I need to give them something to shoot at, or they will be bored.

This is the PC effect - the game world warps itself to fit the desires of the players.

And then I have to decide: Are the point expenditures Chekhov's Gun, or are they going to be features from the beginning? So, for example, the spell-casting character: Do I want her spells to be useful now, or should they be the key to the last part of the puzzle?

The best example I have of Chekhov's Gun is from the film Looper.  There is, early on, a line of dialog about why the loopers have blunderbusses instead of pistols.  Near the end, this is demonstrated.  Then, at the very end of the film, this line of dialogue becomes critical.

So, with every single decision the PC's make in character generation, I have to decide: When do I want this decision to be relevant?

It's tricky, and I hope I can get it right ...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Character Generation

Character Generation on Friday went smoothly, even though one player didn't make it and one player was late.  The players who were there talked it through and coordinated their characters.

Cthulhutech is an ... interesting setting. Left to their own devices, I'd have had one sorcerer, one Tager, a mecha pilot, and God knows what else.  It's a setting with a lot of options for characters, so I needed them to work together so we could have a cohesive party.

I'd previously given them some guidelines and suggestions, and I was set to give them some bonus points, depending on what they ended up doing.  So, when Stephanie does her character questionnaire for the project, people who are familiar with the game will spot a few extra skill points.

Either way, I now have a party of cops. I gave each of them two free skill points in Law Enforcement and Authority 1 and Duty 1.  Beyond that, I pretty much let them loose.

One character runs the evidence locker, and has been stealing interesting trinkets for years. One character is SWAT, and is more than a little gun-crazy.  In fact, he's been buying guns from the evidence locker for a good long while.  One character is a Para-Psychic with a Dark Secret.  One player has declared that he'll be part of the Computer Crimes Division.  And one player is still a question mark.

All of them have a few combat skills, because - well - they're cops.

So I have a bunch of cops.  A bunch of dirty cops. In a city that, if I follow canon, is doomed within a year or two.

I can't wait to see how it turns out.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Behind The Screen Again

A few weeks ago, I posted a link to the Obsidian Portal page for my next game - a Traveller game that existed so that someone I hadn't gamed with in more than a decade could acclimatize to my current preferred style of play (along with the group that is already familiar with that style). And so the group could familiarize themselves with Obsidian Portal itself.

Well, for one reason and another, that game fell apart before it even started.

Since Traveller was going to be a short game anyhow, we're leading directly into the game which most of the people were interested in from the get-go.


How interested are they? There are a total of four households involved with the game. Three of us have copies of at least the core book.

The game itself tends, in some circles, to be a bit controversial. And by "in some circles," I mean "over on the forums." And, to be honest, there is good reason for the game to be a bit controversial. Mind you, I think that a number of better-known games should be more controversial. But that's just me.

Either way, the occasional discussion has highlighted a couple of possible system issues for me to watch out for.  For example, because of how the dice work, it's possible to critically succeed and critically fail the same roll. And the balance between Integrity Scale and Vitality Scale is reportedly ... off.  I'll tweak that if it comes up. At this point, however, I don't expect it to come up.

Now that I've said, that, however, my players will take it on themselves to track down an armored brigade single-handedly with their hand weapons.

Either way, I've put up an Obsidian Portal page for the players. I'll be rewarding players with drama points and XP for updating.  At least one player is really good for bouncing ideas off of, and I'll be rewarding him for that, too, even if he doesn't update the Portal at all.

I've already had one really good addition to my Wiki from a player.

Since four of my players are authors, I expect to see some ... interesting ... characters. Even for a law enforcement-themed campaign.

For my part, this will be my first campaign since my L5R game that ran from 1996 until early 2000. I've enjoyed the one-shots we did (including the Cthulhutech one-shot I did a few years back), so it'll be good to be back behind the screen long-term.

Well, ideally.  Assuming the game comes together and then holds together.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Kickstarter Luck

There's been a lot of discussion of Kickstarter in my Google+ Circles, of late. And on And in various other places I visit.  On projects and when they were funded, delivered, etc.

I'm very patient with these projects - my first Crowdfunding project was Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity. It funded via the (now defunct) in 2008.  The product arrived in 2010. So a two-year lag is not (to my mind) completely unforgivable. Provided the product is worth the wait.

I've had ... mostly good luck.  Here is a complete list of tabletop gaming projects I have backed, when it funded, and when (if I remember) it arrived. If there is an asterisk after the title, it indicates that it is from a newcomer to the gaming industry.

Note that only projects that funded more than six months ago are on this list.

Hellas: Princes of the Universe - Funded June 25, 2010; Delivered November of 2010

Early Dark* - Funded August 27, 2010; Delivered May 2012.

Powerchords - Funded October 1, 2010; Delivered ... um ... right.
What's the difference between setting money on fire and funding Powerchords?  Two years of updates in my e-mail inbox. You may note some barbs in here aimed at this project, because I think that this project deserved a bit of scorn by now. Especially when he keeps moving the goalposts, and the currently-promised product bears very little resemblance to what I initially threw money at.

Mob Ties* - Funded January 17, 2011; Delivered October, 2011. I've heard it described as being basically a retheme of Mall of Horror. And I can see it.  The game is not bad. Not amazing, but not bad.

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple - Funded May 24, 2011; Delivered July, 2011. One of the lighter storygames I own. I really enjoy this one - and, as an added bonus - I can play it with small children.  It's light enough.

Kingdom of Solomon - Funded July 4, 2011; Delivered January, 2012. I really liked Steve Jackson Games' Revolution, so when I heard the designer had another game on Kickstarter, I didn't wait.  It was a must-buy for me.  And I don't regret the decision.

Children of Fire* - Funded August 3, 2011; Delivered October, 2011. I was shocked at how quickly this was delivered. The game had previously been a free PDF, but the layout in the print version is different from the old PDF. I was shocked at how quickly this arrived, given that it was someone who was new to the industry.

Far West - Funded August 25, 2011; Delivered: NOT  YET COMPLETE. I have received a short story anthology, but I'm still waiting for the game itself.  Gareth-Michael Skarka has been mostly keeping us up to date. At least his infrequent updates have been useful.

Chronicles of the Void* - Funded August 21, 2011; Delivered: NOT YET COMPLETE. The last update was in August of this year - I'm confident that they're working on it. I would like a few more regular updates, though.

Oh My God! There's An Axe In My Head! - Funded September 12, 2011; Delivered: NOT YET COMPLETE. The last update on Kickstarter was in August.

Board2Pieces Comics Compendium - Funded October 2, 2011; Delivered: November 2011. I was totally gobsmacked at how fast this one arrived.

Hellas: Wine-Dark Void - Funded October 8, 2011; Delivered:  March 2012. More good stuff from Jerry. If he keeps pushing it, I'll keep throwing my nickels his way.

Empires of the Void* - Funded November 27, 2011; Delivered: May 2012. I really enjoyed this game.  There were a few rough patches in the rules, but nothing that is deal-breaking. I liked it enough to back City of Iron from the same team.

Miskatonic School for Girls* - Funded December 5, 2011; Delivered: March 2012. I like the theme. I like the concept. But the game is a slow starter with very few actual decisions to be made. And it's very random. The only Kickstarted board game I have received that has been a disappointment.

Mutant Meeples - Funded December 4, 2011; Delivered: NOT YET COMPLETE. I was really surprised at this one, giving that the project creator is the same person who did the Board2Pieces Comics Compendium. It was really fast.  This? Is still faster than Powerchords.

Reclamation* - Funded December 3, 2011; Delivered: May 2012. I think this arrived the same day as Early Dark and Empires of the Void. It was certainly within a few days of them. Another one that I need to read more thoroughly once I find the box.

Pizza Theory* - Funded December 20, 2011; Delivered: March 2011. It's not a particularly deep game, and it tends to have a clear winner pretty quickly - which is one of the points of the game. I like it, but it's not one I'll usually seek out.

They Became Flesh - Funded December 12, 2011; Delivered: NOT YET ARRIVED. The last update said it'd shipped as of September 20th. Given my luck, I expect it'll arrive before this post goes live.

Tephra* - Funded February 4, 2012; Delivered: June 2012. NOTE: I'm still waiting for the Adversaries book (one of the Kickstarter bonus/promo items). Still the best RPG I've Kickstarted. Probably one of the best role-playing games of 2012. Seriously. It's not perfect (the layout and organization needs a bit of work), but it's good, with a great setting and some of the best crafting rules I've seen in a tabletop game.

Order of the Stick Reprint Drive - Funded February 21, 2012; Delivered September 2012

Hellas: Swords & Sandals - Funded March 24, 2012; NOT YET ARRIVED. But Jerry just updated a few days ago.  Books are due soon.  Given his track record so far, I have faith that it'll be here soon enough.

Gunship: First Strike - Funded March 31, 2012; NOT YET ARRIVED. A recent update said it was being printed, so I should have this one before too terribly long.  It's only been about seven months, so I'm not terribly concerned.

Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack - Funded April 11, 2012; NOT YET ARRIVED. A Lego-based miniatures combat game with mecha? Sign me up! Twice! I think the PDF is available for download, and the print copies will be here soon enough.

Dungeon World - Funded June 30, 2010; NOT YET ARRIVED. I'd be shocked if it were here as quickly as this. Unlike Powerchords, I expect to have this by GenCon of next year.

There have been a few which funded after this point, some of which I expect I'll have in hand before Christmas, and some of which I expect late next year at the soonest (despite their projected arrival dates).

All in all, my luck has been good with the game-themed Kickstarters.

Hopefully this luck will hold.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Games I Have Chosen Not To Buy or Which Sit On My Shelf

My wife often accuses me of being a game snob - and with good reason. I turn my nose up at a lot of games.

Too many, in fact.

The logical assumption would be that the games I'm sneering at are non-Hobby games. After all, don't all hardcore tabletop gamers turn their noses up at Monopoly and Clue and Risk?

In point of fact: I enjoy all three of these games. Particularly Castle Risk, which I find to be a faster-playing better variant of Risk.

I'm a Eurogamer. I make no bones about that. But I both own and enjoy Fortress America and Axis & Allies, two of the early banner bearers of the Ameritrash movement.

So what leads me to not buy a game (or leave a game on the shelf)?

Poor Luck vs. Skill Balance
I much prefer games where a skilled player will usually defeat a lucky player due to their skillful play. I didn't buy Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot, because it's a lottery game. Yes, the player with the most carrots usually wins, but not always. And it's not due to skillful play - the winner is random.

Note that games that have no skill component whatsoever, such as We Didn't Playtest This At All don't bug me. Because it's 100% random and takes about ten minutes. And is really really fun.

Indeterminate Length
When I sit down to play a game, I like to know how long that game will take (within a reasonable range of time). So I didn't buy Fluxx, because it can take ten minutes or ten hours.

Rules Interfering with Fun
I really like Empires in Arms. I think it's a phenomenal game - the rules (for the most part) make sense, even though there are a lot of them. So I'm not afraid of thick rulebooks.  But Twilight Imperium just didn't do it for me. At all. The fact that there is basically more errata than rulebook doesn't help.

Appropriate Game Length
Again: I enjoy Empires in Arms, even though it's a very very long game. It needs to be, though. It's an EPIC game of Napoleonic Strategy.  But I don't like Anima: Shadow of Omega. Because it's way too long for what it is.

Only for the LOLs
I like humor in games. I enjoy a well-written and snarky rulebook.  Gosu is a great example of a good rulebook. But Muchkin just didn't do it for me. Because - yes - the cards are funny, but it's like reading a jokebook. It's funny once. Until you forget the jokes. I don't usually read joke books twice, and I don't play Munchkin twice. And the game itself was too thin.

Lack of Player Interaction
For me, gaming is essentially a social outlet.  I play games to spend time with people who I otherwise wouldn't have an excuse to hang with regularly.  While I do enjoy a few games that are essentially multiplayer solitaire, for the most part, I like to be able to directly screw over my opponent by cutting him off or robbing him rather than by filling the boat first.  It's one reason I like 7 Wonders: Cities with its debt mechanism; it increases interaction between players (something the base game occasionally lacks). This is why I didn't buy Fits, which is very much multiplayer solitaire.

Meaningful Decisions
I like being able to actually feel like my choices are driving the game forward and steering my fate. Games where the best choice is immediately obvious just don't really do it for me. This lack of true decision-making is why Miskatonic School for Girls sits on the shelf.

Decided Away From The Table
I want things in the game to determine who wins. The good Diplomacy players can make this distinction. Bad ones will remember three games ago when you backstabbed them in Italy.  Not as a matter of "Eric is a backstabbing jerk," but in terms of "Eric stabbed me, and I'm gonna make him pay!" Because "Eric is a backstabbing jerk," is a perfectly legitimate reason to not trust me.

I played a game a few years ago where a visiting husband & wife mopped the floor with the rest of us because they had agreed on the way up to work together until the very end. And then they found one rookie player and convinced him to break his only alliance way too early (costing everyone in that alliance even a shot at winning).  It was not fun. The game was decided before anyone ever showed up to play.

So there you have it: A relatively quick overview of my snobbery.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gaming Accessories

As you all know, I'm a bit too active on Kickstarter. And that's just what I've backed - my wife has backed a fair number of projects, too.  Enough that we ended up putting together a spreadsheet to track what we've received and what we're still waiting for.

A few weeks back, I wrote about a couple of projects which were being Kickstarted - and both have now reached their goals (huzzah!).  One of them - Unexploded Cow from Cheapass Games - was used both to get the specific game back in print (now in a deluxe edition), but also to jump-start the company again.

Cheapass games - as I said a few weeks back - made some of my favorite games back in the day. Kill Doctor Lucky and Hong Kong Spree were exceptional (and approachable).

The only flaw in their system was that you had to provide your own components. For some games, it was easy. But some of their games required sets of matching tokens. You could go to the aquarium supply store and get a huge variety of glass beads, but they were sometimes oddly dissatisfying.

A few months ago, we went to a friend's birthday party.  She throws one every year, and every year it's a lot of fun.  We go, we play some games, and we go home with large smiles.  Every year.  This year, we started playing Divinare.  Since we had one rule wrong, we ran out of scoring tokens. "That's okay," he said, "I have my PennyGems."

He walked over to his backpack and pulled out what appeared to be a dice bag, which he then spilled onto the table.  "PennyGems," he said. "They're generic tokens usable in any game."

I thought they were pretty cool (if expensive), and added them to my list of Things To Buy After GenCon.

And then he had a Kickstarter for "A Pale Imitation" - PennyGems in pastel colors. So, instead of ordering from his Etsy store, we Kickstarted at the level we wanted. And I'm very happy with them.

I realized as I was sticking the vinyl to pennies that these would be ideal for Cheapass games.  You can use them a player pieces, money, and dozens of additional token types.

I know there are dozens and dozens of game accessories out there - dice bags, dice towers, tokens, markers, dice - but I'm one of those folks who believes you can never upgrade your game enough.

And I'm a big fan of small business doing what they can to get the ball rolling.

So here are the links I've posted above for accessories - and these are products for which I have seen with my own eyes and touched with my own hands. If you have another good accessory link, feel free to throw it in the comments.

Dice Bags:
Dice Towers:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Obsidian Portal

I just recently decided to become an Ascendant member of Obsidian Portal.  This makes me both an early adopter and late to the party.

You see, about four years ago, one of my DMs discovered OP. And I signed up - but I never did anything with it.  He even gave bonus XP if we'd spend the time to update the site - which was nice.

I never really took advantage of it.  I poked briefly at OP, and then just ... left it.  It looked to be little more than a GM tool which allowed player access. And - to a point - I was right.

But then I joined a Dresden Files game. The GM put the game up on Obsidian Portal, and offered FATE points to players who updated and maintained the pages. And this time, it seems to be working.  The players are actively involved with keeping the pages up to date.  The Adventure Wiki is a bit behind, but the characters seem to be accurate, and - again - the players are active. And I have no idea what the GM has up that is concealed from the players.  I'm not even using my printed character sheet for this game - I'm using my laptop with a window open to my character's page on Obsidian Portal.

It's going well enough that I decided to put my game up on the site. Before too long, I'm going to be running Cthulhutech, but, to get the players used to Obsidian Portal, I'm starting with a short Traveller game.

There's not much up, yet.  I have a map I need to scan, and I need to put the characters up (once they're generated). But I have a couple different batches of Scream Sheets (with a number of plot hooks and Easter eggs) ready to go.

It's astounding to me how easy it's been to get rolling on the game details.  I also have some very creative players, so I expect I'll have a host of cities, asteroids, shops, and NPCs in relatively short order - once the players relax a bit and get comfortable adding to and updating the wiki.

I don't think it's quite clicked, yet, how much of a free hand I'm giving them.

I think I'm going to give bonus XP to players who update and maintain the page during Cthulhutech, too.  I may even count Traveller updates and maintenance for Cthulhutech bonuses, because of how very differently Traveller handles character growth.

The more I poke at it, the more useful it becomes - and not just for gaming, either.  I have several friends who are writers who could use this to keep track of key characters, places, and things in their fiction.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ten Years In

Next week is the tenth anniversary of the weekly game night I've been a part of since the beginning. We will actually be celebrating on October 3rd.

I used to keep a long list of people who, at one time or another, had attended. I lost track at one point, and never really got back on track. I lost track before we moved our weekly gatherings to the game store, and we had well over 200 different names on the list.  Since moving to the store, we have grown.

A decade ago, I had a couple of friends over to play Settlers of Catan, which a co-worker had purchased for me as a gift.  We agreed to meet again the next week, and ... and we never stopped.

I eventually got burned out on Settlers, so we moved on to other games. That was ... that was thousands of games ago.

After three years, we outgrew my apartment, and we moved the gathering to Phoenix Games.  Brian has been a good host for the last seven years, and his space (and parking spaces) have allowed the group to grow.

At my apartment, we were averaging eight to ten gamers per week and using two tables.  The last few years, we've been between fifteen and thirty on a typical evening, with six to eight games going simultaneously at times.

Over the years, some of the people I met through Game Night have grown into some of my best friends.

My current DM is someone I met outside of Game Night, but we didn't really click until he randomly showed up one week. He has since become one of my best friends (in addition to being my DM).

It's been a good decade, and I find myself looking forward to what will happen over the next one.

Thanks to all the regulars and others who have made this possible.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Broken Perspectives, Unusual Viewpoints, and Unreliable Narrators

My wife and I just recently started watching a new TV show.  She has a weakness for crime dramas with a touch of fun - she loves Castle, for example. And Numbers.  And Bones. We both loved Monk.  And now we're watching Perception.

All of these shows have main characters who work as consultants to the regular police department (or FBI). The most of the viewpoint characters are damaged in some way, which makes them more entertaining and interesting.  The viewpoint character in Monk suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. In Perception, the character has schizophrenia, and often sees characters who aren't there.

The difference between the two is that, in Monk, we can't see the OCD's effects directly.  We can see, indirectly, what Adrian Monk is forced to do, but that's not the same.  In Perception, we can see the imaginary characters (and other things) that Dr. Pierce interacts with.  It casts doubt on the existence of every single character on the show other than the lead. In fact, I occasionally find myself wondering if the entire show isn't in the lead character's mind.

Last night, I was playing our bi-weekly Dresden Files game. During the game, I realized a few things about my character's headspace - and that's always a scary thing. Doubly so in the Dresden universe.  After the game, we were hanging out and chatting, and one of the other players said something to me (and the rest of the group) about her character's perspective.  What if Harry Dresden is an unreliable narrator? What if he really is the villain of the piece who is spinning a story for us? What if the White Council was right to not trust him?  That's the perspective her character brings to the game. And it's not entirely outlandish, even using Butcher's writings as your source.

So how much of this can you fold into your game?  A lot.

Have a player who takes schizophrenia as a flaw on a regular basis?  Ask one of the other players (in secret) if he wants to play a hallucination. Tell him to be careful not to directly interact with the rest of the party. It's entirely possible that the rest of the party will try to interact with him - he'll need to learn to shrug it off. If the party decides to follow the hallucination's lead at some point, then clearly the schizophrenic character repeated what was said.

The imaginary PC also had to be prepared for a lot of hitting but not doing damage. Or having the foe just shrug it off. It also means that PC shouldn't take a roll essential for the rest of the party.

Want to mess with your players in a superhero game? Do to them what JJJ has been trying to do to Spider-Man for years - turn public perception against them. Maybe that last villain they busted had been waging a PR campaign against them. Or maybe it was a matter of one press reporter was in the wrong place at the wrong time and so it looks like the PC's did something.

Or maybe they are villains and didn't realize it.

Batman's cave is filled with trophies - what if those trophies are pieces to a doomsday machine he is building? What if his Rogues Gallery keeps busting out of Arkham with his help? He has manipulated his villains into doing his bidding for years.  If the Mad Hatter's latest theft - a microtransmitter - isn't recovered when the Hatter is caught, who would notice? There is, after all, a whole warehouse full of components for whatever the Hatter was building.

In games which have a merit/flaw or advantage/disadvantage system, I very rarely see a character without one of the drawbacks. After all, they are free points, right?

As a GM, the players rely on you for every single scrap of information about the world around them.  YOU control their senses. All of them. Want them to hallucinate a smell of flowers that isn't there? Tell them that they smell flowers. Want them to notice a detail somewhere? Point it out to them.

Just remember that you don't necessarily need to be a reliable narrator.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

City of Horror vs Mall of Horror

Six or seven years ago, Asmodee released a game called Mall of Horror.  It was a game where your party of three (or four) characters ran around a mall trying desperately to stay ahead of the Zombie Horde which was trying to break in and eat your brains.  Eventually, the zombies would break into each location, and the players present in that location needed to vote for who they were going to toss to the zombies.

It was a cutthroat game with a good premise that played well to its theme.

But the end of the game could really drag. It was sometimes longer than the rest of the game combined.  And there was a potentially broken strategy - hang out in the Parking Lot and collect cards.

And the rule book ... *sigh*

It went out of print a few years ago, and hasn't been reprinted.  The secondary market for it has blown up. If you can find it, expect to pay a good-sized pile of cash - because it's an excellent game, despite its flaws.

Earlier this year, I saw rules for a new game: City of Horror. It fixed the problems that had plagued Mall of Horror. And it looked to be a lot of fun.

At GenCon this year, I managed to play a few games and it fulfilled its promise.

The first significant change to the game is the characters.  In Mall of Horror, everyone had the same three (or four) characters - the Blonde, the Brute, and the Gunman (in a 3-player game, you also had a Little Girl).  And I know that he wasn't called the Gunman, but I don't have my rulebook handy, so I can't check his actual name.

In City of Horror, there are twenty four different characters, and each player will control a random batch of them (the number of characters you get depends on the number of players there are).

In Mall of Horror, each location was basically the same. In City of Horror, there is a reason to choose one location over another (and it's not just counting zombies). And there's no "hang out in the Parking Lot to gather cards" issue, either - you can hang out in the Crossroads and gather food if you want to, but it won't do you any good if none of your characters survive.

In Mall of Horror, every survivor was worth points.  In City of Horror, only the vaccinated survivors are allowed on the helicopter. And you need to gather vaccine during play.

Remember that late-game slog I mentioned?  It's not there, anymore.  City of Horror ends after four turns. Period.

In short, City of Horror has a very similar feel to Mall of Horror, but with none of the drawbacks.

And so I was heartbroken when we couldn't sell the copies we had at GenCon. Because the cardstock was wrong, and it was already warping. I was caught (pleasantly) by surprise when I was told to take a copy home. "Just write about it," I was told.

When this appears in game stores in a few months, check it out.  Seriously.

If you want an early preview and you're in the Seattle Area, come to Phoenix Games on a Wednesday evening.  We'll be playing it.  And other games.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Tale of Two Kickstarters

Ten years ago, I started hosting game night at my apartment.

Well, nine years and eleven months.

At the time, I had Settlers of Catan, and a few other games.  Not much of a selection at all.

Then the FLGS owner put this paper envelope in front of me. The front said it was called Kill Doctor Lucky and warned us that we'd need to supply our own pawns for the game.

I remember thinking to myself, What kind of publisher is so lazy that they don't bother including pawns?

Other games in the line required the addition of dice. Or of decks of normal playing cards.

It was ... weird. But that's how Cheapass Games did it. After all - which of us doesn't have a dozen or so games with pieces we can raid for use as playing pieces?

It was a good idea, once you got past the weirdness of buying a DIY set. And the games ...

None of them was especially deep, and there were a few I didn't actually like. But very few - and I didn't mind.  Because it was five bucks. I think I have about a dozen of them.

James Earnest had one goal with Cheapass: Get the games into the hands of gamers. A worthy goal, which I support wholeheartedly.

And then he found a job elsewhere, and Cheapass slumbered.

Until now.

They have a Kickstarter up for a new edition of Unexploded Cow, which was one of their later productions, and one of their most fun.

It's already at 150% of goal. And there is time left.

At the other end of the spectrum, I haven't talked much about 13th Age here. Yet.  It's a game that feels like it's destined to become one of my favorites. We have the pre-order PDF, and it's very, very good.

And now - for a game that isn't even out, yet - there is a supplement being Kickstarted.  This is a tougher sell than Unexploded Cow.  For one, the campaign started during a time in which the vast majority of your target audience is watching Indianapolis for news.  For another, the target is ... it's not low.  I don't think it's unreasonably high, but they definitely have their work cut out for themselves to hit this goal.

And - finally - it's a supplement for a game that isn't even out yet.  This, alone, makes it a difficult sale.  It's like trying to sell someone dessert before the entree has arrived. No matter how many times you tell them how good your chef is, they won't fully believe it until they've tasted the entree.

But, in this case, I've had a taste.  I've snacked on 13th Age and it's tasty, with a number of bits that I can easily steal for other games. And you know I like Jonathan Tweet's work. And Rob Heinsoo's work (although I'm less familiar with his stuff).

All in all, I don't envy Fire Opal Media their Kickstart - but my household did back it. Because it looks awesome. And you should buy 13th Age and then back this one. Or back this one first and then buy 13th Age.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

GenCon 2012: The End

Just like that, we're done.

Exhausted, but alive.

And done.

Today, I played Seasons, City of Horror, and Fame Us.

I helped run demos of Evo, Mundus Novus, and Timeline.

I acquired the new Edge of the Empire game - Fantasy Flight's Star Wars RPG, for which they released a surprise beta at GenCon.

We also walked out with Shadowrun: 2050, Libertalia, Rise or Fall, Marie Andre's Bonbons, and City of Horror. Even though that last one is being reprinted due to a problem with the cardstock which was used.

At the end of the day, David Miller with Purple Pawn came by the booth.  He's done so on the last day of the convention for the last few years, and he's always good to see. We chatted for a few before the exhibit hall closed for the day.

Two good friends became engaged today. And, let me tell you, IT'S ABOUT DAMN TIME, YOU TWO!

And then we went for a team dinner at the Weber Grill. It was a bit weird for me, because my day job in a warehouse deals with a lot of Weber grills.

And now, I'm getting ready to crash.

It was a good year. A successful year.  And I've been told that next year's booth will be bigger.

We were completely slammed all weekend long. This is not surprising. Many gamers have started to see Asmodee as a destination rather than just a waypoint.  It started with a few regulars who sought out Stephanie and/or myself, but, over time, more and more gamers have discovered just how many really good games are in the booth.

And this year had three big releases in theory.  7 Wonders: Cities, Libertalia, and Seasons. We were hoping for FOUR big releases, with City of Horror.

In practice, we had two big releases - the Seasons release was delayed at the printer, and City of Horror had a cardstock issue.

And now, I'm going to collapse.

To those of you who stopped by the booth to demo a game or just say hi: Thank you. There are thousands of games at GenCon, and you have limited time in which to play them. Thank you for spending that valuable time in our booth.

We'll see you next year.

Day Three (Evening) + Day Four Preview

After the dealer's room closed last night, Stephanie and I met with our good friend Wade for dinner.  Then we wandered back to our room and chatted with him for several hours.

He cursed our name several times when we said, "X game is really good."  Because he then added it to his shopping list (Sorry, Angela!).

There are exciting things happening today.  Mayfair is reportedly live-streaming some sort of raffle this afternoon/evening, and you should totally watch it - because why would you live-stream a raffle if nothing new and/or exciting is going to be announced?

If you hadn't heard, Wizards announced that their D&D back catalog would be available electronically.  We don't know, yet, if they're going back to DriveThruRPG/RPGNow or if they'll be creating their own format tied to DDI.  Given how paranoid they are about piracy, my money says they do their own thing.

Given their past history, my money says it flops at first.  Nothing personal, WotC, but your digital initiatives have always been lousy for the first six months to a year.

Today is the slow day. In theory.  Today is the day the big vendors (us included) take longer breaks and do most of our shopping.  We've been hitting booths before the exhibit hall opens, so we're basically done.  We may grab one or two more items, but I'm already hoping we're not well over the weight limit for luggage.

The 7 Wonders tournament finals are in the booth this morning. One table's worth of players, so there will be demos going on all around them.

Also: Back home, it's 4am. And the Washington State Department of Transportation's official Twitter feed is already telling me that there are traffic problems and backups. At 4:00 am. On a Sunday.

Tonight, after the doors close, we start tearing down.  It'll take an hour or two. At the end of that time, the team will go out for dinner. For the last few years, we've gone to the Weber Grill in Indianapolis. This year, they made reservations well in advance of the convention. You pretty much need to when you have a party of 25. And this year's team is the strongest we've had so far.  By a lot.  I still got yanked from game to game a little bit when one of the "older" games needed a demo, but, for the most part, everyone in the booth knew almost every game.

Stephanie spent most of the convention playing City of Horror.  It's a good thing she likes the game.

Tomorrow, we fly home.  GenCon is wonderful and amazing and very very exhausting. Home will be wonderful and amazing and ... and will have my day job waiting for me. I'm actively afraid of how many voice mails and e-mails I'll have to deal with.

Another highlight of yesterday that I'd missed was the change to meet Jonathan Franklin (who is not related).  He's another Seattleite that I met through BoardGameGeek, and his game, A Fistful of Penguins, is selling at this convention. Apparently it's selling well, which is good.  I've read the rules and have a copy waiting for me back at my FLGS.

... and now, I need to go prepare for Sunday.  More later, probably after our tasty, tasty dinner.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

GenCon Day 3

If you can live through the Saturday of GenCon, then you can survive nearly anything.  We were busy from the word "go," this morning.

Sunday usually starts similarly busy, but dies down relatively quickly (and ends earlier).

I only played two games today: Ca$h 'N Gun$ and City of Horror.  The rest of the day, I was teaching games.

Oh - I did play one game of Skull & Roses.

I am continually shocked at how few people wandering by are familiar with Cyclades and Claustrophobia. I both saw (and ran) a number of demos for these today.

I'm not saying they're not great games - they are - but they're two or more years old. It just ... it surprises me that they're as little-known as they seem to be.

Today's Loot:
The Strange Cases of Rudolph Pearson - Apparently, Chaosium is publishing a Cthulhu fiction line, now.
Yggdrasil - I was a huge fan of Qin.  I still am, actually.  This is from the same French publisher and is translated and sold by Cubicle 7.  A very dangerous mix for my wallet.
The Smoke for Victoriana.
Cthulhu by Gaslight for Call of Cthulhu
The Mythos Dossiers for The Laundry RPG.
Outbreak: Wild Kingdom for Outbreak: Undead - Stephanie has a weakness for Zombie games that aren't All Flesh Must Be Eaten.
Outbreak: Undead .. The Gamemaster's Companion - It was free with purchase of the other one.
The Edge of Midnight, The Naked City, and Gaunts and the Underworld - While paying for the Outbreak: Undead books, these caught her eye.  They caught mine, too, in all fairness.  But she was carrying the money at the time ...

Tomorrow: We finish selling out the booth, we collect our loot, and the team goes to the Weber Grill for dinner.

Monday: We fly home.  I'm really looking forward to it. Not because I dislike it here - I don't.  I really really don't - I just miss my cats and sleeping in my own comfortable bed.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Post-Dinner Drinks

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I have three favorite RPG designers:

Jonathan Tweet
Robin D. Laws
Kenneth Hite

I learned about a week ago that Jonathan Tweet works at the same company as my wife.

When I geeked out in her direction, she looked him up. "Ooooh. Yeah," she said, "I've met that guy!"

I about died.

Then she did something I'd probably never have done in a million years - she contacted him and said, in essence, "My husband is a huge fan. Are you willing to sign autographs on product you've written?"

And he agreed, but noted that it would need to be soon, as he would be leaving for GenCon.

What a coincidence!

Tonight, Stephanie took me out for drinks. With Jonathan Tweet and two of his friends (no, not Robin D. Laws and Kenneth Hite).

It was surreal for me. And really awesome. Even if I did more or less lock up.

But, once I was able to loosen up enough - and was guided by his friend Danny - I was able to ask some questions that I'd wondered about for years.

Like "How did you convince Wizards to publish Everway?" and "Are you familiar with Talislanta, and how did it influence your design of D&D?"

I hadn't realized: Jonathan Tweet had a hand in Talislanta 3rd Edition. Enough so that he's credited alongside Stephan Michael Sechi on the title page.

Which, in turn, explains why 3E reminds me so strongly of Tal, because Tal 3 was the version I first saw.

All in all, it was an amazing time.  I'm still a bit twitchy.

... and I need to dig my old copy of Talislanta out, now, and send it with Stephanie for an autograph ...


And yes, I am geeking out.

GenCon Day Two: The Haul

Today's Haul:

Chronica Feudalis
Don't Lose Your Mind for Don't Rest Your Head
Wolsung: Steam Pulp Fantasy
Cthulhutech Quick Start Rules
Cthulhutech GM's screen
Cthonian Stars
Cthulhutech Core book - I like having multiple copies, so I have one and my players can also reference one.
Vade Mecum for Cthulhutech - it's basically a core book, honestly.  It's essential for play.
Dark Harvest: The Legacy of Frankenstein - Resistance
Laundry Files: Agent's Handbook
Clockwork and Chivalry Core Rulebook (The 2nd Edition which uses its own system)
Marvels of Science and Steampunk for Victoriana
Tales from Wilderland for The One Ring (which is amazing)
Loremaster's Screen and Lake-Town Sourcebook for The One Ring
Two sets of the custom dice for the Mistborn RPG, including the promo 11th die.

GenCon Day Two

Tomorrow is the busy one. Today was a good warmup.

Bruno Cathala displayed a wicked sense of humor this morning while teasing one of the other demo-monkeys.

We also finished most of our shopping for the trip today. I will post that list later when I am on my computer rather than the phone.

GenCon Day Two (Morning)

Indianapolis has a few things I like that we don't have in Seattle. But you have to be up really early to get into some of them, because they get mobbed by gamers.

I'm speaking, of course, about food.

We don't have Steak 'n Shake. And it's the closest fast food to the convention center. Because of this, it  has a long line nearly all weekend long.

Indianapolis also has at least one White Castle. I ... I occasionally crave the stuff, revolting though it is. Because - let's be honest, here - White Castle makes terrible food. Terrible food which is weirdly addictive.

And Chick-Fil-A. I get this one time per year - at GenCon. It's one of the odd highlights of my convention. I just love their food. My wife is less-impressed with the food. That's okay - she's allowed to be wrong occasionally. As an added bonus, GenCon happens in the midst of the Peach Milkshake season at CFA.

Many of us who are experienced GenCon folk have found our own quiet little watering holes here in Indy.  Last year, the Asmodee crew stumbled across a bar that no-one else at the convention seemed to know about. I'd tell you where it is, but that would mean giving up the secret and possibly fighting the two-hour-plus lines that the rest of the restaurants in the area seem to acquire around this time.

I"m not kidding, either. For my third GenCon, three of us went to P.F. Chang's, because we love the food. When we arrived, they quoted a two hour wait time for us.  The lobby was packed with people, and it was a fight to get to the desk to put your name on the waiting list.

I felt a little bad for some of the non-gamers who were just trying to have a good night out on the town, because many of them don't keep track of the local conventions and when they are. And GenCon is one of the larger conventions held locally.

So that leads to it being 7:30 am Eastern Time (Back home, it's 4:30 am), and I'm already up and getting ready to leave so we can get our morning Steak 'n Shake breakfast.

During the day, I eat the convention center bratwurst.  They're terrible, but they also haven't killed me yet. Four of them per year is about all I can handle.

After the convention shuts down on Sunday, Christophe has made reservations for the team at the Weber Grill, which is both very expensive and very tasty.  It's also within walking distance of the convention center.  It's expensive enough that you don't get two hour wait times during the show.  Don't get me wrong: You still get some significant waits there, but it's not as bad as, say, The Old Spaghetti Factory (where we ate last year).

... and now I need to go.  I don't eat breakfast regularly at home, but I never miss it at GenCon, because I need the energy to get through the day.

I'll post tonight with my daily aftermath.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

GenCon Day One

As usual, my wife and I were the first ones to the booth.

"You know," I told her, "We won't have enough of anything."

We sold out of Seasons and Seven Wonders: Cities pretty early today.  We may have more later in the weekend (I hope I hope I hope), but I'm not holding my breath.

We had City of Horror in the booth, but weren't able to sell it.  The cardboard for this print run is ... substandard.  So they're ditching the batch and have already re-ordered. Hopefully it won't take long.  We do have a demo copy in the booth, and it's very good. I like it a great deal.

We also have some copies of Eclipse in the booth. I don't expect them to last, but the $90 price point may prove me wrong.  Time will tell, I guess.

Ever demo a game with the designer hanging out looking over your shoulder? It's a little nerve-wracking. Especially when it's a designer whose work you respect a great deal like Bruno Cathala.  The guys I was demoing it to had no idea who he was, so I headed to the 'Geek and started listing his games for them.  The other players realized that they owned half a dozen of his games and were appropriately awed.

Meanwhile, I was a nervous wreck, what if I messed a rule up? Thankfully, I didn't.  Bruno Cathala is one of the nicest folks around, too. And he set all of us at ease very quickly.

I say that a lot.

One of the designers in the booth - Jean-Louis Roubira - grabbed me at one point to introduce me to Regis Bonnessee. "He really wants to meet you," I was told.  And Regis was extremely nice and thanked me for my work on the translation.  It was a good feeling.

Both Jean-Louis and Regis are extremely nice, too.

And Pierre Poissant-Marquis is working the booth again this year - again: A very nice guy and very pleasant to be around.

Also working the booth are Matt Drake from Drake's Flames and Giancarlo Caltabiano from

So it's an all-star crew in a lot of ways.

Played Today:
Evo x3

Acquired Today:
Shadows Over Filmland and Out of Time for Trail of Cthulhu
The Book of the Smoke - for any Mythos-based game set in and around 1930's London
Blue Planet Player's Guide, Revised Edition
Fading Suns Player's Guide, Revised Edition
Our Last Best Hope - Stephanie had KickStarted this, and picked it up here.
Night's Black Agents - Another preorder pickup.

We even had a few of them signed.

Tomorrow, we will brave Cubicle 7. They are holding a copy of Yggdrasil for us, because C7 is one of the nicest publishers around.

Blister Count:
One. By the time Stephanie and I arrived, setup was basically done. Normally at this time, I'd be at two or three, all of them severe.  This year, I have one and it's not that bad.

Other milestones reached:
I had my annual Chick-Fil-A.  You can laugh all you want, but we don't have it at home, so I only get it once per year.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

GenCon Day Zero

The booth is set up. And it's HUGE.  I can't wait to see the crowds tomorrow.

Played City of Horror.  I enjoyed it. It reminds me of Mall of Horror, which should come as no surprise, but it's very different from its predecessor.

The flights here were uneventful, other than the fact that I've never flown through Cleveland before. Numbers apparently work differently in Cleveland than in the rest of the world - Gate 28 was down by Gate 2. It was all the way across the terminal from Gate 26, as near as I could tell.

Had dinner tonight with John and Katie - two good friends who moved to Vancouver BC a few years ago, so we see them less than we would like to.

It hit me tonight - the 10th Anniversary of our Game Night gathering is one month and two days away.  We'll be celebrating in one month and four days.

I had a chance to read some of the rules to the Eclipse expansion, Rise of the Ancients.  Along with some techs that will make missiles less useful, there are things which make the Ancients more terrifying, including the regenerating dreadnought.  Not sure when it drops, but I'm looking forward to it.

Scouted a few locations today. As in "This is the route I need to take to reach the booth so I don't spend every last nickel I have ever earned."

Purchases today: None.
Games played today: City of Horror

More tomorrow.

Gamethyme's Game of the Year 2012

This last year has seen a lot of new-to-me games hit the table.  It was a big year for 4X games, too, if you look at what I've played. But, despite the appearance of Eclipse this year, the winner is not a 4X game.

Don't get me wrong: Eclipse is every bit as good as you have heard it is.  If, for some reason, you hhaven't heard how good it is, do some research. In all honesty, it is probably the best game of the last year.
So how can I say that and not give it my Game of the Year?

Because it's too long a game for my usual group, so it only hits the table on full day game sessions or special occasions.  It's a stellar, amazing, stunning game that I can't play regularly enough.

Much like last year, I spent hours going over my games played and notes I'd taken. I played so many games for the first time this year, that it genuinely wasn't easy - especially given how many of the games that were new to me are so very good.

So which game wins?

My Game of the Year this year is Shitenno.  It's a relatively fast-playing game that is equally as good with two, three, or four players.

And it still (so far as I know) lacks a US distributor, which is a shame.

I hesitate to call it a resource allocation game, but it is.  Resource allocation and set collection.  There is a huge degree of player interaction, and it has a real cutthroat edge to it - but it's a very subdued cutthroat.  While my group enjoys this game a great deal, you could easily play this game with your family - a rare combination.

The ease of play should not be mistaken for a lack of depth, however.  Experienced players will have a definite edge over beginners, because they'll know the value of the various bundles.  And your first few plays will involve a great deal of fumbling as you try to figure out what's going on.

But once you (and the other players) know what the relative value of the various items are, this game really starts to shine. And it scales very well - too many games are great with two and terrible with three. In fact, "three" seems to be a very tough number to write a game for.

Three player games tend to turn into two players bashing on the leader - Shitenno, on the other hand, makes it very difficult to bash the leader, because they are the ones assembling the bundles.  By the same token, the leader needs to assemble decent bundles, because if the other players all refuse the bundle, then the leader is stuck with it. And what I want in a bundle is different from what you want in a bundle, making it entirely possible that every player will get what they are after in a given turn.

It's a fascinating way of balancing a game, and I think it's fully deserving of more recognition (and is also in need of more play).

I'd like to play it more, and I will be easily able to do so. That is why I've chosen Shitenno as my Game of the Year.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Over The Edge

A few days ago, I received a comment on an old post - it was in reference to the list of traits my players had come up with for Ghostbusters International when they didn't even know what the game was going to be.
It's my working theory that, when given unbridled opportunities for creativity, a group of players will invariably come up with something to equal or exceed anything the designers of a game could ever achieve alone.
This comment led me to wonder: What if there was an entire game built around this idea?

And then, within a day or two, I received a package in the mail. My 20th Anniversary Edition of Over The Edge.  This game is a shining gem of minimalist design.  It takes five minutes to make a character (ten if you're thinking too much about it), and you can be up and playing in less than ten minutes.

And it fits exactly the theory - you see, players can be anything.

The game is an odd melange of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, espionage, and conspiracy - in all honesty, the game tends to reflect what the players bring to the table.  Do you want to play a three-armed blue alien who is stranded on Earth and trying to find a way home?  You can do that.  Want to play an innocent tourist caught up in events beyond his control? Easily done.  Are you interested in playing a hive-mind from the future possessing the body of a homeless drunk?  You got it!

I think one of the greatest things about the game is that all of these things are handled seriously. Yes, you can play Al-Amarja for laughs with its bungling Keystone Kops-esque Peace Force constantly arriving too late to prevent actual mayhem - but you'd miss part of the point.

Al-Amarja is an island where nothing is right.  That three-armed alien? He'll be mugged within two hours and the Peace Force won't help him without appropriate documentation proving that he has a right to be on Al-Amarja.  The hive mind? He'll have to deal with Throckmorton, especially if his vision of the future is somehow different.

Al-Amarja is an oppressive regime under which anything goes, as long as you don't rock the boat too much. And then they bring the hammer down - and you do not want to be there when the hammer falls.

And did I mention that the rules can be summarized onto a single page?

As a GM, there is an additional bit of fun available for the game: they did a collectible card game version called On The Edge. You can use the CCG as a story generator - grab a random bunch of cards, and flip them up one at a time.  The MacGuffin is ... [CARD], it's being looked for by [CARD], and is currently held by [CARD].  Also pursuing it is [CARD]. If you decide to do this, I do suggest having at least one starter deck.  Steve Jackson Games used to sell a "Burger Box" that was a good start.

All in all, it's one of my all-time favorite games. I own every product ever produced for it (including copies of Edgeworks, the FanZine). And it is one of those rare games with no limit to what you (and your players) can do.

I heartily recommend tracking down a copy.

Next week, I will be in Indianapolis.  Wednesday morning, you should see my Game of the Year post. Then, starting Wednesday evening, I will update sporadically with thoughts on the Con and how it's going and what I've seen. Expect a smattering of small posts with occasional longer thoughts as time allows.