Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gamestorm 14

The list of conventions I go to every year has been more or less set in stone for the better part of a decade.

There have been a few outliers - SCARAB, for example. I've been to Origins twice. My wife went to Kublacon a few years back. But, for the most part, my convention schedule has been pretty well set.

The first convention I go to every year is over Easter weekend. It's NorWesCon - it's the largest Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention in the Northwest. And, for years, I loved it. It was a haven for me, and a convenient place to see friends that I would only see there. I haven't been in a few years and - sadly - I find myself not missing the convention itself.

Then, in August, I go to GenCon. North America's largest tabletop gaming convention. The highlight of my year. Every single year.

Some years, I go to Dragonflight. It's small, it's local, it's filled with people I know and like.

I'd like to go to SCARAB again - I had a great time the year I was there. But North Carolina is a long ways from Seattle, so it's probably not a convention I can do every year.

About a decade ago, while at WesterCon, I saw that the board game library was sponsored by "GameStorm."  I figured it was one of the (rare) local game stores that I was unaware of. I never did any further research into it, because I saw a T-shirt that indicated it was in Portland.

A few years later, a friend of mine mentioned it to me.  It's a convention. And, apparently, it's pretty good. And it's close enough that I can theoretically drive there and back every day if I wanted to. Or crash at my Mother-In-Law's place, which is in Portland.

I mentioned it - in passing - to my wife one day. A week later, she had purchased our badges. "It happens," she told me, "around your birthday."

Those of you who know me in person know this, but a lot of you out there in internet-land don't: I don't make a big deal about my birthday.  I won't say I don't celebrate, but I generally dislike being the center of attention unless it's something under my control. And I don't control my birthday.

But I do enjoy the gifts she gives me.

So I'll be at GameStorm this year.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Rolls 3&4
I mentioned last week that I feel surprised when people send me free games. And, for the most part, I do. But there is an exception to that: People I know.

See, I have friends all over the place and at a variety of levels in the industry. I know designers, publishers, and distributors.  I don't often ask for favors from them, because they're my friends - they're not vending machines filled with games. And I never want to think of them as such, because - again - they are my friends.

But occasionally, they will send a gift or two my way.

A few weeks ago, Alex (a friend of mine who was part of the Asmodee Demo Team for a few years) e-mailed me to see if I was interested in checking out a couple of games. See, he and another member of the team are now distributors. With access to games not otherwise available.

He sent two games, and the first one I had a chance to try was Shitenno.

When I was a kid, and my brother and I both wanted the last sandwich/cookie/piece of cake/whatever, my mom had a simple solution: one of us would cut it in half and the other would decide which half they wanted.

That is the essence of this game.  Each turn, a number of cards are turned face up. One player uses those cards (and four roles) to assemble bundles which are then offered to the other players.  If no-one accepts the bundle, then the offering player is stuck with it at which point the ability to create bundles with the remaining cards moves to the next player in terms of rank.

After all players have a bundle, you use the cards in the bundle to influence territories. When you influence a territory, you score points and the first few players gain a bonus tile.  In addition, there are four roles which do something special.  The picture above shows the Hatamoto, who can gain an additional troop once per turn, and who acts last.  The Daimyo and the Shomyo get bonus points when they place an influence marker. The Sensei increases your influence in an area you have previously influenced, which is important for the end of the game.

The game continues until one player has placed all of their influence markers or the deck of money runs out. At this point, whoever has most influenced each territory scores bonus points. If there is a tie, then whoever influenced that territory first wins the tie. This "first in" rule means that players who spend time building up their hand instead of influencing territory are at a potential disadvantage.

It's a tightly-constructed game, and it's the most polite cutthroat game I own. Because you want to assemble bundles that people will take, but you also want to make sure you won't get stuck with a bundle you can't use. It's a tricky balance, as is the rest of the game.

And the game pulls it off admirably.

I like it with four players, but I actually prefer it with three - it makes assembling the bundles that much more difficult, as one role will not be used each turn. And the player assembling the bundles decides which role will go unclaimed. It's just one more layer added to an already well-layered game.

At the time I write this, the game does not have a US supplier. It's not available on Amazon, it's not on the BGG marketplace, and none of the usual online retailers I check have it listed. In fact, I'm the only person in the US who has it in their BGG collection. Although I'm fairly certain a few copies made it back from Essen.

I guess what I'm saying is that - if you want this game (and why wouldn't you?), you should encourage your local game store to see if they can get an account with a relatively new distributor.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chaotic Connections

I don't think of this as a particularly important or influential blog. I never have. This is where I set down my thoughts on things, nothing more. I know that some important and influential bloggers read this from time-to-time, because I do get linked to by them. I try to maintain a degree of professionalism, in large part because I never know who is reading what I'm saying.

But it always catches me off-guard when a publisher offers me review copies of their games.

It's happened several times in the last year. Most of the time, they're offering games I already own. Occasionally, however, I am caught off-guard.

In early January, I received an e-mail from the publisher of Chaotic Connections, wondering if I'd like a demo copy of the game. I immediately did what I always do when presented with a game I have never heard of before: I went to BoardGameGeek, where I found ... very little information.

How could I turn this game down, given how little information appears to exist?

They shipped it very promptly, and I received it a few weeks ago.  On reading the rules, I could tell immediately that I am not the target audience for this game.

I need to emphasize this: It's not a bad game - but it's not a game I, personally, enjoyed.

The target for this game is families. It's an excellent game for parents to play with their seven-year-olds. In fact, kids up through about twelve will probably enjoy this one.

It reminds me of a cross between Ticket To Ride, Transamerica, and Mille Bournes. More of the last two than the first one, however.

The board is an image of a US map done primarily in yellow and orange. This is, by the way, not the best color scheme with which to win me over. There are people who are fans - I just don't happen to be one of them.

During setup, players are dealt a hand of city cards. They then choose three of them, and then use one of their remaining cards as a city for one of their opponents. To win the game, you just need to connect your four cities.

Players will have a small hand of cards. Each turn, you will draw a card and then play a card.  Most of the cards are "Add X Miles of road."  There are also "Detour" and "Road Closed" markers that can be placed. Some cards allow you to remove road belonging to your opponents, and some of the cards allow you to place "intersection" markers (which allow roads to connect through cities). There are also "Curve Cards" which can (among other things) add, remove, or change a player's target cities.

Much like Transamerica, once my roads meet your roads, they become our roads for purposes of connecting to cities.

In our first play, one player drew a batch of Curve Cards early, and reduced himself to one city. He immediately declared himself a winner. The rules give players a maximum number of cities - but they don't seem to have a minimum. "Tell you what," he said, "since we're trying to figure out how to play this, why don't I just discard that and re-draw."

So we continued.  One of the players is an elementary school teacher by trade.  "This would be a good one for the kids," she informed me. And I think she's right. For its target audience, I think this has potential to be an excellent game.

In fact, I suspect that these guys could do really well if they could get their game on the shelf somewhere.

It's just not for me.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Pay To Play?

As you know, I am the host of a regular Wednesday game night. It started out in my apartment, and, within a few years, had outgrown the apartment in several ways (not the least of which was parking). With the permission of Brian - the owner of Phoenix Games - we moved Game Night to the store.

A few years ago - after several years of discussion with me and with others - Brian made the difficult decision to start charging for table space at Game Night.  As I'm sure you can imagine, it was initially a very unpopular decision. Attendance initially plummeted.

Pay-to-play is not an unusual model for game stores to take - there are several local stores which rent out their table space for events. When I was new to the area, I went to every game store I could find, looking for a game group to join. The pay-to-play model scared me away in many cases, as the stores tended to be small, or attendance was pathetic. I'm just not willing to pay money to join a game group of four people who all like games I can't stand. Or who aren't willing to try new games.

Far too often, these small groups have a set pattern of play in those preferred games, too. When I was looking for a group, I had a real problem with getting ganged up on or otherwise targeted by the majority of the other players. This is a non-issue for some games, but it can really kill the fun of other games.

Brian seems to have dodged the biggest landmines you usually encounter with a pay-to-play model in a game store.  In fact, it seems to be working really well for the store (and for Game Night).  We are regularly pulling 30+ people, even at $5 each. And the group is very diverse, which means that everyone can usually find one or two people who are interested in the same game(s) (I even saw Monopoly being played not long ago ...).

Brian's model is a different from the other stores I dealt with, which I think has been the key to this success.

First of all, he doesn't pocket all of the money. When you buy in, Brian puts your name in a drawing to win a gift certificate. The value of that certificate varies based on the number of people present. And, when there are enough people present, he'll sometimes give away two gift certificates. In addition, a portion of the money goes to, which publicizes the group and brings more folks in. It's certainly increased our visibility.

Despite the initial drop, the group has really grown since he started charging. Grown significantly, in fact. We have been averaging 30 or more people every week, which is nice. It means I have a nearly unlimited number of new opponents to face on a regular basis.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Character Generation Project: Immortal

Those of you who are new to the blog (or who are unfamiliar with what this project is all about) can find that information here. Stephanie's overview for her normal character generation process can be found here.

This character was created for a campaign that a friend is hosting and we are joining. "Be warned," we were told, "the art is bad and the flavor text is really cheesy." And the warning was accurate. Rather than being a fully solo generation, this was made with the GM close at hand - we didn't have many questions, though.

The entire game is free for download on their official website. Apparently there was some sort of contractual dispute with the company which had previously handled printing (or so the rumor has it). I have only a hair more experience with the game than does Stephanie this time, if only because I keep finding used copies of the first edition book at used bookstores.

Character - Immortal
Click on the pic to see a larger version
on Flickr.
Which game is this for? 

How long did it take you to generate the character? 
A couple of hours, with the others in the group

What was your character concept going into generation?  
The type of woman you see working at the local “pagan” bookstore, not much of a fighter

Did you feel like character generation captured the flavor of the setting?  

How much control did you feel like you had during character generation?  
A fair amount, though it did seem like choosing certain aspects lead me in specific directions

Did the game help you make the character you wanted, or did it feel like you were fighting the game?  
I had to find the best way to make my character work within the options, but I didn’t feel like it was fighting it, exactly.

Do you like the character you ended up with?  
Do you think your character fits your concept?  
Do you feel like your character would be effective and/or useful in a game?  
I sure hope so!
Was there anything in particular that you struggled with mechanically?  
It took a little bit to figure out how the Calling and Tribes would factor into how my character would work, but I was fortunate to have some people who were familiar with the game there to help me.
Did anything run more smoothly than you had expected?  
Considering I didn’t reallly know anything about the system going into it, it all ran smoother than expected.
What changes would you have made to the character generation process?  
Overall, it went pretty well - I didn’t spend as much time working my way through the book as I did talking to the other players and GM this time.
Did anything leap out at you as obviously broken or unbalanced?  
Not really
What led you to choose this game as the next one to make a character for?  
We were starting a campaign with a couple of friends we don’t get to see nearly often enough.
How would you compare your experience with this game to your experience with other games?  
It was meatier than some of the others, but not super frustrating, and it gave me some interesting ideas.

Is this a character you would be willing to play in a campaign?  
Does this character make you want to play this game?  
N/A, as I created this character for a game.
Do you have any other questions, comments, etc.?  
So far, I’ve enjoyed playing this game with this character.

Have you given any thought to what game you'd like to do next?  
Ghostbusters International