Wednesday, December 25, 2013

End of the Year

This is, I just realized, my last post of the year - and it's going live on Christmas.

Had to happen sometime, I guess.

I have a sizeable order of games arriving tomorrow that I was hoping to write about for this post, so I procrastinated getting anything written.


So I'm just going to say this:  2013 was an amazing year, with dozens of really good games passing in front of me.  From what I've seen, 2014 will be even better.  I've seen several batches of rules and several "info sheets" that I can't really talk about, yet.  But I'm very much looking forward to some of the games that are coming next year.

And tomorrow.

Meanwhile, if you don't have New Year's Eve plans, yet, consider joining us at Phoenix Games. I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Starting My End-of-Year Review

With the year winding down, I've started getting ready for the end-of-year posts just like this one.  Due to Christmas falling on a Wednesday this year, I don't know that I'll get much more gaming done (other than tonight and New Year's Eve) this year. These numbers will fluctuate, but I don't expect there will be dramatic upheavals here.

As of this writing (a few weeks before you see it, actually), the top-played games in my library are Rise of Augustus (with 30 plays), Mutant Meeples (with 13 plays), Shogi (with 13 plays), Le Fantôme de l’Opéra (with 13 plays), and The Duke (with 12 plays).  Not far behind is Mascarade with 11 plays.

So my top six consists of three Asmodee-distributed games, one classic, and two Kickstarted games (one of which I didn't even back).  All of them are either two-player or fast-playing.

In fact, looking at my top ten or fifteen or so, all of them are either two-player or are fast-playing.

It's because of the environment in which I play - Wednesday evenings with their constant mixture of players are really not conducive to very long games.  In fact, I'd rather play a dozen short games with different folks each time than one long game.  Most of the time.

This becomes more complicated when a two-player game that I really really like appears.  Like, say, Shogi. Or Le Fantome de l'Opera.  There are also games on the list that I want to play more. Changgi, for example. And there is no Dungeon Twister on the list, because I don't log demos in which I don't play. I ran several Dungeon Twister: the Card Game demos at GenCon this year. And then a few more at Phoenix. But I haven't actually played a full game, yet.

I'll almost certainly be playing more Changgi over the future.  I like it better than I like Xiang Qi. Part of that, however, is because one of the Game Night regulars learned to play as a child, and so knows some of the strategy involved. It's amazing how much more I like games when I have an idea of what you are supposed to do.  I've read a couple of books on Xiang Qi, but there is no substitute for an enthusiastic and knowledgeable teacher.

There are some games on my list that I thought would be higher than they are - I only played Spyrium four times this year, for example.  And I really like that one.  And it was a focus at GenCon.  I thought I'd played Gentlemen Thieves more than five times. And it's another favorite that everyone seemed to like. Now, it's possible I failed to record one or more plays of these.  But I don't think I did - I just didn't play them to death ...

When I add RPGs to the list, 13th Age (11 plays), and Dresden Files (11 plays) appear. Both excellent games - and both games which are ongoing.  I'd thought we played them more than 11 each.  And I'll probably be hitting 12 on Dresden by the end of the year (unless game is cancelled).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New Year's Eve

This year, we'll be doing our usual New Year's Eve gathering at Phoenix Games.  Unlike past years, however, I'm remembering to put this post up more than a few days in advance.

In past years, we've pulled forty or fifty folks together to hang out and play board games, card games, and another dozen or so folks who are just there for the food and the socializing.

Both groups are welcome.

All we ask is that you bring enough food and/or beverages for your party + 1 person (so that there's enough food for all) OR $5 per person (which will be used to purchase paper plates, cups, flatware, and the like).

This is an alcohol-free kid-safe environment.

The store has a sizable collection of games that are free-to-use for participants, but feel free to bring your own game(s) if you're afraid Phoenix won't have an available copy.

At midnight, we'll drink a toast using sparkling cider (or soda, depending on your preference), and then we'll get back to the gaming.

The event will kick off in the early evening (generally around 5pm) and will wrap up ... well, when we're done.  In past years, we've wrapped up as late as 10am.

I don't usually get there until around 8pm, as I have a nice dinner with my wife before we head in (it's a tradition for us).  And then I eat all night.  Mmmmmmm.

In the past, I've used this party as an excuse to pull out longer games that don't get enough play on Wednesdays due to their length.

If you're thinking about attending, I'd suggest contacting the store to make sure there is still room - the Fire Marshall does limit how many people we can have in the room ...

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Charitable Giving

Every year, my friends ask me what to get me for Christmas - obviously I don't need more games, right?  And my house has a limited amount of space. Much as I'd love to, I can't just buy every game that comes out.

Because of this, every year, I request that my friends give money to a charity of their choice.  There are dozens of worthy charities out there, and all of them deserve more attention than they get.

This year, I'm going to suggest to my friends (and to you) the following:

1) The Jack Vasel Memorial Fund.  This is a charity by gamers and is dedicated to helping gamers in need. That makes this - in my opinion - the ideal charity for gamers to support.  They have an annual donation auction on BGG that recently wrapped up - and it raised a fair amount of money for them.  But more money will never hurt.

2) Doctors Without Borders. These days, I like these guys more than the Red Cross. Not because the Red Cross is somehow corrupt or undeserving of attention and money, mind you.  So far as I know, they're not. But DWB focuses strongly on getting medical aid there - the Red Cross has a much broader focus.  And, in general, I much prefer to fund narrow-focus charities (it's a personal preference, not some sort of broad manifesto or anything like that). 

3)  Anything on this list. No. Really.  I grew up loving books, and - in large part - my love of books was what drove me into gaming.  I think that an active reader will have an active imagination.  So any charity which promotes literacy is a good one in my book.  If you need me to narrow it down to just one, I suggest Reading Is Fundamental (

4) Many of the charities which the Bundle of Holding has supported have also been excellent choices - and you get stuff, too! Stephanie and I have backed a ton of these - and not just because we want the stuff in the bundle.  It's always interesting to see which charities various industry personalities choose to back.

5) Amazon recently set up Amazon Smile.  By going to instead of, Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase to a charity of your choice. AND it's compatible with affiliate links and Amazon Prime and any other special deals you may have access to. I currently have the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund set up as my charity of choice.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

No Post This Week

Sorry, all.  I'm taking this week to brace myself and prepare for the holiday season - which gets busy at work (not that this is unique to my office).  So this is really my last week to kick back, relax, and enjoy myself.

And I'm going to take wild advantage of that.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Doin' It Right

I spend a lot of time here complaining about delayed Kickstarters and backers whose projects are delayed. Or which don't live up to their expectations. What I don't do - and should do more often - is write about projects and creators whose projects aren't constantly delayed - or which are only slightly delayed but awesome.

The very first project I backed on Kickstarter was Hellas: Princes of the Universe by Jerry Grayson.  I have since backed four or five of his projects - all of them have been filled in a relatively short amount of time.  I won't say he's not late on his projects - he is - but he doesn't run very late and his project quality is regularly good.

Daniel Solis' project Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple was the first project I had arrive ahead of schedule.  And it was (and continues to be) good.  He's been involved with other projects, generally doing layout, and his presence seems to get them out the door in a not-horribly-delayed fashion.

Sage Kobold Productions' Dungeon World is awesome. And, while it was late, it wasn't that late - and they did a good job of communicating with us. Seriously: If you see this game on the shelf, buy it.

Andy Kitkowski's Tenra Bansho Zero was a hair late, but it had a ton of stretch-goal-based add-ons. And all of them have been filled (with the exception of a few PDF-based stretches).  The game itself is ... fascinating.  It's a translation of a Japanese RPG, and it appears as though games in Japan traveled a different path than games here in the US did.  Andy has a project currently up - Ryuutama - another translation.  And I backed it with no hesitation.

Joseph Bloch has Kickstarted two projects so far, both for Adventures Dark & Deep - and both arrived ahead of schedule.  Both are also very well-done. The game is a retroclone - and he managed to capture the feel of classic AD&D both with his layout and the art style.

Ron Edwards' Sorcerer is the game that kicked off the Indie Revolution in gaming. His project was originally for PDFs, but it grew to the point where he was able to offer print copies of his books as well - for the same price.  It delayed the project by six months, but we had the PDF files about on time.

Torchbearer by Luke Crane and the Burning Wheel HQ team arrived slightly ahead of schedule, but it's ... it's as unique as Burning Wheel was at the time it launched. And I really like it. Even the paper they used feels like an old-school D&D book. Only it's nothing like it mechnically.

Ryan Laukat's City of Iron is actually the second project of his I've backed.  I have enjoyed both it and Empires of the Void a great deal - and neither one was hugely delayed.

The Shadows of Esteren line of games is one that Steph and I have been backing as they launch.  We've been very impressed with the books so far. It's another translation - this time, translated from the French - and it's been more-or-less on-time with its project releases.

Caias Ward's Trigger Happy: Roleplaying In A World That Hates You came in almost exactly on schedule - and that's even accounting for stretch goals and the like.  It looks to be a ton of fun - and I'm enjoying the concepts on the chapters I've read so far.  I really need more time to read.  More hours in a day, perhaps, or no day job. Or something.

While it's not complete, yet, Jesse Butler's Short Order Heroes got its basic set out on time - we're only waiting on stretch goals at this point.

And, of course, FATE Core.  Yes, it's later than it was going to be.  It's also six books.  Or seven.  I lose count.  I could have paid more for shipping to have things as they released - but I'm willing to wait.  And I have tracking for my shipment which says it's due to be delivered the day before you will read this. Still ahead of schedule, by the way.

These aren't all of the good projects and creators I've backed - they're not even all of the creators I'd choose to back again. But these are the ones who have been close to on-time (or have communicated effectively when they were late).  These are the ones whose products I have enjoyed reading, and whose next project is one I'm likely to back again.


I just know I'm missing someone, here, too.  Probably multiple someones.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I don't go to as many conventions these days as I used to.  It's not a lack of interest - it's a lack of time off from my Day Job combined with my sticking to my stated priorities.  But I'm working on it - only four more years until I get another week off.

I'm (as I write this) at OryCon in Portland, OR.  It's bigger than I'd expected, but still pretty small as conventions go.  And many of the faces here are faces I recognize from NorWesCon in Seattle, which is much larger.

I've had a good time at the show, and I do intend to return in the future - but I didn't interact much with the show this year.  In fact, I only went to a small handful of panels, and, in most of those, I was oddly disappointed.

For example, the "Crowdfund Your Book" panel covered nearly all common-sense items that I'd learned from the Kicksnarker community on Google Plus.

I keep saying this, but maybe I should look into being a panelist at a convention sometime.  It seems that more and more, I'm disappointed by the actual panelists.

In 2013, I attended the North American Discworld Con, GenCon, and OryCon.  In 2014, I'll be attending NorWesCon, and GenCon for sure.  OryCon and GameStorm are maybes.  BGG.con is wishlisted.

But I only have two weeks of vacation, and I only spend one week on me.  The other week of vacation is reserved for Stephanie. It looks like there is a lot of vacation spent up there, but NorWesCon is two days spent. OryCon was one day.  GameStorm is one day.  North American Discworld Con was for Steph (as was OryCon).  And yes, I do take occasional unpaid days off for conventions.

I'm learning that I actually prefer bigger shows, too.  OryCon is - as I said - larger than expected, but it's still small enough that many (most?) of the regulars know one another (or, at a minimum, recognize one another).  As a first-time attendee, I feel like a bit of an outsider. This is, by the way, not a criticism of the show itself. Or of the people attending, for that matter. SCARAB was much the same way a few years ago - the difference is that I knew someone at SCARAB other than Steph.  And, by the way, I do intend to return to SCARAB at some point.

At a larger show, people expect to be surrounded by strangers, and so work extra-hard to get to know them.  When you go to a small show, people are often there to see their friends and so don't make as much of an effort to reach out to strangers.

Smaller shows also have fewer panels.  I realize that this is essentially common-sense, but it should still be said.  At NorWesCon, their program book doesn't have any gaps in any of the rooms until late at night.  Here at OryCon, there are rooms that are only in use for a few hours every day.  But fewer panels doesn't mean they're lower in quality by any means - the Crowdfunding panel that was disappointing for me?  Did have good information.  It was just good information that I already had.  Someone who wasn't active in the Kicksnarker community might have found it very useful and/or informative.  I honestly don't know.

One of the real highlights of the show - for me, at least - was introducing my wife to Shogi, using this set.  I'm still learning to use this camera, so it's not quite what I'd expected - but I'll get better.  And there are few things as awesome as a good time-lapse board game video, amirite?

... and that's about all I have to say for now.  Next week, I'll have more words to throw at my screen.  I promise.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Timing, Pacing, Expectations

There's an old joke about the key to comedy being timing.  The joke is all the more funny because it's true. But comedy isn't the only thing that relies on timing - not by a long shot.  Because every story has a pace at which it should develop.  That's part of why story editors make so much money. And why some authors haul in the big bucks and others don't.

One of my favorite movies is The Fifth Element.  It's a tightly-constructed film with a thoroughly dissatisfying ending. Because the film has excellent pacing throughout, but the end is very rushed.  It feels like the author or editor or director was told, "Okay, now you have to wrap this epic story up in ten minutes."

Lately, I've had cause to become more aware of story pacing in the television medium.  I joined a community called ReWatchers - we're watching TV shows as their writing team intended: One episode per week.  We've consciously broken the Netflix pattern of marathoning shows to get through them quickly.  One of the shows that the community is watching is Babylon 5. It's a really good show, but my wife has never been able to get through more than a handful of episodes - and I'm learning now that it's because the show really shouldn't be marathoned - because it's written to feature a broad story arc. Yes, there is a standalone story every week - but the main arc of the story unfolds in odd fits and spurts.  When you're only watching an hour or so per week, you don't necessarily notice how erratic the pacing is. When you marathon the show, some hours seem packed with too much story, and some episodes are all about that week's story.

It reminds me of Hamlet's Hit Points - Robin Laws' book about story pacing from a gamer's perspective.  I know I've recommended it before, but I'm probably going to continue recommending it for some time to come.

But pacing isn't an issue only for role-playing games, either.  There have been a number of games I've played where the timing of the game just feels ... off.

Miskatonic School for Girls took a lot of heat for being a mediocre game - and rightly so. People complain a lot about the randomness of the game or several other factors.  For me, the death knell of the game is its timing.  The start of the game just drags.  Somewhere around the middle of the game, it hits a good pace that feels about right.  And then the game hits a death spiral where it feels like it just suddenly ends.  I suspect that, were the pacing issues better resolved, the rest of the games problems wouldn't be as obvious.  As it is, the pacing of the game throws all of the issues of the game into stark relief.

I saw a discussion recently on whether people like games where "interrupt" actions can allow players to act during someone else's turn. My thought is simple: As long as it doesn't screw up the pacing of the game, I'm okay with it. But there are very few games where interrupts can't screw things up.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Writing Tools

In about two days, thousands of you will lose the attention of your spouses and loved ones (and I'll lose a significant number of readers), because it is - of course - once again time for National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo.

I, myself, don't participate.  But I have far too many friends who do (including my wife).  And, over the years, I've accumulated a number of games which can help sharpen that storytelling edge.

Those of who who are NaNoing should look into some or all of the below:

Dixit (and/or any of its expansions):  If you're not going to be actually playing it as a game, then don't worry about whether an expansion is standalone or not. If you're writing any sort of fantasy, then use the images as inspiration.  Use them for character backgrounds or plot points or however you want.

Rory's Story Cubes: There are three sets available in North America. If you're in Europe, there are three (smaller) sets available as well.  If you get stuck for an idea, roll the dice and see if they help.  The base set is mostly things, the expansions include one set of actions and one set of voyages.  Each of these sets is nine dice with images instead of numbers.  Roll and then pick-and-choose.  The three European-only (so far) sets are Clues, Enchanted, and Prehistoria.  Each of these sets contains only three dice. 

Short Order Heroes: Having trouble coming up with personalities for those minor supporting characters who pop up occasionally? Maybe it's a "one-time" character that you'll never see again.  Flip a couple of cards from this game up, and you have those character traits covered.

Texas Zombies: This is a deck of things.  It was designed as a storytelling game where you used the things in the deck to overcome obstacles within the deck.  You can play it to sharpen your storytelling edge, or you can use the cards to see what sort of inspiration appears.

Story War: This is in a similar vein to Texas Zombies, but has different kinds of cards - the base set includes 50 Warriors, 25 Items, and 25 Battlefields. You can - again - play the game to sharpen your storytelling edge or you can mine the decks for ideas.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Remember a few weeks back, when I wrote about The Duke, and talked how my enjoyment of the game at GenCon sprang (in part) from my fond memories of Shogi?

While in the garage last week, I found my copy of Shogi For Beginners, which is fortunate, given the current prices for the book.  And I realized that I want to play more of the game.

So I went to Amazon and ordered a cheap set.  This set, to be more precise.  I chose that one because of its nonstandard markings.  Unfortunately, the set was terrible, and so I returned it. It was low-quality yellow plastic with an extremely cheap yellow vinyl mat for a board.

No.  Really:

So, instead, I've ordered this set, which was recommended to me by a friend. It also uses nonstandard markings, and the way each piece moves is printed on the piece itself using a very clear (and concise) notation which reminds me a bit of the Navia Dratp notation.  The promotion zones are colorful and clear.  And I trust my friend's input.

So why do I crave more Shogi instead of the more common (and more conventional) Chess?

Let's start with "I'm not good at either of them."  I'm a decent Chess player.  Not exceptional.  Not tournament-level.  I understand the concept of the game, I know how the pieces move, and I am good at seeing my own doom coming.  I'm even pretty good at frustrating my opponents.  I'm just not good at getting the win.

So what's different enough about Shogi that I want to play more?

Most of the people I know are on a near-equal footing with me.  The game is similar enough to Chess that it's familiar, but it's different enough that strong players of one aren't going to necessarily be strong players of the other.

Captured pieces are captured and not eliminated.  When talking about Chess, we refer to pieces as having been captured. In reality, they have been destroyed. Eliminated.  They are no longer at all relevant to the game.  In Shogi, any piece I capture, I can put back on the board under my control. It means that sacrifice plays suddenly require a bit more thought.  Because that Lance that I sacrificed a few moves ago could be used against me at any point.

Multiple pieces in Shogi can promote.  In Chess, only the Pawn can promote, and only if it reaches the eighth rank.  In Shogi, pretty much any piece except for the Gold General is able to promote.  Each piece also has a specific promotion, too, so it's not like I can have a force of all Queens.  Most of them promote to Gold General, but not all of them.  And promotion doesn't require reaching the ninth rank - you only need to reach the seventh.

There is only one Rook and only one Bishop in Shogi.  Knights only move forward (not sideways or back). Pawns don't attack diagonally. There's nothing that moves like a Queen - instead, there are two types of Generals who move differently.  And there's a piece that moves like a pawn only with no "one space per turn" limitation.

It all leads to a game that has a great deal in common with Chess, but has enough significant differences that it has an entirely different feel.  The different knight, for example, cripples my usual Chess strategy.

And sometimes that's all you really need, right?

Now I need a Xianqi set and a book on that ...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Chicken Caesar

I have a weakness for puns and bad jokes.  I'm sure you all know this by now. I also spend waaaay too much time on Kickstarter, looking for games I might want to back (or things to snark about).

But somehow, I missed the Kickstarter for Chicken Caesar. Maybe the game description just didn't grab me.  Maybe the description clashed too much with the punny name.  I don't know.  Either way, I didn't back this one - and I regret that.  I picked it up a few months ago, and have been trying to get it to the table for a while.  When it finally hit the table, it did so with three players - and I didn't like it.  But I saw potential, so wanted to try it with more.  And I'm very glad I did.

Chicken Caesar is one of the purest political/negotiation games I've played in a while - and it doesn't have to be played that way, either.

Let me get this out of the way:  While the game is playable with three, I do not recommend it with three.  Looking at the poll at the top of the game's page on BGG, it looks like most of the folks there agree with me on that front.

The goal of the game is the acquisition of money.  You collect money via taxation, and, at the end of the game, by cashing in the rank insignia that your chickens have collected.

Each player has a family of six chickens to work through the political structure.  If someone loses all six chickens, the game is over.

The board represents the political structure of the chickens.  At the top is Caesar, followed by the Censor, three Consuls, three Praetorians, and three Aediles.  Beneath them are the Quaestors.

I've probably misspelled at least one of those roles.

The Caesar is chosen from amonth the Consuls.  The Consuls are selected from among the Praetorians. The Censor is elected from among the Aediles.

Each role also has an assigned task.  The Aediles set the tax rate, which determines how many of the guards are traitors.  The Praetorians get to assign the guards to the various offices, which will determine how many chickens will get eaten on a given turn.  The Consuls get to approve monument upgrades for dead chickens (they really don't do anything for the first two turns), and the Censor must exile one chicken per turn.  Caesar has a veto that he can use once per turn.

Each role also has an insignia - and every chicken gets their badge of office every turn. But each chicken can only wear one of each insignia, so extras go to a family pool, which can later be dedicated to dead chickens.

The game sets up a tricky balancing act - Caesar dies if any chickens die during his first term as Caesar.  He also dies automatically at the end of his second term as Caesar.  And the Caesar rank badges are worth a ton of points at the end. So Caesar wants a fairly low tax rate so that he can stay alive.  But a higher tax rate means more money in Caesar's pockets.  Aediles are more likely to get eaten than other roles, but they also get money based on the tax rate.

And you want a dead chicken or two - the extra insignia are not worth a ton of points, but if you can get those extra insignia onto your dead chickens, they are added to sets which are worth dramatically more points. But too many dead chickens and you won't get enough points.

The Praetorians get to decide where chickens are going to be eaten - and they often want some chickens eaten (unless they are allied with Caesar - or are from the same family as Caesar).

We've found that - with four players - the game is almost more of an economic game than a political game.  Almost. I hope to try it with six sometime soon.

It's not a perfect game - two allied players have the potential to slow the game to a halt if they are careful.  The only thing Consuls can do the first few turns is try to be elected Caesar.  If any player manages to get two chickens in one rank, they wield a disproportionate amount of power, regardless of the role.  And you can't let anyone

The game ends when there aren't enough Quaestors to fill the open roles, when one of the stacks of rank insignia runs out, or when one player is out of chickens.  At that point, "extra" insignia are turned into small amounts of money.  Insignia which are on chickens (living or dead) are assembled into sets, which are cashed in for money.  Most money wins.

Rules-wise, it's pretty simple.  There are a few rules which are easily overlooked, but the rulebook makes a point of highlighting many of these at several points.

There is no random element in this game.  None. The game is 100% about negotiating with other players for what you want. And knowing when and how much to offer as a bribe.

I like it better than Diplomacy, and it takes only a fraction of the time, making this game a clear winner in my book.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Duke

Twenty years ago, I was a Japanophile. I ate a ton of teriyaki (with chopsticks), I watched a lot of anime, and I read a ton of manga.  At the time, I was much more a role-player than a boardgamer, but I still had a fascination with good board games.

In Seattle, there is a store called Uwajimaya.  It's a Japanese grocery with a couple of local branches.  The one in Seattle also includes a Kinokuniya Bookstore, and during one visit, I wandered out of the manga section and found a magnetic travel copy of Shogi. It was hidden in and amongst several much more expensive sets, but I still found it. I grabbed it and a copy of Shogi for Beginners, and called it good.

I puzzled over it for months, but didn't manage to get a game in for a while.  Not until my college fencing partner turned out to be a Shogi player, and spent some time going over the game and some of its strategies with me.  I was still never any good at it, but at least I started to figure out why I was losing so badly.

One of the distinctive features of the game is that the pieces are double-sided, and some pieces which reach a certain part of the board may promote themselves to a different piece which then moves differently.

Then, about ten years ago, I encountered Navia Dratp.  It was a collectible chess-like game, and each piece had a different movement pattern again.  And, in a clearly Shogi-influenced way, most pieces had the ability to promote themselves. And, if you could promote your King (called the "Navia" in this one), you won.  The game was good.  I bought a ton of the base game and its boosters.  Then it went idle for close to a year before the expansion came out.  I never bought any of the expansion boosters.

This year while at GenCon, I saw wooden pieces moving on a wooden board.  The pieces were square, but the movement reminded me a great deal of Shogi - in part because they kept flipping over.  I asked what the game was, and was told it was a new game from Catalyst Game Labs called The Duke.  It had apparently been Kickstarted, and I had missed it.

But I had to try it. So I did.  And I liked it.  A lot. Because it reminded me of both Shogi and Navia Dratp, two games that I very much loved.  But you don't have to just take my word for it, either - Catalyst has made it available for download as a print & play game on their website.

I've ordered it from my FLGS (I didn't buy as many games at GenCon this year, because I made a conscious decision to support my FLGS instead), but it hasn't arrived, yet.  When it gets here, I very much hope that Stephanie enjoys it as much as I do.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013


I watch way too much TV, sometimes.  And too many movies.  And I probably read too many books, too.  Especially when every thought I have while reading or watching is game-related.

At times, it's led to some really entertaining conversations.  "Wow," I'll say to Stephanie, "That author relies too much on his NPCs."

I love conversations that you see here and there where players try to generate [character] from [media] in [system]. I don't tend to participate, but I love some of the discussion that springs up.

My favorite game these days is "spot the NPC."  There are characters who are obvious NPCs - assuming a traditional game structure.  Which you can't always do these days.

See, Smallville - the TV series, that is - was good, and in a traditional game, the party would have been Clark, Lana, and so on.  As the overall villain of the thing, Lex would have been the villain of the piece - and an NPC.  But when Smallville the RPG came out, it was structured in a very non-traditional way and Lex was one of the sample PCs.

But there are other - larger - media properties where the author(s) have wielded NPCs poorly.

And here I step into the role of heretic.

I think that it's hilarious every time someone writes up stats of Gandalf, because - to me - he's clearly an NPC.  Think about it.

Start with The Hobbit - who assembles the party and starts the adventure moving?  Gandalf.  Yes, the Dwarves were already known to one another, but Gandalf set the meeting point - and really, it's a party that ... um ... wasn't well-assembled.  Who is conveniently off-camera and/or completely ineffective every time something important is happening?  Gandalf.

Now look at the trilogy: Who recognizes the Ring?  Gandalf.  Who tells the hobbits where to go?  Gandalf.  Who generally only shows up to dispense wisdom or information before disappearing again?  Gandalf.

Yes, he fought the Balrog and saved the party - at the same time, that could have been the GM realizing that the party was relying too heavily on Gandalf's Navigation and trying to remove him from the picture.  Even though the entire Moria sequence is filled with Gandalf saying, essentially, "I think it's this way, but I'm not sure."  Honestly, it sounds to me like a GM who wants the party to do some exploring on their own.

Later, the party was split, and they weren't doing so well.  Who got most of the party back together?  Gandalf.  Honestly, if Tolkien was my GM, I'd have been pretty annoyed at this meddling wizard who was really only helpful under duress most of the time.

It's a common problem with NPCs.  You need them to fill your game world - and it can be nice to have one in the party to help keep them on track - but you need to balance that with the need to make sure the players are having fun.  Because the game is all about the players.

If the party is stumped because they've encountered a puzzle that they can't solve due to a run of bad die rolls, then find a way around the puzzle.  Don't have Bob the Torchbearer suddenly remember that his dad (the clockmaker) had constructed something similar.  You can drop hints.  Maybe Bob the Torchbearer has a similar pattern stitched onto his coinpurse, and you can allow the PCs to roll again.  Maybe Bob has an idea that doesn't sound like a good one - but it puts the party on the right track.

The NPC is there to keep the party on target, not to solve the party's puzzles and problems. NPCs can be part of the party's plans, but they shouldn't be the ones coming up with the plans.

Here are what NPCs should be used for:

  • Setting flavor/Background
  • Plot hooks
  • Villains
  • Knowledge Resources
  • Carrying Things
  • Clues (not solutions)
  • Skill Gap-Fillers (though this should be rare -a party should never face an obstacle that they are incapable of overcoming)
Here are a few things NPCs should not be used for:

  • Essential Skill Gap-fillers
  • Problem solvers
  • Party Salvation (unless the party cashed in a favor or called for help, in which case some of this is acceptable)
  • Railroad Enforcers to keep the party from straying off the path
I'm a sandbox gamer.  I like creating worlds and then setting things in motion.  In my current Cthulhutech game (that I need to get back to running), for example, the PCs are all cops.  Their Captain is an NPC, as are the other authority figures.  In general, they are assigned a case (or cases), and are left on their own to solve them.  I have a chart in my head that lists each case and what is happening in what time frame on these cases.  If they focus on one issue, that won't stop the looming gang war.  It won't stop the Feds from transferring the cultists that they need to question to the Puyallup Valley Correctional Facility.  The Deep Ones won't stop their planning just because the party is chasing down an Occult Drug Dealer instead of following up on that unusual firearm that some kid fished out of the Sound.

I recently acquired an excellent tool for building NPCs.

See, most NPCs don't need full stats.  They often don't need any stats at all - they just need personalities.  In my Cthulhutech game, for example, the party doesn't have a Techie - they just turn to Askrob for help, and he tells them what they find out.  Now, I could roll for what he finds, but if I need them to have information, then I need them to have information. Leaving the disclosure of that information up to a die roll is silly.

So Askrob - despite being an important supporting character - doesn't need stats.  He needs a personality.

Left to my own devices, most of my NPCs would be almost the same - Sarcastic and argumentative or timid and jumpy.  In fact, too many of my NPCs are ... flat.  I'm willing to admit that. It's one of my (too many) weaknesses as a GM.

A few months back, I backed a project on Kickstarter called Short Order Heroes.  I've since received my copy, and it's now available for pre-order.  It's a deck of personality traits.  Need a quick NPC?  Pull a trait or two (or three).  Boom! Instant NPC.  You can even tell your players which personality traits your NPC has, so they know how to react to him (or her).

Of course, I may be a bit biased. One of the Kickstarter-exclusive promo cards was loosely based on me ...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mazaki no Fantaji

Just over three years ago, I backed a little game called Early Dark on Kickstarter.  They had a decent pitch for an interesting-seeming game - and I had the cash to spare.

They delivered in a reasonable amount of time, too.  I was moving at the time it arrived, so I set the book aside and ... it vanished in the move.  So it's in a box somewhere in the garage.

Either way, the team behind Early Dark has a new project up on Kickstarter - I mentioned it last week.  It's called Mazaki no Fantaji.

Because Early Dark delivered, I decided to back Mazaki no Fantaji.  The best way to encourage the industry is to fund the industry, right?  And I'm all about supporting the "little guy."

As an added bonus, there is a preview up on DriveThru for Mazaki no Fantaji.

So I thought I'd take a look.

Putting these previews up is always risky for the publisher - there are people who will not back because they dislike the preview.

I'm rapidly reaching the point where I won't back without a preview and/or rulebook - even if I never look at it. Because that preview shows that you have finished something.  It shows that you're willing to take the risk of people disliking your product.

There are a few things in this preview I dislike.  Some of the language strikes me as odd - for example, they refer repeatedly to the "Nopo Continent" instead of "the continent of Nopo," once and then just "Nopo" throughout.  The resolution engine is described as "crazy versatile," which sets my teeth on edge.

But there are a number of things I like, too.  The layout is clean. The art is crisp. Yes, they did the "text over a background" thing, but the text isn't unreadable because of it.  And the rules are clear.

Character-wise, it reminded me - in parts - of FATE or Over the Edge.  There isn't a pre-set list of stats. No Strength, Intelligence, Charisma and the like - instead, your character is described by a series of descriptors, which the player chooses.  Each character also has a niche - it's their place in society.  I vaguely remember something similar in Early Dark, so this may be the "signature" of Anthropos games.

I also like that they didn't bother with a Mook rule - instead, low level foes are an Obstacle.  So a pack of wild dogs is (mechanically) treated almost exactly the same as a trap or a moat or a locked door.  I wish more games did this.  It suits my storygaming side, because it makes it clear to players how important a given encounter is.

Also of interest to me: You can overcome an obstacle by removing all of its Drama or by removing all of its Health.  In other words, "Once there is no fear of X, there is no need to continue dealing with X."

In addition to the quickstart, they apparently also have videos on their website. Theoretically.  I can't find them. But that could just be me fumbling my Search check.

So why am I not actually discussing the mechanics, here?  Because the Quickstart is free and you can decide for yourself.

You'd better hurry, though.  The project ends next week.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Player of Games

I'm going to wander a short distance away from gaming for a moment.  Please bear with me.

If you follow my twitter feed at all, you'll have seen - in and around the "Gamethyme Played X" and the "NEW BLOG POST: BLAH" tweets - that I've started sharing occasional snippets from books that I'm reading (or have read). I enabled this on my Kindle several years ago when I got my DX, and have enabled it on my other Kindles, too.  It's just not a feature I've used much, because normally I'm not a social reader. I'll discuss books I've read with friends, and will make recommendations to a few of them, but that's not why I read. I read for me.

Twenty years ago, I read The Player Of Games. It was my first - and, until very recently, only - experience with Iain M. Banks' "Culture" series. It's a bunch of books that are only loosely connected - they take place in the same setting, but there is little or no crossover of characters from book to book.  Really, you can read them in any order and it won't hurt things at all.

And - until recently - it's been a significant gap in my SF reading history. It's one of those contemporary pieces that SF junkies discuss at conventions and that are written about by scholars.  In many ways, the series is a touchstone of modern SF.  It's often credited for reviving the Space Opera subgenre, in fact.

As I said: I read The Player Of Games more than twenty years ago.  Closer to 30 than 20, truth be told. And then I didn't read another Culture book until 2011, when I read Consider Phlebas (which my adult and more jaded tastes found ... mediocre).

I'm glad I decided to re-read The Player Of Games, however.  Because some of its unspoken assumptions about the Culture amuse and interest me.  The main character is famous because he is good at games.  Very good at a wide variety of them, in fact.  That is his sole claim to fame.

Not sports. Not politics. Not acting.  Games.  Board games. Card games.

There are a few people on the planet who are famous because of games.  Bobby Fischer. Garry Kasparov. Boris Spassky. Interestingly, these are all Chess players.  In Asia, Go players have similar levels of fame. But it's mostly limited to aficionados of the game in question.

It sounds like a form of Paradise to me.

If you read SF - specifically of the Space Opera variety - and are at all curious about this series, start with this one.  As I said: The series is only loosely tied together, and you can read it in any order without creating major problems for yourself.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Convention Photography

I mentioned to a friend a few weeks ago that I wanted to write an article about "how to photograph women at conventions without being a creeper."  And I started to write it, and I realized that there was more to it than the two or three paragraphs I'd thrown down.  Not only that, but at GenCon a few weeks back, I saw men getting the same treatment that has been a problem for women in the past.

I'm only going to talk about the basics - most of these are common-sense or basic manners.  A few of them are things that photo subjects should know, too.

And no, I'm not an expert.  I'm a hobbyist who takes his hobbies seriously (as anyone who has read this blog at any length should already know). I'm not a professional photographer, nor am I an attorney. Much like my strategy articles, it will not be hard to find people who disagree with my statements.

As a photography subject, you need to know that you've already given GenCon permission to take your picture (and use your likeness in their advertising).  It's in their Terms & Conditions:
In consideration of being allowed to participate in this Convention, I hereby agree that GEN CON may photograph and/or record my likeness and/or voice and my participation in the Convention and without any additional consideration, I hereby agree that GEN CON and its assigns and/or licensees may distribute, exhibit, broadcast, exploit, advertise, publicize and promote my name, biographical material, likeness, voice and performance in and in connection with the Convention or other GEN CON events. I further agree that GEN CON may edit my appearance therein and I waive any personal or proprietary rights with respect thereto. I represent and warrant to GEN CON that I have not made any contract or commitment in conflict with this grant of rights to GEN CON. Nothing herein contained shall obligate GEN CON to make or cause to be made any broadcast or other use of said appearance, or to exercise any of the rights granted to GEN CON herein.
In other words, just by attending, you have given the convention (and its licensees) the right to take your photo and to use that photo in their advertising.  What I don't know is if other attendees or exhibitors are considered licensees or not.  It's theoretically possible, however.  Either way, you have given up a portion of your Right to Publicity.

Most conventions have this paragraph (or something very similar) in their T&C.

Even if attendees aren't considered licensees, you should also be familiar with a term called a "reasonable expectation of privacy."  As far as Photography is concerned, in simple English, it boils down to, "If you're in public, you might be photographed." It's legal for photographers to take pictures of people who have no reasonable expectation of privacy. In a crowded convention hall, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy.  There are exceptions here and there - for example, many grocery stores have "no photography" signs posted at the entrances.  In those places, you should be safe from cameras - but a good rule of thumb is that you can be photographed while in public.

It should go without saying, by the way, that restrooms and changing rooms are places where you do have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and photography there without your consent is illegal.

Now, as a photographer, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Yes, really.  If the person whose photo you want to take is already posing for one or more photos, go ahead.  But otherwise, be polite.  The words you want to use are, "Excuse me, may I take your picture?"  Or some variant thereof.  Just because you can legally take a picture doesn't mean you should.

Try To Get Out Of Traffic
GenCon has terrible traffic, and it's far from the only convention in this state.  Getting from one point to another is difficult.  As a vendor, I often had a number of boxes in my hands as I tried to navigate.  A clump of people crowding a cosplayer who is posing for photos can lead to even worse traffic.

Some of this is unavoidable - there are areas where photography just can't be done without snarling traffic.  In these cases, try to take the photo and move on.

This is something that goes for subjects as well as photographers, too.  When you just stop, you create backups.

Try to get over to the side, where there is less traffic.  This allows for better photos, too, because it reduces the distracting background problem that you see in so many cosplay photographs.

Don't be That Guy 
I can't even count the number of times I saw cameras (and phones) which were aimed at chests instead of faces at the show.  Believe it or not, it is noticeable.  From both sides of the camera.  And it's really not cool.

Yes, women have breasts. Don't make them your focal point.  If you have manual control over your focus, make sure that her eyes are the focal point of your photo. If you're using a point-and-shoot or a phone, many of those have facial recognition these days, too.  And you should be able to get the face and the rest of her costume into the same photo. Unless you're doing something unusual - and, if you are, talk to the subject first.  "I want to get a shot of the embroidery detail on your sleeve," or "Can I get a better shot of your tattoo?" - this goes double and triple when your detail is on someone's chest or rear end (whether the subject is male or female).

Respect the "No."
If you ask to take a photo and your prospective subject turns you down, respect that.  Don't hound them or whine.  They may be on their way to an event, or just tired of being photographed so much.  Let it go.  Yes, you do have a legal right to take the picture (because they are in public), but that doesn't mean you should take that photo. It's one of those places where legal and right don't have the same meaning.

Don't Use Flashes At A Tournament or Other Event
Many people take their tournaments very seriously.  A flash can distract someone for that critical second, costing them the game.  If this means you need a tripod or other stabilizer to take the picture, then do it.  If it's a tabletop RPG session of some sort, the flash can throw the GM off and make the game less-fun for all.

Really, you should try to be as invisible as possible at these.

If you're using an SLR, you should have some aperture control. Just throw your camera into Aperture Priority mode and open that aperture as wide as you can.  Even indoors, you should be able to get decent-enough shutter speed that you won't need a tripod.  If you can't, then you brought the wrong lenses - I get decent shots at f2.8.  It means you need to play attention to your depth of field, as it'll be pretty shallow - but you should still be able to get good shots.

When Photographing a Tournament, Share the Love
If you're taking a picture of your son/daughter/boyfriend/girlfriend, that's one thing.  But if you're photographing strangers playing in a tournament, don't focus on one person.  Because that's really creepy and - if they notice - can make them uncomfortable which can effect the outcome of the tournament.  Remember: When photographing tournaments and other scheduled events, you want to be completely invisible.

Don't Forget Unusual Angles
Poun's Birthday PartyMy wife hates having her picture taken.  A lot. But she trusts me to take her picture, because over the years, I've shown her that you can take good pictures without highlighting what she thinks of as undesirable traits (my argument - that she has no undesirable traits - doesn't seem to hold much water with her).  The photo to the right, for example, is one of her favorite photos that I've taken of her. Personally, I find it a little blurry and not all that spectacular, but she really loves it. Enough that she has used it as her userpic on several sites. It also highlights the Rule of Thirds pretty well - the arm of her glasses draws the eye immediately.  Were I re-shooting (or cropping) this one, I'd shift the camera up or down a bit and to the right so that her eye is in that sweet spot, instead of the arm of her glasses.

At a convention, you won't always have enough time to earn any sort of degree of trust - in fact, you very rarely will.  But keep in mind that some of the best (and most striking) portraits don't show the full face/body/whatever.  But - if you're shooting an unusual angle, try to make your subject aware of your presence and your goal.  Otherwise, you run the risk of looking - again - like a creeper.

People also look thinner when they are looking up at the camera. And - realistically - many people want to look thinner (myself included). If you're short and can do so, hold your camera up. Just be careful to avoid looking like you're just trying to get a down-the-shirt cleavage shot.  Because that is tremendously creepy.

Be Prepared to Show the Photo to the Subject
One of the advantages of shooting digital is the ability to show the subject the photo immediately.  If they ask to see your photo, show it to them.  Seriously. Don't waffle, don't mumble.  Even if it's a terrible photo, let them see it.  They were kind enough to smile or pose for you - it's the least you could do. If it's a bad shot, offer to delete and re-take it.  If they think it's a bad shot, make the same offer. Yes, really.

You should also be willing to provide them with a link where they can see it later.  I put most of my pics up on Flickr. Knowing that in advance allows me to print up business cards with the URL where the photos will appear "in a few weeks."  This also gives you time to tweak the image if you don't got directly from camera to website (or if, like me, you sometimes shoot film).

I could probably go on about this for a while - and throw in more technical detail - but, realistically, if you haven't caught what I've said so far, then anything else will be too much.

And, if I have lost you earlier, here is the main point you need to remember as someone with a camera at a convention:  Treat your subject with respect. If you follow that one rule, I think you'll find that your photos will be the better for it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Missing The Point

I keep seeing people complaining about the lethality of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG.  "One hit," I hear, "And my character is screwed."

I get these complaints both online and in person (from a good friend of mine).

They're also missing the point.

I recently read a game that included this in its introduction:
This is a game about death. The true motobushi lives his life and performs his tasks as if he is already dead, and thus has nothing to fear from the spilling of his life’s blood. The mechanics of this game allow seven possible ways for your motobushito die, each of which you can easily prevent, but none of which you should actively avoid.
Remember: not every death is one of the blood.
The game, by the way, is Motobushido.  And I heartily recommend it.

But that opening statement should apply to any samurai-flavored game.

It's even authentic to the period that L5R tries to emulate.

From The Hagakure:
I have come to understand the heart of bushido.  The way of hte warrior is fulfilled in death.  When you are in a situation where your death will benefit your cause, you should instantly choose death.  This will not be a difficult choice if you are truly committed beforehand.  The saying "To die without achieving your goal is to die a meaningless death" is the foolish prattling of those who sit around thinking and never do anything.  Life is not so important when forced to choose between life and integrity.  Of course, we all want to live, and this side of our nature will never fade.  It is easy to reason your way into clinging to life, but if you remain alive without achieving your goal, you are a coward. 
That's ... pretty clear.

The game's system is designed to reinforce this philosophy.  Death should always be on the minds of the characters.  Death in pursuit of their household goals is the point of their life. But I don't know that I have ever seen that explicitly called out in the book, other than maybe a reference to The Hagakure in the bibliography of recommended readings.

By the way: As a GM, I have never killed a PC in combat in L5R. Not one.

So - after all of that rambling from me about how wrong-headed my friend is and how he's totally missing the point, let me remind you of this:

A role-playing game is a collaboration between GM and player.  We gather to have fun together.

Which one of us has missed the point?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Home - Safe & Alive

One of the best things about GenCon is coming home afterwards.  I have - with zero exaggeration - more than fifty pounds of games to read and learn.

I'm tired, I'm sore, and I'm exhilarated.  I've already put in my vacation request for next year.

As expected, I'm too tired to get a post up for this Wednesday.  I may get a photo of our haul up, but that's probably going to be about it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Names, Professional Wrestling, and Capitalization

This has actually been cracking me up for quite some time, and I have a spare moment right now, so I'm going to mention it.  Even though most of you won't laugh as much as I have been for quite some time.

One of the people I get to deal with at Asmodee has their e-mail set up with their last name in all caps, so the e-mail I receive is from Firstname LASTNAME.

As you may recall, I am one of those folks who enjoys professional wrestling - and not just American-style wrestling.  I especially like Japanese and Mexican wrestling.  Japanese because the wrestlers are over-the-top CRAZY, and Mexican because their high-flyers are amazing.

In professional wrestling culture, there are really two broad personalities of wrestler - Babyfaces ("Faces") and Heels.  Boiled down to the most basic of descriptions, it's Good Guys and Bad Guys.

In Japan, they often use our alphabet in addition to one (or more) of the three writing systems they normally use.  To help people who either don't watch regularly or who are new viewers, they will often put the last name of their heels in ALL CAPS.

So every time I get an e-mail from this person @ Asmodee, I giggle just a little bit. Because her e-mail advertises to me that she is a Heel.  I laugh just a little bit, and then I go on.

EDIT: 1/7/14
It was called to my attention this morning that I was unclear about why I giggle at this. To clarify: It is because - as near as I can tell - there are no heels working for Asmodee. As I've probably mentioned a thousand times here (and elsewhere) the team (both full-time employees and demo crew) is a large collection of the neatest people it has ever been my pleasure to deal with. So the irony of someone who is not a heel representing themselves as such (even to the tiny tiny subset of gamers who are fans of Japanese wrestling) makes me laugh.


I've been very impressed with the level of sportsmanship I've seen in the tournaments here at GenCon.  Several tournaments had new players, and the experienced players at their table were willing to step up and coach them - sometimes to their own detriment.  I didn't see (or hear about) any new players receiving bad information or poor advice.

I told a few new players that I can help them with rules, but I can't give them any strategic advice.  At one point when I told someone this, someone across the table said, "If you want advice, your play doesn't affect mine directly, and I can help."

During the Formula D finals, all four players were on a map that was new to them, and one player misread the first curve as a one-stop curve instead of as a two-stop (experienced Formula D players are now cringing).  He lived through the curve - barely - but was effectively eliminated from contention at that point.  Rather than complaining, he soldiered on, only to have some of the worst dice luck I have ever seen at that game.  And he grumbled a bit, but he kept going.  Another player managed to wipe out, and he ended up taking third.

I saw similar degrees of sportsmanship at nearby tournaments and tables, as well.

And we were able to demonstrate some sportsmanship ourselves.  One of the 7 Wonders tournament finalists had something come up and he had to leave the show early.  All of the tournament finalists have earned a (really nice) plaque, and he was able to let me know he had to bail.  I dragged him back to the booth and was able to get his prize to him with no hassle.  "Just be sure to get his picture," I was told.

No problem. Done:

Congrats on your win, Brian.  I hope we see you next year.

I wasn't alone in running tournaments for Asmodee this year - Ben (who was new to the team) was assigned to the tournaments as well.  "He's your runner," is what I was told - but he did a hell of a lot more than that.  Ben was a very strong addition to the team, and is an extremely nice guy, to boot.

There are a few new folks on the team this year, and I was introduced to most of them.  I assume they're doing well, but I honestly don't know for sure, as I've been running tournaments.

Most of last year's team is back, too.  Louis and Kimberly continue to be really neat people.  Joel and Marie-Eve are a real riot.  Giancarlo is one of the funniest people it has ever been my pleasure to interact with.  I miss interacting with Matt just a bit - I'm sorry he couldn't make it.  And I miss Andrew, too, but there's apparently some sort of story as to why he isn't back.

Today, I'll actually be in the booth instead of running tournaments (After this morning's 10 am 7 Wonders finale - which is in the booth).  I'm looking forward to an increased degree of interaction with people.

Tonight, after the exhibit hall closes, we'll tear down the booth and then we have a team dinner.

... and then we're done.  Until next year.

I've heard a few of next year's plans, and I'm already excited.

But I probably shouldn't say anything yet.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Today failed to kill me.

I've learned the difference between being in the booth as a Demo Monkey and running tournaments:


When running tournaments, I can actually spend some time sitting down.

There are other differences - in a demo situation, I have to teach from scratch.  In a tournament situation, it's assumed that everyone knows how to play already.  In fact, I was only called in for rules questions a small handful of times the entire weekend.  Because nearly everyone knew what they were doing.

So with the tournaments, I deal with more people, but there is less interaction.

I actually prefer the interaction.

My wife hit on the Best Thing Ever this year - and I have zero idea why we hadn't thought of it sooner:

Cough drops.

We spend hours talking and talking and talking.  Cough drops help soothe the throat.

It's also possible (probable even) that she'd mentioned it earlier and I'd somehow missed it.

Last Night

Last night, I was getting ready to head back to my hotel room and crash, when David Miller of Purple Pawn wandered by.  I've been reading Purple Pawn since they launched (it really is a very good news source for hobby gamers), and I first met David at his first GenCon, when I was demoing Senji.

Since then, he and I meet and spend some time chatting every year, and it has become traditional for him to be in the booth when the show closes.

We had a good chat, played a quick game of Augustus (which is surprisingly good even at 2am when you are too tired to think), and then I headed back to the hotel to crash.

Today is the Formula D tournament finals, and two more 7 Wonders qualifiers.

So far this weekend, I have run one Seasons tournament from start to finish, the prelims and semifinals for Formula D, and four 7 Wonders qualifiers.  In all that time, we have had one rules issue, and it was minor.

Seasons started with 28 players, Formula D with 27, and 7 Wonders has averaged 32 per qualifier.

Saturday, today.  The Big One.

I'm ... I'm as ready as I'm gonna get.


I received e-mail this morning that "select strategy board games" are on sale at Amazon, today only!

There are some great games on this list, including three Asmodee games.

Apparently someone let Amazon know it was GenCon.

My only concern is that much of their audience is either at or is focused on GenCon, so spread the word - the better the sales they make on something like this, the more likely they are to do it again.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Seasons Semifinals

Six players. Down from 28 yesterday.

Two tomorrow.

A Brief, Positive Note

I would like to say that I am very happy with something I'm seeing more of at GenCon - and its even more pronounced this year than it has been in previous years:


My first few years at the show, it really did feel like it was almost whites-only.

It's good because our hobby should appeal to people of every race, creed, gender, orientation, etc.  And GenCon should accurately reflect the hobby.

I don't know if the hobby itself has always been diverse and GenCon was a poor reflection of the hobby (which is very possible) or if the hobby has grown more diverse over the last decade (which is possible, too).

It's weird - I feel like I'm treading on thin ice a little bit writing about this, because I am (mostly) white, myself.  But I guess that's probably another conversation for another time (and probably another place as well, but no promises).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Day One

So.  Day One.

I ran tournaments.  All day.

Tomorrow, the Seasons tournament is the semifinal.  The finals are on Saturday.  Instead of seven tables of four, it'll be two tables of three.

Tomorrow, the Formula D tournament is ... the semifinal.  Instead of three tables of nine, it'll be two tables of six.  The finals are on Saturday.

Tomorrow, both 7 Wonders tournaments will be qualifiers.  The finals are on Sunday.  I'll probably have the full number of people there.

One of the goals of having me run tournaments this year is apparently getting feedback from me.  Because my general feedback last year was apparently good, so they are hoping my tournament-related feedback will be on target as well.

After the tournaments today, I ... went back to the same room and played more games.

TWO of the 7 Wonders games today were tied at the end.  One game had two players with 51 points each and four players at 47 points each.

The most points I saw scored in the science category was 55.  But that player had nothing else and a final score of 59 (which was not enough to advance).

Tomorrow is expected to be more of the same.


This is my second tournament of the day.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

VIG Program

Tomorrow is the first official day of GenCon.  At 9:00 am, the VIG's gain their first access to the Exhibit Hall.  They paid a large pile of money for the privilege, so I don't have much of a problem with it.


Last year, the VIG's nearly cleaned Asmodee out of Libertalia.  Because we had a promo - they included metal coins for the game.  We also ran completely out of 7 Wonders: Cities almost before the general public had access.  And Seasons.  Unfortunately, I don't think we had another shipment coming of any of these for the show, but I could be wrong - I am (as I have said many many times) just a Demo Guy when I'm here.  And - as of last year - the store end of things is really a separate booth from the demos.

Some vendors have a limited quantity per day, which I think is an excellent response to programs like the VIG setup.  It balances the field a bit, as the VIG program is Thursday-only.

And Thursday is the slowest day for vendors - which is another reason I don't have huge problems with the program.  It brings in people who might not otherwise be here.

It still sticks in my craw a bit.

BUT it means that the most-excited gamers who can afford the additional price get in early.  It means than an hour which would otherwise be dead is filled with enthusiastic people - and it DOES mean the show starts on the right foot.  And it's money in the convention's pocket (and the pockets of the vendors).  All of these are good things.

We'll see how it goes tomorrow - I'll be in Hall D running tournaments before the VIGs gain access to the room.

Lived Through It

As you can probably tell, I lived through setup.  I got a start on my GenCon blisters, I have some wonderful marks on my shoulders from carrying some carpet which was waaaaay too heavy.

I met up with some people, and started laying plans to meet up with more for dinner (and/or games).

Wandering the halls, I saw a lot of familiar faces.  Even if I didn't have names to put with them.


It's getting to the point where I can't keep track of all the games I have worked on.

I remember thinking this morning that Spyrium sounded fun.

After glancing at the rules, they sounded very familiar.

When I hit the end, I understood why ...

Setup Day

At the time this post goes live, I'll be in the Dealer's Room, pulling things out of boxes.  Or laying carpet.  Or something.

Today is the Physical Labor part of the show.  It's hard work, and the Powers That Be at the convention center usually don't turn the A/C on.  Which means that the dealer's room is pre-seeded with Gamer Funk for the show, because all of us are sweaty and disgusting by the end of Wednesday.

We got back after dinner last night to find our luggage waiting for us.

Dinner tonight will be with Alex and Chantal - a couple of friends that I met through Asmodee.  They are the ones who are responsible for introducing me to Shitenno, which is still one of my personal Top Five Games.

We'll be going to an "Asian" restaurant that they scoped out the other day.  I'm from Seattle - we have more Teriyaki than Burger there, and it's good teriyaki, so I'm prepared to be underimpressed.  But we'll see.


We don't have Steak 'n Shake in Seattle. I am honestly not sure if that is a good thing or not.

I have breakfast here almost every day of the show. It's not great, but it's cheap and convenient. And that goes a long ways.

Gamethyme's Game of the Year 2013

Realistically, this was easy enough to narrow down to a small handful of contenders.

Kemet, Mutant Meeples, Mythic Battles, and Augustus.  These are four great games which I was first exposed to (in play) since the last GenCon.

The first to fall was Mythic Battles.  Not because it's undeserving, but because two-player games just don't hit the table often enough for me.  If I played more 2p, this would have been much tougher to scratch.  Because I do love this game. And its expansion.

That left three games that I really like.  Kemet holds up to five players, scales well to as few as three (I haven't played it with two, yet); Mutant Meeples holds up to seven players, and also scales well to as few as three; and, finally, Augustus (which is being retitled Rise of Augustus for its US release), which holds up to six and scales well to as few as three.  I suspect all three of them are just fine with two.

So let's quickly go over what I like in a game:

Strategy Over Luck
I like a game where a skilled player will defeat a beginner more often than not.  Not because I like beating up on newbies, but because I want to feel like the time I spend playing and/or thinking about a game isn't wasted time.

Multiple Paths to Victory
If there is One Perfect Strategy that your opponents can't screw up, then what's the point of playing the game?  You could just as easily "play" from another state via telephone.  "It's my turn?  Okay.  Here's what to do ... "

High Replayability
I don't like playing the same game over and over and over and over and over.  Really. A game needs to be different enough each time I play it that I have a reason to come back to it.  More than just learning a new strategy, that is.

Player Interaction
I play games to interact with people. Often, that interaction is across the table and not actually on the board - but a game in which my decisions influence the decisions of players around me is (for me) the ideal.  Part of it is also that I really love a bit of "Take that!" in a game.

Reasonable Play Time
Most of my gameplay these days is Wednesday nights, where I only have a few hours in which to play. And I prefer to play two or three games (or one game two or three times) in that span.

So how do the remaining three games stack up?

Kemet has almost no luck.  There is a bit, but not enough to tip the game. There are a number of successful strategies that I've seen used, which keeps the replayability high.  Every decision you make on the board influences every other player, so there is a ton of interaction.  The play time, however, can run a bit long with beginners (or, oddly, with very experienced players).

Mutant Meeples has almost no luck - it's an analytical game, though, not a turn-based game.  And the player interaction is all about trying to get your plan in place before someone else does.  There's also not a ton of opportunity to trash-talk your opponents because of how it works.  But it's relatively fast (especially when playing with Andrew).  There's not a ton of strategy per se, but there is a bit.

Augustus is very luck-driven.  There is strategy, and once you grasp it, the game does improve dramatically - but it's possible for luck to beat strategy.  The player interaction is all around the board rather than in the game itself.  But it's very fast-playing.  I can get five or six plays of this in a good evening. But there's something about this game that keeps bringing me back to it.  It's just fun.

So I think I can safely drop Mutant Meeples from the list, which leaves only Kemet and Augustus.  And here it gets tricky for me.  I had Kemet a month or two before it was released, in part so I could write an article for GTM about it.  I've had Augustus for a month or two, but it has more to do with our ability to demo than for any other reason.  I actually worked on the English translation of Kemet, but Augustus was one I'd never even heard of when I was taught to play.

These are both games I'm nearly always up for playing. By which I mean simply that it doesn't matter how my day went, or if I'm suffering from brain burnout, or am especially crabby, I'm still willing to play either of them. Provided I have the time in which to do so.

So this is not an easy decision.  And it's funny, because Augustus doesn't really fit much of what I'm looking for in a game, if you look at the list above.  It shouldn't be a difficult decision.

But, really, I have to give it to the game that I'm going to play tonight (a week or so before you'll see these words).  Because - even though I love both games, I do have to give the edge to one of them. And it's by the narrowest of margins, here, but my Game of the Year for the span between GenCon 2012 and GenCon 2013 is Augustus. Or, as you'll see it at your Local Game Store, Rise of Augustus.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Is it GenCon? I do believe it is.

Sadly, we have missed the peach shakes for the year.