Wednesday, December 30, 2015


We live in a weird era. Not just in board games, but in general.

For the last few weeks, my social media feeds have been filled with spoilers for The Force Awakens, but most of my friends have been good about leaving long spoiler spaces or using spoiler tags (where available) to avoid ruining the movie for those of us who haven't seen it, yet. Other people are out there deliberately spoiling the movie because they are trolls.  Some people are spreading false spoilers because they think that's funny (and sometimes it is).

But the net result for me has been that everyone is talking about Star Wars, but no-one is ... talking about Star Wars.

There is a Doctor Who character, River Song, whose catch phrase is "Spoilers." Because she's not tied to the same timeline as everyone else in the same way, and so she knows some of what is going to happen in everyone else's future.

Fair warning: There may be spoilers for T.I.M.E. Stories in this post. I'll leave a space before I hit that point, and I'll mark it in advance and then format it to indent as a quote so you can try to avoid spoilers (if you're trying to avoid spoilers).

That is, it'll look like this.
A few years ago, Risk Legacy was released on an unsuspecting public. It's a board game based on Risk, so hardcore gamers are "supposed" to hate on it (because Risk isn't actually all that great). But this game is ... different.  In the box is a rulebook, some cards, some units, and a collection of sealed envelopes and boxes that tell you "Open When ... "

The contents of these envelopes have you permanently altering your game. You'll mark the map up. You'll destroy cards. I don't want to spoil this for anyone, but it's really cool. And I still twitch just thinking about it. Because you destroy game components.

Earlier this year, Pandemic Legacy was released, and it's much like Risk Legacy, where things unlock and change based on your success or failure during the game. New characters appear, things get destroyed, and it's apparently awesome.  The similarity is not a coincidence,either. The same designer worked on both games.

Collectively, these are being called "Legacy-Type Games" and elements of the game that are destroyed or altered are being called "Legacy Components," which makes sense.

Another game released this year is T.I.M.E. Stories. It's a "decksploration" game. It initially caught a lot of flak from players due to a low replayability. I disagree, but then my memory isn't fantastic. But there is one element that is "Legacy."

Depending on how you do in the first scenario, you will be directed to lift the insert, where some "beacons" are hidden. To use them, it tells you to "Break them open," apply their effect, and then discard them.
When we were working on the game, we didn't know what kind of component this "hidden" piece was going to be. It sounded like they were going to be plastic (or enclosed in plastic), but we weren't sure. And - having seen later scenarios - that "discard" was intended to be a Legacy-style discard. As in "remove it completely from your box. Throw it away. It's done." Another thing we didn't know at the time.
I'm guessing it's not that clear in French, either, because the translator didn't change it or flag it as something in need of special attention - and the translator in question is someone I've worked with a lot, and he's usually very good about highlighting possible questions like that so that we can be very clear about the rules. 
Either way, there was an official comment made about it here
The "in-game" justification for their single-use/Legacy nature is probably expense. The TIME agency is powerful, but sending folks back in time is expensive. When you fail at the various scenarios, the NPCs at home base gripe at you and how much you're costing the agency. 

I'd love to take the sole blame for this, but it wasn't just me. The translator didn't know. And at least one other person read over the game prior to its release, and they didn't change what the translator and I had done with it. So I'll take partial blame and move on.

This same element is mentioned in the first expansion, The Marcy Case. And in the next, The Prophecy of Dragons.  It wasn't until the third expansion, Under the Mask, that the Legacy nature of these items was made clear to me.

Even setting aside the "Legacy" or "Not Legacy" element of this component, the game is phenomenal. At least one reviewer has likened it to one of the old LucasArts click-based adventure games like Maniac Mansion or Full Throttle. Only without the humor. The first two scenarios are dark.

The one that is included with the box is set in an insane asylum in the early/mid 20th Century. Not a good time to be among the mentally ill. 

The reason the replayability is reported to be so low is because once you know how to beat the game, you can just do the walkthrough of "Go to Location X and perform Action Y. Then go to Location Z ..." But my memory isn't great these days, so I can replay the same scenario several times. And I have enough folks that I game with regularly that I can also serve as facilitator and not actually play.

I - by the way - really like the game. In theory. I haven't been able to get it to the table, though.

Maybe this New Year's Eve ...

Which reminds me: We are doing the usual "Game All Night At Phoenix Games" thing. We'd love to have you join us to play some awesome games with some awesome people.  Event details are here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

That Big Consolidation News

So news broke this week that Asmodee US, Days of Wonder (DoW), and Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) are all consolidating as Asmodee North America. And it's HUGE news in the industry, because Asmodee is huge. But this really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone after Asmodee bought DoW and merged with FFG last year.

What is a surprise is their stance with regards to internet sales of product.  This thread and several others have popped up with all kinds of speculation. Because Asmodee North America doesn't want their games sold online.  They believe in supporting the FLGS, which I am all in favor of.

I should emphasize this: I have no insider information, here.  I'm as in the dark as the rest of you.  But I know a number of the people involved, and I trust them.

Even as a huge support of the local game store as the center of the gaming world, I still disagree with the ban of online sales. There are numerous folks who don't have local game stores. Not only that, but I don't think the ban won't stop online sales over the long term. With Asmodee North America slipping into the mass market via Target (among others), the product will be findable on Target's site.

By the way, it's not a complete ban, as ICV2 pointed out in a later article.
... retailers, unless they have a separate agreement with Asmodee NA, can no longer sell any Asmodee NA products online. Only retailers that have an agreement with Asmodee NA to sell online will be able to do so ...
Does anyone out there think that Amazon isn't already in negotiations? Or any of the major online game retailers? Hell, they may already have signed contracts in hand.

I suspect the final outcome will be similar to what Mayfair did a few years ago:

Mayfair restricted online sales of their product. More accurately, they restricted discounts on their online sales. People went nuts, predicting the end of Mayfair as a company and suggesting that this was the end for Catan.  But it seems to have worked.  Even Amazon's lowest price on Catan is only about 10% off of MAP, where previously you could find it for 30-40% off MAP.

And Mayfair (and Catan) are still trucking along.

::EDIT:: This post on BGG News went live after my post was written, but before it went live. There is some good information in the post, and I recommend reading it. It clarifies some things and highlights a few others. ::END EDIT::

So how will the consolidation impact me personally?

I don't know.  One article I linked to above specifically calls out that the three companies' creative teams will continue to operate separately.  So Asmodee's team will keep working on Asmodee's games, Fantasy Flight's teams will work on Fantasy Flight's games, and so on.  Which means that my work as part of the translation team will probably be unaffected.

But GenCon?  I don't know. I've been blessed with more than a decade as one of Asmodee's demo guys, and it's been the best decade of my life. I hope that I'm not done, there. I hope that things will continue as they have. But I don't know - it's out of my hands. And it always has been out of my hands.

So we'll see.

Regardless of what happens, I'll still be here, typing away.

Oh - and Merry Christmas, all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Microbadges and the BoardGameGeek Support Drive

I realized recently: I have a ton of Microbadges on Boardgamegeek.

I mean seriously: Look at those.  That is crazy. Yes, a lot of those are contest microbadges, but a lot of them aren't.

The contest microbadges are from a time when contests were significantly less-common than they are today. And I've never won a single contest, there, either.  Some day. If I'm very lucky.

Most of the rest of them, I've paid for by using 8 "GeekGold," which is a currency for the site. A few of them were purchased with Microbadge Coupons, which the site gives out on Christmas (or has for the last few years, at least).

But there are a couple of categories that don't fit into either group.  "Award," which is given for contributions on the site; "Special," which are given for a variety of reasons, most of which are for the 'Geek's occasional charitable events; and, finally, "Support."

The "Award" category is one where I should be doing better. I'm only a Copper-level Session Reporter (where people write up game sessions), a Copper-level File Uploader (for people who upload helpful files), and a Copper-level Geeklister (for people who put together lists of games grouped around a theme). I'm a Silver-level Image Uploader (and this will be getting better soon). But these are all awards given for simply contributing to the site and making it a better place, because they all require that you not only contribute, but also that people give you "thumbs" for your contribution, meaning they think it's a good contribution.

The "Special" category is one where I never know when something will pop up. There are annual auctions for the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund, but I don't always participate. And I don't know if the latest ones have included a microbadge, either. So I'd do better, there, but I really can't.

The last category is the one I want to talk about today.

BoardGameGeek is an important community for me, these days. It's where I learn about upcoming games, and download FAQs and other useful files. It's where I interact with "my people" more than anywhere else - including Facebook and Google Plus.

But the site isn't free to run. They have to pay for their servers and a small staff. They run ads on the page, but that doesn't pay all of the bills, especially with the decreasing amount of money online ads are making.

Right now, every page on the site has a banner ad that leads to their Support Page. It's quick, it's painless, and it supports one of the best sites on the internet. It's even possible to set up a monthly donation via PayPal or your credit card (which is what I've done). If you donate $25 or more, you can even turn ads off.

I encourage you to support the site. I've been giving $10 per month since sometime in 2007, and I have more than received my money's worth in community, and that's even before I mention access to files and discussions with designers and publishers and the like.  Yes, free users have that same community access. Yes, free users have file access.  In fact, that's anotherof the really good things about the site: Unpaid members aren't treated as second-class just because they aren't paying for the service. They just see more ads.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Mega Civilization

Many of us have That Game That Got Away. It's a game we played and liked and then dragged our feet on picking a copy up, because "Steve has it."  And we forgot that Steve could move to Texas or California. Or we might move away. And not every group has every game.

For me, that game was Avalon Hill's Civilization, with the Advanced Civilization expansion. About twenty years ago, when I was learning that there was more to strategy gaming than just Chess, I had a group of friends who got together to play a bunch of hobby games. And this was one of them.

And then we all grew up and moved away from one another. And I wasn't able to play the game because my current group was too young and didn't have it.

A few weeks ago, I saw a post on one of the (far too many) blogs I follow that stated that "Mega Civilization" was now available directly from (that link takes you directly to the game).  Hmm, I thought to myself, I wonder if that's at all similar to the Avalon Hill version of the game.

And it is.  In fact, it's the Avalon Hill version turned up to eleven.

So I had to order it.  I needed this game. Even at €249 including shipping. Because €50 in shipping isn't crazy for a 22lb package from Germany.

Now I have an internet savings account.  It's not there as an emergency cushion (although I have used it that way before).  It's there specifically for things like this. Things that I want, but that I need to think about before buying. Because the transfer takes a few days, and I only get a few transfers per month (here's a referral link).  I hesitated about ten minutes before setting the transfer up.

And I placed my order with Pegasus Shop.

The good news?  That price includes VAT. As someone in the US, I don't have to worry about VAT, so my total cost including shipping was only €209.25.  About $230.

... and then I learned that they don't take credit cards. Or PayPal. You need to wire them the money. I'm 39 years old, and my only personal experience with wire transfers was when someone in the UK subscribed to this blog on their Kindle, and they paid me via wire transfer.  I made $0.40 and my bank charged me $25 for the privilege. So I was a bit wary of the whole thing.

I called my bank and inquired about wire transfers, and it would have cost me another $50 in fees to wire funds to Germany.  Ugh.  So I went to BoardGameGeek. Someone there recommended Transferwise. Several someones, actually. Transferwise had a $3 fee and had a better exchange rate.

The drawback to Transferwise is that they were slower to process.

But here's the magical thing:  Less than a week after Pegasus had my money, the game was in my hands.

That shipping cost - which I found not unreasonable - was actually express shipping. Meaning it was even more reasonable than I'd expected.

And now the game is in my hands. Here I am opening the monster:

I spent a few hours yesterday punching and cutting tokens. I hope to get a group together to play sometime early next year. Because I can't not play this game.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

No Post This Week

I'm in the middle of a surprisingly-large editing/revision project, so no post from me this week.

I will mention that I received two new cameras and a game that I need to do an unboxing video for this weekend.  I haven't even removed the shrink, yet.  I'm very excited.

That will be up next week, along with (possibly) some photos of games taken with the new cameras.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Battlefront: Choosing Your Target Audience

In Star Wars: Battlefront, you can crouch but you can't go prone. That is pretty emblematic of the whole game.

I play a lot of first-person shooter video games on my consoles. I won't say I've played them all - or even that I've played a significant percentage of them. Because I haven't.  And, like most folks, I have my favorites.

The first game I bought for my PS4 was Battlefield: Hardline. It's a pretty hardcore first-person shooter. Before joining a multiplayer match, players choose their class (from four available) and loadout (players build these themselves by unlocking gear).

Each loadout has one primary weapon, one secondary weapon, two gadgets, and a melee weapon. You can also tweak the clothing and appearance of the character. There are, of course a number of options for each of these categories.

Additionally, the weapons can be customized. Most rifles have a sight that can be added, but the game also allows for barrel modifications, variant grips. and a few other adjustments here and there. And there are a number of options for each category, each of which changes how that weapon functions in the game.

And did I mention that you can customize your loadouts while the game is going on? You need to acquire a certain number of kills with a weapon before unlocking each category of unlockable, and you need a certain number of kills with the "basic" weapon in each category before you can buy other weapons in that category. But if you somehow manage to come up with six billion in-game dollars, there's no reason you can't buy every weapon in the game as soon as you have enough kills.

In other words, there are a ton of options for players to choose from when getting into a multiplayer game.

Additionally, the base game included nine maps (and more have been released, both free and as DLC).

Compare this to Star Wars: Battlefront. You play either as a Stormtrooper or a Rebel. Before launching into a multiplayer map, you choose three "cards" as player options, and which blaster you want to use.  Later on, you unlock the ability to have multiple sets of cards to choose from, but these are all set before the game starts.

You start with just the basic blasters for your faction. As the game goes on, you earn money that you use to buy more cards and blasters - but they are also level-locked.  That is, "You can't buy this gun until you reach level X."

The difference in play between the two games - despite the fact that they run on the same core engine - is stunning. Battlefield is, in a few ways, about as primitive as the original Halo was back on the original XBox.

Even more interesting to me is the fact that Battlefield doesn't have a single-player campaign mode. There are a few training scenarios that help get you familiar with the game modes, but that's really about it.

The core mechanics of both games are very similar in play, because they're built on the same core engine (or so I have been led to understand).  They're certainly from the same publisher.

The primary difference between the games is their target audiences. Battlefield Hardline is aimed at hardcore FPS gamers. It has options piled upon options piled upon options. Star Wars Battlefront is an introductory game.  Players who are good at one will probably be good at the other, but one of the games is more accessible to new players.

Remember a few years ago, when I said it was a good thing I didn't run a publishing house?  That applies here. Battlefront is aimed at the casual FPS player or the Star Wars enthusiast. And they're folks who don't want all of the bells and whistles I was looking for, here.

It also highlighted something to me: Tabletop gaming has a surprisingly high barrier to entry because we're getting used to each other. When teaching a game, I'll often use other games to find common ground. "Have you played Bohnanza? It's like that only without ... "  Or I'll use terminology that might not be as clear to non-gamers as it could be.

Even basic terms can be surprisingly difficult. Ever try to explain trick-taking to someone who's never played a trick-taking game before? Or set-collection? Or worker placement?

I think of these as basic mechanisms. I can think of half a dozen games that use each of these without even breaking a sweat.  I can even thing of a few games that use more than one of them (trick-taking as a set collection tool is not uncommon).

That's something that Days of Wonder has done so very well over the years. Their games - almost without exception - have been excellent gateway games. Memoir '44 is pretty simple. There are a few tricky interactions here and there, but nothing crazy. Once you've mastered the core game, there are a dozen or so expansions, each of which ups the complexity and shifts the focus more to the more hardcore gamers.  Battlelore is like Memoir '44 with all of the complexity dials turned up. Same core engine, completely different in-game feel. Fresh coat of paint.

I have said before that we need entry-level games. Not dumbed-down games, necessarily. But games that experienced gamers can use as stepping stones to more advanced games. And I stand by that.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


I'm down to backing only one or two Kickstarter projects at a time.  It's a weird feeling, but a good one.  And it means I can be really picky about what I choose to back.

A few years ago, a friend of mine showed me his prototype card-placement game. It was a ton of fun, and showed potential.  We played it off-and-on for a while.  Every few months, I'd see him again with the latest revision.

At one point, the game went to Gathering of Friends with a friend of mine, but unfortunately no publisher bit.

And now it's on Kickstarter.

ManaSurge is a fun game, and they seem to be doing it the right way on Kickstarter.  By the time you see this, they'll have about four days to go, and I sincerely hope it's funded.

So what do I mean by "the right way" here?

1) The game's content is done. The rules are done. The card list is complete.  The only thing not finished is the art on cards that backers can pay to appear on. In fact, it's done enough that a number of reviewers have been able to post reviews that are quoted and/or linked to from the project page.

2) Reasonable stretch goals. I've seen way too many good projects sunk by crazy-expensive stretch goals that weren't budgeted for correctly. The first few stretch goals are single cards.  At goal-and-a-half or so, the game grows by roughly 15%.

3) Freight is accounted-for.  I don't know for sure if their numbers are accurate, but the numbers for shipping seem reasonable.

4) Sane backer levels. There aren't a ton of bizarre add-ons, here.  The backer levels are basically Game, Game + Mini-Expansion, 2 Copies of Game, 2 Copies of Game + Mini-Expansion, and so on. There are no t-shirts, bottle openers, can insulators, and the like.

As to the game itself: It's fun. It's not a completely-random smurf-up, either. Yes, there is a random element. Yes, there are times when the best option is clear. But over the years of playing, I've noticed that Frank wins a lot more often than he loses, and he's not a cheater. He just knows the game better than you do.

So I urge you to check it out. Back it if it looks like it's your bag. Pass the link along to someone else if it isn't your bag but you know someone else who might dig it.

So how do you learn if it's your bag?

The rules are already online. They're in the files section of the game's BoardGameGeek Page.

Do your homework, Check it out.  I hope you choose (like I did) to back.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Holiday Season

Some of you may have noticed that there wasn't a post waiting for you when you got up this morning. And that's right - there wasn't.  I have a couple of half-written posts in need of editing, but I wasn't willing to let any of them loose, yet, and I didn't have as much time as I wanted because I got caught.

By "got caught," I mean, "became involved with a writing project." And it's ... interesting to me, the differences between writing for games and writing "normal" fiction.

When I'm working on an adventure for my L5R group, for example, as the GM, I'm only telling part of the story. Sure, I have an arc in mind. Yes, there are ways I want the story to go, but it's not up to me. Players have this magical ability to make things go off the rails in unexpected directions, but the story I'm telling rapidly becomes the story we are telling. Because players are notorious for changing the plot.  So having complete control over both the protagonists and the antagonists is ... weird.

So I'm going to try to stay caught up both here and on my project. And on the revision work I have for a handful of games that always seem to trickle through post-Essen.

I'm not doing NaNoWriMo. That would be ... ugh. That would be the kind of pressure I don't handle well. But it is a good reminder to keep working on sharpening my skill.

If and when I'm done, I may share a few samples here.

Everyone's writing process is unique to that person.  My wife, for example, closes herself in the bedroom, throws some Top Chef on the TV, and just writes. It seems to flow easily and painlessly for her, and I try to just stay out of her way.

Me, I have to know my characters before I start.  I'll generally stat the main characters up as GURPS characters before I get too far in. For minor characters, I'll use Short Order Heroes. Because all I need from them is a sketch.

I've been using GURPS 3e for years for this. It's not a game I like as a game, but its benchmarks are good and detailed. I should probably upgrade to 4e, but some of the books I consider key are oddly OOP. Like GURPS Magic. Seriously. That price is crazy.

Or I could just by it in PDF, but that's still pretty high for a PDF. Higher than I want to pay, at any rate. But that's ... changing.  I should write about PDF pricing sometime.

At any rate: This next couple of months may be a bit spotty, here.  I've got posts on tap and partially written and the like. I just need to finish them and schedule them and get them posted.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015


A few years ago, a gentleman who was a district manager for a local chain of game stores told me that he'd brought Dixit in entirely on my say-so.  "It doesn't seem," he'd said, "the sort of game someone like you would usually enjoy.  So I knew it'd have broader appeal than its rules indicated."

While his gamble did well for him, he'd missed something key about me:

I'm a sucker for a game with an interesting communication mechanism.  Dixit is all about communicating exactly the right amount. Too much information, and no-one will guess wrong. Too little information, and maybe someone else will snag those points.

Concept is another communication-focused game that I just absolutely love to play, because it's a game that is about communication, and learning how the other players think is the key to victory.

Every year at GenCon, there are stampedes as crowds rush in to get that Hot New Game that is there in Limited Numbers.  It's as regular as clockwork. This year, we were the cause of one of those stampedes.  There were a limited number of copies of Mysterium. The pre-release buzz was pretty hot on the game, so when the doors opened, we saw this:

Every morning we saw that. We had 50 copies per day (except for Sunday), and the line was crazy. I'm glad I was in the demo part of the booth and not the sales portion, because a lot of people didn't get the game they had rushed to get.  The first day, the line wrapped around the back of the sale booth and back towards the demo area in less than two minutes.

I was curious about the game, having worked on quite a bit of marketing material, and I probably could have laid claim to one of the copies in the booth, but I chose to wait.

My copy arrived a few weeks ago, and it hit the table on the Wednesday after it arrived (the Wednesday before Halloween, appropriately enough). And I really like this one.

The most common comparison I've seen for the game is "It's Dixit crossed with Clue."  And that's ... that's pretty accurate.  Only there's more to it than that.  For starters, it's a cooperative game. Everyone wins or lose together.

The goal of Mysterium is for one player to get each other player to pick up on three distinct pieces of information.  That one player is the Ghost, and he communicates with the other players by giving them cards which strongly resemble Dixit cards. The ghost is not permitted to speak through most of the game, and I heard a rumor that some editions were going to include a mask to help the ghost's poker face.

Each other other players is trying to assemble a set of three items - one suspect, one location, and one item.  In that order.

At the start of the game, a number of cards from each category is turned up. The more cards, the higher the difficulty of the game.  Then the ghost has a duplicate set of cards behind the screen that they use to assign one from each category to each player using a screen that they sit behind.  This image on BoardGameGeek shows it off very well (and is set up for a six-player game).

Then the ghost gets a hand of seven cards.  They give one or more to each player, refilling their hand to seven after each gift.  Players will place their markers (crystal balls) on the suspect that they think that the ghost's clue is pointing towards.  And the non-ghost players (called "mediums" in this game) are allowed to (and encouraged to) communicate with one another.

Once all of the players have decided, they also have markers where they can indicate agreement or disagreement with other players' decisions. These tokens matter during the last phase of a game.

And then the ghost goes medium by medium and tells them "yes" or "no."  If it's a "yes," then the player advances to the next category.  If it's a "no," then they'll get to try again next turn.

But time ticks away.  The game only lasts for seven turns. If all of the mediums haven't assembled all of their sets by the end of that time, the game ends and everyone loses.  If they have, then players go to a final phase.

The ghost lays out each set for the players to see, and then looks at the cards they have in hand. The ghost is allowed three cards, one must point to the suspect, one to the location, and one to the weapon. Looking at the cards they have in hand, the ghost chooses one of the sets to be the actual culprit/location/item.

This is where the tokens for agreement and disagreement come into play.  The more correct tokens a player has played, the further they will have moved along a clairvoyance track. Also, mediums who assemble their full set early gain bonus points based on the number of turns remaining.

The ghost shuffles the three cards they have chosen, and flips the first one face-up.  Depending on how far they are along the clairvoyance track, some players are required to vote immediately for which set they feel is correct.  Then the ghost flips the second card up. Again, some mediums are required to vote.  Finally, the ghost flips the third card up. Any mediums who hadn't previously voted do so at this point.  At this point, it's a simple majority vote. The set which received the most votes from the Mediums is declared, and the ghost reveals whether the mediums are correct or not.  If they are, everyone wins.  If not, everyone loses.

The game has a couple of difficulty levels, which are adjusted in a couple of ways.  The first way to adjust difficulty is to increase the number of cards face-up in each category. If there are six players, having eight or nine or ten suspects can radically alter how difficult the job is for all involved.  The second adjustment to the difficult is that the ghost can limit the number of times they can discard their hand and re-draw a fresh hand of cards, because they may not have any good cards.

A lot of people on BoardGameGeek have suggested that you can play the game with Dixit cards instead of just the included cards. This will work, but you'd need to curate the batch of cards you're using to maintain the feel of the included cards. The art in both games is phenomenal, but Dixit cards have an optimism and brightness that is (deliberately) lacking in the Mysterium deck. The Mysterium cards are all gloomy and ominous, even when the color palette is a bit brighter.

All in all, I suspect that this game will see a lot of play on Wednesdays, as the group seemed as enthusiastic as I was when we played.

Update: This is apparently /r/boardgames' Game of the Week over on Reddit. A pure coincidence of timing, I assure you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Digital Versions

At GenCon, this year, one of the things Asmodee had in the booth was an area for the digital version of Splendor. At the time, it was available on iOS.  Now it's also on Android and Steam.

I have it on my Kindle Fire, and the app is solid. The art and gameplay are exactly like the tabletop game.  In fact, it's only missing two things: that wonderful tactility of the physical game and online multiplayer.

I also have Ticket To Ride, Summoner Wars, Catan, Carcassone, and several other games on my Fire. And they're all good implementations of the various games. But I'm one of those guys who likes bits. For me, part of the joy of Splendor is stacking and restacking my chips.

On the other hand, playing Catan without having to set up the board is nice.  Finishing Ticket to Ride and not having to re-score to make things didn't get missed during the game is awesome. Not having to count and add for Longest Route is very nice.

And then there's the player factor:

I love, for example, Lords of Xidit.  It's an often-overlooked gem. A great little game. But too many folks in my local group aren't fans, so I don't get to break it out very often.

But I can (and do) play it on, where it's not hard to find enthusiasts. I've (so far) only played it against some friends from Plus.  Folks I can't play in person with (unless they move to Seattle).

I don't buy games for the art.  I don't buy them for the rules. I buy them for the social interaction. Gaming is the only social interaction I actively seek out.

So I'll buy digital versions. I'll use them as personal tutorials. But - for me, at least - they fall far short of the actual physical games.

This week at Game Night, I'm bringing Mysterium.  It's practically Halloween, and I can't think of a more appropriate game to play.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

That Post-Essen Blitz

I didn't mention it this year, but Essen Game Fair was recent.  Even if I wasn't keeping track, I'd know based on the sheer number of new games suddenly appearing at the local game stores.

BoardGameGeek did their usual Essen Spiel Preview this year, and it was (and continues to be) a bit terrifying.  That's a 32-page GeekList of games that are debuting at the show.

Yes, a few of them showed up at GenCon in limited numbers, but now they're Widely Available.

Below are a few games you may have missed, and one you couldn't escape (and not all of them are Essen games).  As ever, I'm providing Amazon links to them, but I really would prefer that you support your local game store (if you have one).

Deus - This is not a new game for Essen.  Hell, it was a 2014 game that won a ton of awards. And it's good. Really good. It was even a Kennerspiel des Jahres Recommended game this year.  That's a big deal.

Discoveries: The Journals of Lewis and Clark - More and more, I'm learning that I like dice games. Especially if they do something interesting with the dice. This is a worker-placement game that uses dice as workers, and allows you to sabotage other players by recalling dice in your color from them.  It's cold, it's cruel, it's brilliant.

Starfighter - I talked about this game a lot at GenCon.  It's out, now.  This is the best two-player game I've played in a very long time. It's a combo-building game, but you need to be careful to make sure that your combos do something, otherwise your opponent will beat you.

Ultimate Warriorz - It's not the deepest game. It's not the most complicated game. To be honest, I might even be able to play this with my nephews! But it's fun. I work on a surprising number of games for Asmodee (surprising to them, too, I suspect). I don't request copies of everything I work on, either. I'm way behind on my Dixit expansions. I don't have any of the Timeline: Animals or Timeline: Dinosaurs or several other Timeline sets. Because - much as I like those games - I don't need more.  But this game is one I requested.  I think it surprised them when I did so, too.

Mysterium - You couldn't get away from this game if you're at all involved with Geek Social Media or blogs or podcasts.  This is the game that caused stampedes at GenCon this year and crazy lines. The game is sorta like Dixit meets Clue.  One player is using images to communicate with the other players in an attempt to solve a murder. There is quite literally nothing else like it on the market. If my shipment hits me in time, I'll be playing this at Game Night next week.

T.I.M.E. Stories - Oddly, I can't find the base game on Amazon, so that link takes you to the first expansion, The Marcy Case. This is the first "decksploration" game I've seen. It reminds me more than a little of Quantum Leap (the TV series) - players take the role of people who are jumping back in time to prevent paradoxes and the destruction of the universe.  It's sort of a choose-your-own adventure book with character skills and die rolls. And the game is structured so that you can put it away without losing your place.  Again: Nothing else like it on the market. And there are a bunch of expansions coming with a variety of themes. Zombie survival horror. High fantasy. Action. Adventure. Suspense.  I'm really looking forward to this one.

The Builders: Antiquity - I really liked The Builders: Middle Ages.  This one turns the complexity up just a hair. I can't wait to get it to the table.

7 Wonders Duel - A two-player only 7 Wonders game.  What's not to love? It's considerably different from the "main" 7 Wonders game - players are drafting tiles instead of cards, for example. And there's no passing back-and-forth in the draft. Players can only pick tiles that are available.  All-in-all, it's a completely different game with the same theme. This might knock Starfighter off of my "Favorite 2p Game of 2015" pedestal.  Maybe.  I'll find out soon enough.

Shakespeare - I'm a theater geek. And I'm married to a theater geek. I knew when I did a pass or two over the rules to this one that I was going to need to own it. Players need to higher the right actors and set dressers and costumers to put on the best possible plays. It's already drawing rave reviews, and most of the mention the strong theme.

As they trickle in and hit the table, I'll probably have more to say about these games.  I got a new toy for my camera, so expect photos, too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Character Flaws are Story Hooks

I'm sure you all know this, but I am a huge proponent of character-driven games. As a GM, I love it when the players start throwing ideas and hooks at me.

(Side note: I need to work on being better at this as a player)

Players contribute to the story in a number of ways, some of which are less obvious than others, and their first contribution for the vast majority of games is their character, because the characters are what the GM should structure the world around.

This is one of the ways in which I prefer characters who require construction.  Much as I have enjoyed all of the versions of Dungeons & Dragons over the years, it wasn't a system that was structured towards that sort of "GM and players telling a story" that I like. First and second editions were especially bad at that, because every fighter was (essentially) just like every other fighter.  The differences were all in your skills (and weapon proficiencies), but that was only as useful as your DM made it. And the difference between WP: Khopesh and WP: Broadsword only rarely came up.

I can't speak to fifth edition, however. I suspect that the "backgrounds" that it uses provide some of those story hooks which I so desperately crave as a DM.

But most games with constructed characters allow players to take advantages and disadvantages. You know. One eye. Cursed. True Love. Higher Calling.  Things that either constrain your character in some way so that you can get more points to boost your character somewhere else or that boost your character's abilities in some way.

Realistically, these are almost all story hooks. Even the advantages can provide good hooks for the GM to use.  Contacts and Allies? Who are they? Cursed? By whom and why? Dark Secret? What is it?

Skill selection can provide some of these story hooks, but often that requires deeper inquiry from the GM to the player.

As a player, I'm generally rotten about giving my GM good explicit hooks. I'll freely admit that. I'm a big fan of the amnesiac orphan characters in D&D-style games (which some GMs really appreciate and some really despise). 13th Age kept me from doing that via its backgrounds that invested me in a bit of worldbuilding (I'm pretty sure Wade is still shaking his head a bit at the presence of an Imperial Inquisition in his world).  But I really love interesting advantages and disadvantages.

As a GM, I love to see players like me when it comes to advantages and disadvantages, because it gives me ideas. Even players who aren't excited about a game can steer it quite a bit with their selections.

In my current Legend of the Five Rings game, for example, I have one player who didn't choose any advantages or disadvantages. He has one disadvantage, but it came from his clan's Heritage roll and not from his choice. As a GM, this has made it difficult for me to hang any kind of story off of that character.

With the Dungeons & Dragons game nearing its end (within a year or two, I suspect), there will almost certainly be another game spinning up to take its place. I need to be sure to give my GM as many plot hooks as I can ...

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Mystery Rummy

A few weeks ago, Steph and I went to WorldCon, which was in Spokane. While in the dealer's room, I spotted a booth (Uncle's Games) that had the Mystery Rummy series of games in stock.

Now, I'd asked Brian at Phoenix Games a few years back if he could get them, and they were (at the time) sadly out of print. So when I saw them, I immediately grabbed the first one (Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper). I took it back to the room, and Steph and I fumbled through a hand or two.

I was immediately hooked. It was a solidly fun game that built on the classic Rummy rules. But I still wasn't sure I wanted to grab the others.  So I grabbed the fifth one (Mystery Rummy: Escape from Alcatraz), took it back to the room, and read the rules. And - again - it was a solid game with rules that were different enough from the first one that it didn't feel like a rehash of the other game.  This told me that all five games were likely distinct from one another.

So I grabbed all five, and took them back to our usual Wednesday gathering.

Where they were (and continue to be) a hit.

And where I learned that they are back in print and are now readily available through distribution.

Each of the five games has at least one special tweak to the rules.  Jack the Ripper, for example, doesn't let you meld cards until a victim has been played.  Jekyl & Hyde restricts what you can meld depending on which aspect of the good Doctor is currently active. Escape from Alcatraz has action cards that trigger the first time anyone lays down cards every turn.

It leads to five games with similar rules and very different feels.

Some of them are two-player-only, some of them are 2-4 players. Jack the Ripper, for example, is playable with 2-4, but I don't recommend it with more than two. Escape from Alcatraz is good with three or four, but it's playable with two. 

You can get them for around $20 from your FLGS. If you're at all curious, I recommend picking one up and giving it a shot.  So far, Jack the Ripper is my favorite with two players and Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld is my favorite with four (but several folks in the group prefer Escape from Alcatraz with four).

Unrelated to the above: I brought one of my old computers out of retirement, so I'm not completely computerless while my laptop is being repaired (under warranty), so maybe my posting schedule won't be terribly affected ...

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Probable Posting Delays

I arrived home the other day to find that my laptop was dead. It's still under warranty, so it's being repaired, but it means I have less time in which to write for this blog.

It may not impact my posting, but it may cause delays or even missed weeks.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Gaming With Non-Gamers

A year and change ago, My 13th Age GM's wife joined us "for one session" as a birthday gift for our GM. She's a non-gamer, you see.

But she showed up for the next session.  And the session after that. In fact, she's become a regular member of the party. It's been really good having her in the group.

She's brought an energy to the table that I hadn't realized was lacking. An energy I haven't seen in a while.

An energy I wish I still had, actually.

Last session, we were stuck.  We could sacrifice a party member to achieve our goal, but that was something that most of the party wasn't especially willing to do.

The goal was (essentially) healing the forest. And her character was a ranger with a healing spell that she could cast as a ritual.  "Can I cast the spell to heal the forest?"

Cue GM blinking.

But it was a good idea.  One that none of the rest of us had even come close to thinking of.

The GM took a few seconds and laid out some conditions for us that made sense. Essentially, the party was not allowed to take any aggressive action for the amount of time it took her to cast the spell.

It worked.

Over the years, I haven't been able to game with non-gamers nearly as often as I would like. Because I love the ideas they have. I love the excitement they bring to the table. And I love their problem-solving.  When you don't know the rules, you don't know what limits they have.

Using a healing spell to heal a forest glade? Brilliant. None of the experienced gamers at the table thought of it. And, when she asked if it was possible, I know the skeptical look was on my face, and I saw it on at least one other face at the table.

GMs for new players have a few challenges that co-players don't have, too.  A GM needs to be rules-familiar enough to teach the new player what they're doing, but the GM also needs to be able to encourage creativity within the rules.

Tons of GM advice books encourage the GM to say "Yes," to players. That doesn't mean "break the rules."  It means "If the rules don't cover it, figure out how to make it work. Especially if it's cool."  If you screw a rule up, fix it between games.

Oddly, this doesn't just apply to a brand new gamer. It also applies to people learning a new system. In the L5R game I'm running, none of the players are hugely familar with the system. Three of them played an earlier edition, the rest are new. And we've had a few rules hiccups - I let a player use an inappropriate skill at one point, for example. The fact that skills can sometimes be used with different attributes is still throwing them a bit, too. But we're getting there.

Hell, I still struggle with the binary nature of the system - you succeed or your fail most of the rolls. There's no "margin of success" in the game. If you want greater effect from your roll, then you have to call a Raise before you make the roll. And that's tough even for us experienced guys.

But it does keep me looking forward to the next session.  And makes me think that I need to come up with something fun so that my GMs look forward to our next sessions more than they already do.

Oh - and Steph and I have started our annual Christmas Scheming.

Tonight is the Game Night Anniversary Potluck.  We'd love to see you there.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Game Night Anniversaries

On September 17, 2002, I had a couple of friends over to play this game I'd just acquired. Settlers of Catan.

We played three games that night. Andrew won the first one, I won the second one, and Andrew won the third one.

At the end of the evening, we all looked around, and said, "That was fun.  Can we do it again next week?"

Well the 25th didn't work, but the 26th did. So the second Game Night that I hosted was held on a Wednesday instead of a Tuesday.

And so was the third. And the fourth. And the fifth.

In fact, for the last 13 years, Game Night has been held on Wednesday almost every week. We've moved it for Christmas and New Year's Eve and a few other holidays, but we've been remarkably consistent.

A year or so later, we moved Game Night to Phoenix Games, because we'd more than outgrown my apartment. I don't care how many tables you have, 30 people in a two-bedroom apartment with furniture is going to be a squeeze. And my apartment complex had really bad parking.

And it's been a Phoenix ever since.

I've written in a few places about Game Night and what it's meant to me. Short answer? A lot.

When I stopped keeping track in 2005 or so, more than 300 different people had attended and more than 150 unique games had been played. Those numbers are much, much higher now.

In the last 13 years, the group has seen at least four weddings of group members: Steph and myself, Jim & Dawn, Derek & Serena (who met at game night), and John & Katie (who met in person at game night). And there are probably a few other weddings that I'm forgetting, because I do that. Several of the regulars have had kids. Too many have moved away.

We've grown and shrunk and grown again several times. For a bit, there was a Meetup for the group. It caused a surprising amount of growth.

On September 23rd, we'll be having our annual celebratory potluck, kicking off around five and running until ten or so.

If you've never attended before but are thinking about it, this is a great opportunity to get to know us. If you've been before but have stopped coming, this is a great chance to get re-acquainted with us (we've missed you).

Phoenix Games has recently moved to a new location. Their new address is:

Phoenix Games
9700 Harbour Place, #218
Mukilteo, WA  98275

We'd love to see you there.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Hugos

Wow, but these were a heaping load of controversy this year, weren't they?

Wired had one of the better-balanced articles I've read about the whole situation here.

A bit of background on my voting: I read as much of these as I could stomach. I am a subscriber to both Asimov's and Analog, so I read a fair number of Novellas, Novelettes, and Short Stories every year.

And, to my regret, I didn't get involved in the nomination process this year. That will change next year.

It's worth noting: You can look at how the votes (and nominations) broke down here (PDF link).

I thought I'd share how I voted, on the off chance anyone cares.

Best Novel
1) Ancillary Sword
2) The Goblin Emperor
3) The Three Body Problem
4) Skin Game
5) No Award
6) Dark Between The Stars

I really like Ancillary Sword. And the preceding book. I've pre-ordered the third book and fully expect to be nominating it for next year's Hugos. Unless it's a huge let-down.

I got through The Goblin Emperor.  There were long stretches of what felt like infodump that annoyed me, but not enough that I didn't find it worth reading.

The Three Body Problem was this year's winner. It was good, but slow. The author wasn't comfortable writing actions scenes, and it showed.

Skin Game is book 600 in the Dresden Files series.  Butcher is a solid writer (and is improving with every book), but I've stopped reading the series because of the Invulnerable Protagonist issue. It's the same reason I gave up on the Honor Harrington books.  And yes, I know.

I couldn't get through Dark Between the Stars. Which is odd, because normally I enjoy Kevin J. Anderson's writing.  I think this review nailed part of it:
Because the book had so many different plot threads and so many different narrators, I felt as though none of the characters reached their full potential. Every time I found myself getting interested in an individual’s narrative arc, I’d be swept away from them to spend half a dozen chapters on other plotlines I wasn’t as invested in.
 Best Novella
1) No Award

Yeah. I read these. I read all of them. And I didn't like a one of them. And it wasn't just as "It wasn't for me," situation. I actively disliked every one of these.

Best Novelette
1) No Award

Interestingly, I think "The Day The World Turned Upside Down" is the only non-Puppy book I voted below No Award. Because, much like the Best Novella category above, I hated these. I hated every one of these.

Best Short Story
1) No Award

See comments for the preceding two categories.  Bleah.  To be fair, there weren't any Short Stories that I read this year that made me really sit up and take notice.

Best Related Work
No Award

I did my damnedest to read these. I really did. I almost voted for Hot Equations because I've dealt with the author separately from the Hugos and he's a good guy. Not the sort to voluntarily and knowingly throw his lot in with a group trying to game a system for no clear personal gain. But I realized that this was not a good reason to vote for someone.

And I couldn't read most of these.  They were either terrible or impenetrable.

Best Graphic Story
1) Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery
2) Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal
3) No Award

Of the other three candidates, here, I found Saga ... okay.  Mediocre at best. Definitely not award-worthy.  I actively disliked Sex Criminals and The Zombie Nation.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
1) Captain America: the Winter Soldier
2) Edge of Tomorrow
3) The Lego Movie
4) Guardians of the Galaxy

I haven't seen Interstellar, so I can't comment on its quality (or lack thereof). This category is the only one where a Puppy nominee won - but the Puppies only had about 200 nominators. Guardians had 769 nominations. Even if you remove 200 from its nominations, it still would have been the most-nominated item in the category.  Second place (Interstellar) had 489 nominations.  So the Puppies didn't really have an impact in this category.

All that aside, I didn't really enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy as much as the rest of you seem to have. But Captain America: The Winter Soldier was fantastic.  Probably the best film I've seen in ... a long while.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
1) Orphan Black: "By Means Which Have Never Been Tried"
2) The Flash: "Pilot"
3) Doctor Who: "Listen"

This is the first year in a very long time that Doctor Who didn't win, and Orphan Black totally deserved it. I've always been a huge fan of the Flash, so when he got another TV series, I geeked out. And I've really loved the series.

Best Editor, Short Form
Did not vote. I'm not qualified to judge good editing vs. bad editing. Unless there are truly egregious errors in a work - but that's more a "worst editor" than a "best editor" thing.

Best Editor, Long Form
See previous category.

Professional Artist
1) Julie Dillon
2) Nick Greenwood
3) No Award

Carter Reid didn't put anything in the Hugo Packet, so I had nothing to judge his work on. I didn't like Kirk DouPonce's or Alan Pollack's art. They were too generic and same/same.

Best Semiprozine
Did not vote.  I didn't read any of them.

Best Fanzine
Did not vote. I didn't read any of them.

Best Fancast
I'm not a podcast listener.  Did not vote.

Best Fan Writer
Did not vote. I didn't read any of them.

Best Fan Artist
1) Elizabeth Leggett
2) No Award

It was almost No Award. I'm just not a fan of cartoony art, and most of this category was cartoony. Elizabeth Leggett's art was ... eh. But my standards are different for Fan Art than they are for Professional Art, so she squeaked by.

John W. Campbell Award
Wesley Chu

He's the only one I read, so he's the one I voted for. Because I really liked his writing. Note that I didn't vote No Award for the others. Not having read them, I can't judge their relative quality.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Ingress Postmortem

So I've written off-and-on about Ingress, a game I was able to get into the beta of a couple of years ago.  It's a game I have now walked away from.

I uninstalled it while in Spokane, and opted out of their data transfer.

Data Transfer?

See, as part of Google's "Alphabet" thing, they cut Niantic Labs loose. So, to keep your Ingress login, you needed to authorize a transfer of your personal data to the "new" Niantic Labs.

See, I know Google. I've been using Google for more than a decade, now.  Google isn't perfect, but I trust Google with a great deal of my personal information.

But small companies have this unfortunate habit of not surviving, and personal information entrusted to a business that doesn't survive is (often) up for grabs.

The fact that I was increasingly disillusioned with the game didn't hurt.  It was never a very good game. It was just something I could do when I was somewhere and had nothing to do. But I found myself growing frustrated.

A new player - to get anywhere in the game - needs to hook up with (ideally) a group of more experienced players. Because otherwise they will never get anywhere.

The game revolves around going to point of interest (called "portals" in the game) and claiming them for your side with Resonators. Or blowing up your opponents' resonators with XMP Bursters.

Here's the thing, though: Level One gear is basically useless against higher-level gear.  And new players right now are going to have a difficult time finding unclaimed portals.  So they can't (effectively) blow up opposing gear. And, unless opposing gear is blown up, they can't place resonators.

This means that Level One players have two ways to gain experience and level up:

1) Recharge friendly Resonators (which decay over time unless recharged).
2) Hack opposing portals.
3) Link friendly portals and create fields.

Recharging costs you personal energy, but gains you 10 AP per recharge. And it's boring.
Hacking opposing portals gains you 100 AP. And gives you gear.

You need 2500 AP to level up to Level 2.

Gear caps at Level 8, so the only benefit to getting to a level higher than that is more personal energy that could be used to recharge things. Players can get to Level 16, now (originally, they were also capped at Level 8).

Oh - and you can only hack opposing portals once every five minutes, and a maximum of four times per day (by default - there are ways to speed this up).

Linking portals to create fields is nice, but higher-level players tend to use up all of the available links on a portal. And you can't create a link through another link, so it's possible to be cut off with no possible links.

In theory, Level One players can also deploy portal mods to gain XP, but I so rarely saw portals with open slots because  higher-level players often took steps to protect their portals. Not only that, but at least one portal mod is pointless in urban areas, which is where most of the portals are.

XMPs are pointless until you are Level 4 or 5. Even then, you need to look for an already-weakened portal (or travel in a pack with a bunch of higher-level players) to take out any opposing resonators.

In other words: To get anywhere, you need to get together with higher-level players.

If I'm getting together with friends, walking around with my phone clicking on local points of interest is very low on my list of things to do. I'd much rather ... um ... talk to them. And it's hard to chat when your eyes are on your phone and you're trying not to walk into things (and people).

As an introvert, this very much was not a game for me.

There's not really a skill component, so the only way to get "good" (meaning "high level" in this case) is to grind. And the best way to grind is to live in an urban area with a lot of portals and then get together with people to walk around while staring at your phone.

I was Level 10. Almost to Level 11.  Out of 16. Most of my play was done while sitting in a parking lot waiting for my wife.

I realized that I could just spend that time reading a book. It'd be less-frustrating and more fulfilling.

So I quit. I uninstalled the game, I deleted my account, and I walked away.

There are people who like this game. There are people who will see leveling up as a challenge and something fun to do.

I'm just not one of them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Kickstarter Update

It's been a while since I did an overview post, so it's probably time.

Here's where I am on Kickstarter:

Riders: A Game About Cheating Doomsday - I received the PDF in July. The original delivery target was May. I call that "on time," honestly.  And I've barely started reading it, but I'm really enjoying it. This, by the way, is the second project from Caias that I've backed. Both of them are going to be done before Far West.

Feng Shui (2nd Edition): Received print while at GenCon. Dead on time.

Esteren: Occultism: PDF received.  Sounds like there are going to be some delays in printing, however.  I've been happy with the products received so far (their previous projects), and I'm willing to wait.

Grimtooth's Traps: PDF received.

World Wide Wrestling: Print and PDF both received. I'm very happy with it.

Mouse Guard: Swords & Strongholds: This board game arrived a week or so before GenCon. I like it. It's not crazy amazing, but it's solid. And fun.

Fantaji: PDF received 6/11/15. Some day, I'll read it. The print is about a year late, now, however.

Atlantis Theragraphica - Received in full.

Ryuutama: PDF received. This is the second project of Andy's that I've backed - again: Two projects done before Far West. And yes - the print version of this is late. But I have faith that it's going to be here.

Two Rooms and a Boom - Received. Played. Like.  Will have to write more about this one in the not-too-distant future.

Dragon Kings: Received. I haven't read it, yet, though.

Circle of Hands: Received. I spent a few minutes looking at it. I ... I tentatively like it.

A Bit Late
These are things I'm not too worried about, but are six months (or more) past due:

Mobile Frame Zero: Alpha Bandit: We just had an update on this the other day. It looks like print proofs are in the hands of the project creators.

TimeWatch - I like the GUMSHOE system, and I have faith in Pelgrane's ability to complete it.

Starting to Stress
Fae Nightmares: I have the PDF, but one of the project creators is apparently fighting some health issues right now. PDF received: 9/2/14.

Tales From The Floating Vagabond: I used to love this game, which is why I backed. Lee had an extended health scare and spent some time in a coma(!), so the delays are understandable. But I'm still worried (both on Lee's behalf and ... well ... because I want my stuff).

Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine: I'm waiting for my print copy. I received the PDF more than a year ago.

Alas, Vegas: I still have a draft PDF. James Wallis has a reputation for taking his sweet time to put product out, but I'm still getting anxious for this one.

Tunnels & Trolls: Print copies have begun shipping. I just haven't seen mine, yet. Nor have I received any sort of notification.

Stopped Caring / Written Off / Getting Angry
Synnibarr: This project has been a box of crazy.  I have my first (of three) PDFs. Nothing in print, yet. This is a project I backed for the LOLs anyhow, so I'm not too concerned because I honestly don't expect to ever receive my product. (Written Off)

The +5 Food of Eating Cookbook: She told us a long time ago that the print version was never happening.  And it probably won't. (Written Off)

Far West: This project passed its four year funding anniversary yesterday, and I requested a refund. When my request was rebuffed, I filed a complaint with the Washington State Attorney General's office.

Powerchords: This is almost a year older than Far West, but I'm ... I'm not angry. Probably because Satyros Phil Brucato has never failed to be polite to his backers. He's never failed to treat us with respect. And he's not given us a long string of broken release dates.  I do need to ping him to see if we can get a progress report, though.


And that's where my current Kickstarter status is.

I am backing zero open projects right now. Which is weird for me.

... and that's it for Kickstarter posts.  Next week: I ... don't know.  I have a couple of half-written posts about ready to go.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

By the Time You Read This Post

... I'll be gone.

To WorldCon, that is.

Between the post-GenCon cooldown and the WorldCon spin-up, I've had precious little time to sit in front of a keyboard to write about games.

I plan to do some writing this weekend (while skipping parts of the Con), so normal service to resume ... shortly.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Race, Gender, and GenCon

This post is flawed.  Even before I start typing from my notes, I can tell you already: This post is flawed.  And I can't see the flaw, either.  But I can tell you why it's flawed.

It's flawed because it's being written from a position of privilege.  I'm a white male.

But I'm going to try to get it as correct as possible.

It's been a rough year for race relations in the US. It's also not been a good year for gender politics.  Police shootings and associated protests. GamerGate. And more. There are a thousand incidents every day that don't make the news because we dismiss them as being too minor or unimportant.

I've been demoing games at GenCon for eleven years, now, and I've seen a ton of change in that time. A ton. When my wife started attending (and demoing games), I started paying attention. And I kept paying attention.

Have I mentioned that my wife is a non-White woman? Or that she's amazing and awesome?

I've heard apocryphal stories of GenCon in the eighties and early nineties. I wasn't there. I didn't see it.  I'm told that the release of the first edition of Vampire: The Masquerade heralded a huge change in the gender balance of the convention (to wit: Women started appearing in numbers instead of being very rare at the show). But - even in 2007 when Steph started demoing - there were still gamers who didn't listen to her. They wanted to talk to "the rules guy."

She went to KublaCon one year and spent most of the show demoing Dungeon Twister: Forces of Darkness, and had similar responses from the people learning the game. She called me every night to make sure some of the rules calls she'd made had been accurate - and they were. To this day, I think she's probably better at that set than I am, even if she dislikes it.

Over the years, fewer and fewer people have refused to listen to her. More and more folks have come to the realization that women can (and do) know rules every bit as well as their male counterparts.

Things are changing.

Not fast enough, mind you, but they are changing.

This year, I noticed more non-white attendees that I'd seen before, both as attendees and as exhibitors. It's not perfect, but - again - the numbers are shifting. I know the convention itself has policies about hate speech and discrimination, but that won't necessarily change individual behaviors. But those behaviors are (slowly) changing for the better.  Even in Indiana.

It was interesting to me to notice the staff elsewhere. Not in the booths - I'm talking here about the convention center staff and the waitstaff and kitchen staff and the like outside the convention hall. Nearly all of the fast food employees near the convention center were non-white - unless you needed a manager or a supervisor. The nicer the restaurant you went to, the more likely you are to have a white server.

Interestingly, between the time I wrote this and the time the post went live, Anna Kreider had some similar observations (and her post is almost certainly less-flawed than mine).  You should definitely give her post (and her blog) a read when you have the time.

But the point remains:

We have a long ways to go. Progress is being made, but that is not an excuse to stop pushing.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Familiar Faces

There were so many highlights this year.

Every year, I get to see people that I only get to see here.

And I rarely mention all of them here - and I should.

Outside of the folks I consider the core Asmodee crew (Carol, Ruby, Choukri, Jules, Christophe, and Stefan), I also get to see folks from Ludonaute and Matagot and a couple of other partner publishers.

Most years, I actually get to spend time with them. Not a ton, mind you, but some.

Hicham (who is from Matagot), for example, taught me to play Cyclades the year before it released, and I look forward to seeing him every year. Not just because I enjoy Matagot's games, either (and believe me: I do). Hicham is an incredibly nice person, and he's filled Matagot with awesome folks who I enjoy working with. But I barely exchanged two sentences with him this year.

Likewise much of the rest of the team. CROC greeted me warmly and shook my hand, but that was about the extent of our interaction.

I almost wish GenCon ran longer so I had more time to actually interact with some of these folks. Or maybe a post-show social event ...

And that's not including some of the regular attendees who I look forward to seeing every year. Like "the kids." They're three people who have been coming to us for demos since _Senji_ was the big new release. They were terrible brats back then, but they've grown into some of my favorite people to deal with.  Or Bill, who got me hooked on The Duke. Or Todd and Chris, who are local and stop by every year to say hi. Or any of the dozens and dozens of folks whose faces I recognized but whose names escaped me ...

Or the press folks like David Miller of, with whom I close out the show every year. Or Giancarlo (who is all too easy to overlook).

It was a very good year, but tonight I'm very much looking forward to sleeping in my own bed and seeing my kitties.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm taking this week off from the blog. I'll be back next week with my usual dose of content.

I'll see you then.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

What? No Post Yesterday?

Got back to the room crazy-late.

Shot some video (with my phone) of the exhibit hall doors opening to the public.  Much crazy ensued.

I'll upload that video when we get home.  Too tired/incoherent right now.

Asmodee's Demo Team continues to be the best in the business. I'm hearing scattered reports that other (single game) booths have team members who don't know the games they are selling.

Seriously?  Who does that?

Either way: We are awesome.

One more day.  Then teardown tonight and a team dinner. And then we all go our separate ways. Until next year.

I hope most (if not all) of this year's team is back next year.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Day Two

Still here.  Still alive.  Still loving it.

I was right about Metal Adventures, I think.  It's not a bad game, but it has a narrow target audience and it's a difficult game to demo because there are a ton of things you need to explain before game start.

Starfighter continues to be (IMHO) the best game in the booth.

Met a handful more people in person for the first time.

Acquired Chill (the new one), some dice, and a bunch of t-shirts.

And one can of real Canadian Maple Syrup. And one jar of Bacon Marmalade. Now, if only I had some decent pierogies to put the marmalade on ...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Day One: Survived

I demoed Starfighter all day.  The game is better than I had expected, and I had been really looking forward to it.  It's a game that received little or no fanfare or buzz - but which needs some. It's phenomenal. No-one that I demoed it to seemed to dislike it.

The team is better than I'd expected, too. More organized, just to start with.  The choices they made as team leads were good ones. Pete and Liz and Alex are all really awesome people.

There was some PR event this afternoon, so all of the teams were running a tiny bit short-handed, but you really couldn't tell. No PR tomorrow, so we should be at or near full strength all day.

As expected, Mysterium sold out.  Well, today's batch of it did.  They are doing one batch per day on Friday and Saturday, as well. It will almost certainly sell out.

Discoveries sold out, too, which I think caught everyone off-guard.  It's a dice game themed around the Lewis and Clark expedition. I've read the rulebook, but not had a chance to take it for a spin, yet.

I saw David Miller of Purple Pawn today. Chatted for a few minutes (which was all either of us had). I also met Tim Norris of Grey Elephant Gaming. He seemed to enjoy Starfighter.

This is the first GenCon since Asmodee bought Days of Wonder last year. The DoW games have been smoothly integrated into the booth. I realized that there aren't many Asmodee games in the booth.  It's nearly all Asmodee partners - Ludonaute, Matagot, Repos, Queen, Ystari, and so on.

The booth is huge. And it didn't click with me just how huge until after the show had started and the stampede began.

Barony was in the booth right behind me.  Demos for it seemed to go well.

And now, I need to go track down some food.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Day Zero: Complete

The booth is set up.

My head is packed with game rules.

My stomach is full of PF Chang's (because we had a gift card and there is no way we are going to suffer through the hour or more's wait we can expect tomorrow).

I had three Random Encounters with people I know in the convention center. +Erik Jensen+ASH LAW, and +Wolfgang Baur.  One of those three is not extended-local to me when at home.

Tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM, the VIGs are let loose upon the exhibit hall. An hour after that, all the Hounds of Hell the rest of GenCon's attendees are allowed in.

It's going to be a ton of fun.

A ton of work, yes, but also a ton of fun.

I look forward to this moment every year.

Mostly Done

Setup is mostly done. My part is done.

Time for about fifteen showers and 10,000 mg of Ibuprofen followed by alcohol and/or dinner before being on location by 7:45ish tomorrow morning.

Big team this year. Enthusiastic team. There are people I'll miss from previous years, but this team has as much (if not more) potential for greatness as last year's team did. And last year's team was phenomenal.


They never turn the AC on for setup.

We all look about like this.

Game of the Year

Before I get too deep into this, let me remind you that my Game of the Year isn't necessarily the best game I played that year. It's not necessarily the deepest or the simplest or the zaniest. It's the game that, when I'm getting read for GenCon, I look back on and say, "I can't wait to get home and play that some more."

It was a tough decision this year - there were some really good early front-runners and some really good games that appeared late in the year.  In fact, this is one of the best years for games I've seen in a long while.

This year, the winner is the game that best filled an odd gap in my collection.

This year, Nations: The Dice Game best fit the needs of my regular Wednesday group.

It scales well from 2-4, takes a surprisingly short amount of time to play, is easy to learn, and everyone seems to like it.

It's not the deepest game in my library - but it's a LONG ways from being the shallowest, because there are decisions that need to be made and they're not all as easy as you'd expect given its ten-twenty minute play time.

The rules are straightforward with no edge cases that we've been able to find so far.

There are multiple paths to victory, and most of the die colors emphasize two of these paths.

Dice - for the record hate me.

Like crazy a lot.

But these dice?

Well, I don't win very often, but I've only felt screwed due to die rolls once. Most of my losses, I can point at decisions I made. "I should have drafted [Tile] instead of [Tile], so that [Player] didn't have a shot at it." And the like.

All in all, this game was a pleasant surprise - especially when compared to its (much) heavier older brother, Nations (which is phenomenal, but not nearly as fast or easy).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

GenCon: The Plan

So here's what'll be going on in this space next week:

Wednesday - Setup day. At the usual time, I'll post about my Game of the Year. That evening, I may have something to say about setup or the team.

Thursday - Day one.  I'll post as often as I can during the day via my phone, with a (probable) longer post in the evening to wrap up my impressions.

Friday and Saturday - I'll try to keep the same basic schedule as Thursday, but these days are busier.

Sunday - On Sunday, the exhibit hall closes earlier, but then we get into teardown, so don't expect much from me until late, when I will post my overall impressions of the show.


Next Wednesday - Nothing. I'm taking a week off.

This year, the Asmodee crew is huge.  As in "Roughly 50 people," huge. And I don't know even a fraction of everyone there. Most of last year's truly excellent crew have signed on for another year, and we have a few new faces as well.

I'll admit that there are a few faces I'll be missing from the last year or two, but change is inevitable.

They also posted a (very brief) preview of some of the games and events we'll have in the booth over on Facebook.

From the look of things, this will be the best-organized GenCon for me so far. Of course, I've said that every year - Asmodee's management team has been slowly adjusting things just a little bit more every year.

With as many people as we have, it needs to be the most-organized ever.

I. Can't. Wait.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Game of the Year Front-Runners

GenCon is a few weeks early this year, which has thrown me off schedule-wise.

As long-time readers know, every year, I crown "Gamethyme's Game of the Year" for the best (for me) new-to-me game played since the start of the previous year's GenCon. Note that these are not all "new" games of the last year - they're just games that I had somehow managed to not encounter previously.

Some years, there is a clear (and easy) winner.

This year will be a bit trickier. Here are the games I consider the front-runners:

Star Realms. A small-box deckbuilder that I've played a ton of via their app. I think that it's a bit too random, but my regular defeats (and all-too-rare victories) tell me that there is definitely a skill component in play here,

Hyperborea. A "bag-builder" with a conquest theme that seems to be trying to bridge the gap between Euro-style games and American-style games. I liked it a lot, but it takes just a hair too long for my regular Wednesday group to bring it to the table very often. It also feels like the game often ends just as your "engine" is getting started.

Machi Koro. Another engine-building game. That seems to be A Thing with the games I've played this year. You know how we tend to describe games in terms of other games? This one reminds me of "Strategy Craps." Solid knowledge of probability will definitely help players at this one, which is very random in the early game. Mid-game and late-game, however, that randomness flattens out.

Witness. Speaking of describing games in terms of other games: This game is really good, even if it is "Logic Problem Telephone." Each test provides a puzzle that must be solved by passing information to other players verbally, without writing anything down.  The first few cases do a great job of teaching how to play, but some of the later cases are crazy-hard. This is not an easy game, despite the simplicity of the rules.

Cutthroat Caverns. How had I missed this for so long? I'm a sucker for a good semi-cooperative game, which this very much is. Players need to work together to beat the monsters, but they also want to be sure to be the one to get that last hit in so that they can claim the glory for having killed it. There's a fair amount of trash-talk and screw-your-neighbor in this, both of which I love in a game. And there are multiple expansions which shake it up without screwing it up.

Nations: The Dice Game. I'm always looking for a game that's fast. And this definitely fits the bill. In fact, it's fast enough that I'd throw it into the "Filler" category time-wise. But there is some meat in there, and there are decisions to be made that do impact play. And a two-player game takes just over ten minutes.  What's not to like?

Now it's possible that something else will hit the table in the next two weeks that will knock these off of my "best games so far" list, but it's probable that one of these will wind up being my Game of the Year (which will be announced in two weeks).

Also on the list but just barely shy of this short list:

Argent; The Consortium, Council of Verona, and Ca$h 'n Gun$ 2nd Edition. In nearly any other year, I suspect that these would have made my short list, but this year has been filled with really good games.  Argent takes up just a bit too much table space to be a regular game on Wednesdays,  Council of Verona is fun. It's solid. I don't crave it.  And Ca$h 'n Guns requires the right crowd for me. There are people that I just can't play this game with, either because they're too random as players or because they don't grasp that there is a ton of strategy in this game.

The winner will be announced in two weeks, while I'm in Indianapolis.

Like previous years, I'll be trying to post my GenCon impressions in the evenings.  There will be nearly fifty of us there this year in three different demo areas, so that'll be interesting.

I can't wait, and I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Old Favorites

Short post today - prepping for a business trip. Next week may be similarly short.

I'll admit it: I'm a member of the Cult of the New.  New Game! Wooo!

This means that dozens and dozens of really good games unfortunately spend time sitting on my shelf instead of being played.  This is a real shame.

So I'm going to be spending the next few weeks playing "older" games that have been idle on my shelf instead of new things.

Partly because I need to get back into the teaching rhythm for GenCon (which is crazy-early this year), and a game I know backwards and forwards is ideal for that.

And partly because I do so love so many of these games.

And I haven't played Acquire since 2011! I should definitely remedy that ...

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Obsidian Portal

The more I use Obsidian Portal, the more potential I see in it.

I'm using it for my L5R game that (finally) got started last weekend, and we're going to have a sizable gap between sessions, because July isn't looking so good (sorry, guys).  And August is 100% up in the air.

I have a notoriously bad memory, but Obsidian Portal lets me hide pages (or parts of pages) from the players. And what I'm choosing to hide is reminders and suggestions.

For example, Session One has the events from this session. And the players can comment and add more info (and add poetry, because even bad poetry is usually a good thing). But if you scroll down, there's something you won't see, there. And neither will my players.  Because every single page on Obsidian Portal has a "GM Only" section which only that game's GM (or GMs) can see. So I've been stashing notes for the next session in there - planned events, characters I hope to introduce, and so on.

Most pages also have a "Player Secret" section, where I can choose players and allow them (and only them) to see that secret. In fact, I can use multiple Player Secret sections and share different secrets (or disinformation) in each one. It's really cool. Players also have the ability to add secrets - and they can decide who (other than themselves) can see these secrets.

There are games where player secrets are more important than others. This isn't one of them - but I can see this sort of thing working really well for a Paranoia game. Or some espionage-themed games. Or games where the PCs are rivals as well as a team (Smallville springs immediately to mind as a possibility for this ... ).