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 ...