Wednesday, July 26, 2017

That Light Bulb Moment

I know I've talked in the past about "that light-bulb moment" that I get to see with some games. Mr. Jack is the one where it's most common.

What I haven't mentioned is how rarely I get to have those moments about myself.

See, I know what I like in a game, and what to look for. Most of the time, I can tell from a rulebook whether I'm going to like a board game or not, based on the elements in play.

For example, I love auction games.

But I'm not very good at trading and diplomacy. Part of that is because my circle of friends just assumes that I'm going to backstab, because I'm the experienced player, here, right?  Part of it is because people assume I'm really good at these games, and so they trade more harshly with me than they do with other players. And a not-small part of it is because I'm an extreme introvert. Trading games are exhausting, because of the amount (and type) of interaction with other players that they require.

A few weeks ago, I was playing Mega Civilization again. My on-board play was good. I had (mostly) non-aggressive neighbors, and I was able to support my cities. But I wasn't getting any traction. I wasn't going anywhere (I wound up in twelfth place out of eighteen players - and that was an improvement over the previous game).

The folks there were (mostly) friends that I'd gamed with at Phoenix. Folks I don't see very often, anymore.  Between turns, I would retreat to a quiet corner (or a separate room), because 17 people is an exhausting number to interact with. My friends know me, and they approached me in ones and twos to just chat during down time. Because they apparently miss me, too. It was a good time.

But I was complaining to one friend about how poorly I was doing. "I'm doing everything well but trading ... " and I trailed off mid-sentence.

Because the heart of that game is all about trading.  You can be perfect on the board, but if you don't trade well, you won't be able to afford any civilization advances. Or, more accurately, it'll be forever before you can afford the advances.  You can have passive neighbors and plenty of room in which to grow, but if you don't trade, you aren't going to win that game.

I traded decently well, but I'd do one or two trades, and then I was done.  A room full of people shouting, "Looking for Ore!" or "I have Wine!" is just draining.

But now that I've had that moment, I think I'm now better-prepared for next time. I need to grit my teeth and just trade.

And it'll probably make all the difference in the world for my score.  Provided people trust me enough to trade with me.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


While playing a game a few weeks ago, discussion came up of one of my old favorite games, Snit's Revenge.  "Oh," I said, "That was one of my favorite Tom Wham games!"  Because it is.

Way back when I started this blog, I challenged folks to list game designers for some of their favorite games. And it was a challenge.  For many folks, it still is.

Tom Wham was the first designer whose name I recognized.  My friend Steve introduced me to his games with The Awful Green Things from Outer Space, which has been printed and reprinted and reprinted so many times ... but it's a great game.

The first Tom Wham game I ever owned was The Great Khan Game. It, sadly, has gone out of print and is unlikely to see print again anytime soon.

Tom Wham has a very clear signature art style (he did the art for most - or all - of his games). It's light, it's goofy, it's silly, and it's just fun.  The game itself was inevitably entertaining. Not always well-balanced or great, but playable and fun. I knew that when I saw his art on a game, I was going to enjoy playing it.

I think that Tom Wham did more to get me into game stores than anyone else. I bought a ton of Dragon magazines hoping for a Tom Wham Centerfold Game, and those are what got me hooked on Dungeons & Dragons.

My path into hobby gaming started with a playground D&D game. I dabbled, but didn't play much. Then in Jr. High, my friend Steve introduced me to Tom Wham's games at about the same time my friend Anna introduced me to Axis and Allies.  Steve also introduced me to Talisman and FASA's Star Trek RPG. Not much later, Zach introduced me to Illuminati.

Once I hit high school, I went to Strategic Games Club, expecting more Axis and Allies and Risk and the like. Instead, I played Gamma World and Shadowrun and (yes) Rifts.

If you'd asked me when I was in the midst of all of that, I would not have been able to name any game designers or RPG authors (including Gygax) other than Tom Wham. His games were that distinctive, and made that much of an impact on me.

So it's probably weird that I only (currently) own The Great Khan Game and Dragon Lairds.


I should fix that.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


I'm not a big fan of ENWorld. Never have been, really. I'm not a fan of the board culture. It's not a toxic cesspit like other forums I've visited - it's just not for me.

That said, however I do pay attention to the ENnies, because usually, they reward decent things. And, flawed though it is, it is the most relevant award in the RPG end of the hobby gaming pool. Although the Origins awards keep trying to course-correct, and I think they'll eventually get there again.

The ENnie nominees were announced early last week, and I wanted to take a quick post to highlight a few things in there, because there are some really good things in there. And some interesting gaps.

Let's talk about the gaps first. You can see a complete list of everything nominated right here.  The process for the ENnies is this:  Creators (publishers, bloggers, whatever) submit to a jury, who narrows it down to a Top Five in each category (other than Product of the Year). Then the general public votes on a winner.

Things that are underrepresented on their list:
  • Wizards of the Coast, with one short list nominee (out of four products submitted).
  • Paizo with ... one short list nominee (out of ten products submitted).
These are shocking to me, especially given ENWorld's history as a d20 forum.

Things that are overrepresented on the list:
  •  Lamentations of the Flame Princess has four different products on the list (spread across seven categories).
Sorry, guys, I just don't understand the love.  I have the game, I have a few supplements. It's not a bad game, but I don't find it great, either. It's like ENWorld: Just not for me.

Also, this being ENWorld, LotFP is likely to win in most (if not all) of the categories where it's nominated. Not because it's the best product in each category, but because the publisher (and writers) are really good at motivating their fans to vote.

So let's go through a few categories. I'm going to ignore categories where I haven't seen or read enough to make an informed guess or have an opinion. 

Because you all care what I think, right?

Best Aid/Accessory
We have the 13th Age Icon Tokens. They're really neat and very well-done.  The Kobold Guide series of books has, without exception, been fantastic. Midnight Syndicate appears to have created a great album for a terrible board game. The Call of Cthulhu GM Screen is a beautiful thing. And I haven't seen the pirate coins.

This category is a weird one, because it's props and atmosphere enhancers mixed with tools. The Keeper's Screen is the most useful item at the table. The Kobold Guide is the most useful item away from the table. The others are - like I said - atmosphere items (although the Icon Tokens do have an at-the-table use).  I'm going to vote for the Kobold Guide, personally, but I expect the Call of Cthulhu GM screen to win.

Best Art, Cover
These are all great examples of cover art, but Blue Rose definitely has my vote.

Best Art, Interior
I actually bought into Polaris because of the art from earlier (French-language) editions. And I was disappointed by the system, so there's that.  

The Baby Bestiary series has been absolutely amazing, and Andreas is a really cool guy. I've flipped through the others on the list, and they're good, too. There is no bad choice in this category, but there's also no standout choice.

When all other things are more-or-less equal, I always vote in favor of things that support people I like, so the Baby Bestiary has my vote here.  And I think it has a good chance of winning overall.

Best Game
Tales from the Loop looks really awesome. 7th Sea is very good (and is playable). Timewatch is both the GUMSHOE system (which I love) and is a nostagia kick, as it reminds me a lot of the Time Wars series by Simon Hawke that I read when I was a kid). Bubblegumshoe is GUMSHOE Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys/Scooby Doo. It's a simplified take that you can play with kids.

I suspect that Bubblegumshoe will win Best Family Game, and isn't likely to win this one as well. I'm voting for 7th Sea, and I suspect that it'll be the eventual winner. 

Best Rules
This is a crazy-diverse category. I'm likely to vote for Bubblegumshoe, here. But Veins of the Earth is probably going to win. 

Best Setting
Tales from the Loop looks fascinating, and I've read a lot of stuff about the setting (but I haven't ordered it, yet).  Numenera was ... okay. It didn't push any buttons for me that the classic Dark Sun setting hadn't pushed for me two decades ago (Its sister game, The Strange, struck me as being much like Planescape).  Atlas of Earth-Prime is a superhero setting, and those are always a tough sell for me. The Dark Eye is the German game that fills the same local niche as D&D does here. It always struck me as a bog-standard fantasy setting with the darkness turned up a few degrees.  Polaris is a post-apocalyptic undersea game. It was innovative when the setting was newer - twenty years ago. These days, it's almost a by-the-numbers setting. It's only hitting awareness now because it's only just been translated into English following a Kickstarter.

I may not vote in this category, but I'm guessing Tales from the Loop is going to win this one.

Best Writing
I'm a sucker for Unknown Armies. I love The Book of Changing Years. The One Ring has consistently been excellent. But neither has a patch on UA for me. The third edition steered further away from "Modern Urban Fantasy with Horror Trappings" and into "Modern Urban Horror with Fantasy Trappings." Honestly, it's a very subtle steering, but it's done so very well.

But there's LotFP product in this category, so the probable winner is clear.

... and that's my thoughts on the short list.

As to my thoughts on the award as a whole?  

I think it's backwards. I think that the general public should narrow down the short list and an anonymous jury (as impartial a jury as possible) should pick the winners. The ideal jury will include publishers, distributors, writers, artists, designers, and at least one fan. That reduces the "I have a lot of fans that I can motivate into voting" problem.

There is no such thing as a perfect award. "Good" games are not always successful games. It's like the movies. Avengers: Age of Ultron made a pile of money, but it clearly didn't win (or deserve) the Oscar for Best Picture.

The Diana Jones Award frequently comes close to perfect, but there is only one winner, so it's not a great measuring stick for outsiders to use to see what's new and good (and/or hot). And I'll be shocked if GenCon doesn't win this year.

The Origins Awards are trying. They're now basically a juried award, but they also give out "people's choice" awards for the products that are most popular among the congoers. That kind of split is, I think good. Separate "We're in the industry and we like this product" and "I play games and I like this product" awards is more work for the award team, but (IMHO) worth it in the long run.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Origins: The Show

Despite the nightmare that flying to Ohio seems to be, we did eventually reach Columbus.  Jason Paul McCartan of Infinibadger Press was waiting in the airport for us - some of you may recall that he and I are engaged in a #PonyWar of exceeding viciousness.

This was the first time we'd met in person, and he'd driven to the airport multiple times over the preceding two days expecting to pick us up.

When we piled into the car with our stuff, we found a crocheted pony waiting for us. Apparently the Badger's wife decided that she wanted to be a party to the #PonyWar, too.

Steph and I were delivered safely to our hotel, and we thanked Badger several times. "It's no big deal," he told us, "You're family."

We heard that a lot over the weekend from a number of folks.

Thursday morning, we hit the exhibit hall fairly early.  The usual plan is "Do one pass without spending money and then go back later to spend."  And we mostly stuck to it.  We went back to the room and talked about every purchase we made at the entire show.

We ran into Stephan Brissaud pretty early - he's the VP of GAMA, and is the guy in charge of Iello US. He's also someone I worked with when he was with Asmodee (in fact, he's the one who first asked me to join their demo team).

We knew CMON was at the show, but we didn't see them in the exhibit hall, which confused us.  We later went back and found them in the gaming area next door.  It was Pete and Ruby and a ton of the Asmodee Demo Team in that booth.  They were all glad to see us. "You're part of the family," we were told several times.

I played Gekido: Bot Battles, and enjoyed it enough to pick it up. It's not a deep game, but it's fun. It's too long to be filler, but it's a decent enough warm up / cool down game. There are a few unexplained timing issues in the rulebook, but I expect CMON will publish a FAQ soon enough.

Pete co-designed a game with Richard Launius that I knew was going to be available at the show, so I asked him where to get it. "I'll show you," he said, and walked Steph and I over to the Indie Boards & Cards booth.  There were only a few games in the booth, but I looked straight at Pete and asked him which game was his.

I managed to keep a straight face, too, so it took him a minute before he realized I was pulling his leg.  The look on his face was priceless.  I later got him to sign my copy.

Steph and I got a sneak peek at the upcoming Cutthroat Caverns expansion. Cutthroat Caverns is one of those excellent games that I don't get to play very often. Everyone has to work together to overcome the obstacles, but only one player gets to win the game. It's very Republic of Rome or Castle Panic in that respect. The new expansion looks meaty and flavorful and awesome.

I walked past the Asmodee area a couple of times. It was really weird, because I didn't recognize a single person there. Not one. The crew were wearing a mix of uniforms - some were Asmodee shirts from years past, and some were wearing Fantasy Flight Games' "Flight Crew" shirts. But it wasn't uniform, and it (sadly) looked sloppy.

While wandering the hall, I kept getting stopped by people, too. "Hey, Eric," I'd hear, "You taught us to play [GAME] a few years ago, and you recommended [OTHER GAME], and we loved it. What are you teaching this year? Any new suggestions?"  Random people who I only vaguely recognized, because when you run 200 demos at a show, there is almost no way you will remember all of the faces.

I also demoed Rise of Tribes. It was decent enough, but I wasn't sure so I took Steph back the next day to check it out and she liked it enough to back. They'll be funding the day after this post is scheduled to go live, so if you're thinking about backing, look quickly.

"Kickstarter," is another of those words I heard a ton at the show.  "We just funded on Kickstarter," or "We're launching the Kickstarter for this shortly," or "The Kickstarter is live now," or (in a few cases), "We're currently fulfilling our Kickstarter for it, with retail copies hitting distribution shortly."

The number one question, by the way, that we asked at every booth was, "Are you in distribution?" Because getting books and games home from a show can be a huge pain, and we'd rather pay a bit more and support our Friendly Local Game Store.  If they were in distribution, we usually grabbed a business card and moved on.

I also demoed The Supershow. This game was not for me. I figured that out a few turns in, but gave it a full game just to make sure. It's because the game was so random. It's theoretically possible for one player to never get a turn.  Unlikely, but possible. And dice hate me.

Thursday evening, I went out for drinks with the Badger and discovered that I like Scottish Ale. Since I'm not a fan of beer in general, this is a useful thing to know.

Friday was more of the same, only we ran into Carol (formerly of Asmodee, now with CMON). Her face lit up and she gave us both big hugs.  She almost didn't recognize me initially, but she definitely recognized Steph.  Later in the booth, she introduced us to a few of the new people, and added, "They're part of the family."

I almost wanted to grab a CMON shirt and start working then and there, because it's a weird thing not having a set schedule at a con.

Steph and I demoed Onitama, which put it on my list to get eventually. It'd be higher on the list, but Steph beat me pretty quickly. It also has an expansion out now.  It was a surprisingly-deep game given how fast it was to teach and play.

I'd been meaning to check out Dropzone Commander since our booth was across the aisle from theirs at GenCon a few years ago, so I got a chance to sit down and play a demo.  The game has a lot going for it, but it was just a bit too fiddly for me. I definitely understand all the love it gets, though. The role specialization of each unit means that larger armies than the starter box will be significantly more interesting to play, but since no-one locally plays it, I'd need to buy whatever armies I wanted to play with or against. Or convince a friend to buy in, but that gets expensive for them, too.

That's how the whole weekend went, honestly.  On Sunday, the CMON crew invited us to join them for dinner, but Steph was asleep and I was pretty peopled out. Otherwise we absolutely would have joined in because they are family.

Over the course of the show, five different publishers/teams asked if we'd be interested in joining their demo team for GenCon or PAX Unplugged or even next year's Origins. Or other shows.  Apparently we have a rep of some sort. I almost want to eBay our services, just to see what kind of attention we can get (probably not much - getting approval to bid on eBay through your corporate office is not an easy thing to do).

On Monday, Badger picked us up and we headed to Bob Evans for lunch.  He'd been raving about it for a while, and we don't have them locally.  It was good, but I don't like it as well as he does.  It's like a cross between Shari's and IHOP.

After lunch, we headed to the airport for the trip home.

While on the way there, Steph's phone rang.  Our flight had been delayed.  When we reached the airport, we learned that it'd been delayed enough that we were going to miss our connection in Minneapolis, so we needed to be rebooked.

"I don't know what I can do," said the gate agent, "Because this is a United ticket."  We were booked to fly Delta.  Apparently when we bought the tickets, United sold us tickets on a Delta flight.

I don't know if I mentioned it in our last travel post, but we booked First Class, because I had never flown First Class before. I wanted to know what it was like.

After a bit of hemming and hawing and calling a supervisor, he got us rebooked to fly through Detroit instead on a flight that was supposed to be boarding right away.  So we grabbed our tickets and got through security as quickly as we could.  We got to the gate and discovered that the flight had been delayed.  In fact, that flight had originally been scheduled to leave before 11:00 that morning. It was now 3:00 pm.

Suddenly, we were in danger of missing our connection in Detroit.

But we got free (room-temperature) soda, water, and snacks.

After about 40 minutes, we were able to board. There were only five passengers going to Detroit at that point, everyone else having rebooked.  Spell check, by the way, hates the word "rebook," and it's very distracting.

Steph and I got off the plane and rushed to make our connection. I know I haven't mentioned this before, but Steph uses a cane to get around sometimes. Monday was one of those days. We got to the correct gate as they were about to start boarding. And ... we lost our First Class status, but we got onto the plane. We were going to be home a few hours ahead of our original schedule, so it was a mixed bag.

This sums up my thoughts pretty well:

We got home and just collapsed. It was an exhausting day, and an exhausting trip altogether.

A decade ago, I told someone "Origins is where you go to play games, GenCon is where you go to buy them."  And I stand by that statement.  There were no RPG dealers in the exhibit hall. There were RPG Publishers, but the shops that were there were all minis and board game shops.  In fact, it was impossible to buy D&D books at the show (despite an official presence there). It's probably for the best, otherwise one of the Badger's children would now own Tails of Equestria. And we would have needed a new ride to the airport.

I want to go again, but it really depends on a number of factors.

I guess we'll see.