Monday, January 17, 2022

Judging the Magic Tree House books

 I have been looking for reading material to encourage our son to read and one series that was recommended to me by multiple sources was the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne. So I’ve read the first few books by the power of my library card.

Here’s the elevator pitch. Brother and sister Jack and Annie Smith discover a tree house full of books. By using pictures in the books, they can travel through time and space via the tree house. And, since I read the Wikipedia page, I know they get powerful magical patrons as the series goes on.

I haven’t done a comprehensive study of chapter books for the young but the Magic Treehouse books seem a cut above what I remember reading back when Fred Flintstone lived down the street. The sentence structure is solid. The books don’t talk down to kids. And they are theoretically educational, particularly if your kids read the supplemental non-fiction books.

Of course, reading it as an adult, the plots are remarkably simple and simplistic. The characterization consists of a motivation and a couple quirks. Indeed, both kids show what would be suicidally poor judgement in what would be even slightly more serious setting. Judy Bloom herself couldn’t justify the kids surviving. But all of that is par for the course for this genre.

What has actually struck me as both a pro and a con is that the books are broken down into arcs. And, after the taken the half hour to read the first arc (thanks again, library), it felt particularly like one book had been sliced into four pieces.

Now, if I am able to get our son to try the books, having them come in bite-sized chunks will make them a lot more approachable for him. The books being less intimidating may be a big deal. But, if I’m not getting them from the library, that means the books will cost four times as much :D

While I do enjoy reading young adult literature, and even some juvenile literature, these books aren’t enough to interest me. However, I’d be happy if our son has read a shelf of them by this time next year.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Wow, that’s a very specific design contest

 When I first really started looking at Print and Play, there were only a couple different design contests. Like solitaire or just print and play. Now there are design contests that are just about a mechanic!

That said, the fact that there is a ‘In Hand’ design contest was pretty amazing to me. Yes, I love me some In Hand games. Games where I don’t even have to worry about a clip board, let alone a table top? Now that’s convenience!

I just didn’t realize that there were enough people like me to make a contest like this viable!

And maybe this contest will be a step in my dream of finding the Palm Island killer. Not that I don’t like Palm Island. I adore Palm Island. I just think that it can’t be the ultimate In Hand game. (Portal Dragon is creating Palm Laboratory so maybe it will be it :D )

The submission deadline is February 24 and voting deadline is May 31 so there’s still some time for games to show up. Maybe I’ll actually be able to do some play testing feedback like I keep telling myself I should do.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Why PnP is not shovelware

 I finally decided to look up what Shovelware actually meant. (Huh. Spellcheck has Shovelware as a word)

It’s actually even worse than I thought.

Shovelware means shoddy video games designed to make a quick buck. The name comes from the idea of shoveling cheap, buggy ware onto a disk. It’s the lowest common denominator of digital gaming.

And I heard the voices of some of my gaming snob friends ask me if that was any different than the quirky PnP prototypes that I look at all the time.

And the answer is that PnP prototypes are actually the complete opposite of Shovelware.

Shovelwares are cheap, lazy efforts at making a quick buck. No one is making a prototype to make a quick buck. Someone is actually taking time and effort, possibly passion and love, into making them.  They might be quirky and flawed but someone wanted them to be real.

More than that, one of the defining characteristics of shovelware is that there pretty much nothing new to them. I’m not saying every prototype is trying to create something new but it’s definitely a part of the idea.

The world of PnP is not a dingy bargain bin of rubbish product. It’s a mad artists community.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Starting off the year with Dungeon Roll

 I honestly view it as kind of insane on my part but I like to have the first book I read or the first game I play in a new year to be good. It doesn’t have to be the best of the year but I try to avoid garbage.

When I realized I was actively avoiding trying out prototypes and such so they wouldn’t be the first game I learned in 2022, I decided I’d better hurry up and get a game I thought would be good learned. So I learned Dungeon Roll on Board Game Arena. 

Short version: it’s not garbage.

Dungeon Roll is a dungeon crawl built around dice. Which tells you absolutely nothing. There are probably, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating, hundreds of games that fit that description. Heck, I could describe Dungeons and Dragons like that.

The core mechanic of Dungeon Roll is that you are managing a pool of white dice while the dungeon is an increasing number of black dice that give you monsters to fight and treasure to loot.

And here is the clever bit: you get a hero card that gives you a couple special powers. More than that, it can get leveled up for better powers. In all honesty, that’s the best part of the game for me. The heroes give you your variety and more interesting decisions.

At first, I thought the game was mindless dice chucking and it was all luck. However, there are some ways you can manage your luck and your dice pool. I do think bad die rolls can easily override your decisions but I’ve been having enough fun that I don’t care. 

It’s really the bells and whistles that will keep me playing Dungeon Roll. The core mechanic isn’t that interesting for me but I want to try out all the hero cards and see what tricks I can pull. The parts are bigger than the sum :P

Two games that I kept thinking about while learning Dungeon Roll were Balloon Pop and Deep Space D6. I learned both of them the month before so they were fresh on my mind.

A big reason why Balloon Pop comes to my mind is I also just learned it via Board Game Arena. It’s a push your luck game with the twist that every time you reroll, you add a new dice. Which, if I am doing my figuring right, actually decreases the odds of getting what you want. I’ve read about some people who felt Dungeon Roll was too light but it’s a boulder compared to Balloon Pop. Balloon Pop is what you pull out when folks want to play LCR.

Deep Space D6 is another narrative genre game, only this one is science fiction. I think it is more balanced and more immersive than Dungeon Roll. Watching after the health of your space ship give Deep Space D6 a strong focus. The dice change but the ship is constant. Hero cards are a source of special powers in Dungeon Roll but the ship is your character in Dungeon Roll. Of course, Deep Space D6 is solitaire only.

Dungeon Roll isn’t going to be the best game I learn this year. It is pretty light and it has some real flaws. But I am going to keep playing it and having fun with it. So a good start to the year.

Friday, January 7, 2022

All right, all right, New Years resolutions

 Yeah, yeah. New Year so New Year’s resolutions.

And, yes, I want to exercise more and eat better but that’s not really in the pervue of this blog.

My standard goals of learning a new game and making one ‘big’ PnP project a month stand. And big basically just means around three pages. I make mostly micro games but something big enough that a publisher would publish counts. 

I already had a goal of reading at least one major book a month but I might as well make it formal. Let’s use the word challenging to describe that kind of book. And it can’t be a reread. I really ought to reread Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino and I’m sure it will be challenging the second time around but it’s not the same thing. (Really should get around to actually reading his If On A Winter Night’s A Traveler)

Oh, okay. Let’s make some game related resolutions.

You know what? I should try and play the full Bargain Basement Bathysphere campaign. I’ve played the first few boards and had fun. And each individual board  should be a quick play. I think. I’ve been good and not peeked.

I also want to finish learning all of the Legends of Dsyx games and all of Radoslaw Ignatow’s roll and write games. Which isn’t a hard goal. I just need to sit down in the mood to do it :D

But, hey, Bargain Basement Bathysphere is a good goal.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

There is a social obligation to do a ‘best of’ post

 Well, it’s not a new year without a best of last year list. Or commentary. Something like that.

The best books I read in 2021 were the first two books in the Locked Tomb Trilogy, Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth. The world building is wild, the character are terribly flawed but sympathetic and the plot is interesting. Allegedly, the next book should wrap everything up. That’s a lot to do and I really hope that Tamsyn Muir sticks the landing.

(I see that there’s actually a fourth book announced. Well, actually, a book in between book two and what was going to be book three :D The more the merrier!)

My audio/visual media viewing was kind of all over the place. My list of stuff I wanted watch exceeds what I actually did watch. I’m going to go with Loki. It was like the MCU decided to become Doctor Who. Two great tastes that go great together. (Our family also really enjoyed Encanto. My head cannon is that the house is a damaged TARDIS, since I’ve already mentioned Doctor Who)

While we had a lot of fun with both Animal Crossing New Horizons and Mario Kart, they weren’t new to me in 2021. So the video game that makes the list is Cozy Grove, the peaceful game of helping friendly ghosts. Yes, after we finished the story, we were pretty much done with it but we got months of distraction out of it before then.

Actual board games… 

Well, I learned sixty or so games last year. I looked at what I learned, what I liked and how many plays I actually got in. In no particular order, these are what I’m going to say were the three best games for me:

Clever Cubed - the clever family has been good to me. The first one is still my favorite but Clever Cube simultaneously pushed the system while making me feel like I had some control.

Yard Builder- a simple Roll and Write that I find so relaxing. I don’t know if it is good from a mechanical standpoint but it got me through some stressful times.

Deep Space D6- a late entry but a game that that just really caught my interest. Bad die rolls can destroy you but I really enjoy the narrative it creates. 

While something has to be best on every list, these bests are good.

Monday, January 3, 2022

My December Gaming, which is basically Dicember

 Okay. Here we go. My Dicember wrap up.

Short version: I was able to complete all three levels of the Dicember challenge. All in all, I played fifty-two different dice games and it least one a day.

Long version: Sometimes it was a grind and some of the games I revisited were even worse than I remembered. But, all in all, I had fun and it added some focus to a December that was pretty crazy.

More than that, I ended up learning ten dice games I hadn’t played before. (Hence the learn part) The only one that wasn’t fun was designed to be an experiment to explore precise die rolling so it wasn’t really meant to be fun :P

On the other end of the spectrum, I learned Deep Space D6, which basically made  my top five games I learned in 2021 list. The narrative elements of the game override the random factor.

If I were to do it again (and I’d be willing to of next December permits), I’d make two lists. One of longer games is like to play and one of shorter games to play if I don’t want the time to play a longer game.

Any regrets? Yeah, there are games that I had figured I’d play but things just didn’t work out. 30 Rails, Bargain Basement Bathysphere, Utopia Engine, Welcome to Dino World and others. I almost didn’t get to play Hall of the Dwarven King and I used it as my marker for the challenge!

(I also meant to get in a play of A Thousand Years of Blood. Not that it is a good game (it’s not) but it is completely insane and I like to call attention to it)

That said, I think it says something that December was my craziest month in 2021 and I was still able to participate in Dicember. I think that says a lot about what dice can do.

PS: Oh, the non-dice game I learned in December was All is Bomb. It’s fun!