Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Can you make a tiny Power Grid?

 I’m not sure if I’ll actually play Power Duel but it was too fascinating an idea for me not to make a copy. It’s a two-player distillation of Power Grid that will fit in a mint tin.

I have never actually owned a copy of Power Grid. That’s because, in every gaming group I have ever been in, at least one other person has already owned it. There have been times when I’ve played so much of it, I got burned out on it but I’ve never stopped thinking it was an A++ game. And I bet if I played it now, I’d think it was ever better than I remembered.

I originally found Power Duel via Project Shrinko and it is a good example of the Project Shrinko philosophy. Try to distill a beloved game into a pocket-sized package. I approach every Project Shrinko game with the same two questions: Does it actually feel like playing the game that inspired it AND is it any good as game in and of itself. The second question is really the more important :)

Power Duel is theoretically my Project Shrimko ideal. An easy way to have a portable version of a game I don’t own and really like :D Unfortunately, while I find many of the choices made in shrinking the Power Grid down downright fascinating, I think too much is lost in the process. More than that, I have to wonder if the game is solvable.

Not only are auctions removed (fair enough, two player auctions are a tricky proposition, albeit not impossible), all the power plants are available from the start. And using money tracks instead of paper money condensing the game but makes money public knowledge all the time. Removing all the random elements and hidden information might make it too easy to create an optimal strategy, probably one with a first player bias.

Other choices, players lose unpowered cities and the game lasting a set six turns and upgrading plants to accommodate a small number of cards, do seem like good choices. There are some neat ideas going on here. But the strong possibility of scripted play being too easy to develop makes me feel meh about using my limited game time to try it out.

Power Grid is a really nifty set of interlocking  mechanics. I praise Project Duel for trying to make a smaller, simpler version but some things can’t be simplified without losing too much. But, man, the idea fascinates me enough that I’m writing all this about it and making a copy. Back at the very earliest point in my modern board game life when most of my gaming was at little tables at coffee shops, I bet I’d have played Power Duel if it had existed then.

Monday, January 11, 2021

A Short Hike is a place for healing

 Iyashikei is a genre in Japan that literally means healing. The only reason I know that is because of Animal Crossing. And Animal Crossing has been the video game of choice in our household for the past year.

Which led us to trying out A Short Hike since we had heard it had a similar vibe.

In A Short Hike, you are Claire, an anthropomorphic bird who is spending the summer with her aunt, a park ranger. Claire is waiting for an important phone call but the only place in Hawk Peak Provincial Park is the very top of the highest mountain. 

And climbing that mountain and getting that phone call are rewarding but the park is a pretty big, open sandbox with stuff to find and people to talk to. You can race, play a variation on volleyball, swim, fish and just generally explore. Everyone ranges from pretty nice to really nice and nothing can hurt you. Getting lost is literally the biggest hurdle in the game.

I have to say that the gliding mechanic, which is all about graceful arcs and catching updrafts, is a lot of fun. A decent chunk of my play has been gliding just for the fun of it.

Mechanically, A Short Hike and Animal Crossing are pretty different. A Short Hike is all about stamina management as you earn gold feathers that increases your stamina and complete fetch quests. Animal Crossing is all about gradually developing your environment.

But the games have similar themes. Yes, there are goals and there is work to be done but there is no pressure. You can take your time and enjoy the worlds that the games create. It’s not just escapist but also decompressing and relaxing. That might not work for everyone but it’s been good for us.

Animal  Crossing is a slow, glacial game and I think it takes a year in real time to see things play out. A Short Hike is more like a weekend. I don’t view A Short Hike as a substitute (and I do like Animal Crossing more) but I think it’s a great way to test the waters of Iyashikei.

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Great Races is really a look at the design process

There are three reasons I decided to make a copy of The Great Races: A) It was there B) it is a Sid Sackson design C) historical curiosity.

To the best of my knowledge, the Great Races has never been published in a box format. I know it was published in a collection of paper and pencil games in 1974. I’ve seen it reprinted in The Greatest Games of All Time by Matthew J. Costello and I’m sure it’s been reprinted in other places as well.

And if the Great Races isn’t a precursor to Can’t Stop, my cats are secretly lemurs with retractable claws. The board is almost the same and the dice mechanics are also very similar. If the Great Races wore a hat that said ‘I’m a prototype for Can’t Stop’ and danced a ‘I’m a prototype for Can’t Stop’ dance,’ it wouldn’t be more obvious.

The game consists of eleven tracks, numbered two to twelve. They sort of form a bell-shaped curve with the two and twelve tracks being the shortest and seven being the longest. You roll four dice, pair them and move up on those two tracks.

And here is where it’s different than Can’t Stop. Your turn ends at that point. There isn’t the same kind of push-your-luck element. The game ends when every track has been completed and there are points for first and second place in every track.

Can’t Stop is an absolute classic of a board game. It’s been around for decades and it is the game that all push-your-luck games are judged by. Between on-line and in-person plays, I’ve been playing Can’t Stop several times a year since I got into playing board games.

And compared to Can’t Stop, the Great Races doesn’t measure up. Not that it’s reasonable to expect it to but it isn’t a lost gem that has been unfairly languishing in the shadow of its more famous offspring. In addition to having a significantly weaker push-your-luck element, I honestly feel the game takes too long for what it gives you. Having to finish all eleven tracks makes the endgame drag. It is incremental where Can’t Stop is dynamic.

That said, I have played plenty of worse dice games. Some of them predate the Great Races and plenty of them came after. I feel like it should have had a bigger moment in the sun. But it led to Can’t Stop. That’s a big deal.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Plutonia is a comic book spin on a childhood classic

 Margaret Wise Brown, the same person who wrote Good Night Moon, also wrote a book called the Dead Bird, a picture book about a group of kids who find a dead bird in the wood, bury it and sing a song.

It is actually more of mediation about the acceptance of death than the start of a cult or the origin of a bunch of serial killers. I still find it an unsettling work, although I will grant that it does teach a necessary lesson. 

A few years ago, I came upon a comic book called Plutonia that could honestly be described as some saying ‘What if we rewrote the Dead Bird but made it a dead superhero instead?’

Five kids find the body of local hero Plutonia in the woods after she is apparently killed by one of her many foes. Things go dark from there.

I read the first issue but it was years before I found the rest.





I had heard that the story culminates in one of the kids getting beaten to death by the others so I was all set for a Lord of the Flies scenario. Instead, said kid had gone nuts and was trying to kill the others. The nicest character hits him in the head once with a log to save the other kids. Self defense instead of mob violence. Quite a different scenario and one that actually ties back in with The Dead Bird comparison since they then shamefully bury him in the woods.

The kids, who are in turns petty and scared and completely out of their depth, are believable. That helps sell the story, as well as make it more uncomfortable to read. It’s not a superhero story but a story about kids. Unlike the kids in the Dead Bird, these kids do not come to terms with death but, to be fair, it’s a much more extreme situation.

Plutonia is a meditation about children trying to cope with death. Just not a happy one.

Post Script: Plutonia, who isn’t actually dead, is a fascinating character developed in flashbacks. She has Superman’s powers with Batman’s working arrangement with the police and Spider-Man’s problems. Spider-Man as a single mom isn’t a new concept but Plutonia did a good job using it.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Ah, New Years resolutions

 Ah, time for New Year’s resolutions.

My primary ones don’t play into gaming or reading or writing and are pretty general. Try and eat better and exercise more. (Literally, that’s it. If I try and make specific plans, life is more likely to get in the way)

But I do have a few relating to gaming.

For a while, I have made it a goal to make one ‘larger’ Print and Play project a month. My definition is quite humble. At least three pages of components. I realized that that’s about the size of a printer’s sheet so about the size of a publishable micro game.

However, at least once this year, I want to make at least one game that exceeds the scope of a micro game. Which wouldn’t be new ground for me but still isn’t a monthly thing. I’m not sure what counts. Would a 54-card game count? Do I have to make a board? It’s really all up to me but I don’t know what the answer for me is.

I also want to try and learn a new game at least once a month. Which also isn’t a new thing for me but, during the start of last year’s quarantine, I stopped doing that and realized learning new games really helped keep my sprits up. I don’t want to go crazy but at least one a month is a happy medium.

2021 has an uphill struggle after 2020 but I think things, big and small, will get better.

Friday, January 1, 2021

My December PnP

 December 2020. The last month of what was one son-of-gun of a year. At one point, I thought I’d be lucky to make one PnP project with everything that happened during the month. But I had a couple of crafting sessions of making tiny projects to relax.

This is what I made:

Squire for Hire

Ugly Gryphon Inn

Railways (2019 9-Card Contest)

Petals (2020 2-Player PnP Contest)

Handful of Hazards (little cards)

One-Minute War

Gator (2020 Solitaire PnP Contest)

Pohutukawa Christmas

The Great Races

Dice Baseball


Mombatuk the Adventurer (2020 R&W Contest)

Dolphins and Dinosaurs - solo edition (2020 Solitaire Contest)

Griphold Tower (2020 Solitaire Contest)

Squire for Hire was my ‘big’ project for the month. As ever, my definition of big still isn’t that. More than two pages of components :D Basically, enough to be published. And Squire for Hire proven to be a game I keep playing and trying to do better at.

As I mentioned, I made a bunch of tiny games, micro games and laminating Roll and Write sheets. Itty bitty things that will still be fun to explore and making them definitely helped my peace of mind.

Print and Play was helpful in a lot of ways this year. 

Thursday, December 31, 2020


 I don’t think there has been a year that will have more retrospectives than 2020 for maybe a generation. That is a huge sentence but I think it’s still true. This has been a grueling, devastating, damaging year. People all around the world will be feeling 2020 for years to come. 2020’s going to get its own Dewey Decimal number.

We have been luckier than so many people we know, let alone the wider world. And this has still been the most exhausting, stressful year of our lives. 

Quarantine led to remote schooling and having to be the entertainment center meant a lot less R&R time. Short stories became incredibly valuable for me. And gaming has helped keep me a little saner.

Print and Play, solitaire micro-games have been a big deal for me in 2020. I already enjoyed them a lot but 2020 made them a focal point of my gaming. PNPArcade was a really solid source for them. When I had a stack of print-outs sitting I front of me to be cut and I felt like I had just walked into the exhibit hall of GenCon, I knew how confined quarantine had made us and how much we needed the little things.

Digital and online gaming has always been a big part of my gaming hobby so it didn’t feel particularly significant for me as far as 2020 was concerned. But I did play a lot of board games, thanks to the power of computers. In particular, I attended a coupe of virtual conventions. Which wasn’t as good as in-person but was incredibly important for fostering a sense of connection and community.

Finally, my positive, warm, fuzzy feelings towards Roll and Write games got a huge boost. While it goes back into how valuable Print and Play has been for me, Roll and Write still deserves a special mention. When time and space are limited, Roll and Writes offer some of the meatiest options for me. More than that, they are the best options when someone has asked me for a game they can make and play when they can’t get out.

2020 has been a devastating year all around. I think I speak for everyone when let us hope that 2021 is better.