Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Secondhand Dave the Diver

While I haven’t played Dave the Diver myself, I have watched my wife play through the game. Which is how it works in our home, really. I focus on tabletop and she focuses on video games. And from an outsider’s viewpoint, Dave the Diver is a pearl of a game (rimshot)

In Dave the Diver, you take on the role of the eponymous diver, a pudgy guy whose chief characteristic is just how sweet he is. Seriously, Dave is prepared to help out anyone and everyone.

After a magical spot of the ocean where fish from every biome spawn is found, Dave is cajoled in to catch fish for a sushi restaurant. A restaurant that he then has to run. The main beats of the game are beautiful dives to hunt for fish and a restaurant management simulator. Along the way, Dave also discovers lost civilizations, uncovers corporate conspiracies and battle legendary monsters. Also, he plays a bunch of mini-games.

Oh, and it’s look is a love letter to retro gaming.

And the amazing thing about Dave the Diver is that it pulls it off. The wacky hodgepodge of gameplay mechanics interlock and compliment each other. I think the story is fun, engaging and occasionally touching. And Dave is the kind of lovable hero you either want to be or want to know.

It’s certainly not flawless. The controls can be clunky, to judge by the complaints I’ve heard. And some of the mini-games seem a little forced. Like bolting on one more thing into the kitchen range.

But, at the end of the day, Dave the Diver just radiates cheerful, silly fun. It is an escapist journey into a world of sushi and adventure.

Monday, December 4, 2023

My Gaming November

 I didn’t do a ton of gaming in November. Actually, it was easily my least game-oriented month so far this far year. However, I did check some things off that I had been meaning to learn.

I learned:
Tiny Stories (journaling RPG)
Derelict Dirigible 
Beetle Get!
The Magus (journaling RPG)

Derelict Dirigible has been on the stack for a while since I’ve been meaning to learn all of the Legend of Dsyx games. While not without issues, it was better than I feared it would be. And now I just have one more Dsyx game to learn. Then, I’ll go back and revisit some of them lol

But the Magus was my big game for November. I’ve been sitting on it for a year, waiting to celebrate NaNoWriMo with it. (No, I didn’t write 50,000 words with it. I bet you could though)

The Magus has a tighter structure and more mechanics than other journaling games I have tried. That increase in complexity is rewarded by pushing you towards richer story telling. I played it as a campaign and I would do it again.

November was really busy but the gaming moments helped me through.

Friday, December 1, 2023

My November PnP

 November ended up being a very busy month and one where print-and-play projects just didn’t make the schedule. However I like to try and make something every month so I made one game:

Pope or Nope

It’s been ok the ‘To Do’ list for a while. I printed out the sheets and cut and laminated them in 2019 or 2020. Probably 2020.

It’s a bit of a trick taking/climbing game and a bit of a take that game themed around picking the next pope. Honestly, the theme is probably strongest element of the game.

Even when I initially printed in out, I knew that my focus for PnP had shifted to solitaire. Truth to tell, with the exception of Roll and Writes where you just print out the player sheet so it’s just like a published version, it’s hard to get folks to play with homemade components. And even after purging hundreds of games while packing for our recent live, I still have more than enough games to play with my family.

So I know the copy of Pope or Nope I made last month probably won’t get played. However, it did get it off the stack of incomplete projects. And I have a pile of games I’m meaning to learn so it’s not taking the place of a game I would want to play immediately.

All that said, I’m hoping to do better in December.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Magus is a crunchy journaling game

Last year, I learned seven different journaling RPGs to observe NaNoWriMo. This year, I learned two and one of them was really research for the other one. Part of that was because work was insane but also part of this change was I played The Magus by momatoes.

The Magus is a long form soliatire journaling  RPG where you discover and describe the rise and fall of a powerful wizard.  It has more crunch than any other journaling game I’ve played. And the emotional content is heavy. Words like Byronesque and Gothic come to mind in a non-ironic way.

And, when I say that Magus is crunchy, I mean in comparison to other journaling games. It’s a rule light system by RPG standards. You stat out your wizard but they are very narrative driven stats. 

The Magus is played out as a series of scenes which comes in two and a half flavors. The primary types of scenes are Bonds and Spells with Reflections working as pauses for you to assess where the story is at.

The balance of the game is between your relationships with other people and your quest for power. Around half of the game is spent developing bonds with other people and sometimes you need to burn those bonds in an ugly way to gain power.

Like other journaling games I’ve played, the Magus is driven by prompts. And you can write as much as you want with any given prompt. With that being said, I felt that each scene in the Magus was started off big and was easily able to be its own session. 

And having a crunchier, more mechanical structure meant that the consequences felt more reinforced and stronger. Failure, and the game is weighted towards failure, resonates for the rest of the game.

The game hits some heavy notes. Solitude. Betrayal. Sacrifice. Loss. And magic in the game reflects that. While you will define exactly how magic works, it isn’t magic missiles or rabbits out of hats. Spells are big, disturbing phenomena and can cause game-ending global catastrophes if you fail badly enough.

The game ends when you have completed seven scenes, decided that the cost is too great and retire or destroy the world.

For my play through, which ended up spanning most of November, I stuck to the procedural tables. The rules allow you to come up with your own ideas but I wanted to try the basic settings.

I decided to retire after four scenes and one reflection. I ended up focusing on the bonds and it became clear that preserving those was a bigger priority for my wizard than gaining more power. When I play it again, I will probably chase Byronic tragedy more. 

The Magus is a very solid work. It gives you a very strong theme ans structure while also giving you a lot of room for your own creativity. I was worried the crunchier mechanics would be restrictive. Instead, they increased the stakes without getting in the way.

I  impressed and happy with what the Magus does. It pushes beyond the idea of ‘just write something’ while preserving the writing.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Making dirigibles out of dice rolls

 It’s been over a year since I last looked at the Legends of Dsyx series. Which actually surprises me a bit, since I think it’s an interesting exploration of both Print and Play and Roll and Write. 

The Legends of Dsyx is a series of twelve games that are simultaneously one page, rules and all, while really pushing the envelope about what you can do with Roll and Write. Seriously, I get the sense that Robin Jarvis was trying to create ‘big’ games in a very small design space. 

And when I first ran across them, I was fascinated. It was relatively early in my exploration of Roll and Writes and the Legends of Dsyx were part of my realization that Roll and Writes could go well beyond just writing down numbers. 

Those ideas now seem old hat but they were pretty wild to me at the time.

All that said, the Legends of Dsyx are a mixed bag. Some are very solid. Hall of the Dwarven King is a hidden gem of a game. But some of them feel half-finished. I think some of them genuinely suffer from the one-page format.

So, I tried out Derelict Dirigible. How did it measure up?

Dsyx is a kitchen-sink fantasy universe that is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Derelict Dirigible is about gnomes building airships out of salvaged junk. Clearly, Dragonlance casts a long shadow.

Derelict Dirigible last fifteen turns and each turn has three parts. Salvage, where you roll dice to get materials. Building, wheee you spend materials to add parts to your airship. You actually draw the part on a blueprint grid, creating an increasingly complex dirigible as the game goes on. Adventure. There’s a list of adventures with lift and speed requirements. Meet the requirements and you check it off for points and improvements to your scavenging.

Derelict Dirigible feels like it is 75% there. The designing and building of your airship, which is where most of the actual gameplay is, is good. It requires some real planning and decision making. Every part has trade offs. Boilers, for instance, are necessary for powering props but weigh your airship down and require coal.

Adventures, on the other hand, feel like a missed opportunity. Adventures are just a checklist. You build an airship and then you just see if it’s up to spec. And this is where the one page restriction really shows. Having additional pages devoted to adventures, giving them narrative weight and gameplay would add a lot and make sense with the idea of the game.

Honestly, I enjoyed Derelict Dirigible on the strength of the airship building alone. I do want to return to it and work on making better dirigibles. But I also think it could have been a lot more.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Digging up beetles for fun and points

Beetle Get! is a Flip-and-Write solitaire by Alexander Shen, a hidden gem of a PnP designer. You try and score points with a shifting tableau of beetle cards.

Shen describes Beetle Get! as a Flip-and-Score game, as opposed to a Flip-and-Write game. Which isn’t an unfair description but no one calls Yahtzee or Qwixx as Roll-and-Score games so I’m still holding to Flip-and-Write.

BG (because typing an exclamation mark every time annoys me) consists of a tiny deck of beetle cards, a tiny deck of shovel cards and a player sheet. 

Here’s the basic idea. You deal out the beetle cards face down in a three-by-three grid and then flip over any four of them. The shovel deck consists of card patterns (horizontal, diagonal and vertical lines) Each turn, you draw two. Pick one to score and put the other one on the bottom of the deck. The beetle cards are numbered one to five and you score the sum of the line you chose.

And here’s where the clever bit comes in. You flip over all the cards in the shape you scored. You then pick a column or row and shift in over one space. The card that gets pushed out of the grid goes back on the other side. If you’ve ever played Labyrinth, you get the idea.

Time for another round.

A couple of other tidbits. You also check off sets of beetle cards for bonus points and there’s a beetle juice card in the shovel deck that let you flip over a card.

When you’re through the shovel deck, that’s game and you count up your points.

One touch I want to note is that there’s only one five card. Finding it and scoring it is essential to a higher score. Not only does it add five points to a line, you need to check it off to complete sets for bonus points.

I haven’t played a lot of Flip-and-Writes. I think the idea ia brilliant and has a lot of potential but it’s also a lot easier and less time consuming to make Roll-and-Writes from a PnP standpoint. That said, playing with a sliding puzzle of cards does feel unusual. (Shifting Stones from Gamewright does have a similar idea)

On the downside, BG has a fairly obvious core strategy. Find the five card and maximize it as much as possible.

On the upside, BG offers a lot of control and decisions, with room for planning ahead. Which might lead to games being too easy but that isn’t the worst flaw in a game that takes five or so minutes.

Alexander Shen has a knack for really nailing coffee break games and Beetle Get! is one of the better ones.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Beyond Bloom explores the low fantasy space

During one of my innumerable trips down rabbit holes on TV Tropes, I found out about a web comic called Beyond Bloom, a low fantasy about two flowers who have become people.

Beyond Bloom seems to be an obscure webcomic so I figured I’d do my small part to spread the word.

Beyond Bloom begins when a nice young man named Yokiro encounters Tatsuma and Sikue, two magical girls who are actually evolved flowers with magical powers. Tatsumi is poisonous and Sikue is the antidote. He decides to wander around the wilderness with them.

If there is one thing I would say that about Beyond Bloom is how cozy and small it feels, at least in the six chapters that we have so far. Our protagonists aren’t in any crazy epic quest. Magic and other supernatural stuff is rare to the point of almost not existing. All the supernatural stuff seems to have been created by the same person.

When Beyond Bloom says it is low fantasy, it commits to it.  There’s clearly a lot more going on (a dragon shows up at one pout!) but it is taking its time to get there. It’s like the first part of the Fellowship of the Ring where it’s just the hobbits leaving the shire.

And the characters are genuinely sweet. Yokiro and Sikue are both adorable. Tatsuma has a temper and can be a jerk but does care deep down. I have a feeling that if Beyond Bloom gets mainstream, she’ll be the most popular character.

I’ve discovered a lot of media via TV Tropes and Beyond Bloom is a fun addition to that list. Reading it has been a pleasant journey with characters who I want to follow.