Friday, February 23, 2018

Ambagibus: should I be having this much fun?

Ambagibus kind of annoys me. It’s a very simple, brutally simple game. And I’m convinced that luck plays a possibly overwhelming role. And not just to sometimes make it too hard but sometimes to make it too easy. And after a game or two, you get a sense of what the best decisions are. 

And yet I keep having fun with Ambagibus and keep on playing it :D

Ambagibus consists of a simple set of tiles that show paths and your goal is to try and create a closed network of paths. The whole thing is just forty tiles you make yourself and takes up two sheets of tiles. And the game is draw a tile and place a tile.

(Did I mention it’s a solitaire game? It’s a solitaire game)

It’s not _quite_ that simple. Each opening has a number, one to four, and those numbers are priorities. You have to extend ones before twos and so on. Plus, there are two bombs that clear a square and cave ins that fill in a square. 

Still, it’s pretty simple. Even the most advanced rules, which have you start a new network if you finish one, are simple. This isn’t a brain burning puzzle. It’s a way to amuse yourself for a few minutes.

And for me, it works. I pause. I shuffle the tiles. I play a quick game. I’m done. I’m more relaxed and I had a good time. I go back to the rest of my life.

And, yes, if Ambagibus had any real set or clean up time, if it took even ten minutes to play, I wouldn’t be playing it as much as I have and I wouldn’t be enjoying it so much. It is literally just a way of pausing for me.

But that’s something I can use, at least at the moment. And I’m sure I’ll get bored or burnt out with it but Ambagibus has already vastly exceeded the value of the time and materials it took for me to make it.

I do have to compare it to Cheese Chasers, a very similar PnP game that came out around the same time and has a similar level of ease of construction and play. Cheese Chasers is a little more complicated but I think has even less depth. Not only are the decisions in Cheese Chasers simple, the patterns you create are very repetitive. I got bored with Cheese Chasers quickly but Ambagibus is still fun.

I wasn’t surprised when I saw that the designer, P. D. Magnus, is the same person who developed the Decktet. I think the Decktet is a brilliant piece of work. Ambagibus isn’t nearly as good but I can see how it didn’t come out of a vacuum.

I can’t say that Ambagibus is a PnP that everyone has to go out and make. It’s not a perfect or amazing game. But I’ve had a lot more fun with it than I expected.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Another thing that makes me feel old

I recently saw a list of games from 2012 and realized that that was the last year I was really paying attention to what was coming out. Oh, I have played games that were published since then and I have some idea of what’s hot but that’s the last time I really was trying to keep track and play a lot of new games.

Becoming a Dad, moving across the country and other such real life stuff had a lot to do with that. But, as I have said before, there are so many games coming out these days, I don’t think anyone can keep up with it all :D

Yeah, that makes me feel old but I’m okay with that.

When all those life changes were taking place, I told myself that I would get caught up later and that I would get back to having my finger on the pulse of the gaming world. Now, I’m pretty sure that won’t happen and, unless it was how I made my living, I don’t think it would be worth it.

Plus, I’ve become more interested in lighter, casual games. I either don’t have the time or don’t want to make the time to learn lots of longer games. Oh, I’m not writing them all off. I’d like to someday get Scythe or whatever it’s successor is and I’m not getting rid of Reef Encounter. I’ve just become a lot fussier about my longer games. I’d rather find a few longer games I want to play over and over.

And I’ll keep look at ‘best of’ lists. I figure if a game is still in print and still beloved after a year, it will be worth seriously looking into. I’ll let someone else do the hard work for me :D

I guess I’d rather play games rather than constantly find new games. Even though I’m sure I’ll miss some gems, I’ll still be rolling in gems.

GenCon reminds me that I’m old :D

While I haven’t been to GenCon since 2014, I’m still on the mailing lists and recently got an email about how hotels in the city are full up but there was still vacancies in the suburbs. Now, I know this is because GenCon’s housing department pretty much buys out the city and there’s some kind of lottery to get rooms but that’s still a far cry from my GenCon 2000 experience, where I drove up to Milwaukee for the day and had no problems getting in or getting into events.

Over the sixteen or so GenCons that I attended, things sure changed a lot. Some of that may have been my own perceptions but the convention definitely is different than it was almost twenty years ago. It’s much bigger, more family-oriented and more commercial.

This may be rose-tinted glasses speaking but I am convinced that, back in those olden days, when we had to chase triceratops out of the exhibit hall, events tended to be volunteer/amateur/works-of-love based. I ended up in my longest-running campaign because a group that turned out to be close to me ran an event that was a one-shot set in their campaign.

Frankly, in those ancient times, GenCon was really more of a local event. And the crust of the Earth was still cooling.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying things were better back then. The pterodactyl drumsticks were bigger, sure, but high speed internet is the bomb. I’m not the “you kids get off my lawn” guy. I’m more the “wait, I have a lawn?” guy.

Truth to tell, GenCon has to change and evolve. The world has changed. Gaming, the game market and the gaming community has changed. If it didn’t change, it’d be dinosaur bones in Milwaukee. I hope to take my son someday to the modern GenCon but I don’t know if I’d take him to the old one. And if you want that local feel, there are a lot more local cons these days.

But man have things changed. You’re not going to get a chance to game with the Piltdown Man in today’s GenCon.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Further adventures in purging

My latest round of purging had the most prosaic of reasons. We needed storage space for our son’s new tricycle and some of his other stuff. You know, when I have to get rid of games for that kind of reason, I feel like I am doing something right.

I remember hearing about a dad who had to turn his man cave into nursery. Eventually, he had just three pendants on the wall. It was told as a tragedy but I decided it was a story about how kids and families and hobbies work. When we were expecting our doodle, I knew that I’d have my own version of that story.

Maybe my son will end up really into board games and we will end up with a closet or a room devoted to games. Maybe he won’t. But, right now, he will get the storage space he needs!

(When he’s a teenager, we may have very different views on storage space)

Oh, so that’s what the Graveyard Book is about!

I didn’t realize that the Graveyard Book was Neil Gaiman’s version of the Jungle Book (only in a graveyard!) until the afterwards. Which is particularly funny since I found myself thinking that The Witch’s Headstone followed the structure of The King’s Ankus. (Yes, I’ve read the Second Jungle Book)

The Graveyard Book won lots of awards, even by Neil Gaiman standards. However, it somehow went over my head when it came out. Life has a way back of being complicated that way :P

I just finished the book up and I have a feeling that, as time goes by, I’m going to like and appreciate the book more and more. Rereading it knowing that it is a tribute to Kipling will probably really help. I might reread the two Jungle Books and then reread the Graveyard Book.

At the end of the book, I really wanted and didn’t want a sequel. (Although I understand The Ocean At The End Of the Lane shares a setting so that might count in some ways :P) Part of me wanted to know what happens next to Nob and more about all the mysterious and apparently epic stuff that happened off-screen. On the other hand, I think that would weaken the work a lot. Sometimes, what we don’t know makes us treasure what we do know.

When I was actually reading the book, I amused and I enjoyed myself. However, I didn’t find myself thinking that it was one of Gaiman’s greats. But, looking back, looking at the ways he subverted my expectations and restrained himself to keep the mystery alive, I think it is.

Yeah, this will get reread.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

I wish there had been five Chase Magnus books

I hadn’t actually planned on reading the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard trilogy right off the bat this year but I ended up doing it anyway.

I’ve now read four of Rick Riordan’s mythology series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Kane Chronicles, The Heroes of Olympus and now Magnus Chase, plus some of the supplemental works) and I have to say that, if our son likes fantasy, he’s growing up at a great time. (Harry Potter is going to come first, though. Priorities)

And, yes, I clearly am having a lot of fun reading his books :D 

Magnus Chase was fun, although I still feel that the Heroes of Olympus is the strongest series (to be fair, it had a whole other series to help develop it before hand) It definitely isn’t a good place to start reading Riordan, since it has a lot of references to the Greek/Roman books, Annabeth from those books is Magnus’s cousin (which we learn right off the bat so I’m not spoiling anything)

I’m not going to go into the plot or spoil anything. The books fit Riordan’s formula of mixing the silly and dramatic with a road trip plot. (What is nice about his road trip plots is that everything ties together. There are no scene just thrown in and never referenced again) You know, it works and it works well.

Instead, I want to commit on how Riordan handles power creep and what I felt was the biggest flaw with the Magnus Chase books.

In Riordan’s universe, Percy Jackson is established as just about the most powerful demigod. But as new books come out and new protagonists are introduced... Percy is still the top of the heap. I found that interesting. I feel like Riordan makes a real point of creating contrasting characters.

Magnus, part of the dark and brutal Norse pantheon, is technically the wimpiest protagonist so far. In that he’s a worse fighter than Percy or Carter or Sadie or Jason etc. However, he has his own strengths with healing and insight and being just darn cunning. He’s a trickster hero.

(Also, to be fair, while Percy is the most powerful as far as beating stuff up, he’s also the densest of the heroes. Which is kind of necessary plot wise, since it means people have to explain stuff to him and the audience. It also makes him work well as a tool to Annabeth. He’s the Superman to her Batman)

While I really had a lot of fun with Magnus Chase, it has this major issue for me. Too many characters. By my count, there are eight characters who have meaningful character arcs and that’s just too many for three books. Some of those arcs just felt crammed in, leaving me wanting more. 

Admittedly, Riordan really left a lot of sequel hooks dangling so I won’t be surprised if we see these characters in future novels. There’s definitely more room the characters to grow.

Of course, he is also working on a third Greek/Roman series. And I would like to see more about Egypt and the Kanes. And, you know, an Aztec series would be fun...

Riordan is just a lot of fun to read. And I appreciate how he respectfully included LGBT characters (slight spoiler, very much so in the Magnus Chase books) since he knows he has young LGBT readers.

Actually, I have to comment on this. He has Magnus familiar with LGBT kids because he was homeless for two years. And that is truth is fiction. There’s a lot of homeless LGBT kids out there in real life.

Ultimately, my problem with Magnus Chase is I wanted more. So, I'm glad Riordan is still pretty young.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Muddled memories of Mayfair ribbons

I thought long and hard about what else I wanted to write about Mayfair Games closing up shop while that was still fresh and on my mind. I mean, when I started really playing and collecting games, Mayfair and Rio Grande were the two major ways to get European-style games in the US (Boy, has that ever changed) I’ve played a lot of different games that I got from them. 

But when I started looking through the lengthy list of games Mayfair has published or distributed over the decades, I realized it was too wide a range to really pin down. I’ve already written about Catan and I’ve never cared for the crayon train games (For me, they've always been hours of tiny, incremental moves) Too many games to generalize.

However, what has been uniquely Mayfair for me has been my experiences with the company at Origins and GenCon.

Yeah, I’m talking about the ribbons.

I’m not sure when Mayfair started the ribbon program. I want to say that it was around 2005 or 2006 but I am convinced I went to a few years before the ribbons came along. If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will correct me.

Here’s how it worked. You could earn different ribbons named for the different resources in Catan by demoing various Mayfair games. When you had a set of the five resources, Mayfair marked the ribbons (since you got to keep them) Then you got some tchotchke, a raffle ticket and (most importantly) a 50% off almost anything Mayfair coupon.

You could trade ribbons with other folks or trade in three of a kind for another. Since, at least initially, train games were the only way to get Ore, that encouraged a lot trading of one kind or another. Almost all the train games took place in the Puffin Billy room and were longer than the other games.

Now, I might be completely wrong about these next two memories and I’m sure someone will call me out about it if I am. But I believe Mayfair didn’t add the resources from Cities and Knights until a least a year later, those let you get a Knight of Catan ribbon, along with another raffle ticket and another tchotchke.

And, I would swear that GenCon didn’t have a lot of Essen style demo tables when I first started going in 1999. (I’d also swear it was mostly war games and RPGs) I _think_ Mayfair was one of the first companies to do that at GenCon. The last time I went to GenCon in 2014, companies had demo tables everywhere.

There are two games that I got to really enjoy, entirely due to the ribbon program. Station Master, because it was the shortest game to get Ore so we played it every year, and Patrician, which was one of the handful of games at the Knight level. I had previously tried out both games at minimal player levels and not liked them. Thanks to the ribbons, I played them in larger player counts and found they were really good then.

The ribbon program was a big part of our convention experiences. Me and my friends, we’d look forward to playing those games and getting rewarded for it :D It changed the way we experienced the exhibit hall.