Monday, March 20, 2023

Shifting Stones is very niche but it does its niche well

Shifting Stones is a puzzle game where, if you’re playing it right, the puzzle will be constantly evolving. Of course, if you make poor moves, you create a snarled mess :)

The board is actually nine double-sided tiles in a three-by-three grid. You have cards that show specific patterns of tiles. You can either use cards to score points by matching patterns or discard them to shift tiles around. You can either flip tiles or swap two adjacent tiles.

In many ways, Shifting Stones takes a sliding tiles puzzle and expands on the concept. In particular, you get a third dimension by having the tiles be double-sided.

I feel comfortably saying that, from a mechanical angle, Shifting Stones is a good game. While there is nothing innovative about it, it takes familiar ideas and ties them together into a very playable package.
The real question is: do you want to play it? You have to enjoy abstract games. You have to enjoy puzzles. You have to enjoy methodically planning things out. And if you don’t any enjoy every single one of those things, you will not enjoy Shifting Stones.

And I’ll be honest, there are plenty of times when I am not in the mood for those things. I definitely have to be in the mood for Shifting Stones. However, I think that it is a game that will work a family audience, a casual audience, that wouldn’t be interested in a lot of other games.

I learned it on Board Game Arena and, to be brutally honest, it is one of the few games I’ve learned there that I would think about getting an analog version. There are a lot of people who are not going to enjoy Shifting Stones but those who are in its niche will really like it. Yes, you can say that about almost any game but I think you can say it even more so for this one.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Hydroracers disappoints me

I’ve been poking around board Game Arena for quick little distractions lately. (At some point, I should find the time to learn some more complex games there) And some of the games have been pretty nifty.

Hydroracers, though, fell pretty flat for me.

It’s a card-driven racing game. (You’re flying sea planes but, honestly, I didn’t feel like it was any different than race cars. As opposed to Snow Trails, where having two different dogs is essential to the mechanics and the theme) Play cards with numbers on them to move that many spaces. 

You also get to place bets during the race and there are push-your-luck rules for damaging your plane due to things like tight turns or collisions. 

If you have played any of Wolfgang Kramer’s auto racing games (like Downthrust or Top Race or Daytona 500), it’s impossible not to compare them Hydroracers. It also made me think of Ave Caesar. And Hydroracers falls short of any of them.

There are a number of reasons. But the biggest one and the one I’m going to harp on is the track. It is too simple in every way.  

For one thing, it is too small. And by that, I mean there aren’t enough spaces. It only takes a few rounds to do a lap. And I played on every available map and they all suffered from this problem. Which is actually ironic since the historic race course was over 280 kilometers.

There is also only one lane on the track. That means there’s no jockeying about for position. And, while the whole track is technically a bottle neck, there is no penalty to passing another plane. If you would land on an occupied space, you go to space ahead and push-your-luck for damage.

While Hydroracers is technically more complex than Ave Caesar, Ave Caesar has a longer course with actual bottle necks and reasons to fight for lanes. That makes the actual play of the game deeper.

I was shocked when I saw pictures of the published version of the game. Since it feels so small, I was shocked at how physically big the game is. It feels like a micro game but it takes up a table.

I try and look at the positives of a game but Hydroracers takes an interesting historical event and an engaging genre and removes so much of what makes either element interesting.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Dorrington, forgotten deconstructed detective

Arthur Morrison is one of those forgotten authors who was a fairly big deal in their day. While he’s most famous for writing poverty novels, it’s his mystery work that I’ve actually looked at.

His most successful detective was Martin Hewitt, who can be best described as a blue collar Sherlock Holmes. He was even published in the Strand and illustrated by Sidney Paget, just like Holmes. According to my notes, I’ve read all the Martin Hewitt stories but I don't remember them at all.
What I do remember is another of Morrison’s detectives, Horace Dorrington. While he is the subject of an anthology, the Dorrington Deed-box, I came across one of the stories in a general  anthology. Which was possibly the best was to find Dorrington.

Because I went in assuming he was just another bland Holmes clone. So it was a shock when Dorrington turned out to be a complete scoundrel, a cheerful sociopath and a worse piece of work than the criminals he goes after. Which would have been obvious if I’d read the anthology since the first linked story clearly lays that out. But it was quite the twist to see him solve a case and immediately start blackmailing the crook.

And to make it clear, Dorrington isn’t an anti-hero who is willing to break the law and do nasty things  to make things right. No, he steals and lies and murders to line his own pockets. He is flat out villain protagonist. I don’t see even the most deconstructed Holmes uncovering a murderer and putting them on the payroll to kill for him.

Dorrington was quite ahead of his time and probably a testament to Morrison’s outlook on humanity. He also wasn’t apparently very successful since it looks like the book was never reprinted. 

So I don’t think Dorrington actually influenced later works because I’m assuming none of the Black Mask authors read it. And, as I already mentioned, hard boiled detectives can be flawed, misogynistic sociopaths but we are supposed to view them as the heroes we are supposed to empathize with. Dorrington is clearly a complete rotter.

Of course, it’s now freely Project Gutenberg ( and a couple of the stories were adapted by ITV in the 70s. The stories aren’t lost masterpieces. Even calling them diamonds in the rough might be a stretch. But the Dorrington Deed-box is a fascinating read.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Convenience versus quality

Have mixed feelings about Potato Tomato Carrot. On the one hand, I know it’s a bland little game that doesn’t do anything new. On the other hand, I found it terribly convenient.

Potato Tomato Carrot is a print and play solitaire game that I downloaded for free from PnP Arcade. The whole thing is nineteen tiles, including three marker tiles and a tile serving a score track, and fits on one piece of paper.

Fifteen of the tiles are what you actually play the game with. Each one has one to three symbols on it (potatoes, tomatoes and carrots, naturally) and they are divided with diagonal lines so every edge clearly belongs to a specific produce.

Draw a tile, place it so it matches edges. Get a point for each edge that  matches. So far, nothing remotely new in the world of tile-laying games.

The twist is the market tiles. Randomly draw one at the start. Then, when you reach ten points, you reveal the other two. The order you reveal them will determine endgame scoring. You score the largest group of each produce. One, two or three points per symbol depending on when you reveal the market cards.

So we’re not talking about that much of a twist. And the decisions aren’t that tough to make. And, frankly, I’ve found that your end scores don’t have that wide spread. Potato Tomato Carrot doesn’t bring a lot to the table.

With all that said, I do churn through a lot of tiny micro solitaire games. Potato Tomato Carrot took no effort to dash off. And it has come in handy as a lunch game when I only have ten minutes to eat lunch. There’s almost nothing to it but I’m getting some mileage out of it.

But, if you only want to make only one one-sheet tile game, go for Micropul from 2004. It is nearly twenty years old and it holds up amazingly well. It’s got hand management on top of interesting tile-laying decisions and will support two-players as well as solitaire. Micropul is great.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Spell Write: a game of teeny tiny words

Earlier this year, I played inTENse from Q4ia and I found it disappointing. Now I’ve tried another game I got from Q4ia, Spell Write.

Short version in case you don’t want to read the rest of this: I found Spell Write to be a significantly stronger game. Which is kind of funny since I seek out number games like imTENse more than I do word games.

Spell Write is a PnP RnW word game. You are filling in a four by four grid with letters and you get the letters off of a six by six matrix. Yeah, you roll two dice each turn.

The word grid has some special squares. Two black squares you can’t write in. Bonuses squares that give you more flexibility in the letter matrix. Bonus squares that will give you an extra point. 

Spell Write is a very simple word game that has very basic bonuses and you are only building two -to-four letter words. But here’s the thing. That’s all it needs to be. All the elements form together in a way that both makes sense and works.

I have played a few different Roll and Write word games over the last year. Words by Radoslaw Ignatow. Lingo Land from Dark Imp. Probably some that didn’t make enough of an impression for me to remember them. Interestingly enough, the ones I remember are pretty distinct, which is going to include Spell Write.

Spell Write isn’t the best RnW word game I’ve played. Honestly, that’s still Lingo Land. But if I want to play a game about tiny words, it’s good.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Hatchet:a book about how much luck it takes to not die

I had been told that Hatchet by Gary Paulsen had helped get kids into reading. I’d never heard of it myself but I see it won a Newberry Honor in 1988. Which, looking up how the Newberry award works, means it was actually the runner-up. Still, good show.

Okay. Here’s the elevator pitch. 13-year-old Brian Robeson, after surviving a plane crash, has to learn how to survive on his own in the Canadian wilderness. Oh, the book is called Hatchet because his only tool is a hatchet his divorced mom gave him.

If there is one word I would use to describe Hatchet, it is visceral. The book repeatedly pulls no punches about how much dumb luck Brian needs to just not be dead. Mosquitos, sunburn, starvation, food poisoning, a moose attack, Brian goes through a lot of lovingly detailed trauma.

I want to call particular attention to the pilot’s heart attack at the beginning of the book. It’s more graphic than I’d expect from a book for grown ups. For a book aimed at kids, it’s downright shocking.

I felt like Paulsen looked at all the romantic survival stories from the Coral Island to My Side of the Mountain and said that it was all rubbish. It seemed to me like he shucked all the fantasy out of the idea and showed how awful it would be. 

Mind you, I don’t think Paulsen himself would agree with me. From what I can tell, reading about him after I finished the book, he was a luddite. Well, if you use the death of the author school of thought, the reader is allowed to put their own spin on a work.

Regardless, the book does a good job giving you a picture of a teenager trying very hard not to die. And I’d like to think that no one is enough of a sociopath not to find that compelling. (Oh, I know that’s not the case. But I’d like to think it is)

Hatchet is a short read and, as far as the language is concerned, is easy to read.  But it is successfully intense.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Could Baby Dinosaur Rescue fire Candy Land?

Baby Dinosaur Rescue is a game that is clearly designed for a pre-literate audience. 

It is a cooperative game where everyone is trying to move three to five baby dinosaurs along a track to get them to safety. In this particular case, safety means the end of the track. You move a pawn by playing a card and moving it to the next open spot that matches that card’s symptom. Yes, that means you get to jump over occupied spaces. Which is pretty much the point of the game.

There’s also a lava track. There are lava cards. When they are drawn, you immediately move the lava token down the lava track. If the lava reaches the end of its track before all the baby dinosaurs are safe, the game is lost. We won’t think about what the lava does to the baby dinosaurs.

The game that immediately comes to mind is Cartagena, although Baby Dinosaur Rescue also reminds me of Lotus Moon. But the game you really need to compare it to is Candy Land.

Because Baby Dinosaur Rescue isn’t just a kid game. It’s one that’s aimed at the very youngest gamers. I wouldn’t even recommend it for someone as old as seven. But if you compare it to Candy Land or Don’t Spill the Beans or even Rivers, Roads & Rails, there’s more choices, more game going on.

I think if a child see you skip over occupied spaces, leapfrogging down the track, that’s when you’ll know if they will like it or not. If you can sell them with that, you’re golden.

What I want to know is why is in Board Game Arena? That’s where I learned and played it and I find it hard to believe that anyone has their toddler playing games on BGA.

I honestly think even a first grader will get bored by Baby Dinosaur Rescue. But it’s worth a try for toddlers.