Monday, July 4, 2022

My June Gaming

Okay, somehow in June, I ended up trying a decent number of games. Itty bitty games, really, but more than I’ve played in a while.

Two of the games were from the first (and possibly annual) In Hand Design Contest: Brave the Book and Coffee Zombies. I am pretty sure I am not done with that contest’s entries either.

Brave the Book is a bookmark as a game and an exercise in counting words. I’ve already written about it. As a game, it almost felt like a modern veneer over a Victorian parlor game. I found it so-so at best as a game or activity but I really appreciate it as a mad experiment. One of the things I love about PnP and design contests is that they are safe places for crazy ideas.

Coffee Zombies may end up getting a full blog. It’s about using cupcakes to cure folks who have been turned into zombies by coffee. It has a bit of a Palm Island feel since you are rotating and flipping cards. It has one very interesting design choice. It is a separate action to put a card at the end of the deck. So you can keep developing the same card and some zombies don’t let you have the option of putting the card in the back.

I feel like Coffee Zombies could be solved. However, the designer added a special action card and an advanced deck which can be either played on its own or added to the regular deck. There’s more play out of it and, like so many contest entries, I have to wonder if this is the final version.

On the Roll and Write side, I tried out a few games.

I’ve already written about Goblins, Guns and Grog but my opinion of the game has actually gotten worse since then. The theme is good but the actual mechanics are weak. It has become my least favorite Legends of Dsyx game and it likely to stay that way.

However, I tried another of RobinJarvis’s games, one of the paper pinball games Goblin Circus. The last one from the first season I hadn’t tried. The paper pinball series aren’t very much like pinball but they are fun dice chuckers. Goblin Circus has a reroll mechanic, as well as a nifty jackpot goal. 

Comparing the two games was interesting. Goblins, Guns and Grog is more ambitious but falls short. Goblin Circus is much simpler but it works and is fun.

I also played a game from an early R&W contest, Babhan. It’s a mixture of Roll and Write and Roll and Move as a solitaire. I’ve written about it, about how it makes several design choices to not make or a luck fest. It still is but I appreciate the effort.

Looking at ‘earlier’ design contests, I feel like design contests are becoming more and more testing grounds for prototypes with an aim for publication. Which is cool but there’s still room for madness like Brave the Book :)

I also actually bought a couple of games (Forbidden Desert and CYOA: War With The Evil Power Master) but haven’t had a a chance to play them yet.

Friday, July 1, 2022

My June PnP

June was an interesting month for Print and Play for me. No big moments of crafting but periodically I made small projects to help keep my peace of mind.

Here’s what I made:

Tussie Mussie (high definition but B&W)
Mini Town
Babhan (Roll and Write Contest #3)
Coffee Zombies with expansions (2022 In Hand Contest)
Wurfel Bingo
Pillow Fort (PnP Arcade Prototype Zone)

My ‘big’ project for June was Tussie Mussie. I wanted to upgrade from the original Gen Can’t contest version. That said, while there are textures to tell the flower colors apart, the game really needs to be printed in color, particularly if I want to play it with casual gamers. So this is not the last time I make it.

The other projects were smaller. I originally just planned on making the basic cards for Coffee Zombies but I had enough fun with it that I later made the other nine cards lol

I printed and laminated Pillow Fort more than a year ago because it had cats as a game element. And then it sat  for months. Even if I never play it, it was time to at least finish it.

Not a crazy month but stuff got done.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Cape Punk and blowing up the moon

Earlier this year, I read Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain, a fun romp about a middle schooler who also happens to be a mad scientist in a Cape Punk world.

(Cape Punk is a very loosely defined genre about superhero stuff done ‘realistic’ It seems to get slapped on any work when it’s convenient. Frankly, I can see an argument for the original treatments of Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four counting as Cape Punk :D)

The books definitely falls on the lighter side of Cape Punk. At least in Los Angeles, the super-human community is very self-policing. Murder and mass destruction isn’t tolerated by villains OR heroes. So it’s a pretty safe environment for a junior high metahumans to figure things out.

And I just got around to reading the second book, Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon.  The title gives away a major event and the book is actually a bit of a genre shift. And I don’t think the genre shift really works for the series favor.





The first book is not just about Penny becoming a super-powered person. It is all about her relationships. With her two best friends who gain powers either influenced by Penny or flat out from her. With her schoolmates. With the adult superhero community. With the adult supervillain community. And, of course, with her parents.

And it was good stuff. And none of it was resolved.

Book 2? Penny and Ray and Claire fly off into space and have steampunk, clockwork punk adventures. Away from basically all the conflict which drove the first book.

It’s actually worse than that. 

The plot was disjointed to the point that I couldn’t figure out what the characters were trying to accomplish. They were constantly shifting to new locations and I kept feeling like I was missing the connecting pieces.

It felt like Richard Roberts had come up with this neat setting with at least three different alien groups and two human factions from the first and second World Wars and was just using Penny and company as a way to show it off.

The best part of the book was Remmy Fawkes. She’s an eleven-year-old mad scientist who is constantly being used as a pawn in other people’s plans. She has a genuine character arc as she takes control of her life, albeit with a lot of conflict with Penny. 

Honestly, a stand-alone book with Remmy as the protagonist would have made a lot more sense.

The next book looks like it’s back to middle school and family. So I’ll read it and hope it catches the magic of the first book.

Monday, June 27, 2022

On the limits and influence of Palm Island

As I’ve mentioned before, I have been playing a lot of In Hand games lately. And that means I’ve been revisiting Palm Island, which is the poster child of In Hand games.

Palm Island definitely didn’t invent In Hand games. But it did give the idea a kick in the pants. I honestly would say that a third of the In Hand games I’ve seen post Palm Island were clearly Influenced by it.

Something I want to do this summer is get the color files printed so I have the ‘full’ games and get the ‘full’ Palm Island experience. I’ve spent years with the low ink demo and I’ve wanted to see how much deeper the game gets.

However, when I actually looked at the files, I realized that most of the cards are for the two-player version of the game. As a solitaire player, the only new element are feats. Which turn the game essentially into a campaign but doesn’t seem like a major mechanical shift.

And I know that the basic framework can be tweaked just a little to get significant changes. In Battle for the Carolinas (which I have started replaying and really enjoying), you need different cards at different points in the game. You need maps and compasses to find the battlefields but then they need to become men and weapons. It creates a different tempo than Palm Island.

While Palm Island has a very solid structure of resource management and infrastructure development, it is ultimately very simple. The individual actions are very simple. This is not a bad thing.

Between the random shuffle of the cards and the limit of only being able to store four cards, Palm Island does has variabily and tough choices. But it’s presented in such an accessible way so that the initial learning curve is just about keeping the deck in your hand the whole time. It’s great for casual gaming.

But now I’ve been seeing that the si one structure is one that can be built on. And, while games like Battle for the Carolinas shows that other folks are doing this, the fact that Portal Dragon will be publishing Palm Laboratory and have mentioned Palm Galaxy shows that this was intended.

And even as I become more and more aware of the limitations of Palm Island, I am playing it more often. I keep on going back to it and having fun. There is a good game there.

Palm Island is not the definitive In Hand game. It didn’t create the genre. But I think it is an important milestone and has helped there he better games ahead.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Another look at Roll and Move

Babhan is a game from the third Roll and Write Contest, one of the three Roll ans Writes contests BGG held that year. (Seriously, for a number of actually legitimate reasons, it’s a contest type that happens a lot)

I’d have tried Babhan ages ago but, for some reason, it’s simple black and white graphics baffled our printer. But I finally made a copy.

Stripped of its theme of going to offer tribute to a king, Babhan is a roll and move game. That’s right, it’s a Roll and Move Roll and Write. (Not the first time I’ve played one either)

I’m not sure there is a game mechanic more reviled than Roll and Move, not even then optional fisticuffs conflict resolution system from Panzer Pranks. (To be fair, Dungeons and Dragons is the only game I can personally verify that has resulted in fist fights. Poker and hockey players have seen more, I’m sure) 

I find it fascinating that one of the oldest examples of Roll and Move, Backgammon, uses several methods to add depth to the mechanic. Multiple pieces, the order you use dice being meaningful, the doubling cube. And while Backgammon took centuries to be codified, Wikipedia indicates many of these elements have been a part of the game since ancient times.

Of course, it is the Candy Land, Denny’s dining mat school of Roll and Move that makes the mechanic so hated. When you have one pawn and the dice/card draw/spinner determines where it goes then you either have minimal choices (in the case of multiple paths) or no choices whatsoever. It is an example of very lazy game design. And, no, the fact that it teaches very little kids how to take turns and count doesn’t help it much.

The earliest example that I am aware offhand is the Royal Game of Goose, although its history clearly indicates it wasn’t the first game that just used one pawn. That said, one the thing makes a difference in the Game of Goose versus Candy Land is that it was a gambling game. That changes why people would play it as a game of chance.

Why we play games is not the same as how we play games.

Yeah, Babhan was just an excuse for me to discuss Roll ans Write.

Babhan effective has just one pawn (if you are using a pencil, you mark off boxes) but has some mechanics to create choices. It uses a dice pool. You need sets of three or more 2s, 3s, 4s and 6s to move while 1s and 5s allow rerolls. There are branching paths, each with special rules. And you only have seven turns to complete the track, which doesn’t add choices but does add tension.

And, to be honest, it’s still not that interesting. I’ll play it some more to try out all the branches but I’m pretty sure luck more than clever play will still determine how I do. It might be better with modifications as a multi-player game.

I do like it as an experiment and an excuse to ruminate about Roll and Move.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Does anyone else remember Mulberry?

Every once in a blue moon, I remember an obscure little British show called Mulberry. It was never finished (and it clearly has an ending built in) and may have been underrated. It did have a beautiful sad, sweet theme song and a killer concept.

Miss Farnaby is a sour, sullen old lady living with her equally elderly maid and gardener. Into their lives comes Mulberry, her new manservant, who is blessed with humor, vibrance and an astonishing area of vests. Mulberry breathes new life into their home.

Ah, but there is a twist! Mulberry is actually the son of the Grim Reaper. He has come to take Miss Farnaby away. However, he has a sweet and tender side from his mother, Spring, and he wants to give Miss Farnaby a chance to enjoy life before she had to give it up.

Damn, but that’s a hook!

It has been probably decades since I last watched Mulberry. And, at best, I watched it intermittently even through there were only thirteen episodes. But if my memories of it are true, it often fell into sitcom shenanigan and didn’t really live up to its high concept.

I think that Mulberry could be rebooted very effectively. Not darker or edgier but with more drama. Lean into the melancholy and sweetness and you’d get an unwritten Peter Beagle masterpiece.

As I mentioned, it was canceled before it could end and I wondered if the plan had been for Mulberry to somehow extend Miss Farnaby’s life. However, I found an interview with Bob Larbey, one of the writers. In it, he said Miss Farnaby would die in her sleep and Mulberry would meet her in the garden to guide her awayZ

Which makes sense since that’s the ending that’s baked into the core concept.

Monday, June 20, 2022

The fluff and flaws of Goblins Guns and Grog

It’s been a while since I have learned a Legends of Dsyx title but I felt like it was time to revisit the series.  I’d been planning on trying Goblins, Guns and Grog for a while so that’s what got picked.

In Goblins, Guns and Grog, you control the destiny of five stranded goblin pirates as they try to float on a raft home, trying not to die and trying to loot as many ships as possible.

The game really revolves around two things:
Making sure you have enough fish to not starve and building up the raft so you have cannons to attack ships and chests to store loot from defeated ships.

I’m of two minds about G to the third power.

On the one hand, I feel comfortable saying that it’s the mechanically weakest of the Legends of Dsyx games I’ve tried (which is ten of the twelve  at this point) The dice control enough that you sometimes have very little decisions. In my first game, my goblins starved to death on the fourth turn. 

If you can build up a big enough raft and outfit it, you do get more options. However it takes some luck to get to that point.

With a little bit of luck, your goblin pirates will survive their sea voyage. With a lot of luck, they will be able to bring home loot and score any points.

On the other hand, Goblins et al may have the strongest narrative structure in the entire series. You might not have much control over the story but a story is getting told. It easily has the most fluff of any of the games. Depending on what you want, that can be something.

The weakest element of the game, particularly from a story-telling element, is that the ships you are firing cannons at don’t fight back. Enemy shops are just boxes of hit points.

The Legends of Dsyx series are a bunch of one-page PnP R&Ws. Some of them, like Hall of the Dwarven King, are quite good. Goblins, Guns and Grog, though, feels more like an experiment that doesn’t quite work. It was interesting to try but, out of the series, it is the one I’m least likely to replay.