Thursday, July 18, 2019

I hope Lantern is the first spark of what is to come

Lantern was the winner of the Best Game category in Boardgame Geek’s 2019 Roll and Write contest. So, of course I had to print it out and try it out. In fact, I laminated the play sheet because I figured it would see multiple play.

Lantern is, for all intents and purposes, a one-page dungeon crawl. It’s far from the first one-page dungeon crawl I’ve ever seen but it definitely has some touches I like. It’s a solitaire, which actually means I’ll play it more :D

At the start of the game, you roll six dice to create your adventurer. You assign the die to numbers to critical hit, counter attack, magic spell, constitution, and experience, as well as the special campfire area in the middle of the adventure. The first four let you manipulate the dice while experience and the campfire give you a limited way to recharge the abilities.

The sheet has been eight zones. Seven of them are encounters that require a specific combination of dice to defeat, ending in a dragon that requires six of a kind to kill. The other one is the campfire that I already mentioned.

As I mentioned before, there are a surprising number of one-page dungeon crawls out there and there’s some that I haven’t tried yet but I should. But the game that Lantern really reminds me of is Delve. Both games are just sets of encounters that you roll dice to resolve.

Delve is literally Yahtzee with dice combinations as special powers. Lantern, on the other hand, is all about dice manipulation. Of the two, I think I like Lantern better. You have both more control and more difficult choices since you can only use each manipulation a limited number of times and they are also your life points.

Not that I want to disparage Delve. It’s aged pretty well and still gives you a decent dungeon crawl experience in five, ten minutes. Not to mention that I’m pretty sure it’s been an influence on the genre and I’d be surprised if Lantern’s designer never heard of it. However, it’s biggest advantage in a comparison is a lot of extra material has been designed for it, including a scenario generator.

However, from what I’ve read, the current version of Lantern is still a work in progress. It sounds like there are plans to add restrictions and conditions to zones and possibly create whole new adventures. Which is great because I think Lantern has a lot of potential.

So, at the moment, Lantern is a fun little Roll and Write and I can see why it placed so well in the contest. But I am hoping that the best is yet to come.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Take a couple minutes to fence in some sheep

My latest foray into Roll and Write, as well as Print and Play, has been 13 Sheep, which is one of the more minimalist Roll and Write I have found. And, yes, with games like Criss Cross or 30 Rails, there is some competition for that. (Not Another One still holds the title though)

13 Sheep is played on a seven by eight grid. There are thirteen sheep which are inside squares and eight or nine bushes in the ‘lines’. You are going to be drawing fences in the grid, trying to enclose groups of sheep. However, the fence shapes you can draw are determined by a die roll, you can’t draw over bushes and you have a limited number of turns before the wolves show up and it’s all over.

Here’s how it goes. Get a sheet. If there’s more than one person playing, make sure everyone has the same sheet. Then roll the die. Each number has a three segment line shape assigned to it and you have to draw that one on your sheet. You can rotate them but you can’t flip them. And, on top of those pesky bushes, you can not cross over an already built fence or draw on a space where a line already is.

You’ve got a timer, the wolf track. You cross off a box with every roll and the first seven rolls are free. However, the last four boxes have numbers in them (6,5,4,1) If you roll that number or higher, the game immediately ends. (Why the row doesn’t just end with the four, I can’t tell you) You then score up each enclosure.  More sheep means more points. Most points wins, unless you’re playing solitaire. In which case, you are your own competition.

13 Sheep is an odd beast for me. The game is, at most, going to last ten die rolls. Maybe just seven. And the dice are going to really control what your options are. At the same time, the game doesn’t play itself. You have to actually make decisions and make the best with what that die gives you. But the die can stomp your plans into the dust and laugh at your tears.

One of the biggest virtues of the game is also its biggest drawback. It is so gosh darn short. It’s only a few minutes so it’s easy for casual play. With just one die, you can fit in a play or two while waiting for your coffee or appetizers. And you can teach it to just about anyone in that time.

But it is also so short. Seven to ten die rolls isn’t enough for luck to flatten itself out. The potential to make clever choices isn’t nearly as great as the power of the random number gods. The power of choice fights against the illusion of choice.

Still, it’s a free PnP game that doesn’t require any kind of cutting or folding. And it is so short that being thrashed by the die doesn’t sting that much. In fact, I've found it has a strong ‘one more time’ effect. So if you’re willing to go in on the game, I don’t think it’ll be a game breaker. It won’t be your new forever game but you’ll have fun with it for a bit.

One concern I had, that the game initially had just two boards, has been assuaged by the designer creating a random board generator. Which can make some weird boards but offers a lot more variety.

At the end of the day, 13 Sheep isn’t a perfect Roll and Write. Ada Lovelace or BentoBlocks do dice-based shape forming better and deeper. And luck beats planning every time. However, I am having fun with it and it might be a game that I include when I send out greeting cards.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

What is an abstract anyway?

Okay. Since I am in an abstract set of mind, on to the next topic I’m musing. What actually is an abstract?

When I first started being interested in abstract games, I had a brutally strict definition. A two-player, perfect information game that has no random elements.

Almost immediately, that definition ran into problems. Stratego, for instance, has hidden information. And a game like Blokus can play up to four players. Okay, so we are going to take away perfect information and no random elements and using Total Determination with no player count. That should take care of it.

Then I saw people writing about how games like Ingenious and Qwirkle are abstracts because they have no theme. But wait! You draw a random hand of tiles! It has a definite random element! But having no theme trumps that? Is the definition of abstract just mean no theme? 

Okay. I see the reasoning behind that argument. I mean, that is kind of the actual definition of abstract. But that means that Poker and Rummy are abstracts and, while that can be argued, that’s not really the way that anyone’s mind works. 

We have reached the point where I’m saying ‘I don’t know what an abstract is but I know one when I see one’ And really, every game has some element of abstraction going on. So, it’s more of a degree than a binary yes-no. 

The game that actually really got me thinking about this is Hey, That’s My Fish. It does have a random setup but after that, it’s perfect information all the way. And it has cute little penguins and fish but those could be replaced by plain pawns and numbers. It doesn’t fit the pure definition I had at the beginning but I don’t think anyone would argue it’s an abstract.

So what have we learned? That vague and arbitrarily definitions lead to nebulous answers. Plus, abstracts apparently require a board, have either no or minimal theme, and favor choices over luck.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Looks like I’ll be rolling and writing

In 2017, my understanding of Roll and Write as a concept and as a genre took a huge leap with the GenCan’t Roll and Write contest. Considering the fact that I had already seen that the genre could go past Yahtzee with games like Roll Through the Ages and Zooleretto the Dice Game, I shouldn’t have needed that kick in the bum but apparently I did.

And Boardgame Geek has just finished up a Roll and Write contest. And I just learned that this year’s GenCan’t design contest is another Roll and Write one. The first one released all the entries they got permission to release and I’m hoping that they do the same again this year. In other words, there’s at least one new treasure trove of Roll and Write games to explore. And even if GenCan’t just releases the winner of their contest, it is bound to be a humdinger.

From what I can tell, Roll and Write games have basically exploded over the last few years. Which makes sense from a publishing standpoint. A pad of sheets has to be cheaper than a mounted board, let alone a host of wooden and plastic pieces.

But that same argument applies for me as well. Roll and Write games can be the simplest Print and Play to make. There are a many solid Roll and Writes that I can make myself, either because they are free or get the files for a low price. 

Yes, there are now some Roll and Writes that use cards, not just a play sheet. (Welcome To looks fascinating) And sometimes there are speciality dice that can’t be substituted by a six-sided and a character or sharpie. So it’s not like I’m saying there is no point or value to buying a published version of a Roll and Write.

But there are so many PnP options that, particularly with the option of lamination and dry erase markers, that I am hard pressed to buy published copies. I’m not saying I won’t buy games like Welcome To or such but Roll and Write is an amazing design space to explore within PnP.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

First game purchases of 2019

We made out first game purchases for 2019, not counting thrift purchases and PnP files. In past years, I’ve tried to not buy any games. I didn’t make that pledge this year but I still try not to buy much since I have a closet full of games, even after heavy purging.

We bought one of the Gigamic editions of Difference for our five-year-old and a copy of Kingdomino for ourselves. 

Many years ago, I bought a ding-and-dent copy of the Z-Man of Difference and I still like the idea. Take a picture and make one change for each card, so every two cards have two differences. Simple but effective.

I like the Gigamic edition much more. The cards are more than twice as big and the artwork(which is different) is much sharper. The Z-Man edition had 27 cards with two images. The Gigamic has 50 cards with four images. It’s just better in every way.

Kingdomino is a game I’ve been on the cusp of getting for a while. Truth to tell, I’ve been hoping I’d find a thrift copy but I decided to take the plunge. I don’t know for sure yet but I think it has the potential to be _the_ game for work nights after the kiddo is asleep.

So, fairly quiet as far as purchases go. Instead of going wild, we made careful choices that should serve us well.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

A tiny RPG about mad relationships

Living Vie de Loca, from the Indie Mega Mixtape, combines the idea of a two-player RPG with pocket mods. One player plays the Wild One, who is trying to play the other player, the Mark. There’s room in the system for it to go from Manic Pixie Girl romance to a cynical total con job.

The game is made up of two pocket mods, little eight-page booklets that you make by folding and cutting a single piece of paper. There’s one for the Mark and one for the Wild One. And you will be writing in the game pocket mode and tearing off strips over the course of the game so you’ll need to make a new pair every time you play. 

The books guide you through a series of scenes that describe how the two characters become more and more involved with each other, one way or another. At its heart, it’s about revealing more and more details about the characters and a power struggle.

A power struggle because this is a competitive game. There will be a winner and a loser with the winner able to control the situation and the narrative. It seems like the Wild One has an edge but I’m not convinced of that.

One thing that really struck me and I liked about Living de Vie Loca is that between the amount of information the players create and the vagueness of the scenes, there’s a surprising amount of flexibility and replay potential in a game that is in a such a small space, physically and design wise. 

That said, one of the questions I always ask myself when looking at a two-player relationship game is ‘Why would I play this rather than Breaking the Ice?’ For me, that game remains the gold standard for a game about two people.

The initial answer this time is ‘To see if it actually works.’ 

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen pocket mods used as a gimmick nor is the best use I’ve seen. (Assault on Goblin Hall more fully embraces the form) And I do think it’s a gimmick in this case. It could work without the form.

The competitive aspect of the game is actually what makes Living de Vie Loca interesting. Story telling games are about collaboration so adding competition is a risk and definitely not boring.

More so than usual without playing a game, I don’t know if Living De Vie Loca is actually any good. But I admire how experimental is honestly is.

Monday, July 8, 2019

I fail at Abstract classification

I have this really silly tendency to divide abstracts up into putting pieces on the board and moving pieces on the board. 

Which is nonsense as a taxonomy. Not only are there abstracts where you do both, like Hive (or ZERTZ or Amazons or Six or YINSH or...), there are games where neither term really fits. The Mancala family really doesn’t fit the concept of moving pieces on a board, for instance. It’s its own thing. And an abstract like Zendo is completely off the grid.

I think the reason I tend to do this is because I have found that I like putting stones down more than moving stones. I admire Chess but I don’t really have any desire to play it. I admire Go and I do want to play it more. There’s a number of reasons but putting stones down is just more satisfying for me.

I don’t think it’s the biggest reason anymore but this tendency started for me because putting stones down also acts as a timer. You know the maximum number of moves in a game. Someone once wrote Othello was a great game for kids before bedtime since it had a predictable time frame.

However, stones on the board also lets you see the history of the game at a glance. For me at least, it’s a lot easier to read. It also makes it easier, at least for me, to feel the tempo of a game and to have a strong sense of what stage the game is at. 

And for me, it feels less likely for a stones on the board game to stall out. Stale mates in Chess just make me feel depressed. 

Atlantean, one of Knizia’s more minor games, has stayed in my collection in part because there’s a maximum of eleven moves per player. (Variable opening set-up that’s under the player’s control also helps) When I want a quiet, thoughtful abstract that will take ten, fifteen minutes, it’s one I consider. 

And, while I consider it to be one of the weaker Pyramid games, I still occasionally play Branches and Twigs and Thorns because being a stones on the board game on a very small board turns it into a knife fight in a telephone booth very quickly. Mind you, the first few moves tend to determine the game but it’s so fast that the rest of the moves don’t take very long.

But I’m not just saying I like stones on the board because I can play some quick games. Go, the ur-example, is a longer game but you get to see the board develop and it becomes so wonderfully complex. The history of the play is there for you to see, even at my pathetically limited understanding of Go. It’s a living tapestry, which is a great turn of phrase even if it is too pretentious for words.

For me, I find myself using stones on the board as a category because I find that mechanic an act of meditation and creation as well as competition.