Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Actually playing a game in my wallet

Pretty much from the get go of my interest in board games, I have been into having some sort of ready-to-go game bag. Games like Cinq-O or Pico 2 have lived in back pack or satchel for what seems like time and memorial. And I have take to carrying small cases of micro games, both multi-player and solitaire, in pockets for the past few years.

However, I may have taken this as far as I can without tattooing a tick-tac-toe board on myself by making my wallet a functional game bag.

It started years ago with Coin-Age. I have the official copy on authentic credit card plastic and it has lived in my wallet ever since I got it via Kickstarter. But I never have much change on my person so it’s been more of a neat thing to have as opposed to a functional game. Sort of a gamer badge, so to speak.

However, when I discovered One-Minute War and promptly made a copy, I had a functional game that was one card and nothing else. Which was also small enough to fit in my wallet without being a problem.

(I really like Button Shy’s Wallet Line but 18 cards takes up to much space in my actual wallet) 

However, I have yet to have an occasion to pull out One-Minute War and say ‘Why, yes, I do have a game on me! Best of three, say what? What do you mean I read too much Wodehouse?’

So I decided that nine cards might work. So I made a trimmed down set of cards for Down and they seem to work pretty well for the wallet. Down isn’t a very good game. However, it is a solitaire game that takes about a minute to play and is played entirely with all the cards in the hand. So it’s perfect for when you’re standing around waiting.

In other words, Down will definitely get played. 

For me, having not just a fully functional game in my wallet but one that’s going to get played is breaking a barrier. In a more real way, my wallet is now a real game bag.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Cthulhu Dark is so simple there’s nothing but the horror

Lovecraft leaves a long shadow, in part because of the disturbing and disturbed creativity of his work and in part because it’s now public domain and people can just go crazy with it, pun intended.

I picked up the original, bare bones version of Cthulhu Dark a while ago and finally decided to take the five minutes to read it. It is one of the most rules light Lovecraftian RPGs I’ve seen. The mechanics take up four pages, including clarifications and design notes.

Your character consists of a name, an occupation and a sanity score that starts off at one. If you want to do something _that is within human capacity_ you roll. If your occupation can reasonably help, add a die. If you want to risk your sanity, add your sanity die. Three dice is as big as your dice pool can ever get. Unless you’re challenged, you will succeed. Your high roll will determine the level of success. One being barely succeeding and six being an amazing success.

Sanity rolls, which are required every time you see or do something that shakes your sanity, require rolling under your sanity or your sanity goes up one. Hit six and you are hopelessly insane and out of the game.

A few other observations: Trail of Cthulhu is clearly a big influence. If you’re investigating, you will always learn enough to move on to the next scene. There are no combat rules. Fight a horror and you automatically die. If you try to cast a spell or such, that’s out of the realm of human action so you just use your sanity die. You can do it but it’s a really bad idea.

Okay. I have looked at a lot of Lovecraft RPGs over the years. Call of Cthulhu is one of the big influences on my RPG life. I have also looked at a ton of rules light systems. Cthulhu Dark surprised me by hitting a lot good notes for both.

This is Lovecraft as bleak, cosmic horror. Your characters are fragile, powerless pawns facing forces that can overwhelm you by existing. Even compared to other Lovecraftian systems, you are so very weak. As mentioned, combat is ‘you die’. While sanity isn’t a spiral, the long odds are not with you. Doom is pretty much assured, hard baked into system.

If you’re going for cosmic horror, all this is a good thing. The universe is an empty place that will crumple you up like a used tissue. Embrace it! 

I understand the Cthulhu Dark has been expanded to a full book. The rules are still the same and minimalist but you get design notes, settings and adventures. At some point, I now want to take a look at that.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

How the tally list has affect my PnP

The monthly PnP tally list on BGG ( has had an interesting effect on my PnP crafting.

Originally, if I saw the list, I just used to for ideas for future projects. Which, you know, I still do. There’s so much possible PnP out there that every resource is helpful.

But, when I decided to stop being anti-social and get involved, that changed my approach to PnP, at least for larger projects.

(As a lazy PnP guy, anything that’s more than two pages of components counts as a larger game. For instance, I’m planning on making two sets of the numbered Orchard so we could have a two-player games. So that turned a nine card game into thirty six cards and a larger project for me :D)

So, here’s the thing. I interpreted the list as a pledge that I would make X game on the given month. I later realized that most folks use the tally list near the end of the month to say what they actually had made.But by then, I was kind of set on having my entry be a goal for the month.

So, in order to be able to ensure that I would actually get a project done in the month I’d say was going to get it done, I started working ahead. 

I used to just print out what I was interested in. Then, after I started working ahead, I’d cut the components. Now I’m laminating them and saving the laminated sheets to trim when I’m ready to complete the project.

I used to do a mass cutting, a mass laminating and then a mass trimming. Now I’m saving at least the trimming for a little at a time :D

This makes a little more sense when you consider that I’m in PnP as much for the crafting as playing the games afterwards. Can’t lie. While I’ve played a lot of PnP games, I have also made a lot more than I have played.

I also know that while I have been crafting on a pretty regular basis for most of this year, I am going to hit some sort of slump. Summer is usually good for that. So having some projects waiting in the wings will be good for that.

So, yes, I consider this to be a good thing. It’s encouraging me to make larger projects and it’s also encouraging me to pace myself.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict exceeds the books it preceeds

In the interest of being a completist, I read the prequel to the Mysterious Benedict Society, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. Like the title flat out states, it’s the story of the childhood of the patron of the children in the series. 

Short version for those who don’t want to read the rest of this: It’s a stand-alone so you don’t have to have read the other books and it’s really the best book of the lot, at least until some more get written.

Here’s the relatively spoiler free summary. It’s the story of how Nicholas ends up at a broken down, dying orphanage and how, while having some adventures that show how clever he is, he grows from being a selfish brat to an actually good person.

Seriously, Nicholas starts off as a Brer Rabbit/Anansi archetype and develops into more of an all-loving hero kind of guy. And the book does so in a nice series of beats that does a good job pacing his character arc.

There are two things that I felt made the prequel better than the actual series. Setting/tone and the actual plot.

The main series has a Lemony Snicket Lite feel. An absurd world that has a Kafka-esque set of rules running it. But the reason that works in A Series of Unfortunate Events is because it plays that to the hilt. In The Mysterious Benedict Society, the world seems unfair and absurd but, oh, people aren’t that bad and everything works out.

The Extraordinary et al, the world is still unfair but the tone is much more realistic. And that works much better. Nicholas is a child, albeit, a brilliant one. He has to learn more about the world and people in particular. I’d rather have our son read this version of growing up.

Point number two: despite having scenes of Nicholas tricking bullies and pulling off clever schemes, the plot is really his growth as a person. The riddles and zany conspiracies of the main books are fun but this is more interesting and meaningful.

I almost didn’t read the Extraordinary et al. I enjoyed the series well enough but it wasn’t that special. However the book ended up being a nice surprise.

The long view of the Architect: it keeps getting better

About a year ago, I tried out a solitaire game called the Architect. At the time, I thought it was better than I had expected and I knew I should play it some more. Yeah, it took me a year to get back to it.

(Spoiler: it is even better than I remembered it being)

The Architect is an 18-Card tile laying game where you are creating the floor plan for a one-story home. It needs to have a central corridor and as few isolated rooms, doors opening into walls and gaping holes in outside walls as possible.

The tile-laying rules are very generous. There are columns that have to form a grid. Beyond that, you can both cover up previously placed cards and tuck under them. That gives you a lot of flexibility.

Which you need because it’s surprisingly tough to make a good layout. The rules say you should have plenty of space when you play and the rules weren’t kidding. Unlike many similar games where you end with blocky card patterns, The Architect can create some very snaky, spread-out layouts.

Going back to The Architect, I realized what really makes it tick and stand out is that every card is very different. In a lot of tile-laying games, there’s a lot of symmetry and similarity in tiles. Every card on the Architect is very distinct while still being very true to the architecture theme. I’m really impressed with how much design work had to go into this seemingly simple idea.

The variety of cards creates a lot of interesting decisions and means that the layouts really change from game to game. There’s a lot of changing challenges and replay. 

I have played a lot of micro games. I’m a lazy PnPer and they’re easy to make. And I have seen a lot of game crammed into a few components. But even by that standard, there’s a lot of game in eighteen cards here. If it was 52-cards, it would be overwhelming.

The more I have played The Architect, the more of an interesting puzzle it becomes. Eighteen cards and minimal ink, I’d recommend it to anyone who is curious.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Finding your perfect city in Sprawlopolis

I have finally tried Sprawlopolis, last year’s shining star from Button Shy games. Took me long enough and my first impression is that it lives up the the hype.

Sprawlopolis is the spiritual sequel to Circle the Wagons. In addition to being by the same design team, they are both 18-card tile laying game where the flip side of the cards are the scoring conditions. The big difference is that Sprawlopolis is a cooperative game.

Which was not a selling point for me. I love Pandemic but, as a rule, cooperatives are not my cup of tea. (Watch is our child fall in love with them and I play nothing but until he goes to college) But I think that being a cooperative actually was better for the core concept.

Okay, in Sprawlopolis, you are city planners, working together to design a city. At the start of the game, shuffle the cards and draw three. Those will be the special scoring conditions for your game and you won’t be using the map side of those cards this time.

Something that is actually quite clever is that the scoring conditions don’t just tell you what you score or lose you extra points in the game. They also each have a number on them. The three numbers on your cards add up to the target number for that particular game. You have to score at least that many points to win.

Now, I’ve just played the solitaire rules, where I have a hand of three. With two to four players, you pass the hand around. Every one has a card but the active player has three. They pass the two cards they didn’t use and draw a new one. I like that a lot. It adds a lot of interaction to the game.

Each card has four quadrants (one in each of the four different colors), as well as some roads. Placement requires that at least one quadrant must share an edge an a quadrant on the board. You can overlap but you can’t tuck your card under.

After all the cards are placed, you get points for your largest area in each of the four colors, lose points for each stretch of road and go over the special scoring cards. If you meet the target number, you win!

You know, showing someone how to play the game using examples would be a lot easier than writing all that out :D

As you already know, I like Sprawlopolis a lot. Circle the Wagons is a solid game but Sprawlopolis takes the core ideas and makes a cleaner, more streamlined game. And being a cooperative helps that. You can have more players and you create a larger tableau. You have a variable scoring target as well as variable scoring. Sprawlopolis is a puzzle with a lot of permutations. It’s a great use of eighteen cards.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

My April PnP

May has rolled in and it’s time for me to look at what I’ve made during April. Let’s see:

Black Sonata 
Criss Cross
Drakestail (2016 9-Card Contest)
Mountain River River Sun (2019 9-Card contest)
Ninja Samurai (2019 9-Card Contest)
Cotillion (2016 9-Card contest)
Mariner (2019 9-Card Contest) 
Doctor Smuglfreud’s Marvelous Machine (2018 9-Card Contest)
Living La Vie Loca (RPG)
Devil Bunny Hates the Earth * (one page)
Name of God, original (RPG)
High Score
Gold Digger (Cheapass Version)
Qwixx (laminating score sheets from the game)
Rolling America (laminating score sheets from the game)
Planet Run
Escape of the Dead * (original as one page)

I’m going to be honest. I didn’t plan on doing this much crafting in April. I went a little out of control and did some binging. Which I don’t care for since I can’t maintain that level of crafting and not get burnt out. Still, it happens.

And, to be honest, I have some games already cut and laminated for May so I just have to trim them. It’s all part of my kooky plan to keep my crafting steady and constant.

I want to note that this isn’t the first time I’ve made the first version of Name of God, with simple art and only four roles. This time, I made it double sided (four roles on side and rules on the other) and used five mm plastic to laminate it, making it as portable and durable as I could. It lives in my bag, allegedly so I always have an RPG on hand but really more like some sort of lucky charm. I have the files for the much larger second edition and I do plan on making it this year. 

I do wonder if this will be my most productive month this year.

And, as ever, I need to work on playing more of the games I’ve crafted :D