Monday, August 29, 2016

Couple little PnP projects

I have found myself working on a couple of little Print and Play projects without even meaning to.

Some months ago, I took note of Mint Works when it was part of a Print and Play contest with the specific requirement that the game had to fit into a mint tin.

Mint Works stood out to me because it was a worker placement game, consisting of less than twenty cards and some tokens. I've seen a lot of micro games but this was the first worker placement micro game I'd seen.

It's now on Kickstarter so I decided to make a copy from the files from the contest in order to check it out. Got to check out the twin questions of fun and replayability.

I've also begun work on the B&W PnP version of Herbaceous, a game about drafting cards and collecting sets. The theme appeals to us and I'm going to try and color the cards by hand. Which might be silly  and might mean we might not try until after that Kickstarter is over but it will be fun.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Rose colored glasses and getting into games

I have been spending a lot of time going down memory lane, both remembering some of my early game experiences and some of the games that helped get me into gaming. However, there are some elements of those formative times that I had really forgotten about until I started looking at them more closely.

I had remembered how they were so many amazing games out there that I'd never heard of. Effectively, I was years behind in the cult of the new. So there were many games that were new to me that had years of people vetting them and figuring out what games were good.

So, my rose colored memories make it seem like I had just entered a candy store of gaming. However, what I realized I was overlooking was how limited my access to that candy store was.

By the time we moved out of Chicago, there was a gaming store fifteen minutes from where we lived and there's one about ten minutes away from us here in Tucson. When I first started, I'd have to drive out to the suburbs (Hi, Games Plus!)

For that matter, the online retail market wasn't as rich, although that was still the main way I got most of my games. And the idea of finding a game like Catan or Carcassonne in a store like Target was silly.

By the time we left Chicago, a lot of my friends had good-sized game collection. Pretty much anyone I've gamed with since getting to Arizona has had a collection. 

So, back when I first was looking at designer games, if I wanted to try something, I had to buy it. This probably helped me buy too many games and be the game closet for a bunch of my friends.

The internet did give me two really amazing resources. Boardgame Geek was an amazing site to research games. Breitspielwelt, an online German board game site, was how I did get try out games.

Yes, it was an amazing experience to discover designer board games. But I have to remember that it actually took some effort to get into them.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


I turned 42 today.

To be honest, I'm kind of past the point where I really think about the number. The last time I thought about it was when I turned thirty and I dreamed I was surrounded by teenagers chanting I wasn't a hepcat anymore.

To be fair, thirty was kind of 'What am I doing with my life?' In comparison, when I turned forty, I was married, had moved across the country and had an infant son. That was more of 'Wow! Look at what I've done with my life!'

But as someone who read his copies of Douglas Adams until they were literally in pieces as a teenager, I have to acknowledge forty-two.

Even folks who don't know Douglas Adams from Evelyn Waugh know that forty-two is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.

I swear that in the annotated scripts to the radio plays, Adams stated that the whole point was that it didn't mean anything (although I bet it has come to mean something to a lot of people) 

But I am going to take this from it. Yeah, the number isn't important. What matters is what I've done with those years. And, while there have been some bumps and twists along the way, it just keeps getting better.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus: Baum tackles the big red guy

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is just what it says on the tin, an origin story for Santa Claus. After the Wizard of Oz, it might be the most influential book that L. Frank Baum wrote.

I don't think that someone could write a book like the Life and Adventures of Santa Claus today. Baum wrote it in a fairy tale, folk story manner, very much honoring the idea that he was writing about children's beliefs. I think it would be hard for someone to approach the same material today without deconstructing it. And the mythology of Santa Claus is now so codified that it is practically set in stone. Baum wrote about Santa Claus before so much was defined, even though the book helped create some of those ideas, like Santa having magical assistants.

Only a few decades later, Seabury Quinn wrote Roads, an origin of Santa Claus as well as a deconstruction of Santa Claus with Santa as a Viking who served under both King Herod and Ponticus Pilate. It's an audacious book on the sheer idea alone but no one is going to accuse to of trying to create a Santa Claus that's true to the folklore.  

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus starts with being found as orphan baby by Fairies, who bring him up. After he grows up and goes out into the world, Claus learns of the suffering and sorrows of the world. Since children are the most innocent, he decides to help them by creating toys. Both as a concept and a physical object. As the scope of his toy work grows, the varies benevolent magical races help out. When Santa Claus grows old and dying, the magical races decide to grant him immortality through the power of a one-use magical item, so he can help out children for all time.

Oh, and basically behind Santa Claus's back, there is a major war between the nice enchanted races and the nasty ones who want to end his toy making, children helping ways.

I've actually read this book a number of times over the years. It's a pretty good read. While you know from the start how it's going to end (well, maybe the not immorality bit but Santa becoming Santa), it has some odd twists like that war.

And, as much as Baum's work has any kind of coherent cosmology, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus defines it. It describes the benevolent races of fairies and ryls and knooks, as well as mentioning the original version of the land of Mo and the nomes. Baum never let continuity get in the way of a good story but this book gives us the clearest framework of his fantasy world.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is a good book for understanding the work of Baum but it's also a very good children's book.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Memories of Bohnanza

Bohnanza is the source of one of my favorite Gen Con memories.

The first Gen Con after I discovered Boardgame Geek was a big one for me. I had read about all these games that everyone there knew were classics that I had never even seen. And, while I had a couple friends who owned Catan and Puerto Rico and Carcassonne, I ended up being the first person in my crowd to really get into designer board games.

So I had a list. And a budget, which I blew through. After I reached the point of stopping, I saw a booth that had Bohnanza on sale and I couldn't resist grabbing that too.

Spoiler: out of all the new games I bought at that GenCon, that last minute impulse purchase of Bohnanza was the one that has seen the most play with the greatest variety of groups and it has easily kept its place on the game shelf.

That night, after the gang got back to the hotel, we opened up Bohnanza and got in a three-player game of it. And then another. And then another. At that point, everyone was so exhausted that we crashed. But we all knew Bohnanza was a brilliant game.

Indeed, Bohnanza, a game about planting beans and managing a hand of cards that you can't rearrange except through trading with other players, is a great example of simple mechanics with deep choices. While the designer, Uwe Rosenberg, has gone on to greater fame with heavier games like Agricola, Bohnanza is still one of masterpieces.

I have played a lot of games since that Gen Con, both at Gen Cons and even more outside of Gen Con. But the magic of discovering Bohnanza still shines.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Sleepwalker - a lost gem of a comic book

The early 90s were a weird time to be into comics. What has come to be known as the dark age of comics were in full swing. Grim and gritty for the sake of being grim and gritty anti-heroes were busy looking cool, killing bad guys and being cynical.

One comic book that stood out for me during this time and stuck around in the back of my head was Marvel's Sleepwalker.

Sleepwalker, the hero and namesake of the book, was an alien from a place called the mindscape trapped in a normal person's mind, only able to come out when his host is asleep. He looked like a cross between a scarecrow and an insect. His powers included super strength, flight and eye beams that could turn things into Salvatore Dali paintings.

Since Marvel pretty much invented the whole hated-and-hunted superhero lifestyle, it should come as no surprise that Sleepwalker was routinely met with violent hatred and was even hunted by a branch of the government whose only purpose seemed to hunt Sleepwalker.

And how did Sleepwalker handle being treated worse than the X-Men? He vigilantly  protected and defended people and fought evil whenever he came across it. Which,N being a comic book, was pretty much every night.

Which wouldn't have been that weird ten years earlier or even ten years later. But Sleepwalker came onto the scene when comic books were full of beautiful people were busy being cynical and bloodthirsty. A character who is actually altruistic and heroic when he has plenty of excuses to be a jerk, that was like a breath of fresh air.

Sleepwalker being an actual hero wasn't the only thing that made the book a good read. His adventures, taking place, had a definitely dreamy quality. He had a rogues gallery full of strange and quirky characters. They managed to combine a level of silver age silliness with more modern sensibilities. 

Rick, the poor blighter who had Sleepwalker stuck in his head, was also a great part of the ensemble. Having to go to sleep whenever there was trouble made his life worse than Peter Parker's, costing him his job and messing up his personal life something fierce. But, just like the creepy alien in his brain, Rick always showed pluck and never stopped trying to do the right thing.

Sleepwalker had a short run, less than three years. In a market that was full of shallow deconstructions of heroes, it managed to say something entertaining and original about heroes and I still remember for it for that.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What will giant robot tanks do at hill 218?

Ogre: Objective 218 is a game that I'm going to have to take a closer look at, seeing as how it combines two properties I really life. The world of of Bolo-like Ogre tanks and the mechanics of the Battle for Hill 218.

I was vaguely aware that it existed but it really sparked my interest when Howard Taylor reviewed it over at his web comic Schlock Mercenary. I like his comics but I also really enjoy his reviews. If that guys likes a movie, I'll probably like it too.

The Ogre setting has been a wonderful marriage of evocative theme and fun mechanics for decades. A small army of conventional forces fighting against one giant super tank, no doubt inspired by Keith Laumer's wonderful Bolo stories. And the mechanics are simple enough for easy play but rich enough for an engaging experience.

The Battle for Hill 218 is an abstract disguised as a deck of cards with just enough touches to also give it some war flavor. I have gotten a lot of good pay out of it and it spent years as a standard game to play at breakfast at conventions.

Mind you, the real question I have about Ogre: Objective 218 is what are the meaningful differences between it and the original WW II game? If it's just different art work, than I'm not interested. But if it somehow has that giant death machine favor, than I need me a copy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Examining X, Dark Horse Comic's vigilante protagonist

Thanks to a recent Humble Bundle of electronic comic books, I got to read the early issues of the obscure Dark Horse comic book X. 

In the early 90s, Dark Horse tried to break into the super hero market. This was at the heart of the whole anti-hero craze, which helped me lose a lot of my interest in comic books. Dark Horse was known for making good use to licensed properties and weird stories. Super heroes seemed like going outside their wheelhouse.

A friend loaned me an issue of X at the time and I was very underwhelmed. A remorseless killer with zero emotional depth and a fashion sense that mixed bondage gear with a Lucha Libre outfit. Really, since Lucha Libre is cool, that was the best part of the character.

Reading the early issues in one go, that description still holds. In fact, X crosses the line from anti-hero to villain main character. And since he has virtually no emotional depth and shows so little weakness that he borders on always being right and unstoppable, there's almost nothing to empathize with.

But now I wonder if that's the point. That X isn't supposed to be cool or admirable or even a hero. Maybe he is really a mass murderer whose pretensions of morality don't hold up under scrutiny. Maybe X is supposed to be the 90s anti-hero stripped of illusions and revealed to be a monster.

If that's the case, the book stops being about superheroes and becomes a thriller noir that almost seems like a throwback pulp heroes like the Shadow. He even has a Zoro like signature of slashing Xs on his victims' faces.

I'm left with the conclusion that Dark Horse wasn't jumping on the bandwagon but trying to deconstruct the bandwagon. In that case, their real problem was not going farther.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Par Out Golf - dry erase meets golf

When I went down memory lane to look at games I've played that used dry erase markers, I found myself remembering Par Out Golf.

Here's the basic idea in a nutshell: each board shows a hole on a golf course.myou close your eyes and draw with a dry erase marker the path of your golf ball. Hitting obstacles like sand traps and water hazards will force you to start from that point and take a stroke penalty.

Honestly, that's it. 

Probably the worst thing I can say about Par Out Golf is that I completely forgot that it existed. It is definitely a silly, light game that is quite literally multi-player solitaire. Unless you're playing it alone. In that case, it's just solitaire.

On the other hand, Par Out Golf feels more like a game of golf than some other golf games I've played. It's not nearly as abstract as some (like GOLO) It's beyond sinks to teach and intuitive. And it is honestly fun.

I have to confess that I've only played Par Out Golf via tablet, as opposed to the physical book with dry erase markers. The iOS version actually causes clouds to cover the board instead of assuming you've closed your eyes and includes elements like wind.

At the time when we downloaded Par Out Golf, there weren't too many board game apps so it did get some decent play. However, a richer selection developed and it faded.

However, thinking about dry erase markers and games has made me decide to go back and revisit it. Well I don't own the physical game, the first three holes are available online. And, with the power of the laminator, I can make those three boards dry erasable.

At the moment, I doubt that the print and play version of Par Out Golf Will be more than a couple minutes distraction for me. However, we do have a two-year-old who's going to be getting bigger. The print and play version has gotten added to my list of potential tricks for long car rides or the airport or doctors' waiting rooms.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Upgrading the Quiet Book for our toddler

Carrie made our son a new quiet book.

Traditionally, a quiet book is a big book of backgrounds made out of felt with a bunch of felt images that you can stick on the pages. Basically, it's something that will give little hands something to do while also keeping their minds thinking.

In our case, we have been using the Cricut and a Xyron sticker maker, using card stock to make the pieces. Unfortunately, even card stock doesn't handle toddlers that well. I don't know if felt would either, actually.

So this time, before she turned a card stock pieces into stickers, she laminated them first. Seriously, getting a laminator has proven to be a shockingly useful craft tool.

We will see how much abuse the laminated version of the stickers can handle. But one things for sure, it will be a lot more than the non-laminated ones!

Frankly, it's got me wondering what else we could use laminated sticker store. A teaching copy of Tic Tac Toe was one idea I had but frankly, it's not really necessary.

Tools like the Cricut and the Xyron and the laminator have proven to be more flexible than they first appeared. You can create some amazing things with them.

A Kickstarter has me revisit dry erase as a tool

Since I'm on the Smallbox Games mailing list, I found out when they started the Akua Kickstarter. 

What immediately struck me what that Akua consists of the board and four dry erase markers instead of cards and tokens and other bits.

My first reaction as that this was a brilliant idea. It cuts down on storage space and how many pieces you have to keep track of. Between three cats and a small child, it's really easy for little cubes and meeples and cards and cardboard discs to get scattered and lost. Just having a board and some markers, markers you can buy just about anywhere to replace, is a lot easier to deal with.

But then I realized that it wasn't that original or unusual to use dry erase or the equivalent. Crayon Rail games have basically been doing that since the early 1970s. Party games like Wits and Wagers or Say Anything make dry erase a critical part of the of the game.

And there are already games where the board and the markers are the entire game. The latest version of Sid Sackson's Beyond Tic Tac Toe, published as Games of Art, is the first one that comes to mind. The silly little golf game Par Out Golf is another. 

And, now that I actually remember my experiences with board games and dry erase markers, I also understand why this isn't going to replace physical components. In all honestly, dry erase markers create a sloppy and messy looking board, in comparison to wooden or plastic or cardboard pieces. You have an actual mess to clean up at the end of the game. Physical pieces give you a tactical experience and a snazzier look. And, let's face it, chrome is fun.

Which is not to say that dry erase games don't have their place. They are good for travel or playing without a table or playing in a confined space. And, speaking as someone who has cats who like to scamper across boards or lie down on top of them, not having a bunch of parts to keep track of can be a real blessing.

Mind you, the same can be said for using a tablet. Still, it's nice to have options, including options that don't involve electricity.

Akua does bring something new to the table. Almost every dry erase game I've seen or played has either been a party game or an abstract. With an action selection mechanic, area control and what seems to be some genuine point salad, Akua falls solidly into the Euro camp.

I've already backed it on the PnP level. Since we have a laminator, making a playable copy will be a breeze. One of the stretch goals, one that looks like it will be met, will be for a two-player board. A two-player board and a clipboard could see some serious use.

I haven't had a chance to play it yet, although the two-player board will definitely increase my chances. I do hope that it's a good game that I could get a lot of play out of. I don't need to dry erase Euros but one would be really nice.

Friday, August 12, 2016

King's Breakfast - a tiny but tasty card game

It has been years since I've played King's Breakfast but, back in the day, I played the heck out of it. A simple little game of card drafting and brinkmanship, I got a lot more fun out of it than I would have expected.

In the game, you've been invited to the castle to have a sumptuous meal with the king. Fame and glory in the form of victory points will be showered upon you if you share in the king's tastes. But not if if eat more than the king.

The game consists of a deck of cards of different types of food, plus five dragon cards since dragons always mix with royalty and fine dining. 

Each round, you deal out twice as many cards as there are players. You then sort them by type of food, with any dragons placed on the side. Then, on your turn, you can take all the cards of one type of food or draw a card from the draw pile or use a dragon to eat two cards from the king's collection of cards. After everyone has had a turn, all the unclaimed cards go in the king's collection.

When there aren't enough cards in the deck left to deal out a round, the game's over. You get points by multiplying the number of cards of each food type by the number the king has. Oh, unless you have more than the king. Than you get nothing for that food type. Naturally, whoever has the most points wins.

It was designed by Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum. Moon is the man who have given the world games like Elfenland and Ticket to Ride. Weissblum has done a number of collaborations with Moon, including the 10 Days series.

King's Breakfast was not one of their big hits. It's a light little filler with some card counting mixed with pushing your luck and a dash of spite with the dragon. (Because, since everything accept the blind draw is open knowledge, you just use the dragon to mess with someone else's scoring) There aren't any compex decision trees going on here.

And yet, every time I played King's Breakfast, I had a good time and ended up feeling happy. It wasn't just a pleasant little game. It was a relaxing one, a game that took away any grumpiness the day might have left me with.

One part of my enjoyment of games from the meditative state I can get from playing them. Lord knows that is part of why I love Ingenious, although I also enjoy it's tactical play. For me, King's Breakfast was almost entirely meditation.

I don't think King's Breakfast is for everyone. I don't think it's either designer's finest work. But it did right by me.

Stranger Things lovingly deconstructs the 80s

While I don't watch a whole lot of TV, too many friends told me I had to check out Stranger Things and I ended up having a good time when I did.

I really want to limit my spoilers here. I did my darnedest to not spoil Stranger Things for myself. The basic premise is that after a middle schooler disappears in the woods, his friends find a mysterious girl with psychic powers. Mysterious government agents and an even more mysterious creature stalk them as they try to find their lost friend.

Stranger Things is set in 1983 and very much an homage to 80s films, ET and the Goonies in particular. As my gray, thinning hair will attest, I was around when those movies first came out and I still think they are pretty darn nifty.

However, what I really took away from Stranger Things is how it didn't slavishly imitate those films but it examined and explored elements from them, to the point of deconstructing them. Not in a disrespectful way but it used them as a foundation to build on.

One of the biggest examples of that for me is the character Joyce Byers, the mother of the missing boy. She initially seems to be going insane from his disappearance and looks like she will shape up to be a useless adult who will give the kids a hint.

Instead, she proves to very intelligent and very observant. Joyce ends up being a strong character who helps drive the plot and has as much claim to be a protectionist as any of the kids.

Really, looking at virtually all of the characters, they all subtly subvert the archetypes that inspired them while never rejecting the kind of movies that inspired them.

A lot of carful thought and consideration clearly went into Stranger Things. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Listening to other folks' Gen Con stories

With another Gen Con gone by, I've been calling on my friends who did go to see how insanely jealous I need to be for not going. 

Eh, it turns out that I don't need to be really jealous.

Now, I did hear plenty of stories about how Gen Con has become too big and too crowded and how buying whatever the super hot game of the day is involved a combination race and brawl as soon as the exhibit hall opens. I heard stories about how hotels on the edge of the city were sold out and rollaway beds could be found for love or money.

And I don't really care about any of that. Frankly, I count all of that as a sign that both Gen Con and the hobby are doing well. Gen Con being an over-the-top, sensory overload kind of seems to be the point to me.

However, over half of the people who I used to go with or meet at Gen Con didn't go this year. During the last few Gen Cons that I did attend, a major component was that it was a reunion with friends. Losing that part of the experience would be a big loss.

But, like me, a lot of folks have other obligations. Work and family has to be your first consideration. 

I do have a feeling that, forty years from now, when the folks who grew up as gamers retire and their kids have all moved out, there will a huge surge of the elderly at Gen Con.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Lairs, a Kickstarter project that appeals to my imagination

Lairs is a Kickstarter project that checked off enough boxes for me that I ended up backing is on the PnP level. Admittedly, the fact that the PnP level was only a dollar was one of the boxes but there were other reasons it sparked my interest.

At its heart, Lairs is a dungeon crawl, which is a genre which that doesn't lack for games. As someone who spent a couple decades playing Dungeons and Dragons, I like dungeon crawls but I've never found one that I've liked as much as actually playing Dungeons and Dragons. 

Although, now that I don't have time to be in a campaign, there's more appeal. :D 

However, compared to a lot of dungeon crawls, Lairs definitely has a different feel. In fact, it steps away from the traditional, post Tolkien fantasy and explores a narrative that's both more whimsical and melancholy. 

Instead of wizards and warriors, the players take the role of strange beings of power. Between the artwork and the backstories, they look like the cast from a collaboration by Lord Dunsany and Edward Gorey.  

The narrative choices is a big reason why the game interested me. Some of the characters are just very interesting. There is the tragic Stonewrought Senator whose soul is trapped inside an unmoving statue. The Potted Prince takes the idea of a sentient potted plant and gives is pathos and seriousness is actually pretty cool.

I'll admit that the Dame of Catterbury is what pushed me over the edge to pledging. A magical cat locked in war against dogs and who has the most altruistic backstory? Yeah, you got my dollar for that.

They are each building their own dungeon in the same mysterious magic mountain and whoever finishes first gets to be the dungeon master as the others invade their lair. The dungeons are less a serious of rooms full of monsters and more interlocking mini games with a chance of monsters.

Frankly, the mechanics of Lairs reminds me a lot of Betrayal on the House on the Hill, which I played a fair bit of when it came out. The first half of the game is spent building a haunted house. Then someone gets possessed and you play out one of fifty different scenarios with everyone else trying to stop the possessed.

Mechanically, Betrayal had a ton of issues, not the least of which was that that first edition was horribly edited. While the underground lake on the second floor was particularly memorable, it was far from the only error. The errata ended up being something like fifty pages long.

And the random factor was so high that it could nullify any choices a player might make. Any given game could end up being a landslide victory for one side or the other. In particular, I remember the possession going off in one game at the first possible roll, leaving us with a haunted house the size of a one-bedroom apartment full of killer rats. The game ended shortly after that with some very fat rats.

But, as buggy and problem-filled as Betrayal was as a game, it almost succeeded at delivering a story. Heck, the tiny apartment full of rats might have been almost pointless as a competitive game but it did make for a great anecdote. Despite its myriad of flaws, Betrayal did deliver an experience so Lairs reminding me of it is not a knock.

Frankly, I don't know if Lairs will turn out to be a good game. They did a great job with the theme and the mechanics sound promising. But they would have failed Kickstarter 101 if the game didn't sound promising. I'm prepared for the game to be meh or even a tram wreck.

But, getting the art and the backstories will be totally worth a dollar, even if the game is terrible. And I am intrigued enough that I will make that print and play.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

My most significant Gen Con

By far the most important Gen Con that I ever attended was my first one back in 1999. Even if I had never attended another Gen Con, that one Gen Con was enough to permanently change my life.

In a good way! It was a good change!

You see, since I didn't preregister for any events and I didn't know about pickup games, I went through the event guide, made a long list of events to try and get into and then tried to get tickets for them.

A plan that didn't work well, by the way. I ended up getting the last event I tried for, a D&D game that was in the last slot of Saturday night. An hour event that ended up running so late that I ended missing my ride back to the dorms where I was staying but that's another story.

After the game, which wasn't bad but I wouldn't remember it if it was it for this next bit, I found out that the DM and two of the players were part of a campaign in Chicago. And, after some more conversation, I found out that it was about five blocks from where I was living at the time.

I had moved to Chicago less than a year earlier and only knew a couple folks. I got an invitation to join their campaign and spent over ten years playing with those guys. To this day, I stay in touch and even game online with some of them. They ended up becoming a big part of my life and good friends.

As I said earlier, even if I had never gone to another Gen Con, that one convention had a lasting impact on my gaming and my life. Of course, I ended up going to most of the rest with those guys, as well as other friends.

The changing world of Gen Con

Ah, Gen Con is upon us. The largest gaming conventional in the United States and one of the larger conventions in general.

While I did go to every Gen Con from 1999 to 2014, moving across the country and having a small child has made me stop. Quite frankly, I'm not sure if Gen Con will really have anything to offer me until we can go as a family.

And when that time comes, it will be fascinating. When I compare the first Gen Con I went to in Milwaukee to the last one I was at in Indianapolis, the later one was so much more family friendly and diverse. While I know folks who grumble about that change (in particular, the strollers the size of small cars), I think it's an amazing testimony in how the hobby has been growing and changing.

Earlier today, I had a discussion with my wife about how there are people who can drive and vote and drink for whom Dick Grayson has always been Nightwing, even though he is the definitive Robin. (Okay, I like him better as Nughtwing and Tim Drake is my favorite Robin. But Dick Grayson literally defined both the character and the role of kid sidekick) Admittedly, her part of the discussion was to ask why that was a discussion. However, it illustrates time and generations change things.

Dungeons and Dragons has been around since 1974 and computer RPGs are a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Settlers of Catan came out in 1995 and helped inspire a board game revolution. There are people going to Gen Con this year, including adults, who have grown up where this sort of gaming has always been a part of their world.

It's such a different environment than the Gen Con I attended in 1999. And my experiences are nothing compared to some of my friends who whose Gen Con experiences go back to the 80s.

And I bet the Gen Con we eventually take our son to will be different than the one I went to in 2014.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Colour of Lovecraft's aliens

Rereading the Colour Out of Space for the upteenth time, I am struck by how profoundly alien Lovecraft's extraterrestrials are.

A key part of Lovecraft's work is that the universe is _not_ centered around the human race. In his cosmology, we are small and insignificant and the unverse does not care about us. Get outside of our tiny bubble of ignorance and we will be overwhelmed to the point of madness.

And one of the way that Lovecraft expressed that idea was by making his aliens fundamentally different than humans. His alien races aren't human beings with a few cosmetic differences but creatures that are so inhuman they sometimes don't even follow the same laws of physics.

Lovecraft's elder things actually helped inspire the term starfish alien to describe an alien that is intrinsically different than us. A combination of plant and animal qualities and pentagram symmetry, the elder things' heads and feet actually look like starfish. 

And the elder things are one the aliens that can most closely relate to the human race! You have the fungi mi-go that don't exist entirely in regular dimensions. Cthulhu and his fellow great old ones are actually aliens, but so different and on such a different scale they are like gods to people.

But the Colour Out of Space takes the cake. Whatever is going on in the story is so different that you could even argue that there might not even be an alien in the story. No one even interacts with the strange force, they just observe it and are affected by it.

The plot itself is simple. A meteorite lands near an isolated farm and a mysterious force from it twists and absorbs the life of everything around until it's strong enough to go back to the stars. The story may have helped make that a stock plot. 

For most of the story, the meteorite could as easily have caused groundwater contamination instead of brought an alien life. Animal and plant life grows wild but deformed, followed by serious degradation. It could easily be seen as radiation poisoning. Not until a strange aura of a color outside the normal spectrum rises out of the well and to the stars do we really get a good argument that the story is dealing with alien life.

In addition to being utterly unearthly, the life form in the Colour Out of Space also stays mysterious because Lovecraft doesn't explain anything. He just shows us the results of its activity or existence. 

With this story, Lovecraft didn't just create a fun yearn. He created an example of how to show an alien life form being truly and profoundly alien.