Thursday, October 19, 2017

Why playing Button Men online was important to me

Gaming online was a big part of how I started playing board games, something that I kind of find more than a little ironic. And BSW was a huge part of that, both exposing me to a lot of different games and a broader community of players. It was also a way for me to play games from home and without worrying about the particular hour.

However, another site that was a big part of my early gaming life was the original Button Men site, which was a very simple way to play just one particular game, Cheapass’s Button Men. And, looking back at those experiences, I think it was a bigger influence on my playing than I thought at the time.

Button Men is a simple two-player game where players are trying to capture each other’s dice. Each ‘character’ is just a collection of different types of dice. The basic ways of capturing are either power attack (using a die with a larger pip) or skill (using one or more dice to exactly equal the captured die’s value)

Part of what makes the game so brilliant is that there are different types of dice. X Dice that you assign a size to at the start of a round, poison dice that are worth negative points, shadow dice that do reverse attacks and the list just goes on and on.

Really, about half the interesting part of the game is in the set up but each round would still have interesting decisions within it. And, in person, the game plays out very fast. It has a great depth of play for time spend playing return rate.

But the site was one of the first places that I regularly went that was turn-based. BSW is real time, which was great for my back when I was a bachelor. It was almost like playing face-to-face. But though it was more flexible than actually going somewhere to game, I still had to schedule a block of time to to play.

During peak seasons at the job I had at the time, almost all my gaming went in hiatus. They had to play without me at game night (I loaned the group a chunk of my library so they didn’t miss me as much :P) and I even stopped playing on BSW since sleep was more important.

I wasn’t the only one who did this, by the way. I used to game with an accountant who would disappear during tax season.

During these times, though, I still played Button Men online. Being both turn-based and having simple turns, I could still work it into my schedule. It became my gaming outlet when things were really crazy.

These days, Yucata, also being turn-based, has taken its place. When my schedule gets crazy, I just switch to lighter games like Just 4 Fun and Roll Through the Ages.

I recently learned that the powers-that-be are working on a new version of that old Button Men site. Apparently it’s in perpetual alpha. While it wouldn’t fill the same role it has for me in the last, I’ll still have to check it out.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How to fire Carcassonne

A couple of my friends have said that they feel that the Isle of Skye has fired Carcassonne for them and rendered it obsolete. 

And most of the time that I hear folks say things like this, I find myself thinking really? I’m not saying that I’ve never done it. After I played Steam, I was done with the crayon train games.

In this particular example, other than being tile laying games, I just don’t see the resemblance. Carcassonne is an area control game on a shared tableau. Isle has individual tableaus with money management and set collecting. I honestly would compare it more to Alhambra.

Okay, if you don’t play games, then all three games are alike. And if you’re looking for a family weight game, all three will probably do just fine for you.

And make no mistake, I have enjoyed my few plays of Isle. It is a good game and it has interesting and legitimate interactions between the players. Arguably the strongest interactions out of all three players because you cannot escape interacting with other players. Isle of Skye might well have the legs to still be getting played ten years from now.

But I have already gotten more than ten years of regular play out of Carcassonne and its family. I don’t see it getting fired.

HOWEVER, Carcassonne:Hunters and Gatherers kind of fired regular Carcassonne for me a long time ago. That and the Castle are what have stayed in my collection and what I prefer. 

Sooooo... Carcassonne may have been fired/refined by itself.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Riding on Ticket to Ride: Europe

I was remembering how, long ago and far away, I used to play with a group that played Power Grid almost every week. Enough that, even though I think it is a profoundly brilliant game, I got burnt out on it. However, the other game that you could pretty much count on always being played was Ticket to Ride Europe and I never got burnt out on that.

When I first started really playing board games, which was back around 2002, it felt like Catan and Carcassonne and Puerto Rico were the three pillars of board gaming. Almost everyone in the hobby knew and play those games. You could just count on it. And Ticket to Ride ended up becoming like one of those pillars, a position that I think it still holds to this day, better than Carcassonne and Puerto Rico in fact.

I haven’t played a lot of the new boards yet but I feel that if you are only going to buy one Ticket to Ride Product and call it quits after that, Ticket to Ride Europe is that one box.

There’s really two reasons I feel that way. I feel that only distributing the super long routes at the beginning and the stations help flatten the randomness of the game and make it a little more forgiving for new players without dumbing the game down. It’s still tense game that I’ve seen lots of adult language used during.

Mind you, I didn’t stop at one box so I don’t own the Europe board :P In fact, with the 1912 expansion, I like the US map better. Although I still think the Europe board is the best for easing new players in before the knives come out.

For a game described as a family game, Ticket to Ride can be a vicious game :D

And, it has been a long runner for me.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Fumbling my way through making an Eldritch Knight

Okay, I am in my first fifth edition campaign and I have just hit third level. Second level didn’t involve choices but now I have to actually make some decisions, which I haven’t had to do since I rolled up the character months ago.

Now, I played a decent amount of first and second edition, an unholy amount of third edition, and some fourth edition, not counting Iron Kingdoms and Pathfinder. I’ve had a lot of experience with Dungeons and Dragons but I also know the nitty gritty is in the details.

Because I was also using Roll20 for the first time, I intentionally chose to play a fighter to keep things simple. Although it’s not nearly as simple as second edition was :P Picking the protection fighting style pretty much determined my tactics in combat.

Third level, I have to pick a Martial Archetype. And I’ve chosen Eldritch Knight.

Which, to be absolutely clear, is not an optimal choice. If I wanted a more efficient fighter, a different archetype. However, I felt it made sense with my character who is a scholar turned slave turned warrior. 

The schtick of the Eldritch Knight is that they get some wizard spells. At first, that’s two cantrips and three first level spells. Cantrips, by the way, have kind of taken the role of At Will powers from fourth edition, a default attack for spell casters to use over and over.

Mechanically, a big part of my choice being Eldritch Knight was getting the damn light cantrip. With lighting actually being enforced by Roll20, I’ve been stuck in the dark too much. It is actually a critical concern.

And picking out the first level spells wasn’t that hard either. Let’s face it. I’ll do more damage with a sword than with a spell. I’m already tanking a lot so Shield and Protection from Good and Evil are spells that will reinforce my fighting style.

But I still want a damage option, when I need another option in combat. Considering that saving against me won’t be hard, I’m going with Thunderwave. Area of effect, still does damage if they save and it might push them away. Downside is that it lets everyone know you’re there. 

Actually, the tough choice is the second cantrip. True Strike was an option but it takes an action to cast and I would rather attack twice. And it kind of bores me. I was thinking of Mage Hand for all the out-of-combat uses but if the game goes long enough, I’ll get to use a cantrip and attack. (So True Strike might be my third cantrip when i get one)

So now I’m mulling over actual damage cantrips. Something to can use at range and does a different type of damage is what I’m thinking about. Haven’t made up my mind yet.

And I bet I will make some kind of mistake in my design :D

Power Grid back in the day

I used to game at a table where Power Grid was played just about every week. I have yet to ever own my own copy of Power Grid and I also have to say that Power Grid is one the best games I have ever gotten burnt out on.

It’s interesting to look back on those time and that game in particular. In part because I don’t know what it would be like to play Power Grid now or what it sill be like to play it further down on the road.

At the moment, Power Grid is long enough that it would be hard to schedule the time to play it. However, I know that life will change enough that that won’t be the case forever.

It’s been long enough that I am sure that I have both gotten past the burn out and also forgotten how to play the game well. Not that I was ever particularly good but I had my moments. 

I do remember that Power Grid does such a good job balancing auctions and route development and oh so much resource management. I also remember that it felt more like a train game than a lot of train games :D

I know that I find myself thinking about older games a lot. With a lot of them, it’s because I’ve played them more because I’ve had them longer :P But games like Power Grid and Catan and such, they are genuinely great games that have legitimate staying power.

That being said, I think that the quality of games has been steadily getting better and better. I don’t think games were better over ten years ago. I think the gems from yesteryear really are gems, games good enough for generations to play.

Which actually makes me try and remember how cool Power Grid was when I played back then.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Do I want to go back to Kingdom of Loathing?

Okay, after four years hiatus, I’m playing the Kingdom of Loathing again. And I am already reminded why I liked the game and why I stoped playing, all at the same time.

KoL is a massive multi-player role playing game that is browser based. I personally think of it as a World or Warcraft for casual players. It’s noted for using stick-figure art and tons of snarky humor. 

Seriously, the fourth wall has been torn down and set on fire.

And KoL is funny and entertaining. Working on combinations of equipment and one-shot items and special powers keeps the game interesting. And it is turn-based so it lends itself to ego and go play.

But... sometimes the puzzles can be remarkably intricate for a casual player.. And it can easily become a big time sink, even if you can stop and start when you want to and you get a limited number of turns a day.

So it is fun and engaging by it eats up time. And, let’s face it, time is precious.

So if I am going to keep on playing, I think I’m going to be a lot more casual about it.

Circus Flohcati: not a gem but worth hanging onto

I must have bought Circus Flohcati at least ten years ago. Probably more. It was one of the games I like picked up relatively early after I really starting collecting. Fairly cheap and it was a Knizia.

I got the Rio Grande edition, with the cartoony artwork and saturated colors. It also came in a tiny box just big enough to hold the cards, which is why it has stayed in my collection.

Because I never got around to playing it. One of the top many poor victims of too many games, not enough time.

Fast forward to RinCon 2017. I got in a game of it with the edition that uses pictures that look like they were stolen from the Miss Peregrine books and faded colors that looked identical to my color-blind eyes.

And I’m now glad it has survived all those purges.

Circus Flohcati is a card game that’s all about pushing your luck and set collecting. It consists of ten suits that each have a distinct color and circus acts ranked 0-7 and nine action cards.

The core mechanic is simple. Flip over cards in a row. You can stop whenever you want and take a card but if you flip over a card that matches the suit/color of a card already in the row, you discard that card and your turn ends without you getting a card. You also don’t have to flip over any cards. If there are cards in the row, you can just take one.

Action cards let you take cards from opponents or let you flip over cards until you get a duplicate but you still get to take a card. You can also lay down three cards of the same rank as a trio. They are no longer in your hand but they will be worth ten points at the end of the game.

The game ends in two ways. If someone displays all ten suits/colors in their hand, they get ten bonus points and end the game. Otherwise, it ends when you draw the last card in the deck. In addition to any trios, you get the value of the highest ranked card of each suit you have in your hand. Most points wins.

There are a number of straight push your luck games in my collection. I’ve gotten tons of play out of Can’t Stop and I also have really enjoyed Cloud 9 and Incan Gold. As simple as Circus Flohcati is, and it is simple, it’s not as simple as those games.

What makes Circus Flohcati interesting is the hand management. Trying to make trios, working towards a good end game hand, all that adds an extra layer of decisions to the game.. We are still looking at a simple filler/children’s game but it does you a few choices beyond daring to flip another card.

Really, the trios are what make the game for me. They add value to the lower ranked cards and they mean you have another collecting goal beyond grabbing high cards. In a fifteen minute game, that extra  bit of decisions adds some oomph.

Don’t get me wrong. Circus Flohcati isn’t one of Knizia’s greats. It’s not even one of his great short games. But i has fun with it and I think it will prove worth hanging on to.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Village Run, the gamer version of a Denny’s placemat

Village Run is a simple little print-and-play game, a children’s race game that adds just a touch more depth than rolling and moving your pawn.

Not counting the pawns, the whole thing is on one sheet of paper. An 19-space circular race track, the rules, the circular speed meter and the power-up chart. So, this is a super easy, no construction build.

Village Run is a race. Choose how many laps you want the race to be and whoever comes in first wins. Every player gets two pawns. One goes on the track and the other goes on speed meter. On your turn, you can keep the same speed or try and move up the speed meter, which is 0-1-1-1-2-2-3, by rolling a die. 

The two restrictions are you can only stay on three for two turns in a row and you have to roll if you’re on zero.

The twist in the game is the power-up boxes. There are five of them spread out on the track. If you land on one, roll the die and consult the chart. Do nothing, move one space, move one space, reset an opponent to zero, switch places with the leader and take another turn.

Clearly, the basic strategy is to hit as many power-up boxes as you can. There’s an odd dichotomy between the speed meter, which flattens out the randomness, and the power-up chart, which ramps it up.

Okay, let’s be honest. Village Run isn’t very interesting. The game is pretty random and the effects of the power-up chart can get repetitive. I’m not even sure how well it works as a children’s game.

You know what Village Race really reminds me of? The gamer interpretation of one of those roll-and-move games that you used to find on children’s placemats at restaurants. (They seem to have been replaced by coloring pages in my experience) So that’s actually what I’ve done. Using the laminator, I made the game into a place mat. Don’t know if it will actually see use but it seemed like a fun idea.

I don’t think Village Run is a good game but I do think the speed meter and power-ups are interesting ideas. Being a free file with no construction is also nice.

Wait, we released a Lovecraftian horror?

Session Eleven of the Late Night Lurkers

Real life stuff (including being a later time zone than everyone else), I ended joining the game about halfway through the session. We had been exploring a cave/dungeon in a mountain pass where travelers kept dying.

And I came in right when we were in the middle of a fight with a variety of fungus monsters and in a fog of poisonous spores. The group had also found a mildly toxic fungus that gave dark vision so I decided my character ate the wrong mushrooms and spent the first half thinking the entire party had become gnomes with shoes with curly toes.

We eventually discovered that the cave had been turned into a temple for a xenophobic cult devoted to a corrupted worship of basically a Cthulhoid deity. By corrupted, I mean traditional worshippers of Lovecraftian horrors would feel they made theological mistakes.

The long and the short of our evil temple of eldritch horror experience is that we accidentally released a giant tentacle horror into the world but, by adjusting the statues with the help of divine guidance (the spell), we got it to appear somewhere else.

This is basically the second time we’ve released some kind of supernatural horror into the world. We joked about how it’s going to go hang out with the mummy lord we freed.

We also hit a milestone by completing this adventure so we are all now third level (yea!) As a fighter, this will be fun because I get to choose a path.

I’m going with Eldritch Knight, although it’s not the mechanically strongest choice for me. In part, it’s because it is an interesting story choice and makes sense for the character’s scholar background. I also want to get access to attacks that use different energy types. But really, after dealing with legitimate light issues thanks to Roll20’s dynamic lighting, I want access to the light cantrip! 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Will Imhotep break my heart?

What has really struck me about Imhotep is the it follows the Ticket to Ride philosophy. While the two games are quite different, they both offer you three different, simple actions. Everything in the game is built off those choices.

The elevator pitch is that you are masons in ancient Egypt. You load stones on your sledge, load stones from your sledge onto boats and sail boats to building sites. Timing and brinkmanship is a big deal.

I had heard good things about Imhotep from friends but my experiences with it started with Yucata. And I got the basic gist of it but I didn’t quite grok it there. When I finally got to play it in person, that’s when things clicked and I really knew what was going on.

So much the game is physically moving cubes from point A to point B to Point C so actually going through those motions was important to me. Plus, I had the boat positions backwards online :D

And, so far, I have found Imhotep to be a really good game. There’s a lot of brinkmanship and just enough control to make you fight for that killer move but little enough control that you have to sacrifice other killer moves for that one.

It’s not really reasonable to compare Imhotep to Ticket to Ride but I can’t help it. They fit the same need at the gaming table. A family weight game that works with casual and experienced gamers that you can play on a work night.

And there are some interesting differences between the game. Ticket to Ride is more of a sandbox. You can collect cards without limit, claim routes on any place on the board, and get more tickets when you feel like it. In Imhotep, you move each stone in a prescribed order.

There is a lot of variety in Imhotep between the market cards, the double sided site boards, and the different layouts of ships. And there are choices between how you load the boats and where you steer them. I am pretty sure that this shakes things up enough that Imhotep won’t become formulaic and isn’t solvable. 

And with a game like Imhotep, that’s a good question. I can see it becoming a regular for family game nights (you know, when the toddler is older) and replay value would be even more important than usual.

So far, I have been very happy with Imhotep. Happy enough that I hope it’s not a heartbreaker.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

My RinCon 2017

RinCon is Tucson’s friendly local gaming convention. In fact, it might be the largest gaming convention in Arizona. It’s definitely powered by the local community and I’ve always had fun at it. RinCon 2017 was no exception. I was there for a good chunk of Saturday and came back for one event on Sunday. While I was there, I got to play a nice mixture of scheduled events and pick up games.

I started out on Saturday with a scheduled game of Imhotep. I’ve played it in Yucat√° but I wanted to play it face-to-face so I could get a better understanding of it. It was well worth the experience. One play with the game really helped me grok it better. It has a nice Ticket-to-Ride philosophy, three simple actions but tough choices. My Yucata experiences did help me decide to collect a ton of statues for the win.

I then ran into a couple who I had played Scythe and HUE with at a RinCon fundraiser last year and they remembered me. I had For Sale in my bag and we sat down for a quick game. I don’t get to play For Sale much but I often pack it for events. And getting to play it again reminded me of what a good game it is and why it ends up in my bag.

My second scheduled event was Button Men with James Ernst, who was a guest of honor. And I was the only one who signed up, although he had had a full table for Button Men on Friday. We still found another player and got in several rounds.

It was also a lot of fun to talk to James Ernst. As I grow older, I feel like he really knows how to design games for the casual gamer. And I have played a LOT of Button Men and it was cool to talk with him about it. We discussed stinger dice, which was a type he had been disappointed by, the new Button Men site and how we used the same plastic photo cases to carry games.

After a quick lunch, I ended up in a pick up game of Circus Flohcati with a group that included someone else I met at a fundraiser. I’ve owned the game for years but I have never actually played it. (Stayed in the collection due to its small size and it’s a Knizia) Nice to finally play it. And it’s going to definitely stay in the collection now.

Coincidentally, my third scheduled event was another Knizia, Samurai. Haven’t played it in years but it’s still brilliant and I am still TERRIBLE at it. I really think the new edition is a serious improvement, particularly the thicker board that comes in more pieces, allowing for a square box.

Wandering around after that, I got invited to a pick up game of Sagrada, a game of building stain glass windows through dice drafting. I’ve been curious about it since it sounds right up my wheelhouse. It was a lot of fun. I understand it’s hard to get a copy but I’d pick it up if I have the chance.

My last scheduled game on Saturday was Codename - Pictures. I have never played any of the games in the Codename series but I know that they have consistently gotten rave reviews. I’m not that into party games but I knew I had to take it advantage of the chance of playing one.

While I didn’t become a fan, I can definitely appreciate the Codename system now that I have tried it. And I know that Carrie and I should never be on the same team because we would want to kill each other by mid game :D

The last game I played was Broom Service, which I both learned and taught :D Since I already knew Witch’s Brew, Broom Service’s predecessor, it wasn’t that hard or unreasonable. Despite sharing the same core mechanic, they are surprisingly distinct. Broom Service was a good play.

Before I left, I went and looked at the Flea Market. I have been really trying to keep myself from buying games this year but I just couldn't help myself. And when I saw Steve Finn's Butterfly Garden, which I almost backed on Kickstarter, I broke. Having done that, I also got Famous Fairways since I've wanted to look at that series of micro games. I can console myself that my total expenditure for this year on games is still under ten dollars.

The only thing I did on Sunday was participate in a 7 Wonders tournament. I've made a point of playing in at least one tournament since my second RinCon. If nothing else, it's a good way to make sure I get a solid block of gaming in. Despite a rough start in the first round, I managed to squeak onto the final table and get second place. (Okay, someone dropping out had to have helped me out a lot) That was a fun way to wrap up the con for me.

Every year, it seems like every RinCon I go to is the best one I've been to and this year was no different. What made it so good, above all else, was how warm and inviting everyone was. I made sure to have scheduled events so I would get to play games but I got in a lot of pickup games. And at least half were with folks I'd gamed with in past RinCon events. There really is a sense of community in RinCon.

Washington D6 - building the city one die at a time

GenCan't Roll and Write Library - Washington D6 

Washington D6 isn't so much a game as it is a collection of mini games. However, you are playing all of them at the same time. In the game, you are renovating the different monuments in Washington DC but they all have different requirements.

Washington D6 was a finalist in the GenCan't Roll and Write Contest, which means it's a free print and play game. All you have to do to make it is print out the two pages and add dice and a pencil. It is also a solitaire game and I really can't think of an effective way of making it multiplayer.

You need six dice to play the game. One red, two white, and three blue. In addition to being a cute thematic touch, most of the monuments have specific color requirements. For instance, the White House is going to only use white dice. It is a nice but simple way of tying the mechanics to the theme.

And the mechanics are pretty darn simple. You have sixty square boxes, which stand for work days. You check one off every time you roll all the days and each time you make a reroll. 

There are sixteen number of circle boxes and eight number of star boxes, representing overtime and holiday. They allow you to do different dice manipulations at the cost of points. Mechanically, they are the same. However, you lose more points for using holidays.

Roll the dice, perform any rerolls and manipulations you feel like and assign dice to the different monuments. For each left over dice (and near the end of the game, you are going to have some), check off another square box.

After you have used all the square boxes, the game is over. Complete monuments are worth twenty points per space, incomplete ones are worth ten per completed space and negative five per incomplete space. Some monuments have possible bonus points and you lose points for overtime and holiday use (and you are going to use them) A winning score is at least 1776 points.

Okay, the real stars of this games are the monuments. Every one is different, it's own little mini-game. I'm not going into each one because then I'm just repeating all the rules. But they are all distinct and many of them make interesting use of color of dice. And they do a good job reflecting the monuments they are based on.

I'm genuinely impressed at how integrated the theme is with the mechanics. For a game that's two pieces of paper, some dice and some Yahtzee, that's pretty impressive.

I've had fun with Washington D6. It's not perfect. I'll be honest, I like my solitaire dice games on the short side and it was a bit long for my tastes. However, it is a very clean design with a lot of theme. Good show.

Friday, September 29, 2017

A thought experiement with Tutankhamen

Watching my son play with Piecepack made me think about how the way he was putting the tiles in a row reminded me of That's Life, a game that I think is sorely under-rated. But we have a copy so I don't need to reinvent that wheel.

But then I found myself thinking about Tutankhamen, which was one of Knizia's earliest designs. I haven't owned it in years and I haven't played in even longer. But I do remember it :P

You could probably make a simplified version of it with the Piecepack so I decided to do it as a thought exercise.

In 
Tutankhamen  you create a trail of tiles with the far end ending at the pyramid and a big mask tile that serves as a wild symbol. You can move your pawn forward as many spaces as you choose but you can never move backwards. You collect the tiles you land to create sets.

Here's the twist and what require some changes with Piecepack. You're aren't collecting for points. You're collecting to discard coins and the winner is whoever gets rid of them first.

Here's my idea. You shuffle the coins in one pile and the two of each tile in the second pile. You then form a trail randomly placing six coins, symbol side up, then one tile symbol side up and so on. At the end of the trail, place all four dice. Everyone gets one pawn of their very own.

You fall the same basic idea of 
Tutankhamen  You move your pawn as far as you choose but you can never go back. And you claim every coin and tile you land on (but not pass over)

Here's the first big difference. You are scoring points with the coins counting as one symbol and the tiles counting as two. HOWEVER, we're using the Coloretto style scoring. You use a triangular number sequence (1,3,6 etc) and your lower two symbols are negative points.

The second difference is the game end. The game ends when someone reaches the dice. They randomly draw one die and roll it. They add that number of symbols to their collection. Could be big, could be small, could get them lots of points, could totally mess them up.

Frankly, I see a lot of potential problems with this revision of 
Tutankhamen. For one thing, it has less than half the tiles of the original game. Only four symbols could make each layout easy to solve, particularly if people don't try to compete for the same symbols. The game kind of counts on people being jerks. And while the dice at the end are designed to create uncertainly and brinkmanship, they could be so swingy that they decide the game by themselves.

Honestly, 
Tutankhamen isn't a bad game but it's not a game I've missed playing. My Piecepack variation needs a lot of test playing before it's balanced and I'm frankly not interested enough in doing that :P

Still, it was fun to think about it.

The creativity of toddlers with board games

Slowly but surely, I am continuing to expose our son to board games. At this point, it's concentration level still pretty much keeps us in the category of dexterity games, matching games and simple versions of Slap Jack. Ah, to be one of those parents whose children have mastered Carcassonne with the farmer scoring at six months and out trade their parents in Catan at a year and a half :D

Still, at this point, when I introduce him to a lot of games, the pieces are just toys to him. Games are just a category of toys to him. (Wait a second! Games really are just a category of toys! He's further along than I thought!)

With that in mind, the way that he plays with them as toys can be close to how they are played as games. Katamino, which is basically a set of three-dimensional pentaminos, has long been something I've let him play with. However, in the last couple months, he has started to try and fit them on the wooden board like a puzzle, which is literally one of the ways to play Katamino. (Seriously, it's a great game if you like puzzling things out)

Also, with a heavy heart full of fear, I let him at Blokus Trigon, which is my favorite version of the game (I've gotten rid of the original version awhile ago) After he realized that the pieces will fit into the slots on the board, he began trying to fill the board with the pieces, which is the solitaire variant of the game. I'm now thinking of getting him a used copy of the original game to mess around with. 

It is interesting watching him play with different kinds of games. Quite frankly, with all the different games that you can play with Looney Pyramids, I wouldn't be surprised if he's actually played some by accident. And watching him play with Piece Pack has made me wonder if I could make a version of That's Life with the pieces. Of course, I don't need to since I own it but it was an interesting thought exercise.

Monday, September 25, 2017

How am I doing on not buying games?

As we are nearing October and the last quarter of the year, I'm pausing to assess how I've done with my promise to not buy any new games this year. Particularly since holiday sales could change things, I might as well look now :D

http://www.gnomepondering.com/2017/01/resolving-not-to-buy-games-in-2017.html

When I made that pledge, I gave myself some loopholes. Thrifted games don't count but within reason. Games for the toddler don't count BUT I can't say 'Sure, he'll play Terra Mystica'. I initially said Kickstarter didn't count but I set a small and strict budget. Since then, I changed that to only getting PDF files for PnP from Kickstarter, while still sticking to that budget.

And, of course, print and play doesn't count and is fair game.

So, how have I done so far?

Lets see, I have made a lot of PnP games (a good chunk for my solitaire binder), I've stuck to my Kickstarter budget and only buying PDFs, the doodle has gotten some games and I've gotten thrift copies of Rolling America and Qwixx. And those only squeaked in by being a dollar or so, taking up minimal storage space and being games quick and easy to get on the table.

So, yeah, I'm doing pretty good.

The latest night when we almost had a TPK

Session Ten of the Late Night Lurkers

This was the session where almost had a total party kill come right out of the blue. Plenty of other stuff happened but that's what we are going to remember. Forever. And no one was more horrified while it almost happened as the DM :)

I wasn't able to log in on time (you know, adult life) so I missed our druid getting cured of being a wererat and the party agreeing to help the dwarf city where she was cured by checking out a cursed mountain path that killed everyone who tried to go through it. I joined in at the tail end of a fight with vine blights, which I have never actually encountered before.

(It's worth noting most of us are the unfavored by our Jarl so we are usually sent on nigh suicide missions)

Quick overview from there: we followed the trail of the vine blights to a foul cave where we fought a pack of ghouls, a lone skeleton sentry and two rat swarms. The vine blights and the ghouls were relatively rough fights but not unreasonable.

(I will note that the druid neutralized the rat swarms with an entangle spell. When someone asked if we could set the vines on fire to kill the rats, the DM reasonably ruled that the vines weren't really there and the rats were held in place by magic. If the vines were real, the rats could just scamper through them.

The reason why I note this is I have seen the effects of flavor text argued during games, sometimes in the name of suspension of disbelief. This can be a problem because it can throw off the balance of spells by giving them new limits or additional powers)

Okay, so here it is. We found a treasure chest that had strange runes on it. The dwarf cleric goes over to examine the runes. They turn out to be eyes. It's a mimic, perfectly reasonably and traditional monster.

And it crits on the surprise round and drops the cleric from full to zero before we are in regular rounds. The ranger runs up to protect the unconscious cleric. Misses. The mimic rolls another crit and the ranger is down too.

This is where half of us started talking about beating a hasty retreat. And the druid decided to run up and fight the mimic hand to hand since they still had shillelagh up from the last fight. So my fighter closed as well while the warlock and the elf fighter (whose player had to sign off early so the DM was playing him very defensive) The mimic moved and critted the warlock and then my fighter dropping both of us.

Keep in mind, thanks to Roll20, all of the rolls were in the open. None of the rolls were fudged. The DM was more horrified than any of us. He's been running games for over thirty years and he'd never seen a fight go down like this. We really thought we're looking at a total party kill.

Luckily, the druid found a magic chest that was jumping that turned out to be some kind of magic leash for the mimic. (No, this wasn't the DM pulling a desperate deus ex mechina. He has included special items like this in other encounters.) She froze the mimic and was able to kill it.

Some emergency healing later and no one lost a character. For a little bit, it looked like the characters whose players weren't there would be the only ones left. And we still haven't found whose really in charge of the cave that's turned the pass into a death trap but that's for next session.

A lot happened in the session but the mimic fight is what we are going to remember from it. It is the take away. Even as it looked like we were all going to be rolling up new characters, we all agreed this was going to be a great story. And we will be telling that story for literally years to come.

In total, six players ended up playing during the night, albeit there was only a short time when there were all six of us there. That pushed more of a combat session than a role playing session. Which, in all honesty, is really one of Roll20's strengths. If you want to have a dice free, role playing heavy session (which is a totally cool thing to do), you can just use Skype.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Captain's Cursed - flawed but captivating

GenCan't Roll and Write Library - The Captain's Curse

The Captain's Curse is an interesting little exercise in trying to loot an island stuffed with pirate's treasure while the island sinks around you. If nothing else, it does a good job ramping up the tension as the game goes by.

Like all the games in the contest, it's a free PnP and, like most of them, construction consists of printing out the player board. In this case, the board shows an island with thirty-six different treasures (six of each type) and dotted lines cutting up the island. In the center is a box with six columns of numbers, one for each type of treasure.

Okay, here's how you play. On your turn, you roll a white die and a black die. You choose one and circle a number of the column and a treasure that matches that column on the island. You have to fill out numbers in order (half are one to six and the other half are six to one)  but you can cross out numbers to reach the one you rolled. 

AND, if you choose the black die, the curse goes off. Choose one dotted line, fill it in, and scratch off all the island that's on the far side of the line, sinking it into the ocean. Some of the lines let you get away with only little pieces of the island but you quickly end up sinking big chunks.

Any uncircled treasures that get sunk are lost forever. If all of a type are gone, you have no choice but to cross off the remaining numbers in that column. 

The first time you roll doubles, you circle that double on a chart on the bottom and you have to use the cursed black die. However, after that, you can cross off that circle to adjust a die plus or minus one.

The game ends when you either sink the island or finish all six columns. Your score is the sum of the circled numbers minus the number of crossed off numbers. You automatically lose if you sink the island but you need at least seventy points to win. There are other accomplishments, like not sinking too much of the island, to get a higher rank.

I have had a lot of fun with the Captain's Curse. The rules all fit together nicely. I use solitaire games for quick mental breaks so it's short and simple format works for me. And the sinking island creates a lot of excitement.

But... I can't help but think that it has a false sense of choices. You're working with really the role of one die, not the bell curve to two. You will always choose the white die if you can. You're going to pick the outer treasures first so you have them before that part of the island sinks. And you're going to follow a fairly prescribed path of sinking the island.

Ultimately, I don't think this game offers as many real choices as it seems to. The dice are going to end up dictating what you do most of the time. The experiences fun but I think, in the long run, there isn't a lot of replay value here.

There are games in the GenCan't Library that have pretty much guaranteed themselves a permanent place in my solitaire binder. The Captain's Curse is probably a short timer though.

Having just said that, I have no regrets trying out the Captain's Curse. Free files with material costs under two cents and it definitely entertained me.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Change, a game system whose games work just as well with regular cards

I probably still have two or three copies of Change, since it was so cheap and it is so small. One copy lived in my bag for a while, in large part because it is the size of a box of matches.

And the idea of Change was one that appealed to me and still appeals to me. Instead of one game, it's three different rule sets for a tiny, special deck of cards. You know, a game system.

Really, given the whole found art nature of James Ernst design aesthetic, you could say that game systems are his speciality. In many ways, that has so far culminated with the Pairs deck.

But Change was a very early approach to a game system in the world of Cheapass Games. And, I really hate to say it, it shows.

It's a deck of fifty cards. There are no suits. Instead, there are ten 1's, 3's, 5's, 7's, and 10's. They are decorated with cute pictures of the Fridey's zombies and done up to look like paper money. It's card stock, which might have the word card in it but doesn't make for good cards but this is Cheapass we're taking about.

The games comes with three rules sets: Make Your Own Change Night, Boneyard (which I admit I never played) and Diminishing Returns.

Here's the big problem. Make Your Own Change Night is a retread of Hey Bartender from Chief Herman's Holiday Fun Pack and Diminishing Returns is a retread of Pennywise from the same collection. In other words, they were games I was already familiar with, just tweaked for the special deck.

Now, I have had fun with Make Your Own Change Night so it's not like Change is a total waste. But a deck of cards can do the same trick and I can play a whole bunch of other games with that.

(It's telling that Boneyard has since been released as a rule set for regular cards, although you do need two decks of cards to get the right card count.. I also have to admit the rules to Boneyard confused me when I first read them years ago but they seem perfectly simple now, although I still think calling the auction sets buckets is bad jargon)

What a game system needs, more than anything else, is a great game. A killer app. For instance, if the only game you had rules to play with the Looney Pyramids was Zendo or Volcano, I'd still be happy with those games. Change it only doesn't have that killer game, its games work just has well with regular cards.

I have seen a lot of different kinds of decks over the years. Five or six suits, pyramid decks, multi-suited cards, straight up numbered decks. I haven't seen another deck like Change and maybe there's a reason for that. It would be really interesting to see what a killer game with a deck like this and I still don't know what it would be.

Recycling Route - dice drafting and picking up recyclables

GenCan't Roll and Write Library - Recycling Route

In Recycling Route, you're driving your recycling truck around the city, picking up different kinds of reusable garbage and effectively trying to corner the market on some of them. Along the way, you're going to get stuck with some legit garbage that has to go to the landfill and you might even get to upgrade your truck. Because there's nothing more exciting than a speeding garbage truck :D

The centerpiece of the mechanics is a fairly nifty dice drafting mechanic, where you choose either three dice you can see or three you can't. Seriously, it's a cool take on dice drafting and definitely really pretty pushes the game to the next level or maybe the level above that. You also have set collecting and route building.

Recycling Route is one of the finalists from GenCan't Roll and Write Contest. Which means it's a free print and play and, like most of the entries, you just have to print out player sheets and add dice and pencils. Man, I've been writing that a lot but I kind of have to.

In Recycling Route, the player sheet consists of a map of the city, which is a square grid with some squares already filled in with gray, and a checklist of different types of recyclables as well as truck upgrades and the infamous landfill. You get two player sheets per page because you'll need two for the solitaire rules.

Okay, here's the cool bit. On your turn, you secretly roll six dice and divide them into two groups of three. You reveal one set and the next player chooses either the set they can see or the unknown one. And you get the other. You each write down the numbers on open spaces on your map and then you, the active player, extend your route/drive your truck through the city.

Okay, what you really do is draw a line and extend it each turn. You start on the highest left box and will eventually end on the lowest rate box. At the start of the game, you can drive through three boxes at a time.

When you pass through a number, you check it off on your checklist. In game terms, that means you picked up that particular type of recyclable. Each number is broken down into sets of boxes, and you get a bonus if you complete a set first.

Ones and sixes are special. Ones can either be used to upgrade your truck so it moves faster or is wilds with another number you pick up the turn. Sixes are legit garbage that you have to dump into the landfill. That starts off being negative but ends up being positive points, to keep you from trying to dump sixes on someone. And you reroll sixes after you check them off.

The game ends when all but one player has driven off the map. In the solitary game, the robot opponent uses drones to grab numbers off your map. Either way, most points wins.

Out of the four finalists in the contest (Washington D6, Ada Lovelace and Jurassicco being the other three), Recycling Route just barely edges into fourth place for me. Which _isn't_ to say I dislike it or think it's a bad game. I don't. The dice drafting is great and Recycling Route not only is the only game with multi-player rules, it's probably stronger in that format.

However, it feels the most unfinished and least polished out of the four games. I can honestly picture the other three games having a shot at getting it published. Recycling Route feels like it needs some more refinement.

Between being able to upgrade your truck and picking up different kinds of trash and recyclables, I feel like the game is 3/4 of the way to being a full pick-up-and-deliver game. I don't know exactly how you would add a deliver function and still keep it down to one page of easy bookkeeping but if that was part of the game, I think it would be a big boost.

As it stands, I still think Recycling Route is a good game, made better by being free and easy to make. It is staying in my solitaire binder and will continue to see play. And if I get more multi-player games in, my opinion might get better.
 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

My mental block with Spree

It's fun reminiscing about older Cheapass Games. While a lot of them weren't particularly good, they were always interesting. Combining James Ernst's philosophy of throwing everything against the wall to see what stuck and the whole minimalist design philosophy meant you'd come up with something you'd remember if nothing else.

(I do wonder if my early exposure to Cheapass Games is part of why chrome isn't a big selling point for me, although I do appreciate it. I could argue that years of D&D where I had to use my imagination as another reason :D)

Spree was one of those earlier games that I never could get into. Looking back, I honestly wonder if the minimalism/found components element may have been too much for me for once.

In Spree, you and your friends have broken into a mall that's on its last legs to steal stuff and shoot at each other with stun guns. With the rise of decaying and abandoned malls, the theme is even funnier these days.

And, in all honestly, there was nothing appalling with the mechanics of the game. You use a die for moving and shooting and a hand of cards from a regular deck of cards to loot. It's really random but, seeing as how this screams beer and pretzel game, I don't think that's terrible.

No, for whatever reason, using a regular deck of cards just did not work for me. Normally, it wouldn't be a problem for me but I just couldn't handle the disconnect between all of my associations with conventional cards and shooting and looting in a mall. I play a lot of abstracts and use a lot of game systems so you'd think this wouldn't be an issue for me. A specialized deck for Spree would have helped me a lot.

Of course, that would have also probably tripled the cost of the game at the very least, defeating one of its major selling points. And it still wouldn't be a good game. 

A couple years after I found Spree, some folks insisted on pulling out Frag and I found it really underwhelming. Looking back, Spree gave me a similar experience for a fraction of the cost. I'm sure Frag fans would be appalled by that thought.

I have a feeling that Spree has the potential to be a fun, sloppy game, a cross between a first person shooter and a party game. Maybe with some house rules. However, what I remember about it how using a regular deck of cards threw me off so much.

Ada Lovelace: evolving Tetris puzzle

GenCan't Roll and Write and Library - Ada Lovelace: Consulting Mathematician 

(Which is just going to be called Ada for the rest of the review)

An artifact has been stolen from a hoity toity museum in the 1840s. You take on the role of Ada Lovelace, analytical specialist and sleuth. Examining evidence through out the museum, you need to figure out who the thief is.

Ha ha, I'm totally joking. You are actually filling in an irregular grid with shapes determined by rolling dice and consulting a shape wheel. The grid is the map of the museum. You get points by filling in rooms and surrounding pieces of evidence (which are actually squares that are already filled in) Surrounded evidence will also give you special abilities BUT they are fueled by dice rolls and you have precious few.

Oh, and when you consult the scoring chart, you find out that the real thief is Ada Lovelace and you're just pinning the blame on Lord Byron who's been dead for years.

Ada was one of the finalists for GenCan't's Roll and Write contest and it shows. This is a really good puzzle game. You really don't have nearly enough moves to fill in the grid, let alone use the special powers. So the game is full of of tough decisions and every move means you have to sacrifice other moves.

Ada combines two important things. It creates an interesting puzzle, one that can't be automatically solved because are pieces are randomly generated. Ada also creates tension because you are under the clock. You will run out of dice and you will leave a lot unfinished on the board.

Oh, I suppose I should mention that this is a print and play game. It's a super easy build, two pages with no cutting. Just print two pages and add some dice and a pencil, which is pretty standard for the GenCan't games.

Ada is definitely a game I will keep playing. Maybe I'm just bad at puzzles but I've found this to be a pretty tough game. I'm willing to bet there are some solid strategies but the die rolls mean you can't follow a formula. I'm looking at another game by the same designer, Bento Blocks, which uses a similar shape puzzle formula but is designed for multi-player. 

If you like games like Ubongo or BITS or Blokus, you will like Ada. It is very abstract and it is very much a puzzle. If you don't like those things, you probably won't enjoy Ada. But if you've ever dreamed of Tetris shapes, you will probably like Ada.