Friday, August 18, 2017

It's a free PnP about brewing beer. What more can you want?

GenCan't Roll and Write Library - Six Sided Stout

In Six Sided Stout, you are a home brewer brewing up a stout for a beer contest. It's designed as a solitaire game but, for reasons I'll go into, I suspect it will be the more fun as a multi-player.

The centerpiece of the game is the beer grid, a six by six grid of diamonds with an open space in the middle that contains water. You will be filling the diamonds in with malt, hops and yeast that you gather throughout the game.

The game lasts ten turns and on each turn, you can do one of two things. Go to the market or roast malt.

The market is where you get your malt and hops and yeast. You don't start with anything but a blank grid. To buy malt, you roll two dice and place them in your pale malt storage. To buy hops, you roll two dice, divide by two and then immediately write that many hops in on the grid, one per square. Yeast, same deal but you divide by three _and_ yeast must either touch the water in the middle or another yeast.

Roasting is simply moving two dice worth of malt from pale to caramel or from caramel to chocolate. And you can move malt onto the grid after any market or roasting action.

There are some restrictions. Because everyone is trying to get ingredients, you can't go after the same ingredient at the market two turns in a row and you can only roast two turns in a row. All the ingredients on the grid have to be connected. And you will score zero points if you don't have all three ingredients.

But you also get some special powers in the form of experts. There are four, one-use experts who can let you roll three dice and take the best two at market. One for each game ingredient and one who can work for any of the three ingredients. 

(I'm not sure why a home brewer knows and has easy access to all these guys. I bet there's a story involved. Maybe you actually work professionally at a brewery and your work is also your hobby. If that's the case, I bet the other home brewers hate your guts)

After ten turns, you score your grid. It's actually pretty interesting. Each malt is scored based on its roast, with pale being only worth one but chocolate worth five. Hops' score is based on the malt it is touching with the paler roast being worth more. Yeast is based on the malt it's touching, multiplied by the yeast's contact with water. (Which means it could be zero)

Six Sided Stout is a very quick playing game, seeing as how it's only ten rounds. At the same time, it has a surprisingly high number of decisions. Even by solitaire standards, it's very much putting a puzzle together but the pieces are going to be different every game.

The one thing I do wish was that there was some kind of rating for scores. While I can always try to improve on my last score, it would be nice to have a yard stick. I can understand why there isn't because both yeast and hops add some real deviance in scoring.

And that's why I think Six Sided Stout would be best played as a multi-player game. Yeah, there would be no interaction but you would have other people to compete with. Yeah, there could be some serious point deviance but it's a short enough game that it would still be fun.

In the current incarnation, there are two boards per sheet. I am thinking of blowing it up so there's one board on a single sheet to make it easier to play with dry erase markers.

While I do wish there was a better way to measure how well I'm doing (although keeping track of my score will eventually do that), I like the process of playing Six Sided Stout. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Drawing a line across London

GenCan't Roll and Write Library: Holmes and Watson: Adventures in the Fog

The theme of Holmes and Watson was what made me decide to to try this game out next. I do love me some Sherlock Holmes and I view him as one of the great serial characters who can be done well with a variety of interpretations.

Of course, the theme's only role is to give the designer a reason to use a Victorian map of London. The game is really about drawing a path across the board, connecting  symbols. 

Like many of the games in this library, the game consists of a board, along with a writing tool and some dice that you have to supply yourself. Print out the board and you're ready.

The board shows a map of London with a matrix of dots and symbols on the streets. Like the Crayon Train games, H&W is dot-to-dot with strategy. In a nutshell, you are drawing a line across the streets of London, trying to pass through the different symbols to collect sets. You have to stick to the streets and you can never double back.

The active player rolls n+1 dice (n being the number of players, don'tcha know) and there's then a dice draft. Not an amazing level of player interaction but at least there is some. The dice actions are draw a segment, draw two segments, draw segments to reach a fingerprint, draw segments to reach a magnifying glass, and draw segments to reach an eye. Sixes are special and nasty. Those are Moriarty and force you to cross out three symbols on your path.

When someone solves their ninth mystery/completes their ninth set, the game ends. Points are based on the different kinds of sets and most points wins.

H&W feels like it could use at least one more draft. The black-and-white version of the board has references to cards, which clearly no longer a part of the game. There is also a purse mechanic that lets you collect coins to turn into symbols that's easy to figure out (good use of iconography) but isn't mentioned in the rules.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this is an adaptation of a non-PnP game that the designer is working on.

All that said, I had fun with H&W. It isn't brilliant and it isn't innovative but it's simple and it works. And, let's be clear. Balanced and clean play, particularly in a game that lasts ten minutes, is strong. The theme is non-existent but the map, which could have been totally abstract, is nice to look at.

In fact, if I make a solitaire binder, which is on my list of things to do in August, H&W will be in it. It is a game I will reach for if I feel like some quick solitaire.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Rat-a-Tat Cat - the little card game that just keeps going

Rat-a-Tat Cat has been my mind as of late. Part of that is because I saw some kids playing it at a recent gaming event. Part of it is because I looked through the rules of Play Nine to see if it's a game I'd be interested in and the rules reminded me of it. 

That's because both Rat-a-Tat Cat and Play Nine harken back to the traditional card game Golf. (In fact, Play Nine is basically Golf with golf themed cards) In all three games, you have a tableau of cards face down and you swap out cards from either the draw pile or the discard pile, trying to get the lowest total value

Rat-a-Tat Cat actually breaks from the mold more. It's simpler with only four cards and a simpler (and kind of more brutal) scoring system since you don't cancel out pairs. Plus, it has action cards. 

Has it really been twelve years since I wrote a review of Rat-a-Tat Cat? Sweet Garfield and Heathcliff, it has. My word, my sense of short games has changed since I wrote that.

The game has been in my collection for quite a while and I have played it a fair bit over the years. And, as much as I dislike the term filler, I have really Rat-a-Tat Cat to fill time. The vast majority of my games have been played waiting for people to show up or waiting for food to show up or squeezing in one last game in the night.

As I talk about in the review I wrote so long ago with thicker and darker hair, one of the keys is that you can end the game whenever you want. You can play as many rounds as you feel like and a round ends when someone knocks. Which could be the kiss of death in a game of any weight but is actually a virtue in this light, little game.

Compared to Golf, Rat-a-Tat Cat is both lighter and more random. You have a tableau of four cards compared to eight. You have those action cards. Heck, you have extra nine-value cards which messes with the odds.

But I'm pretty sure it's been close to twenty years since I've played Golf. And Rat-a-Tat Cat, I've been a fair number of plays of it over the last twelve years. It's a simple card game with silly art but it has kept on delivering. 

I don't go looking for games with the goal of filling time. I do like short games but I want them to have depth and interesting decisions. Rat-a-Tat Cat isn't the kind of game that I look for. But it has kept delivering.

Of course, you also have to take into account that it is a children's game. As a game for grown ups, it works. But Rat-a-Tat Cat is pretty brilliant for the under ten set. Simple rules that still makes them think. Push your luck with a decent amount of control.

I don't need another game like Rat-a-Tat Cat. It has kept on doing what I need it to do.

Duck Tales, all about family

I was just young enough to have watched the original Duck Tales. By the time most of the Disney Afternoon came out, I was too busy to watch those shows. (A dear friend of mine has said that DVR fixed television and he's right.)

At the time, I didn't know who Carl Barks or Don Rosa were. I didn't know the rich heritage of comic books cartoon was drawing from. But I really liked it and it helped shape my idea of who Uncle Scrooge and the three nephews were.

To be honest, I have yet to really read the Duck comic books but I now have a much better idea of what they are like. And Donald Duck, with his short fuse and his determination, has become my favorite Disney character.

So, when I heard a new version of Duck Tales was coming out, I was interested, and when I heard that David Tenant, who was my favorite new Doctor, would be Scrooge, I was excited. 

I've now watched the pilot/first episode.

I think when you reimagine a property, it's dangerous to be too slavishly close to the original work and I also think it's dangerous to disrespect the original work. It's important to get a new audience but to also remember why the original work had an audience in the first place.

Let's face it, the core concept of Duck Tales is a family that adventures together. The new show pushes that idea even further into forefront. Well, at least in the first story. But there are signs that they are going to keep that up.

Famously, Roy Disney didn't want any of the big names (Mickey, Goofy, etc) to be in TV cartoons. (Obviously, that didn't last long) But that did mean Donald was limited to a couple appearances and his role was taken by his polar opposite, Launchpad McQuack.

The reimagining has Donald a main character and it looks like both his relationship with his uncle and with his nephews are his defining characteristic. He still has a hair trigger temper, the worst luck imaginable and the stoppable determination. But instead of pairing his fierce love for his nephews with a desire to murder the little brats, he's a total helicopter parent.





At the end of the first story, we have a wham line of Dewie realizing that his mom also adventures with Uncle Scrooge. This is after we have learned that Donald has raised his nephews since they were in diapers and he has an old grudge against Uncle Scrooge. 

It's pretty obvious something happened to her under Scrooge's watch. Which also explains why Donald is so overprotective of the nephews. 

Thats a lot of heavy drama.

The original Duck Tales helped reshape the TV cartoon landscape but the world of cartoons has changed over twenty years. Fortunately, it looks like Disney has considered those changes in the reimaging. 

I was thrilled to get more David Tennant but now I'm looking forward to the actual tales of the new Duck Tales.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A hungry, hungry caterpillar game for all ages

GenCan't Roll and Write Library - Canterpillar Feast 

Okay. Let me get this out of the way. Canterpillar Feast uses the strategic bingo mechanic of Take It Easy. Everyone has their own player board and everyone gets the same options.

That's not a bad thing. It's a family of games that I really like and one that I have been able to use with a wide variety of groups.

In Canterpillar Feast, you are hungry, hungry caterpillars munching on leaves. Every one has a branch with ten leaves on it, numbered two to six and eight to twelve. Each leaf has nine empty boxes on it and a ladybug. The tree that the branch is on has nine knot holes.

You'll take turns being the active player. The active player rolls four dice and then chooses one to discard. Everyone then chooses two of the dice to add together. That's the leaf that you'll be eating this turn and the number on the last die is the number of boxes you'll be filling in.

Here's the kicker. You have to fill in that number of boxes. If you'd go over, you can't use that combination of dice. And if you can't fill in any boxes (and, as the game goes on, that will happen), you fill in a knot hole. When someone fills in their last knot hole, the game's over.

In addition, if you're the first person to complete a particular leaf, you get to circle the ladybug on that leaf. The farther on the edge of the bell curve, the more spots they have. The two and the twelve have six spots and six and eight have two.

When the game's over, you get ten points for every completed leaf, points equal to the number of spots on your circled ladybugs, and negative points equal to the number of empty boxes on your leaves. Whoever has the most points, wins.

I played Canterpillar Feast as a solitaire game, which is how I'll probably test drive all the games I try in the GenCan't library. And I think that is probably the weakest way to play the game.

Playing by myself, I was able to optimize every roll. Someone else choosing which die to discard would definitely add tension. Same thing about actually having to compete for ladybugs. On top of that, the game ending when anyone fills in all their knot holes also keeps things tense.

In general, having played a lot of games like Canterpillar Feast, I would call it a solid game, not brilliant but not disappointing. One thing that gives it an edge is that it's free and easy PnP. 

However, the biggest takeaway for me is actually the theme. The theme takes an abstract number and odds cruncher and turns into a cute game with a kid-engaging theme. It's gone on the large stack of potential games when our toddler gets a little older and I've already shared with friends with older kids.

Dipping my toe in the GenCan't library

GenCan't Roll and Write Library - Pippi and the Murmuring Desert

Pippi and the Murmuring Desert ended up being the first game I tried out in the GenCan't Roll and Write Library. Laziness played a part in that decision, since the whole thing is just one page and doesn't require any colored dice. It also looks like one of the simplest games in the library.

Unfortunately, I also had a feeling it wouldn't be that good a game. 

In Pippi and the Murmuring Desert, you are traveling through a desert, trying to reach a medicine woman in a mountain valley and then take the medicine to your papa on the other side. 

Each turn consists of surveying the nearby landscape, thus creating the map, and then moving.

There is an additional feature that you also only have so much water. Every time you don't move, you drink some of your water. Your pawn is actually a die and that's how you keep track of your water. I've seen that done before but I still like it. It is a simple but effective way of tracking.

So here's where the problem comes in. On your travel turn, you wrote two dice and consult the chart. That shows you what two directions you are allowed travel. But, in the best of circumstances, there is an obvious choice. If you roll doubles, you don't have a choice. And, what felt like all to often, both directions could end blocked and you really had no choice.
So I ultimately ended up making no actual choices and was forced to do what the dice told me to. That's a major problem in my book.

Sorry, Craig Froehle, the game has some fundamental problems.

Interestingly enough, I did have some fun playing the game. That's because it really, really reminded me of the first scenario in the old and much criticized Avalon Hill game Outdoor Survival. 

Contrary to popular myth, most of the scenarios in Outdoor Survival actually give you a measure of control and agency. However, the initial, lost in the woods without a map or compass basically consists of wandering around the woods, waiting to die of starvation or thirst or horrible accidents. In multi-player games, the winner is whoever dies last.

It's been years since I last played Outdoor Survival and I've actually gotten rid of my copy so I doubt I'll play it again. But it was a gaming experience that i will probably never forget. 

Pippi and the Murmuring Desert is actually a lot more survivable than Outdoor Survival (the board is a fraction of the size) but wandering lost in the desert while running out of water did remind me of the older game. Frankly, being able to relive that experience with one sheet of paper and three dice is all I need.  

Friday, August 11, 2017

Evaluating Roll and Write games

While I have had an interest in PnP Roll and Write games for years, the Spiel Press kicked my interest in them up a couple notches. Then GenCan't basically dropped a library of them in my lap :D 

So as someone who is currently interested in casual games and whose interest in PnP has just been increasing, I have a feeling that I will be exploring this particular medium for the next few months.

So I have asked myself what am I looking for in a PnP Roll and Write Game, other than fun? I decided that the three most important elements are interesting choices, interesting mechanics (innovative is too loaded a term) and interaction.

Interesting choices is the most important thing that I am looking for. Because, quite frankly, I have played some games like this that actually haven't had any choices. Just roll the dice and see what happens. I want to have some agency in the game and some control over what happens.

I realize that this is a really basic requirement. However, since I have seen it not met, it is definitely one that I think needs to be addressed.

Mechanics, that comes down to this. A lot of the Roll and Write games I've seen harken back to Yahtzee and Take It Easy. And that's not a knock. Yahtzee is a very strong engine and I adore Take It Easy. However, seeing the game that breaks out of those frameworks is really cool.

Interaction is related to that. Both Yahtzee and Take It Easy are literally multi-player solitaire, unless you're playing by yourself. In that case, they're literally solitaire. Again, that's not a knock. We are talking about games that I have really enjoyed and had an easy time getting other folks to enjoy. For instance, I've had a lot of success with Wurfel Bingo.

However, interaction and direct conflict would definitely add some spice. I already have a nice selection of Roll and Write Games that are multi-player solitaire. Having something that I can print out and then go head-to-head would add additional options and audiences to the PnP library.

I have started to go through the GenCan't library and I'll probably blog my thoughts about them. It will be interesting to see how far I go through the library and what I discover.

A disappointing trip back to Solo Tower Hack

Some years ago, when my PnP experiences tended to focus on super simple builds, I tried out a very simple dungeon crawl called Solo Tower Hack. All it took was one page, a pencil, a chart and a couple of dice.

Since I've been having fun with Roll and Write games, I decided to revisit it.

What I discovered is a game where you basically roll the dice and do what they tell you to do. The dice determine what's in each room, where the stairs are and how the fights go. Really, the only real virtues the game has is that it is beyond light on ink and, if you were playing it in a cubicle, you'd look like you were working on a spreadsheet as long as you hid the dice.

Other than the novelty of how minimal you can make fighting your way through a generic fantasy tower, Solo Tower Hack doesn't have much to say for itself.

Truth to tell, since then, I have played a much better one-page, dice driven dungeon crawl. Delve the Dice Game is a much better Roll and Write dungeon crawl in almost every way. 

I'm planning on doing a longer revisit of Delve but it's basically controlling an adventuring party via Yahtzee to fight different groups of monsters. You have actual choices and a lot more flavor.

I have played other one-sheet, PnP, Roll and Write solitaire games that have you basically go on an adventure. For such a crazy specific description, there are a number of them out there. Other ones that stuck in my head include the D6 Shooters and Utopia Engine. Delve stands out for by having a variety of adventures and embracing the pseudo D&D theme.

While neither solitaire or dungeon crawls are my thing, solitaire roll-and-write games are nice for me when I'm between groups and don't have a lot of down time. Delve does the trick well enough I'm really thinking about exploring how far it's come since I looked at it long ago.

Solo Tower Hack, on the other hand, is pretty much a time waster. If I had seen it in the early 80s, I'd probably would have spent some time playing it with a pad of graph paper. Frankly, it feels like something from the early 80s, something I'd have found in the back of a gaming magazine. The fact that it's from 2007 is kind of shocking.

With that in mind, I feel like Solo Tower Hack shows how much farther you can go with even free minimalist PnP. I don't just mean visually (the empty graph is clearly a choice) but mechanically. Above all else, it helps me appreciate other games.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

I discover GenCan't, the unconvention

From a couple different sources, including Cheapass Games newsletter, I came across GenCan't, the blog for all the folks who are _not_ going to GenCon. I have heard of Virtual Conventions but this is the first time I've seen an Unconvention.

GenCan't includes different contests and and articles and even a few game days at game stores that aren't in Indianapolis. But what really led me there was this year's Roll and Write contest, which gave me access to over thirty Roll and Write PnP games.

Which, frankly, is quite the bonanza. 

Really, when you think about it, if you are going to have a PnP contest where the games are accessible for the largest audience, this is the way to do it. No construction, just print and add dice and pencils. And it looks like the designers really explored a lot of different ideas and mechanics.

As of my writing this, they are still adding games to their library, presumably as the designers give the site permission. And we haven't even gotten the actual winner yet. Fun!

While the Roll-and-Write library is my biggest interest in GenCan't, the whole idea of it is neat. Let's face it, a lot of us can't go to GenCon. The site creates a fun sense of solidarity, one that is even international.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Would I go on a Tiny Epic Quest?

At this point, I have played three out of the five games in the Tiny Epic line. Ironically, two of them are the ones that I don't own, although I did play Tiny Epic Defender via PnP so you could say that I owned it that way.

As the name implies, one of the selling points of the line is that they come in small boxes. For me, small storage space and small footprint and relatively short playing time are all appealing.

But I still stand by my mantra that a small game or a short game still has to measure up. I will admit that I will give the game points for being good for it size but what I am really looking for is a game that's just plain good.

Tiny Epic Quest, at least at first blush, felt like it was definitely good for the size of the game and the length of the game but I'm not sure it's just plain good. Frankly, that's because it's a genre I don't play a lot of.

For some reason, I tend to think of Adventure Games, where you control a hero with stats exploring the countryside as a subsection of Dungeon Crawls, even though the other way around makes more sense. Adventure Games tend to have less discrete actions while some Dungeon Crawls have you play out every step.

Tiny Epic Quest has you send three heroes around a map made up of cards. They explore temples, learn magic and fight goblins. Each round has a day where you move around and a night where you have your adventures.

The mechanics for the night are pretty simple but interesting. The active player rolls the five dice that come with the game. Any goblin heads get passed around and give each person who gets one a point of damage. Any power symbols get passed around in the same way and give people power points. Magic raises the magic level, required for learning magic. And everyone gets to uses scrolls, torches and punches to further their adventures.

When it's your turn, you can choose to rest or roll the dice. So, the game ends up being a push-your-luck game with some resource management (hit points are a resource after all)

To be honest, when I think about it, it's kind of an odd central mechanism for an adventure game. At least in my very limited experience. And, intellectually, I can't help but wonder if it's a little too random. However, I did have fun when I played it and I would play it again.

My real question is: would I actually buy it?

That's actually a rather interesting question. On the one hand, I know that there are deeper and more interesting games about tramping around a magical land and exploring rules and fighting monsters. On the other hand, that's not the kind of game I play a lot and one that takes up a small spot on the game shelf and plays fairly quickly is desirable.

So, maybe.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Everyone unleashes evil undead at some point, right?

When we had the eighth session in what the DM has nicknamed the Late Lurkers since we play after everyone's kids have gone to bed, only three players were able to make it.

There are now seven of us players in the game, although the two new players haven't actually had a session with the rest of us. The DM's whole goal adding players was to avoid having sessions like this :P Well, at least by playing on Roll20, no one had to actually drive to someone's house to find folks missing. (And, in the defense of two players, they gave definite no's ahead of time)

So we ended up having a side quest in the middle of our fetch quest. Although this side quest might end up having repercussions that last far longer than our fetch quest.

Short version: the three of us stumbled upon the tomb of a elven king. It helped that the entrance had been cleared by some now dead tomb raiders. We weathered some encounters with a lion, skeletons and grey oozes without too many serious problems.

Then we opened up the tomb of the king and unleashed the mummy that he had become. Three second level characters against a CR 3 monster isn't an instant kill but we were clearly outmatched and our healing couldn't keep up with his damage. Fortunately, the dwarf cleric had his daughter's ring (we found it in a hidden fountain) which make the mummy think the dearf was her. He convinced the mummy to leave us alone and leave. We were hoping the lion we had left alive would do enough damage to the mummy that we could take him in a second bout but the lion ran away.

So, we ended with a royal tomb's worth of treasure but we had unleashed a relatively powerful undead onto the countryside. 

Mechanically, this session let us explore ideals, bonds and flaws. Basically, we knew opening the king's tomb was clearly a bad idea but of course we wanted to. Looking at our character aspects, which reflected the pseudo Viking culture we were a part of, glory and treasure were too big a driving force.

Storywise, it's fun to push a character's flaws. Yeah, we were a bunch of greedy idiots but that made things a lot more interesting. And this side quest which we played because we were missing too many players may actually create an ongoing villain who could be a part of the game for a while.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Struggling to find something nice to say about Catan Dice

As near as I can tell, I actually haven't written about the Catan Dice Game, other than taking playing it solitaire back when I had an android phone. Which is odd, because I was pretty sure that I had. Well, if I did, it would have been close to ten years ago.

Okay, short version. The Catan Dice Game is really, when you get down to it, Yahtzee that uses a Catan map for a score sheet. You build roads and villages and cities and knights, albeit in a specific order. The five resources are on the rather nice dice, plus gold. Two gold make a wild and the knights each serve as one-time resources.

And I ultimately found the game dull, even disappointing. I actually enjoy Yahtzee and games like Take It Easy that are genuinely multi-player solitaire. But, for me, the heart and selling point Catan franchise is the heavy player interaction. 

It also doesn't help that, since then, I have played dice games like the Zooloretto dice game and the Bohnanza dice game that used mechanics from their parent games and felt like I was playing games from their franchises. The Catan Dice Game just doesn't measure up to that comparison.

I do have two caveats.

First of all, I play it a lot back when I had an Android phone. It was fun as a way of fidgeting. 

Second of all, I understand Klaus Teuber actually originally designed a more complicated and interactive game and his publishers insisted on the simpler version. (Since the dice game has sold very well, I can't even say they were wrong.) Since the initial release, which is when I got my copy, variance have been released and some are even now included in the game.

So if you want to accuse me of not giving the game a fair shake, that's reasonable. It has clearly come a ways since that first edition.

I was tempted to buy a copy again when I saw it on clearance the other day. The original base game was pretty meh for me but I do like the dice and maybe some of the variants would make them sing.

Monday, July 31, 2017

My Tiny Epic Experiences at RinCon's July fundraiser

Two or three times a year, RinCon has fundraisers. Which basically means that, in addition to having a friendly local gaming convention in Tucson, we get a couple micro conventions. It's pretty awesome.

I hadn't been able to make the April or June fundraiser so I made sure that I went to the July one.

The guy in front of me in the registration line didn't come with a group either so I introduced myself and I ended up gaming with him for the rest of the morning and the afternoon. Luckily, he turned out to be a great guy. (Thanks, Craig)

He had both Tiny Epic Galaxy and Tiny Epic Quest. I had been very eager to try out Galaxies and I was willing to give Quest a try. Those two games ended up being the highlight of the fundraiser for me. Other folks sat down with us and played. I basically got my chair and everything else fell into place.

I got to play Tiny Epic Galaxies both with and without the expansion. I backed both and I'm glad I did. It is a slick design and the tiny part barely impacts function. I can understand why it is the best regarded of the Tiny Epic series.

In between Tiny Epic experiences, we got in a couple games of HUE. Every time I go to one of these events, I take the Pack O Games with me and I always seem to at least get HUE on the table.

At this point, I have played HUE with five or six different groups. And it keeps on getting better every time. The first time, I thought it was okay. Now, I think it's really good. This was the first group that really started using the poison cards and they worked better than I expected.

I didn't back Tiny Epic Quest since adventure games haven't been my style. (Although I have been coming to like them more, partially because the difference between them and RPGs has been shrinking for me) It was described to me as Zelda as a board game.

And boy, was it ever. I'm not much of a video game player but I could see enough at parallels with the Nintendo franchise that Tiny Epic Quest totally felt like Zelda to me. You travel across the map to explore temples and learn magic and fight goblins. Minimal for an adventure game but that minimalism actually created a lot of tension. So much to do with so little.

While I was leaving, I somehow got in a quick game of Cunning Folk which I did a _terrible_ job teaching. But I'd like to think the other players at least pretended to have fun.

It wasn't the start of RinCon for 2017 but it was the start for me and a jolly fun start it was.

Surprising games at Walgreen

When we were shopping for something completely game unrelated at our local Walgreens, we took a look at the toy half aisle and we ended up being pretty impressed by the selection of games they had there.

Forbidden Island, The Resistance, the Catan Dice Game, Qwixx, Timeline and Coup.

Of course, they also had games like Dominoes and Checkers and Skip Bo and Pass the Pig and a couple flavors of Uno. And most of the 'gamer' games they had were on clearance.

So this wasn't a sign that we live in a world where folks want to pick up a copy of Coup with their cough drops and aspirin. This is a sign that this was a noble experiment that really wasn't working.

Still, it was fun to see and I'm glad that our Walgreens at least tried to sell these games.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The disappointment of Stonehenge the Game Anthology

As I will tell anyone at the drop of a hat, I am a big fan of game systems. I think a deck of cards is one of the most essential things to have in a game library and the bare minimum of what I'll pack for a trip. (You know, after my toothbrush) The Looney Pyramids were a big part of my start in gaming. I think the Decktet is brilliant.

And then there was Stonehenge.

When it was first announced, I knew that I had to get Stonehenge. It was billed as a board game anthology. Both the original game in the expansion head top-notch designers create games with the components. 

Those components, at least for the time, were pretty decent. There was a big board, a deck of cards, druid figurines, plastic trilithons, discs and bars. That wouldn't be that impressive know but it was pretty good for 2007.

I had to get it. A game system that came with games by Richard Borg, James Ernst, Bruno Faidutti, Richard Garfield, and Mike Selinker? With more games promised from other well known designers like Andrew Looney and Bruno Cathala and Klaus-Jurgen Wrede? What could go wrong?

Well, my friends and I started trying out the different games and they just kept falling flat. It has been about 10 years so time has mercifully blocked out the details but I still remember the profound sense of disappointment. It isn't my biggest board game disappointment (Hi, Thunderstone!) but it's up there. The fact that it ultimately wasn't even that memorable doesn't help it's cause.

It is probably telling that every game only got a two-page spread in the rulebook. And some of them clearly needed more. Even for folks who were experienced reading rules and playing different board games, it was kind of vague.

And, as much as I enjoy other things that all the designers are done, it really felt like they phoned the Stonehenge games in. There wasn't a single killer app in the lot. Would I buy a standalone version of Zendo, for instance? Oh yes. Any of the Stonehenge games? Wouldn't even cross my mind.

And I don't accept the argument that the five games are just examples and the real goal is for you to come up with your own games. The examples still have to hold up on their own.

I think part of the problem is that the pieces don't really work as a toolbox. The need to tie everything back to Stonehenge made too many of the pieces too specific. That took away from the flexibility of using them as general tools for games.

As an idea, Stonehenge was great. As an execution, it was terrible. In the end, it proves how difficult intentionally designing a game system really is. I honestly believe that an important component is having an active and committed community. If Stonehenge ended up developing one, it was after we gave up on it.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

First thoughts on the Spiel Press

I've been interested to see what The Spiel Press would turn out to be ever since I first read about the up-and-coming imprint/company on the Button Shy blog. Well, they have their first kick starter going on so I've had a chance to take a look.

Short version, their product is creating roll-and-write books. That's when you have a pencil-and-paper games that are dice driven and you bind the individual sheets in a book. Perforated, of course, so it's easy to rip them out. You know, like you bound a bunch of Yahtzee score sheets together.

It's not a new idea. Sid Saxon designed a bunch of pencil and paper books back in the day and they're pretty awesome. And, of course, these days you can also create PDF versions, which is what I am interested in. I mean, print and pull out some pencils and dice. Now that is an easy print and play project.

OK, so their first Kickstarter is two different books. The first one is called Star Maps and involves a Take It Easy style bingo mechanic and constellations. The other is Blood Royals, a two-player area of control game with special powers.

While they have included print-and-play prototypes of both games, there is also quite a bit that hasn't been included in the prototypes. Quite frankly, I'm kind of curious to see what the final product looks like.

Of the two, I am more interested in Blood Royals. Star Maps uses a core mechanic that I have seen before, albeit one that I've had a lot of fun with. Blood Royals seems more ambitious and pushes the envelope for the medium more.

Of course, I don't know what tweaks they have planned for the final versions. And, yes, it might ultimately be disappointing. But I am backing the Kickstarter and signing on for the ride.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Every style has a game master

I was interested to learn, when I read the first volume of Dungeons and Designers, that game masters in the earliest RPGs were flat out competing against the players. That wasn't a surprise since D&D did come out of miniatures games so we're just talking a team of one versus a team of many.

Obviously the role of the game master has broadened since then. Sometimes the game master is simply a referee, someone to make sure all the rules are followed by both the heroes and the monsters. Other times they narrators of the story which the players gets to participate in. Sometimes they are collaborators with the players. And sometimes the role and responsibilities are divided up among everyone.

Originally, I had been thinking about how the role of the game master has evolved but I realized that that wasn't the best word. I think that developed or expanded or broadened it a better term. Because while everyone has their favorite method of running a game, you can't really say one method is better than the other.

In fact, a very good argument can be made that the original idea that the game master was actively trying to kill the players' characters is still alive and well. And, no, I don't mean killer DMs who keep folders of all the characters that they've killed.

Games like Descent are both examples of a game master who is directly competing against the players and games that blur the line between board games and role playing games so much that I easily consider them both.

Back when Descent first came out, a friend of mine was extremely interested in it because he didn't have time to be in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign but he still wanted a D&D experience. At the time,  I was in a weekly campaign and I couldn't see the appeal.

Now, since I don't have the time for a weekly game, I can see the appeal. More than that, since I first played Descent, my personal definition of RPGs has broadened with games like The Quiet Year and Microscope. To my mind, a Descent campaign is definitely an RPG. 

Ahem. Back to my original point. Over the last few decades, the role of game master has broadened. There's a lot more philosophies out there. However, the old ways have not become obsolete. 

What has changed is that we now have more and more games whose rules are tailored for specific kinds of game mastering.

There are some games that are broad enough to cover almost every style of GM. In my years of D&D, I've had GMs out to kill the party, GMs who had the whole game mapped out, GMs who created a sandbox for us to play in, wonderful GMs who actively wanted the players to help build the world and no GM just players just rotating who controlled the monsters.

However, choosing a game it's not just choosing a genre or a setting. Choosing a game it's choosing what kind of story you want to tell and how to tell it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Catchup: classic abstract feel

When I read up about Catchup, I decided that I needed to try it out. As it turned out, my account at Little Golem is still active so I wen there for a short visit so I could get in a game of Catchup.

Catchup has a classic abstract feel. Perfect information, two players and no theme. Catchup is played on a hexagonal grid with players taking turns setting down stones. The goal is to have the single largest group of stones when you've filled up the board.

The twist is whoever has the largest group on the board (not total, just largest single group) can only place two stones. The other player can place three stones.

It's an interesting touch and definitely makes the game. Since I was playing online, Little Golem kindly kept track of that for us and I didn't think about keeping track. However, looking at Russ Williams review of the game, I realized that could be an issue in a face-to-face game. You'll need some kind of system to keep it from being a pain.

I had fun with Catchup. I like abstract placement games. Every move develops the board and keeps pushing the game forward. Catchup took that basic and effective formula and just added a couple tweaks. Between the short playing time in the quickly developing board, Catchup stays interesting through the whole game.

In my one play, I found myself focusing on making as many cutting moves as I could. It's definitely a very conflict centered game, quickly becoming a knife fight in a telephone booth. And I'm sure that further plays will reveal greater depth.

Catchup isn't my favorite new abstract. I wouldn't put it in the top tier of abstracts. It's good but it's not brilliant. That said, I have played some boring and broken and just plain bad abstracts. The fact that Catchup is dynamic and interesting is a major win for the designer.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Twin Stars: giving Solitaire another spin

I'm a little late writing about the Twin Stars kickstarter since it's almost over. On the plus side, it is well past its funding goals so it is going to get made.

Twin Stars is a solitaire game system, one that Button Shy has slowly been releasing as bonus items. Each play consists of two characters and one scenario. However, you can mix and match the characters, as well as adjust the difficulty so there is a lot variety going on. 

I've only played the first one, Escape from the Brig, which I am sure is also the simplest one. It's essentially a race against time. Can you get your pawn to end of its track before the guard pawn gets to the end of its track? 

At the end of the day, the game is all about dice manipulation. Each character has a space for each pip, with either symbols or an effect. Roll the die and assign one to each character. If they form a combination  of symbols listed on the scenario card, perform that action and start over. Otherwise, drop one die by one pip and reroll the other then check for combinations.

I'll be honest. The game system is more complex than you'd really expect for three cards, two dice and some tokens. The process of completing a turn can take several steps. I'm not actually saying Twin Stars is complex. Just that I was expecting a a very simple roll-and-react game and there's an actual procedure with choices, although bad rolls can still sink you.

I am going to continue to be honest. I'm really not one for solitaire games, although I realize I have played quite a few over the years. When I do play one, I wanted to be something that is easy to set up and that will play fairly quickly. Because, quite frankly, it tends to be an act of fidgeting for me.

So, three cards, some tokens and a couple of dice works for me. Heck, if I feel like it, I can randomly deal out the characters in the scenarios.

I will have to see the other scenarios in the other characters and see how truly flexible the system is, as well as how interesting it is in the long run. But, for three dollars to get the PDF files, it's an investment that I feel comfortable with.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Sadly, Las Vegas doesn't excite me

Okay. I have to admit that I don't find Rudiger Dorn's Las Vegas very interesting. 

I've put off writing about it because it's the darling of so many gamers and was a Spiel de Jahres finalist and I've given it much plays to try and find the magic. 

Which really seems kind of odd. I like dice games. I like dice placement games in particular. I like casual games and family weight games. Las Vegas ticks all of those boxes. And I think it is very well designed.

There are six casino tiles, one for every pip on the die. Players have color-coded dice pools. Money is dealt out to each casino each round. On your turn, you roll your pool and assign all the dice of one pip to the matching casino. When everyone is out of dice, you cash out the casinos with the money going to whoever has the most dice on each casino. If there's more one bill, someone gets to be second place. But if there on ties, those dice don't count.

Honestly, I don't think you could make a simpler dice placement game. And the theme is accessible to the wider audience. 

And Las Vegas has actual choices. The different casinos are worth different points, er, money. Some might reward second or even third place. And since you have to go all in with every die of a pip, you can drain your dice pool quickly. And the rule about ties negating themselves, that adds a real twist. 

Plus, there is a variant where everyone gets some neutral dice in their pool. It adds another layer of decisions and turns ties into a serious weapon.

At the end of the day, Las Vegas is a very simple game that is very balanced with real choices and heavy interaction. I understand why people like it. I understand why there is now a mass market version coming out.

And it just doesn't interest me. And I'm a guy who enjoys abstracts and has played plenty of dice game with no theme. 

It may be because I've exclusively played it on Yucata. The game may get a lot more tension face-to-face.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Yeah, I had fun with fourth edition

When reminiscing about Dungeons and Dragons and loophole abuse, I found myself musing about the red-headed stepchild of the system, fourth edition.

I'm not sure you can say which edition was the most radical overhaul of the system. Well, unless you count first edition as overhauling the Chainmail miniature game :D But fourth edition was a big change from 3 and 3.5.

I don't know how fair it is to say this but, speaking as someone who never played World of Warcraft or any other MMRPG, fourth edition felt like trying to create as close to a World of Warcraft experience as a pen-and-paper game without getting sued. Classes got broken down into specific roles in combat and special abilities were painstakingly precisely defined.

Now I'm willing to bet there is a community out there that loved and still loves and still plays fourth edition but, in my circles, feeling ranged from fair to outright hatred. Part of the problem was that it really didn't _feel_ like Dungeons and Dragons. Spell casting was completely different, the baseline concepts of the setting were different than Gygax quirky wheel-shaped cosmoverse, and combat actions were like pushing a button.

And from a gaming philosophy point of view, it seems silly to focus on what an MMRPG can do better rather than focus in what is special and unique about both table top role playing games and D&D specifically.

But, to tell you the truth, I have a lot of found memories of my time playing fourth edition. It didn't really feel like Dungeons and Dragons and, in many ways, it had as much in common with a board game as a role playing game. But I still had fun.

A lot of that had to do with the group I played with. We would could have played (fill in the blank with whatever game you think stinks) and had a good time. Okay, those of you who chose F.A.T.A.L., you're right. We wouldn't enjoy that.

HOWEVER, fourth edition was also very user friendly with a very easy learning curve. You couldn't, simply couldn't, get as creative as you could with every earlier and later version of Dungeons and Dragons. The actions were spelled out so exactly that there wasn't any wiggle room. Which was both a plus and a minus. On the one hand, not being able to be creative is not a plus. On the other hand, that did make it easy to teach and play. 

But where that really sang was for our game master. After years of running 3.5 and dealing with all of us turning into rules students who dreamed up clever character builds, running fourth edition was a breath of fresh air and relaxing. Fourth edition biggest plus as a sword and sorcery role playing game was how easy it was to run.

In fact, if someone were to ask me to run a fantasy RPG, fourth edition is one I'd consider. Dungeon World would probably win but fourth edition would be in the running.

Look, it is good when a game gives you a lot of flexibility and the ability to get clever and creative. That's awesome. But it's also good when a game is simple to play. Those two ideals don't cancel each other out. It just means that they have different goals and different audiences or situations. The real question is if they do what they set out to do well. On of fourth editions goals was to be D&D and it didn't do that well. Another goal was to be a balanced, playable, fun game and it did achieve that.

Fourth edition didn't feel like Dungeons and Dragons and I am very glad to finally be in a fifth edition game, which I like as a system much more and feels like Dungeons and Dragons again. However, fourth edition wasn't a bad game.