Monday, December 31, 2018

Obligatory year end wrap up blog

Well, 2018 is wrapping up and I have to say that it’s been a very interesting year for gaming for me. In some ways, one of the more significant ones.

Back in 2014, we moved across the country with our newborn son. And, other than Yucata, my gaming life pretty much went into hibernation. Because, seriously, priorities.

As he has grown older, I’ve slowly been getting more and more back into gaming. I have attended enough local events that I’m getting to know the local community. And our son is getting past the point of just dexterity games like Don’t Spill the Beans.

However, what had the biggest impact for me was really embracing Print and Play and solitaire games. Usually by making my own solitaire games :D

I was already moving towards that direction in 2017. As embarrassing as it is to admit, the key thing I started doing was properly storing my PnP games. It wasn’t getting a reliable printer or a laminator. It was treating PnP games as something more than disposable objects.

And a key factor in embracing solitaire games was acknowledging what I call parent break games. Games that take little time or space or thought but do give me a short mental coffee break. I explored a lot of parent break games in 2018 and I had fun doing it. And I’m not going to be ashamed :P

Print and Play, solitaires. A few years ago, I’d never have given them much thought. 2018, they were awesome.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

But nothing beats the printing press

I spend a lot of time ruminating about the development of games and milestones in gaming. A lot of the time, that involves looking at specific games and game mechanics.

But sometimes, it’s also worth noting technological and social changes. I mean, how much of a debt does gaming owe to the printing press? And clearly Kickstarter has had a big effect, although, let’s face it. It’s no printing press :D

Two developments that I found myself thinking about over breakfast  were the internet and international shipping.

Okay. The global and cultural effect of the internet is way beyond any easy summary. It is the subject of countless books and thesis (the plural is theses but, man, that looks funny) It has changed the world.

How this applies to game development really struck me when I first read Gamut of Games by Sid Sackson. In addition to the actual games, he discusses collecting games and corresponding with other game designers (who designed some of the games in the book) In the post-internet world, developing a network of designers would have be mind boggling easier!

And while it seems to actually becoming more difficult than it used to be (I might be wrong but I swear shipping rates are going up faster than the price of games) but being able to actually get games from across the Atlantic that weren’t available in the U.S. was amazing back when I first started looking at games (and Fred Flintstone was part of my gaming group and brontosaurus ribs were a table snack)

Okay. The internet is the bigger deal. But, at least for me, the internet and international shipping made a powerful combination when I was first really discovering the broader world of gaming. I could have never found about so much without one and couldn’t have gotten ahold of so much without the other. 

Ten years earlier, I could not have had the same experience.

The world of gaming has changed and is changing and a big part of it is that the world has changed period.

And the printing press, that was a big deal.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Atlanteon is an abstract is basically just good enough

I hadn’t thought about Atlanteon for years until I was looking through my abstracts. And now I want to play it some more :D

In Atlanteon, each player has eleven tiles numbered zero to nine, plus a king tile that’s also a zero. They take turns placing the tiles on a five by five grid that has three neutral castle tiles that they took turns placing at the start. When a tile is surrounded on all four sides by other tiles or the edge of the board, it’s scored. Whoever has the most value in tiles around it gets it. Opponent-claimed tiles still count for their player for claiming the tiles they’re next to.

Atlanteon can end in three different ways. You can win by capturing your opponent’s king or by capturing all three neutral castle tiles or by capturing eleven tiles and having your king on the board. 

I’ve skipped over some rules (you place a disc in captured tiles but don’t get to do that for the two white castles and the black castle has its own, quirky set of rules and there are tie breakers for capturing tiles so I think it’s impossible to tie the whole game) but that’s the basic idea of Atlanteon.

While the game has the theme of undersea warfare, the theme has absolutely nothing to do with the gameplay. Atlanteon could work with just about any theme or no theme at all. A cyber punk hacking theme would have done pretty well and given us better artwork to boot.

I’ll be honest. There’s nothing particularly special about Atlanteon. It’s a little quirky but the overall structure is basic stones-on-the-board, count-the-numbers. However, it ticks off a number of boxes for me.

It’s a short abstract, probably around fifteen minutes, and it’s a dynamic one. With only eleven moves each, every move count and every move changes the board. Atlanteon isn’t a slowly developing game. It’s a knife fight in a phone booth that someone just tossed a hand grenade in.

And there is the simple thing that the game works. All the pieces fit together and it all balances out. And the variable starting positions of the castles helps keep Atlanteon from getting too formulaic and too quickly solved.

Last of all, I own the thing. I got Atlanteon when I was in my buy everything stage. I don’t know if I’d buy it now but it’s not leaving my collection. It’s not a brilliant abstract but it’s a nice little snack of one. It’s comfy.

Atlanteon is a workman-like game that honestly isn’t anything special. It’s definitely not one of Knizia’s best games. Wow. I went this long before mentioning it’s a Knizia. But it does what I imagine he set it out to do. Be a quick little game with real if light choices.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Abalone - a perfectly good abstract I have no interest in

I was actually introduced to Abalone  by a  D&D buddy before I got into designer board games. (He was the same guy who would later introduce me to Carcassonne and Puerto Rico so has serious mentor credit) At the time, I thought it was a really neat game. But that opinion hasn’t really held up. Although, it’s really about my tastes than the game’s fault.

Abalone is a perfect information abstract. The board is a hexagonal marble board with special grooves so you can roll the marbles from one hole to another. You can push up the three marbles when you make a move. The goal of the game is to push six of your opponent’s marbles into the gutter on the edge of the board.

The game was apparently inspired by sumo wrestling and it’s really easy to see that. However, it also reminds me of just playing marbles and trying to shoot your opponent’s marbles out of the circle :D

Abalone is a very methodical game with a lot of discrete moves. At the level of play that I got to, there is a strong focus on defensive play, setting up marbles in groups that couldn’t be pushed and waiting for your opponent to make a mistake. And once a mistake was made, games tended to turn into a death spiral for whoever made that mistake.

What that ended up happening was that my plays of Abalone tended to be very slow with very static boards, punctuated by a few exciting moments. 

However, my tastes in abstracts shifted towards ones with very dynamic game play where individual moves could really change the board. Games like Hive or the Gipf Project took my fancy and have held onto it. Plus, I’ve also come to really love abstracts that aren’t perfect information or totally determined, like Ingenious or Qwirkle.

There are still games that are slower and more discrete that I really enjoy. Go is the prime example of that but Go is also an example of a board that is constant developing. There’s no going back in Go. And I also like the Blokus family, which is also an example of a constantly developing board.

None of this makes Abalone a bad game. Intellectually, I think it’s a very good game. It’s just not one that interests me.

And I also know that if I had played Abalone more, I probably would have come to understand and appreciate it more. I also understand that are alternate starting positions that would address some of my issues with Abalone. AND you can play with more than two players which also might have changed the experience for me.

The game that really killed Abalone for me was Oshi. It has similar ideas but a much more wide open board. To be brutally honest, Oshi is a lighter and definitely simpler game. Abalone clearly has more depth. By many measurements, Oshi is the worse game. But I have more fun with it.

I can see how Abalone is a good game. I just don’t have any interest in it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Rosenkonig - a little abstract that doesn’t quit

Rosenkonig or The Rose King or War of the Roses. This game has more names without changing anything and it also started out life as Texas so you know that the theme and the mechanics have so little to do with each other than they communicate with semaphore. Every time I look at this game, I think eh, it’s not that much. But, you know, I keep going back to it. And it’s survived a lot of purges of my game collection.

So there’s something there.

Rosenkonig, as I think of it, is fundamentally an abstract. The theme really is just there for the art. Abstract doesn’t have to mean two-player but it usually does and Rosenkonig is no exception. 

The players take turns using cards to move a single pawn across the grid that is the board. You get to place a token in your color’s side  on the space where you land the pawn. The game ends when either you run out of tokens or no one can make a move.

You see, you normally can’t land in space that already has a token. Each player can land on an opponent’s token and flip it five times per game but those five times will go by fast.

You score each group (orthogonal counts but not diagonal)  of tokens by counting them up and squaring the number. 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, etc. As you can see, it escalates quickly. Being able to flip a token to either break an opponents group or increase one of yours is a big deal.

While there is a variant to play with hidden cards, the regular rules of Rosenkonig have you play with open cards. So you know all of your opponent’s possible moves. Limiting what they can do is a huge part of the game. You have to keep looking at least two moves ahead.

I bought it at the first GenCon where I was actually looking for board games. Man, that was a magical GenCon, where the purchase that really rocked my world ended up being Bohnanza. But Rosenkonig was also something I picked up and it’s stayed with me.

If memory serves me correctly, I actually bought it from the Mayfair booth. One of the folks at the booth went through the scoring and convinced me to buy it. I got the German edition with a print out of the rules in English :D (I have no idea who distributed the English edition but I’m assuming there must be one)

So memory lane is part of why I’m fond of Rosenkonig but that’s not the only reason. While it has elements or other games (Flipping over tokens does bring Othello to mind), it is still pretty unique. I can’t think of another game really like it. And while it’s easy to teach, it’s full of lots of ‘aha’ moments. It rewards exploring the game and it plays quickly enough that replaying it isn’t hard.

Rosenkonig isn’t a game that really jumps out at you and, lets face it, you have to at least kind of like abstracts. But it’s got staying power.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Why dancing bears matter

I was in the mood for something different but the holidays have fried my brain enough that I also really wasn’t up for thinking. So I dusted off Not Another One, a roll and write that didn’t impress me much back in February.

And it impressed me even less this second time. While there are some decisions, the dice will trump careful choices every time. At the same time, i know that it’s something I will occasionally pull out. Because it is kind of different and it is quick and easy and my brain doesn’t have to participate that hard.

There’s an old expression that we don’t watch a dancing bear because it dances well but because it dances at all. And there are definitely some games out there that are dancing bears. When I’ve paid money for a dancing bear, that’s aggravating. 

But when a dancing bear is a free PnP, that’s another thing. I’m cool with being a play tester for someone’s wacky experiment. Heck, that’s part of the process for how better games get made. 

I am under the string impression that, over the last three or four years, that more and more PnP games that are more dancing bears. This might be because I am much more interested and paying more attention. I think it might also be because of Sturgeon’s Law. More stuff is getting designed so the ten percent of good stuff is a larger number.

My primary goal with PnP is to find that ten percent, to find and play those games that really are good. However, I don’t want to overlook dancing bears. They can be fun and amusing. More importantly, they don’t represent a finished product but a step on the way. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Further thoughts on Tussie-Mussie

I’ve already posted a review of Tussie-Mussie on boardgamegeek, particularly since it didn’t have one. However, I’ve found myself continuing to play the game as a solitaire, even though I think that’s probably where the game is weakest.

My first impression of Tussie-Mussie was that it was a set collection game with bog standard mechanics and a pleasing theme and very clean graphic design. My further plays have only reinforced this impression.

And stating that the theme and layout are the strongest part of the game isn’t a jab at Tussie-Mussie. They are the difference between making the game a bland experience and an enjoyable one.

Frankly, I think that Tussie-Mussie is an ideal casual game. Very easy to teach and short to play with some things to think about. Luck definitely can be a deciding factor but that’s not a game killer for a short, casual game. 

These days, there are a lot of really solid casual games. I do hope Tussie-Mussie gets published but I don’t know if it will stand out. I do wonder how it would have done if it come out ten years ago.

Tussie-Mussie is one of the rare games that I seriously thinking of going the extra step of getting printed in color, going beyond our black and white home printer. Because that’s what will make non-gamers interested (we are talking pictures of flowers and ribbons, after all) and I think one play will make them want more plays.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Sometimes, you need some buy in to get involved

I was recently talking to a friend who is a casual gamer about what I do and I found myself wondering how do you introduce someone to print-and-play starting from scratch.

The obvious answer to Roll-and-Write. No cutting, no actual construction work. Just print a page and add dice and a pencil. And there are some nifty Roll-and-Write games out there for the printing. I honestly think if someone stopped there, they’d still have a lot of fun.

Heck, if you don’t have access to a printer, you can get some big square graph paper and play games like 30 Rails or High Score/Wurfel Bingo. If you really want to go minimal, you can make it work.

But that wasn’t how I got into PnP. In fact, discovering PnP Roll and Writes and being impressed by what was out there was actually a pretty late stage for me. The jumping on point for me, from going from ‘oh, I’ve made a few PnPs but I’m not really into this stuff’ to ‘yeah, this is a legitimate hobby for me’ was micro card games. Which I made with scissors and sleeving the paper cut outs with regular playing cards so they’d have some heft and the the same backs.

I am a lazy PnPer. The bulk of my projects are nine and eighteen card micro games. Heck, I use a laminator rather than more impressive ways of making cards. (Although, gosh darn it, my cards and tiles are durable!)

However, I think if my start had just printing off sheets, I would have done that for very long and I wouldn’t have gone far exploring PnP games. In fact, years ago, I looked at a couple just print games and then didn’t do anything more for years.

It wasn’t until I put in some effort that I really got interested in print and play. I needed to have some level of actually doing something to get engaged. If I didn’t have that buy in, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.

Roll-and-Write games are great but if I wanted to get someone into PnP, I’d suggest a small project like Bomb Squad #9 or Pocket Landship.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Super early impressions of The Abandons

My ‘big’ PnP project for December was making a copy of The Abandons, a solitaire tile laying game that I backed at the PnP level on Kickstarter.

It’s fifty cards but they are big, square cards with wide margins so it was easy to cut out the cards, laminate them and then cut out the laminated cards. No fussy cutting with scissors. All quick cutting with a paper cutter. So I was done by the fourth and have already gotten in a few plays.

(And this really will be my biggest project this month, even though I’m already done. Once the holiday stuff really starts rolling, my crafting time will go away. In fact, that’s why I made sure I got it done in week one!)

The Abandons is a tile laying game where you are creating a maze/really twisty passage way. Here’s the basic idea. Each room, other than dead ends, has one to three exists marked with one or more diamonds each. Pick an exit. Draw that many cards and discard all but the last one and add it to the maze. If you get to the bottom of the deck, you get the exit tile and get out. There are also staircases, collapses and item cards to make the game more interesting.

The game was a bit ink-heavy by my standards but the artwork is nicely atmospheric and fits with the idea that a strange compulsion dragged you to the maze/dungeon/basement of an abandoned industrial building. The graphic design definitely works for the game.

What the Abandons initially reminded me of is Ambagibus, an older, free PnP which also has you building a maze out of tiles. I think Ambagibus has an illusion of choice. Often times, you don’t have a placement choice and there’s usually an obvious best choice. Despite that, I find the game very relaxing and play it a lot.

The Abandons, on the other hand, seems to have the illusion of no-choice. That’s because the game seems to be about path building and you don’t seem to have a lot of choices. But the fundamental mechanic of the Abandons is actually push your luck. It’s still pretty random but I think there are more choices than flipping a card and hoping you don’t lose. It’s going to take more plays for me to make up my mind but I think the Abandons is more game than Ambagibus.

The Abandons is a light, little game that takes maybe ten minutes to play. To be honest, that puts it in my wheelhouse for solitaire games and I’m glad I made it and I will keep playing it. It’s better than I was afraid it would be. I am curious to see if I’m right and I have more control than it initially feels like.

The gaming world is full of light, little solitaire games. Thanks to PnP, I’ve played a couple dozen. The Abandons isn’t the first one I’d recommend if you’ve never played any and want to check the genre out. But it is one I’d recommend if you are already into light solitaires.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Initial impressions of Tussie-Mussie

Tussie-Mussie was one of the co-winners of the 2018 Gen Can’t design contest, which was co-judged by Button Shy. Gen Can’t + 18 card design PnP + Button Shy = I was bound to check Tussie-Mussie out.

Tussie Mussie is a real term, as I eventually found out. It means a small bouquet where the combination of flowers and herbs create a special meaning.  The concept is about six hundred years old but apparently became really big in Victorian England.

Every card in the game is a different flower. Mechanically, every card has three points of interest: a color, zero to two hearts and a special power. 

The special powers are where the real interest of the game comes from. Every card some something different, usually gaining points. Certain cards definitely have synergy. For instance, some cards give you a point for every card of a specific color.

Game play is very simple, a variation of I-Cut-You-Choose. The active player draws two cards and chooses one to be have down. The next player gets to choose one of the two cards and the active player gets the other. When everyone has four cards, you figure out the points based on the special powers and number of hearts. Three rounds and whoever has the most points wins.

I have to seriously praise the graphic design of Tussie-Mussie. The images on the cards look like they were taken right out of a Victorian era floral book (and maybe they were) Each color is represented by a distinct ribbon image on the side, which is great for someone like me who is color-blind and has a black-and-white printer beside. And the hearts and special powers are very clear.

I’ve only tried the solitaire mode, which is clearly the weakest way to play. In effect, the dummy player offers me the choice of a known or unknown card. Even with limited control, it has been fairly easy to beat the Demi prayer, particularly over three rounds.

I suspect that, while better with more players, the game is still going to be very light and very random. This isn’t a game killer, since even three rounds with play probably will take just ten minutes. Honestly, the strongest thing Tussie-Mussie has going for it is theme and graphic design.

Which might sound like I’m damning the game with faint praise but I’m not. There are a lot of options for light, short pleasant games, even if I’m just sticking to PnP games. And bad graphic design can be a serious game killer.

I’m not going to play Tussie-Mussie with serious gamers on a game night. It’s a game I’d play at restaurants or coffee shops or after supper and it’s a game I’d play with casual gamers or even non-gamers. And the pleasant and pretty theme/artwork and the easy to understand graphic design makes the difference between a game I’d never play and one that is seriously think about packing in my bag.

Tussie-Mussie is fluff but it is fluff done well.

Hobbling down memory lane

One of my obsessions is how much gaming culture has changed since I started gaming. And by that, I mean playing games like Catan and Ticket to Ride. If I went by when I started playing role playing games or my early war gaming in high school, things have _really_ changed.

In one sentence, the hobby has become more broad and more diverse.

Taking a trip back in the way back machine to the early 80s when I first started playing RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons was the touchstone for everyone who played. Pretty much everyone got their start with Dungeons and Dragons. It was our common language.

These days, I am sure there are plenty of folks who play RPGs who have never played Dungeons and Dragons. I bet that the World of Darkness has been plenty of people’s introduction to RPG and I really wonder if Fiasco has been some folk’s first RPG.

I wasn’t at GenCon when Magic the Gathering first came out but I have friends who were. They told me that you just needed to look anyone in the eye and hold up a deck and you had a game going. There is no way any game could have that impact now.

And when I finally got into designer board games/euro games/hobby board games/ whatever you want to call them, everyone knew how to play Catan and Puerto Rico and Carcassonne. I knew people who didn’t have game night, they had Catan Night. 

I’ll be honest. I think this is a good change. Everyone having the same general game vocabulary was fun and it did feel like I was part of a special club at times. But the community was a lot smaller, a lot more insular and not nearly as diverse. The larger community with its greater diversity is a much better thing for the world on a whole.

More folks buying games means publishers have an incentive to keep on publishing games. And not only are there more games out there, there’s a much greater variety. Sure, Trout’s Law still come into play but that’s ten percent of a larger number. 

Maybe we’re not as homogeneous as we used to be but there’s more of us. There’s more folks to meet and play with. Exclusive isn’t a good thing. A diverse and broad community is a fun and interesting one.

Yeah, it’s fun to get out my walker and tell youngsters that I remember when but I love living in the future.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

My November PnP

Okay. In November, I made copies of Elevenses for One, Murderers Row, Palm Island, Get the Girl, The Coins Tribe Revolt, Sun Starters, D6 Wizardry, Gladiator Gauntlet, Race for the Rhine, Slicer, Tussle-Mussie, and Hyperdrive Odyssey.

While that list is a lot more impressive than just making a copy of Micropul in October, most of those games are just nine cards worth of crafting, with the biggest games being eighteen cards. I’m hoping that December will see a project that’s larger than a micro game or a roll and write.

(Not that micro games and roll and writes are a bad use of PnP time. They are a great use of it. However, I also want to push myself)

The Mini PnP Secret Santa was the culprit. I literally did no PnP crafting for almost the entire month. As the end of the month started to come up, I decided I’d better start working on what I’m planning on sending out. And when I started doing that, I just kept on going. All of my crafting for November was done in a flurry over three days at the end of the month.

(I have a feeling my crafting for December will be another flurry at the very start, a continuation of this one)

I do wish I was being more steady about my print and play projects. Spending literally weeks doing nothing and blazing away at a breakneck pace over a couple days. It takes away from the meditative, calming element of making PnP projects.

I knew that I wasn’t done with print and play, even though I had gone into hibernation. It is still nice to have that knowledge confirmed, even if I went from zero to sixty.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Looking forward to more nine card games

I just saw that the 2019 Nine-Card PnP contest has been announced. And that has me pretty excited.

I enjoy crafting PnP games (and playing them can be fun too) The act of making them  can be very therapeutic and relaxing. But I’m also a pretty lazy crafter. Nine-card game are right up my wheelhouse. That’s something I can done in one sitting.

And there are some solid games in that nine-card range, something I would not have believed a few years ago. Cunning Folk was my watershed game in that regard, also giving me something I’d been looking for, a Coup-like experience that works for two people.

Since then, I’ve found nine-card PnP games that I would genuinely recommend to anyone. Bomb Squad #9 and Pocket Landship and Orchard are particular highlights. An easy to make PnP library that fits in a pocket.

As I said earlier, the contest, along with the mini-PnP Secret Santa, has gotten me excited about PnP. And I could use some enthusiasm. Life has been busier and it’s been harder for me to find the time and enthusiasm. (And lets be honest. If I had the enthusiasm, I’d figure out how to make the time.)

And also to be fair, I expected to have some burnout since I made a lot of PnPs during the front half of the year. It’s only natural for there to be some ebb and flow and its really time to try and get back into the game.

I feel like the quality of PnP games just keeps getting better. I’ve already mentioned Orchard, last years winner. That is a game that is an example of a good game that just happens to be nine cards. I have high hopes for the coming contest.

Monday, November 26, 2018

You werewolves get off of my lawn!

Okay. I have had one of my worst grumpy, cranky old gamer moments. So far.

I saw a box the size of Ticket to Ride called Ultimate Werewolf Legacy that cost $60. Why, back in my day, we played Werewolf with eighteen cards pulled from a regular deck of cards and we only had three roles. Werewolves, one seer and a bunch of villagers. And none of this one night business either. We went night after night until everyone was dead. AND WE LIKED IT!

(Well, we did.)

Seriously, we have gone from a public domain game that uses a few cards from a regular deck of cards and takes fifteen minutes or so to a good-sized box that apparently plays out a campaign in five one-hour sessions. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It might be a very good thing. But it is a mind-boggling thing.

At some point, I really should at least try One Night Werewolf. Although, I am scared that once I try it, I’ll never be able be able to go back :D

Friday, November 23, 2018

This seems fitting on Black Friday

I am a game hoarder. In some respects, I am a recovering game hoarder. I’ve done a massive purge of my collection over the course of the last few years. And I have heavily curtailed my game buying as well. 

While that ultimately emotionally satisfying to an amazing degree, it was initially driven by the practical needs of marriage and parenthood. If you’re stacking games in the kitchen, you might have a problem. 

There were two questions I had to ask when purging. Is this game good or, preferably, great? Is this game going to actually see any kind of regular play? And, as it turns out, the second question turned out to be the more important one.

I’ve been thinking about some games that I thought were really good games but also games I just didn’t see myself playing for one reason or another. I feel Cape Horn is a unique and interesting race game but, even when I had a group that got together one or twice a week, it didn’t get played. Australia has some neat twists on area control, fighting over the borders not the areas, but it also just didn’t get replayed.

I got to be honest, there are a lot of games that I know I just want to play once to get the experience. You can only try and master so many games after all. 

Honestly, thats what conventions and other gaming events are for. Well, in addition to playing longer games and meeting people and buying games and getting away from it all. But buying every game you want to look at leads to huge stacks of games that get one play at best.

In the end, the most important reason to own a game is to play it, not to have it on your shelf.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Easing up a bit on micro games

My obsession with micro games has waned in some respects in 2018. I still think they are the bee’s knees and the cat’s pajamas but I’m not as fixated on them.

While I still am between regular gaming groups, I’ve made a point to go to more local gaming events. Micro games are ideal for random pick-up games but more of my face-to-face gaming has been more structured with more time and space available. Micro games have become less a part of my face-to-face gaming, as opposed to being kind of the center of it.

I realized this when I realized that the Pack O Games line of games wasn’t the gaming franchise I am most excited about :D I still think that they are an amazing exploration of the micro game space and I will snatch up any new games that come out but they aren’t the focus of my gaming.

The exception for this is PnP, particularly solitaire PnP games. I am a lazy PnP guy so I have gravitated to making micro games. They’re easy to make! And most of my solitaire play is short, mental coffee breaks so micro games really work there as well.

Now, one of the milestones of my gaming life was Pico 2. Made well before micro games were cool, eleven cards, five minutes to teach and play, full of tension. Pico 2 lived in my work bag for years, a game I could play anywhere and teach to just about anyone.

There is real value in micro games and, in the time since Love Letter, I have seen a lot of innovation and exploration with the form. I still think they are an important part of the hobby.

However, at the moment, I have found myself playing on bigger spaces.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A mild slump

I have hit a bit of a slump in my gaming life. 

After a very active September, October was really not much. Not much in the way of face-to-face gaming. Not much in the way of learning new games. Not much in the way of making Print and Plays. Not much in the way of blogging. And, while I made a point of getting in at least a little bit of solitaire play in every day, it was pretty much just what’s become my old standards.

And that’s just life. October was busy with real life and real life has to take precedence. I’ve had gaming buddies who’d disagree with that but it’s served me well.

Truth to tell, I’ve had far worse slumps. There have been times in past jobs when I would stop all gaming altogether except for logging on to the Button Man site once a day. I’ve still been logging on to Yucata and playing the odd hand of Onirim.

More than that, since I’ve embraced exploring PnP solitaire games, 2018 has seen a lot more gameplay for me than the past few years. This particular slump would have been a bonanza a year ago. Which makes me feeling like I’m in a slump particularly hilarious.

But it did give me something to blog about :D

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

I need soap operas with my super heroes

With Stan Lee’s passing and my own love of gaming, I’ve found myself thinking about super hero games.

Now, it may be because I haven’t played Sentinels of the Multiverse (I have friends who swear by it and even cosplay about it) but I have not yet played a board game that captured the feel of a comic book/ super hero for me. Oh, I’ve had lots of fun with them but they haven’t  made me feel like I was living a super hero story.

Mind you, that’s because a key element of the genre for me is the soap opera, something that Stan Lee made a major part of comic books. (Seriously, the definition of Spider-Man is him worrying about the bills and Aunt May’s fiftieth operation while wrestling Doctor Octopus) The fights are all very well but they are only one layer of the chocolate cake.

Which is why my best super hero experiences in gaming have consistently been through role playing games. In particular (and appropriately, given that Stan Lee has put me on this train of thought), the old Marvel Super Heroes Role Playing Game. Good old FASERIP.

At the time, FASERIP seemed almost too simple to be a real RPG to us, seeing as how it really boiled down to one chart. Now, I have a much greater understanding of how that simplicity makes the system great. By not having to focus on rule mastery, we were able to focus more on story telling. Of course, we had to supply our own soap operas but we’d all read Chris Claremont’s X-Men so we were able to do that.

My old Marvel GM has recommended Masks to me for a super hero game that really explores story telling. I’ll have to look into that.

Let’s face it. Super Heroes are, at the end of day, about specific characters and their stories. And role playing games are great at that.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Excelsior and good night

Stan Lee is dead.

And his life was a big deal.

Now, let me state this at the start. Stan Lee couldn’t have done anything that he is famous for without the help of a lot of other people. Jack Kirby deserves at least as much credit for more characters than I can lift offhand and Steve Ditko was crucial to Spider-Man existing (Okay, and Doctor Strange). And I do believe his skill at self-promotion had as much to do with his success as his skill at writing.

Okay. Disclaimer done. Because I don’t think Kirby and Ditko and everyone else could have created the Marvel Universe without Stan Lee. He may not have created it all by himself but Stan Lee was a key part of the puzzle. Stan Lee had the help of the right people at the right time but he was the right person too. If you took Stan Lee out of the equation, comic books and super heroes wouldn’t be remotely what they are today.

Stan Lee didn’t invent continuity or interconnected stories or flawed heroes or heroes who had normal people problems but he definitely did a lot to help refine them and make them part of our comic book/ super hero language.

And, with the pretty much unbelievable success of the Marvel Ciniverse, as well as success of some of the X-Men movies and Spider-Man movies, the influence and the importance of Stan Lee’s work is actually growing. He is a bigger thing than he was a decade ago.

And when just about anyone you’d ask in the world can tell you who Spider-Man or Iron Man or the Hulk or the Black Panther are. That’s pretty amazing. Stan Lee has had cultural impact that is growing and growing.

95 is an amazing run but, darn, I’m going to miss him.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

The evolving world of Barnes and Noble’s game shelf

Every time I wander into a Barnes and Noble, I like to take a look at their game section. That’s honestly only three or four times a year, so  there always seems to be some changes.

I remember when I first saw Catan at Barnes and Noble and being amazed at seeing it outside of a game store. The store has come a long ways since then.

Back when I first started looking at designer games, there was only one game store that was even vaguely convenient for me to get to. (That was Games Plus in Mount Prospect, IL, in case you’re curious) And they were mostly focused on RPGs and wargames. (Their wall of lead miniatures was a thing of awe for me) When I first went, they had one table of board games. A table of wonder, since my only other options were online or cons.

They had quite a few more board games the last time I was there but the selection you can now find at Barnes and Noble is much larger than the best store I could find fifteen years ago. Although I have also seen game stores this year that had fewer games than Barnes and Noble.

I will say that I feel like I am seeing how board games are breaking further into the mainstream when I see the strategy shelf at Target. I feel like Barnes and Noble is where publishers are testing limits for the market. It has more of a boutique feel.

This time, what surprised me the most was seeing Perplext’s Pack o Game line. While I am a big fan, I was not expecting to those games at a non-game store. I hope this means Perpext is doing well since I’d like to see a third set get developed.

Barnes and Noble isn’t my choice for brick and mortar store but it is always educational.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

I couldn’t escape Bingo

Thanks to Halloween, our son has now been introduced to Bingo. He enjoyed several games in a row and I’m sure that Bingo will come out again in the near future.

Now, you might expect this to be the big where I say, after years of scorn for Bingo, I say that it’s not that bad a game. I’ve been through that with Mastermind after our son got interesting in that. Nope, sorry. Bingo violates one of the most crucial parts of being a game in my eyes. 

There are no decisions.

Okay, there are two decisions. Am I actually going to play Bingo and how many Bingo sheets am I going to use? After that, you are basically just keeping a record of what gets drawn. 

I will admit that Bingo does have some uses for me personally right now. It is an activity that has our preschooler sitting quietly for and helps him practice pattern recognition, which is a good skill for gaming and in general.

However, at best, it is a springboard board for much better activities. Games like Take It Easy or Karuba or Rise of Augustus use some of the core concepts of Bingo but add very real choices, making them at least a hundred times better. Even versions of Road Trip Bingo are better since they practice observational skills.

Oh, I’ll be okay with playing Bingo regularly over the next few years. It’s part of the journey. But I’ll be dreaming of Take It Easy while I do it.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Echidna Shuffle - too cute for words

Echidna Shuffle. It’s a kids game where the most adorable plastic echidnas ever haul bugs around a traffic roundabout.

At its heart, the game is a pick-up-and-deliver game. Each player has to pick up three insects in their own color from a pick-up spot they place on the board and deliver them to three different tree stumps (also in their color) that their opponents place.

None of the twelve echidnas belong to anyone. Anyone can move any of them on their turn, even if their carrying someone else’s insect. The clever bit with movement is that, every odd round, you roll a die that’s numbered two to seven. On the even turns, you move the flip side of what you rolled the previous turn so everyone gets nine moves over the course of two turns. And you can split up the movement points over any number of echidnas.

Anyway, whoever delivers their three insects first wins.

There is no way to talk about Echidna Shuffle without talking about the components. They are fabulous. The chunky plastic echidnas are the size of a child’s fist and as cute as 3/4 of a Winnie the Pooh. (That silly old bear sets a really high bar) As someone who is colorblind, I like that the insects aren’t just different colors but different distinct species. I can see someone buying the game just for the toys and not to play.

The game reminds me a lot of Bruno Faduiti’s China Moon, the game where frogs make a bouquet for a duck. (Honestly, one of the weirder themes that didn’t come from James Ernst.) While players have their own pawns, anyone can move any pawn. 

Now, I think that China Moon is the deeper game and one I’d rather play with adults, I think Echidna Shuffle is the better game for kids. In fact, I think it will prove a very good game for kids. It is very simple but it offers real choices and decisions. It’s not an activity but a genuine game.

That said, I think it will only work for adults as a very casual game. I know adult players who would focus on blocking other players rather than making deliveries. And I think that would work as far as frustrating folks plans. Not sure it would let them win unless everyone else rage quits but it wouldn’t be fun.

But we do have a small child so Echidna Shuffle is a game I am very seriously picking up. The toy factor is a huge part of its appeal but there is a decent kids game underneath all those toys.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

My October PnP

Okay. Here’s what I made in October. Micropul. Yup. Just one game and not even a particularly big one. 

It’s not that I have either lost interest in crafting print and plays or that I have lost interest in playing them. October just ended up being a very, very busy month for us. Not a bad month, just a busy one. And one of the rules I have developed in the recent years is that real life always comes first.

This is not the first time I have made a copy of Micropul. At the very least, it’s the fourth copy I’ve made over the years. I made my first one back in 2005. This time, I made a copy with the plain, basic art but larger tiles. If the game still holds up, I’ll probably end up making one of the fancier versions.

I know November will be a more craft heavy month for me. At the very least, I’m planning working ahead in case there is another mini  PnP Secret Santa this year. And if there isn’t, I might send some friends some PnPs as Christmas gifts :D

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Sure, I’ll talk about Kickstarter

A regular thread that seems to show up on Boardgame Geek is folks’ experiences with Kickstarter. So I decided to take a look down memory lane/Kickstarter. 

The first Kickstarter project I backed was the black box edition of Glory to Rome, so I tend to think of myself as being late to the party as far as Kickstarter is concerned. Lets see... I did that back in 2011.


Okay. By some folks standards, I might qualify as an early adaptor.

Looking through my Kickstarter profile, I’ve backed about a hundred projects, most of them games. And more than seventy of them have been just at the Print and Play level. And it’s been more than five years since I backed anything for more than around twenty dollars.

You know, I know friends who have backed far less projects than I have and spent far, far more money. 

My move towards almost exclusively sticking to PnP has been for recreational, economic and practical reasons. I like making PnPs. It’s easier on the wallet and shelf space. And I think I’m more likely to actually get the product.

I know that there are literally thousands of games that have passed me by and I’m sure some of them are very good games. However, there are so many games in the world that I’m not never going to get to play them all.

And, while it might not actually be true, if a game is _that_ amazing, I’ll eventually be able to buy it in a store. No, that isn’t always the case but I do try and wait until any game is out for at least a year and survives the initial hype to think about buying it in general.

I have had a lot of fun with Kickstarter but I definitely approach it with a lot of caution.