Friday, March 30, 2018

The Zombie Clock is ticking... yea!

The word that came to my mind after reading John Wick’s The Shotgun Diaries was desperation.

I’m not a big zombie fan. It feels like, too often, the default theme is humans are the real monsters overlapping with who we really are without society’s rules. Powerful themes but it gets repetitive. And too often, the zombie genre can become some kind of escapist fantasy, that a zombie apocalypse beats the nine-to-five job.

The Shotgun Diaries doesn’t come up with a new theme for zombies. Instead, it strips the zombie genre down to almost the most basic level. You play almost helpless survivors struggling to stay alive with minimal, dwindling resources. 

Seriously, characters are basically one-hit-point wonders who each have one meaningful skill. If that skill doesn’t apply to a situation, you are helpless. You do have access to a group pool of dice but that is hard to replenish and using it increases the overall danger level.

But the hook, the something special that makes The Shotgun Diaries something worth playing, is the Zombie Clock.

Every ten minutes _real_ time, the Zombie Clock goes forward one tick (indicated by adding some sort of token in front of the GM, glass stones or plastic zombies or mouse skulls or whatever) When that happens, a day goes by, the player’s dice pool loses a die and things get more dangerous.

The GM can trade one of the tokens in to do bad stuff. And if the Zombie Clock gets too far, the characters’ shelter get overrun and really bad things happen. 

The Zombie Clock is great because it creates a real time mechanic for ratcheting up tension and danger. I remember when I first played Dread (the one that used a Jenga glee) how having a physical structure that was inevitably going to collapse and cause catastrophic failure added a visceral level of fear and tension. In that first game, we the players started hugging the wall to keep away from the Jenga tower.

The Zombie Clock isn’t quite that extreme but it makes the game more real. You can’t sit back and make detailed plans while the game world is on hold. No, you are literally on the clock.

As I’ve said, I’m not big on zombie games. And there are other zombie games I’d played before The Shotgun Diaries (Like All Flesh Must Be Eaten or Zombie Cinema) However, the potential of the Zombie Clock does make me want to try The Shotgun Diaries.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Itty bitty game about dreams

Once Upon A Dream, part of the Indie Megamix Mixtape, is a whimsical little activity that barely qualifies as a game, let alone an RPG. However, I find it a charming exploration of minimalism.

In a sentence, you sit around discussing dreams and then roll some dice to determine who the ‘winner’ is. That’s really all there is to Once Upon A Dream, although I have to also note that the layout is built around two pretty paintings.

This is a tiny little game. If you just typed it out, I don’t think it would take up a quarter of a page. But it doesn’t seem incomplete. It doesn’t feel like it has to be any more than that.

Over the last few years, for a wide variety of reasons, I have become very interested in short form games and game poems. I’m not sure if I will ever be in a groups where that is something where they can really get played, particularly game poems. (One-shots resigned for two to four hours, that I can see)

However, they are still interesting concepts. They need to be tightly focused, like Spider Jerusalem’s gun with only one bullet, shooting your expectations in the knee cap.

I had problems with the game/track right before Once Upon A Dream, Howls in the Half-Light, because the idea and the potential were too big for the format. On the other hand, Once Upon A Dream is a tiny game for a tiny idea. It’s just big enough for its size.

It is silly and whimsical and probably takes a half an hour at best. If I did end up with a group who wants to play a game like this, it’s probably get two plays tops. But I think it would be fun that one or two times.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

First acquisitions of 2018

I’ve given myself permission to buy games in 2018 and, over the last couple weeks, I have gotten a couple of games. Albeit in ways that wouldn’t have counted against the rules I set for myself to not buy games last year. (And doesn't count Print-and-Play, which I’ve made about forty, so far. I may have a problem)

I got a used copy of Impulse... basically because it is a Carl Chudyk design and I was able to buy it for store credit. Hilariously, it’s not even the next Chudyk design I’m hoping to get to the table. (That’s Uchronia because I think it will be a gently introduction to his work and easy to play on a work night)

However, based on Glory to Rome and Innovation, I think Impulse has a really good chance at being a game I will enjoy.

 And the other night, Carrie surprised me by bringing home a copy of Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game. (So I technically didn’t buy it myself but that’s definitely a technicality)

It’s been on my interest list since it sounds like it is a tribute to Bob Ross that still manages to be a real game. (To be brutally honest, I’ve never watched much of his stuff but I really like the _idea_ of Bob Ross) Plus, I know that family weight games that can be played on a week night is my current Platonic ideal.

And Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game, with a decent helping of Ticket to Ride but also with a Bob Ross timer and some different forms of bonuses, looks like a good family game. It might be light and a bit random for ‘serious’ gaming but I think we will have a lot of fun with it.

This isn’t how I saw my game acquisition for the year starting off this way but I think it’s a good start.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Another tiny RPG that I want to be bigger

Micro RPGs, particularly in this day and age, are odd beasts. Unlike micro games where you are dealing with physical components, there isn’t a functional reason to have it be small. An ebook on my phone takes up the same physical space for playing purposes. And, unless you’re using miniatures, most RPGs take up the same physical space to play. You know, a table.

Howl in the Half-Light is a two-page RPG from the Indie Megamix Mixtape and is a good example of how the micro RPG form doesn’t always really serve the game. 

It is about werewolves or maybe wolves who can turn into humans. Characters consist of an origin, a power and some bennies. Conflicts are resolved by rolling one die and there is a table for creating scenes, as well as a sample adventure.

Howl has some the start of some ideas but being only two pages absolutely kills them. It needs to be at least twenty times that length. I was left with a lot of mechanical questions, including if the game was supposed to have a GM or not!

More than that, while there are some lines about corrupting demons and different ways of becoming werewolves, there seems like there is a setting in mind but there’s clearly no room for it. I think it was John Wick who said that people can like mechanics but they fall in love with settings. Let’s be honest, werewolves aren’t under represented in RPGs. For Howl to work for me, it needs a setting for me to fall in love with. 

To be brutally honest, I am not being fair. Howl in the Half-Light was written as part of a charity collection with specific parameters. I just think it has some real potential and I wouldn’t mind seeing it expanded. The mythology that it hints at is interesting and I like the idea of a scene generator. If I found out there was an expanded version, I’d definitely look into it.

Micro Rome - it’s a dandy little game

Okay. Let’s talk about Micro Rome.

I’ve been exploring PnP solitaire games this winter. Could end up being this year but let’s see how the year goes :D And so far, I’ve been focusing on very short, simple ones. Games I don’t have to plan ahead for but just play when the opportunity comes.

Micro Rome, being just sixteen and a half cards, is still pretty short. However, it’s a definite step up in complexity from other tile-laying games I’ve been playing like Ambagibus.

Micro Game came out of a contest back in 2014 and I looked at it a bit back then. However, being a solitaire game, Micro Rome didn’t interest me. (And now I’m working on making copies of Do Not Forsake Me and Maid in the Forest from the same contest :D) However, it is something I’m looking for.

Here’s the elevator pitch. Micro Rome is a tile-laying game where you are trying to score points with symbols of Ancient Rome. (I like the game but I can’t really call it a city-building game. The end result doesn’t look like a city) 

The cards are double-sided and you get to pick which side you use (you draw from the bottom of the deck) but you must always cover at least three squares already on the board. There are other restrictions. You can’t cover water or barbarians (who are worth negative points) and if you cover architecture, you have totally cover it.

After you place the last card, which is always the Coliseum, you figure out your score. There are seven different ways of scoring points and one way of losing points with a score of 41 or better being a winning score.

And let me tell you, it’s hard to get a winning score. Michael Bevilacqua did a good job designing the tiles so that you have to make some tough choices. And you will be cursing out the water areas by the time you are done.

The biggest quibble that I have with the game is that, while there are seven different ways of getting points, there are only two, runs of senators and temples with lots of Romans, that will get you big points. So you have to focus on making those work while trying to keep the barbarians under control and picking up other points when the opportunity arises.

Still, if there is a magical, repetitive pattern to make senators or temples work every time, I haven’t figured it out. 

Sometimes, I play solitaire games to get my mind in a zen-like place. Micro Rome, though, is a game I play to do some thinking. It’s become one of my go-to games to reach for when I have a few minutes. Even if I quit and never play again if I break 41 points, Micro Rome will have done good by me.

Micro Rome is a game with simple mechanics and _relatively_ complicated scoring. It has definitely made me think. It’s also a free print-and-play that fairly simple to make. I’d recommend it to anyone looking to make a little solitaire.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Learning Mystic Vale on Yucata

Okay. So Mystic Vale is now on Yucata. My only problem is I have no idea how to play. So one of my friends from back East who is also on Yucata and owns the physical version of Mystic Vale says let’s get on Skype and I’ll walk you through the game.

In other words, I ended up learning the game on an online face-to-face game. And I still don’t know what it’s like to play the game physically, interacting with the clear cards and sleeves.

Okay, everyone who is reading this has almost assuredly played more Mystic Vale than me and has a better idea of how it works. But here are my initial thoughts.

Mystic Vale is a deck builder where you use sleeves and clear cards to build cards (meaning that you don’t add more cards to your deck, you just make the cards you already have more interesting) with a push your luck mechanic for drawing cards. And having played a decent number of deck builders and push your luck games, what surprised me is that, mechanically, Mystic Vale seems simple.

Not that means light or bad or that you get to be an expert right off the bat, just that the process of how you get the moving parts moving is easy to learn. The individual pieces are not complex. But just because I know what a gear is doesn’t mean I can make a good clock without experience.

Mystic Vale has also made me think about Hecatomb, a weird little collectible card game that also used transparent cards. While I know that I played some demos of it and got some some starter decks when it first came out, I have almost no memories of what it was like to play. My only two memories are that it felt overly complicated and that there was an undead house cat card that disturbed my cat-loving self.

I do remember that you created layers of cards and I am absolutely convinced that Mystic Vale takes that idea and streamlines it, simplifies it and just makes it better.

I don’t know how good Mystic Vale will be in the long run. I do know that I had fun with my learning game and that I am going to be playing it again in the future.

Gaming at the local store

I’ve been meaning to go to our friendly local gaming shop for open gaming and I finally got around to it. 

One of the dangers with going to an open gaming event is actually finding an open game. A couple folks remembered me from RinCon, the friendly local gaming convention, so I got a spot at that table when one opened up. 

The game I sat down to, and my big game for the day, was Colosseum, which I haven’t played since it first game out. It always struck me as having a similar feel to Princes of Florence but I’ve barely played that game too.

The weirdest thing about the game is the score isn’t cumulative. Five rounds and you don’t add the points up. Whichever round you score the most points, that’s your score. Period. I can’t think of another game like that. But it does allow for some crazy, come-from-behind comebacks.

After that, I pulled out my copy of For Sale and we got in a few games of it before it was time for me to go. 

You know, I have two go-to quick auction games (three, if you count GEM from Pack O Games but I tend to just bring the whole box along): For Sale and High Society. And they have such different feels. For Sale, everyone gets something every round. Happy times. High Society, you try and skin each other alive.

My current way of thinking is take For Sale to get to know people. It a great game, easy to teach and everyone has fun. When you know them, _then_ pull out High Society >:)

Anyway, good times and I met some folks who I want to play with again.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Random babbling about the travel version of Catan

A recent thread on Boardgame Geek asked folks what game they owned the longest.

Not counting games that my parents bought during our childhood and RPGs, I think it’s a toss-up between Fluxx or The Very Clever Pipe Game or the first travel version of Settlers of Catan. 

I haven’t pulled out the travel version of Catan in a long while. The last time I got it was for a trip to a family reunion. (Where I don’t think it even got played :D)

Pulling it out again, I’m struck by how both clever and dated the design of it is. 

The board itself is a peg board with little holes for the tiny plastic roads and settlements and cities and big, numbered pegs for the hexes. (The hexes have holes in the middle with the desert in the middle so the numbers are laid out the same way every game) The insert is set up as a bank for all the cards and pieces.

What really makes it lovely is that it isn’t just small and easy to store or carry. It also takes up so little space the play. You might be able to make it work on an airplane tray. You could definitely play it on a TV tray or just about any space at a coffee shop or bar or restaurant.

There are a number of things that make a travel game work. It’s got to be easy to pack. It is good if it doesn’t take much space to play. (The card versions of Samurai and Tigress and Euphrates fail miserably there) And you and everyone else has got to want to play it :P

This version of Settlers of Catan manages all that.

It does have some flaws. The fixed numbers is a definite limit. I understand later versions of the game actually have rules for randomized numbers (which I don’t like at all) and this is the complete opposite. And it is completely incompatible with any expansions.

More than that, the materials are definitely from a past era. The tiles are thin and the insert is decidedly flimsy. Compared to games from even ten years ago, the quality isn’t there.

I haven’t seen the later travel set that has built in trays and what look like decent card banks but it looks sturdier than the version I have. It might take up more table space but I doubt by much. Still, I don’t see any need to trade up.

When I first got it some fifteen years or so ago, I felt like this was all you needed for Catan. A couple years later, getting to try out different expansions and variations, I felt that the travel set was not nearly enough. 

Now, I’m in between. If you are serious in any way about Catan, you need more. However, if you are going to just play Catan a few times a year, yeah, you could get away with this.   

For me, though, it was the just the start. I got back when I just imagined my board game collection would fit into a backpack. Boy, I had no idea.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Some games are too real

After All These Years is a tiny two-person RPG from the Indie Megamix Mixtape about the relationship of being a parent and child.

It’s super simple. One player is the parent and the other is the child. After filling out a very simple questionnaire that helps define relationships, you take turns framing scenes from twelve cards that describe high and low points in the relationship. The game ends when someone picks ‘The Day You Lost Me’

All Through These Years is simple, heartfelt and looks like it would be very effective as a game. And I never want to play it.

The biggest part of my life is being a daddy. That’s a huge part of who I am. I am going to live through all these highs and lows anyway and the thought of gut wrenching game about them isn’t appealing.

(And, yes, I know. I am assuming I’ll play the role of the parent in the game. Is it bad that I can’t imagine it any other way?)

All Through These Years reads like a beautiful little poem and I bet it would play like one as well. I appreciate the game for what it is. I just don’t want to play it.

Releasing your inner Kanye West the game

I’ve spent the last couple months focused on crafting Print-and-Play, as well as playing solitaire games (usually print and play ones I just made :D) Which has been fun and probably good for my mental health but I decided I needed some kind of mental break, even a little one.

So I reached the Indie Megamix Mixtape, a collection of tiny RPGs inspired by music. I had fun reading the first collection so I’ve started the second one.

The first game in the collection is Every Superhero Needs Theme Music, a game about unleashing your inner Kanye West. 

I have to admit that, while I am aware he exists, I have never listened to Kanye West’s music and I have only the vaguest idea what he is like or what else he does. Judging from this game, he’s someone who’s not afraid to toot his own horn.

You get together with two or three other people you feel comfortable with. You then take turns drawing from a deck of eighteen cards, each one with a quote from Kanye West and a question relating to that quote. You either paraphrase that quote so it applies you or answer the question.

Okay, I have a very generous definition of what is a role playing game  but Every Superhero Needs Theme Music doesn’t make the cut. You aren’t playing any characters or telling a story. You’re sitting around, figuring out how to praise yourself.

Having said that, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t play Every Superhero Needs Theme Music or that’s it’s a bad game/activity. My first reaction was what the heck is this? My second reaction was that this is a pretty neat idea.

Setting aside the Kanye West connection, the game is about affirming yourself. That could just be arrogant but a lot of people I know aren’t good at feeling good about themselves. This game gives people permission to explain affirming themselves.

(Okay, that almost sounds like therapy. I swear, some of these indie games feel like they were designed after someone read a textbook on group therapy. Not that they should ever be used as substitutes!)

The idea that true art needs to be angsty and dark is a common one. Let’s face it, RPGs and Storytelling games would get boring pretty quick if they didn’t have conflict. 

However, having something that you can pull out in order to be positive seems like a really cool idea.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

John Green and Cancer

Okay, now I’ve read The Fault in Our Stars. When I read Looking for Alaska last year, I didn’t realize I would end up reading more John Green but I’ve ended up reading both The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns over the last month or so.

I might be done now :D

Over the course of these three books, I think that John Green’s real gift is remembering what it was really like to be a teenager so his characters are really believable. Looking for Alaska reminded me a lot of my freshman year in college, although I never took up smoking :P

Green’s teens are self-centered, vulnerable, foolish, self-destructive, curious and growing. Really, a lot like adults only without any of the coping mechanisms (good and bad) we develop as we get older. Sometimes, that doesn’t make them likeable but it males them real.

He also seems to have a real interest in deconstructing the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ (thanks, TVTropes!) That’s the idea that some wild and crazy boy or girl is going to shake up your life and make it better and probably be the love of your life too.

I really enjoyed Bringing Up Baby, which helpdd create that icon but i have to agree that its not healthy in real life.

Thanks to now being a major hit movie, everyone knows how The Fault in Our Stars ends by I’ll still skip spoiling it.

I do want to say that The Fault in Our Stars is the strongest and best (?) of the three Green books I’ve read. And, annoyingly enough, it’s because of cancer.

In real life, cancer is a horrible, horrible thing. Like everyone reading this, I have many people I care about to cancer and I know many cancer survivors. But in fiction, cancer feels like an easy cliche, a cheap way to get an emotional reaction.

That said, the fact that the characters in The Fault in Our Stars have cancer does mean they have real and serious problems to deal with. Which was one of my problems with Paper Towns. In that book, the fundamental problem of Q and Margo was that no one understood them. Which can be a legitimate issue but their way of reacting wasn’t reasonable.

While the character decry the cliche of the innocent, maybe saintly victim of cancer, I’m not convinced that the book doesn’t end up ultimately use it. I did appreciate that Green makes cancer ugly. The characters don’t just lie weakly in bed. They lose control of their bodily functions and emotions and lives.

Part of me really wonders if Green got his cake and ate it too, if he tries to deconstruct cancer as a way to get an emotional reaction and then used it that way. But, I was genuinely moved by the book and cried a couple times. So, whatever he was trying to do, it worked.

Print and play Beer and Pretzel game

This is my personal definition of a Beer and Pretzels game: a game where everyone is talking smack. 

Sure, it has to be easy to learn and fun and funny but there are plenty of non-Beer and Pretzels games like that. For me, you need some good natured in-your-face. Wikipedia mentions Bohnanza as a Beer and Pretzels game but not in my book.

I realized I really haven’t crafted many Beer and Pretzel games, although my focus on solitaire hasn’t helped. Still, I’m not sure what PnP games really fit my bill.

I do have the Dragon Magazine archives, which I bought ages ago which means I also bought PDFs of the board games that were occasionally inserts in Dragon. In the name of Beer and Pretzels, I’m planning on crafting some of them.

Even though I own the Steve Jackson boxed version, I’m starting with Snits Revenge because I should finally play the darn game after all these years and I can make a better board than the flimsy paper thing in the box. And it’s fits the Beer and Pretzel mold and it’s for two players, which isn’t the number I usually associate with Beer and Pretzels games.

Look, a major reason that I play games is to relax and to blow off steam. And sometimes, having the fun of beating the tar out of each other is a good way of blowing off steam.

I do enjoy is zen-like, meditative games. I have crafted quite a few of them. And they are definitely a great way for giving my brain a coffee break. However, I think we also need the other end of the spectrum.

Honestly, I don’t have a _real_ reason to look for Beer and Pretzel PnP. I have plenty of copies of published games that fit the bill. But I’m having fun crafting games so I’m looking for some.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Crafting a game just to make the pieces

When I first looked at the Dungeon Sprint, it didn’t interest me at all. A one-page, minimalist dungeon crawl that looks like a luck fest with uneven special powers for the different classes. It doesn’t look like the worst dungeon crawl I’ve ever seen but I have seen better ones and better one-page ones. (The Delve series and even the Sword of Valhalla that I think has definite issues are the first that come to mind)

Dungeon crawls really aren’t my thing and Carrie, my wife, is even less into them. Since they are kind of common PnP, I have started looking at them more but I look for ones that have solitaire options, which Dungeon Sprint definitely does not have.

Then, the one review noted that you could replace the chits with plastic miniatures or paper standees. And I found myself thinking about how I’ve never tried to make paper standees. And I wondered how it would work out if I used a laminator and a bone folder.

So I’m planning on making a copy of Dungeon Sprint, which really just means laminating the board, to justify trying out making some standees. 

But, but, couldn’t I just make the standees and skip making a board? 

Well, yeah. Technically. But actually making it a part of a game, part of a project means I’m more likely to actually do it :D

I am breaking one of my personal rules. I really am trying to just craft games that I both think will be fun and I really think will get played. I don’t think Dungeon Sprint fits either category for us. 

However, the side effect of making standees, really any three-dimensional shape for a game, made me to decide to craft it anyway. (Really, I’ll just laminate the board and make the standees. The standees are the real work)