Monday, April 30, 2018

Why I’m logging plays again

For the first couple years that I was really playing board games, I didn’t bother logging any of my place. After that, I started logging everything.

While some of that was pure ego, I also wanted to track what games I had actually played and how much I really played of them. (I remember a convention where we played a lot of Patrician over and over again, which I tracked. Other folks, going just by memory, thought we played literally ten more games than we really had)

It also helped me assess how good a return I was really getting out of a game. For a chunk of my hobby, I was always trying new games. Replay was kind of a big deal. (And these days, when I’ve been trying to keep my collection under control, it’s an even bigger deal)

However, when we moved across the country and I no longer had a regular group and I was spending my time focused on being a new daddy, my logging fell off. Almost all of my gaming was playing turn-based games on Yucata. I wasn’t necessary playing when games ended and most of my reasons to track games just weren’t there. And if I really cared, I could look it up on Yucata.

However, this year, I’ve started logging my plays again. For one thing, I am working on trying to play more face-to-face games. I’m also tracking the games we play with our son, now that he follows the rules more and more.

The other factor is me getting more serious about PnP and solitaire games. Logging those plays helps me both bring some focus to that part of my hobby and gives me some idea how much (or how little) I’m playing these games.

Seriously, logging my solitaire plays reminds me to keep crafting and to keep playing.

And, let’s face it. Logging games is fun.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Initial thoughts about the Architect

Despite being exactly what I thought it would be, The Architect managed to surprise me.

The Architect is a free PnP game consisting of eighteen cards where you are designing the blueprint for a home. The artwork is seriously minimalist, just simple lines and squares. (Which is still quite effective since that is evocative of blue prints.) All in all, it’s an easy, very ink friendly build.

It’s a solitaire tile-laying game, draw a card, place a card. You know the routine. The placement restrictions are that the support columns must form a grid. Beyond that, you can overlap cards, turn cards sideways and even slide cards under other cards. You need to create a central corridor. You get points for rooms directly off the corridor but you lose points for big holes in the outer walls, doors that open into walls and rooms you can’t get into.

Here’s where The Architect surprised me. Even with the really open placement rules, I found the game surprisingly hard. I went into my first game, thinking it would be easy and I ended up completely messing up the central corridor.

I did much better on my second game and I might be done with the game after ten or so plays. But if I get that much play out of a free PnP micro game, I feel that’s really good.

There’s apparently plans to make a multi-player version, which I’m curious about. In the solitaire version, you have two cards with double doors that you can place anytime that define the central corridor. I can picture each player having their own set, turning the game into a vicious fight.

I have a feeling I’ll be writing about the Architect again. It might fizzle out quickly or it might get more interesting the more I play it. However, I went expecting meh and it surprised me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I can’t escape Cheeky Monkey

Cheeky Monkey is not one of Reiner Knizia’s games. In fact, it wouldn’t make my top fifty Knizia games and might very well not make my top one hundred of his games. (Yes, I’ve played a lot of his games over the years.) But the cute factor has saved it time and time again from getting culled.

It’s a very simple push-your-luck game, drawing chips out of a bag and busting if you draw a matching chips. There’s a mechanic for stealing other people’s chips and bonus points for getting the most of the different types of chips. The most interesting touch is that each type of chip comes in different amounts, making the decision to keep pulling a little more learned.

Honestly, Cheeky Monkey doesn’t stand out from a mechanical standpoint. I can point to at least a dozen push-your-luck games that are better, including some by Knizia. It’s the theme that makes it memorable in any way. Jungle animal chips and you pull them out of a plush monkey who doubles as the bag.

Seriously, the plush monkey is what everyone remembers. 

I’ve actually come very close to purging Cheeky Monkey, even going so far as including it in a lot I took in to get store credit. They didn’t take it, although they were fascinated by the plush monkey.

However, now our son has started asking for it by name. Well, by monkey bag. And while he gets bored playing by the rules, at least he’s interested and knows there are rules. So I’m not getting rid of Cheeky Monkey any time in the near future.

Friday, April 13, 2018

A new stage gaming with my son?

While our son has been interested in board games for a long time (not surprising since he has grown up kind of surrounded by them) but watching me play games with an out-of-town friend made him even more interested.

10 Days in Africa was what really caught his interest. I really, really hope that someone picks up the license for this series. I have two of the games but I can see myself wanting more of them as our son grows older.

The actual Racko-style mechanics are still a bit beyond him so we just went through the country cards and found them on the map, as well as name them. He was entertained and hopefully some facts slipped in.

Since then, I’ve pulled out other games to see how he’d interact with them. 10 Days in the USA was an obvious choice. ZERTZ also came out, although that was just stuff for him to mess around with. Shuttles interested him but the full game couldn’t keep his interest. 

I had almost gotten rid of Cheeky Monkey but now I’m glad I didn’t. Our son asked specifically for it. We’ve gone over the actual rules a couple times but he hasn’t been that interested. However, inspired by 10 Days, I had him count and then sort the animal tokens on the bonus discs.

The biggest success so far has been Tantrix. I’ve always liked it better as a puzzle system than as a game and using it as a puzzle system with a four-year-old has worked well. We’ve spent a fair bit of time with it and I think that will continue to be the case.

I’m obviously adapting games into other activities but he’s having fun and I’m hoping this will lead to playing by the rules :D

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Murder Hobo? What’s that?

I only heard the term Murder Hobo for the first time in the last year. However, when I looked it up, it looks like it has become ubiquitous, although the basic concept has been a part of role playing games, D&D in particular, since the 70s. I am sure you can find tales of Murder Hobos in Bunnies and Burrows games.

A Murder Hobo is a character who has no fixed abode (which describes a _lot_ of D&D characters) who solves all their problems by killing everything.

I have to admit that I have had very few Murder Hobo experiences. The four DMs I spent the most time playing with simply didn’t make that kind of play rewarding. Yes, they rewarded playing deeper, well-rounded characters but the fact that there would be huge (legal and likely lethal) consequences was the real reason not to go full Murder Hobo.

In some senses, a classic dungeon crawl can really end up being about being a Murder Hobo... as long as there aren’t any traps or puzzles or reasons to be sneaky. Really, dungeon crawler board games are more Murder Hobo than many RPG dungeons.

So, what’s wrong with being a Murder Hobo? Well, nothing really. As long as everyone is on board and everyone is having fun, I don’t see why there’s a problem. I can even see a longer campaign being possible, either as professional dungeon clearers or fugitives.

In fact, 3:16 Carnage Among the Stars is a game that, on the surface, is about totally being a science fiction Murder Hobo. However, at the same time, it explores the moral dimensions of being a Murder Hobo, which might make it a subversion.

Maybe I don’t understand the true nature and definition of Murder Hobo. Maybe it’s less about being homeless and killing everything and more about mindlessly treating every problem like a nail for your murder hammer. 

It might not be my cup of tea but I’m not sure if I have any reason to object to Murder Hobo as a philosophy. I object to people making the entire table angry and saying ‘But it’s what my character would do’ a lot more. For me, the fundamental wrong way to play D&D or any RPG is when people aren’t having fun or at least getting some kind of fulfillment*

* Some games, like the Curse that explores breast cancer, are not meant to be fun but everyone has gotten together for a specific kind of agreed experience.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Summarizing a friend’s visit

Our friend Nate was in town for a bit and he came over for board games a few times while he was here. This is really more of a journal entry so we can look back and see what we played on this visit, as well as maybe some comments about some of the games.

Okay. Here’s the info dump. First session, we played 10 Days in Africa, Bob Ross: Art of the Chill Game, GEM and HUE. Second session, we played two games of Race for the Galaxy, ORC, RUM and a game of GEM that Carrie was able to join us for. Third session: Autumn, two more games of Race for the Galaxy and Treehouse. This was my first time playing Bob Ross, ORC and RUM and Carrie’s first play of GEM. 

This was the first time I’d played Autumn as a two-player, although I’ve played it a lot solitaire. As I hoped, with the game interesting blocking makes it an eighteen-card knife fight in a broom closet.

GEM continues not to disappointment. Race for the Galaxy is still amazing after all these years. And Treehouse, which Nate and I used to play tons of back in the day, has not aged well.

One delightful surprise was that, after our four-year-old saw me playing 10 Days in Africa, he wanted to play it. He just matches the countries on the card with the countries on the map but it is still a good step. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Daring to discuss house rules

I’m not a big fan of house rules. Monopoly gets some blame for that but you always have to question the game balance of house rules. And, if you play at more than one table or go to conventions, house rules can really throw you off.

However, when an out of town friend came into town and we tried out some of my unplayed games, we discussed adding some house rules.

In Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game, you start each turn by rolling the Bob die. You see, Bob Ross is painting the picture as well and serves as a timer. Three of the die faces move Bob forward and reveal a chill card, which gives everyone a bonus action or some kind of scoring bonus. The other three faces give the active player some kind of bonus action.

Here were the two issues we found. One, getting more bonus actions pretty much determined the game. Two, Bob sometimes moved so slowly that he wasn’t any kind of factor at all.

We proposed that, at the start of each round, flip over a chill card and move Bob, unless the card had him chill and not move. Everyone gets a chance at each chill card, no one gets bonus actions and Bob keeps painting like a boss the way he should. It flattens out the luck a bit.

Frankly, the Bob die was just a mild annoyance in my opinion. I’d only try this house rule for ‘serious’ gamers. It’s still a light game with three different draw decks so there’s still plenty of luck.

The other game we discussed adding house rules to is RUM. It’s a set collection, Push Your Luck game that’s part of the Pack O Game series.

There’s a lot in the game we liked. However, the parrot card, a key part of the game, caused some real issues. The parrot card, when it appears, ticks the game clock along. When it appears in the beach (a Ticket to Ride style draw row), everyone discards two to three cards. And when you blindly draw it, you discard two to three cards.

The first two parts didn’t cause us any problems. However, my friend kept drawing the parrot card and had to discard at least fifteen cards over the course of the game, which meant he had no chance at all.

When you draw the parrot, you basically skip a turn and you lose cards, arguably losing previous turns. My friend got a hand over four cards only once in our game. We didn’t mind that on the beach discard since that hit everyone.

Now, the parrot is an important part of the game and it defines the push your luck element. But when my friend struggled to get a hand of cards big enough that he was pushing his luck, that was an issue.

House Rules we discussed: Just skipping a turn. Discarding just one card. Discarding down to three so you don’t just keep using your entire hand over and over again.

Or maybe my friend was just a fugitive from the law of averages :)

All that said about RUM, we liked the rest of the game enough that we do want to keep on playing it. We just don’t want another experience like that first one.

In fact, what I take from these house rule discussions is that we liked both Bob Ross and RUM enough that we want to keep playing them.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Belated thoughts on March PnP

While I have slowed down since January, I’m still plugging away at crafting Print-and-Play games. I have an informal goal of making at least fifty in 2018. At my current rate, I will get that by May but I also know that life happens and goals like that go out the window.

Something I’ve found myself doing is occasionally going back and remaking games that I made a year or so ago. There’s some reasons for this: I have gotten better at making components and I have gotten _much_ better at storing completed games :D

For most of my gaming life, PnP was just a casual interest. After our son was born, I got more interested in it but I was more interested in the act of crafting as a relaxing activity and maybe trying the game once or twice. But since I’ve gotten more serious, I want to go back and revisit games that are worth a second chance.

And I want to keep a physical record of these games, be able to take them out and look at them and replay them. Sometimes that’s through my solitaire binder and sometimes that’s through having a physical copy that requires more than dice and dry erase markers.

I’ve started to branch out from exclusively making solitaire games but I am still focused on them. And I also found find myself playing short games that just need the cards I make :D What can I say, I’m playing in between doing real life things :D

Oh. What did I make? Maiden in the Forest, Do Not Forsake Me, Bomb Squad #9, Tag Team, the low ink demo of Tiny Epic Defenders, The Count of Nine, and Murderer’s Row. Plus some Roll and Write games. 

Now to try and get some of them played!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

ORC - cursed by being average

Ah, back to Pack O Games. While I have been taking them to events and such, I’ve been just playing ones I already know. However, I’ve had a chance to get learn a couple of them.

ORC is the shortest and possibly the simplest of the second set, despite being officially more complex than DIG. It also clearly comes from the same school as Lost Cities, Battle Line in particular.

Like all the Pack O Game games, ORC consists of thirty skinny cards. In ORC’s case, each card is divided into two sides, each each side being one of six different colored orcs and each card has a one-pip side and a two-pip side.

Randomly place three cards in a line in between the players, making sure that each color shows up once. Six battlefields. You then place draw piles of four by each color, so six piles. The first player gets one of the three remaining cards and the second player gets the other two.

On your turn, you play a card so one end faces of the the six battlefields. The color you play can’t be the same as the battlefield or the same as the color your opponent has played on that same battlefield. (Of course, if you started the battle, that’s not a concern) If you played a one pip end, draw two cards from any draw pile. Play two pips, draw one.

When draw pile runs out, determine who has more pips and they win that battle, leaving one flipped over card on their side to show it. (And, yes, there are rules for ties) When every battle is resolved, you score points based on winning battles and having cards in your hand that match the fields you won. Most points win.

First of all, let me say things I seriously liked about ORC. While I’m colorblind, each color has distinct art. That is a really great choice. I also like how the cards in your hand matter. It not only means that you have another element to consider, you don’t feel like your leftover cards are wasted.

Okay. So what’s wrong with ORC? Well, basically, why would I play ORC instead of Battle alone, which is the better game? There’s nothing wrong with ORC but there’s a deeper, richer alternative. In a broader scope, it’s competing in a big pool of two-player games, even when you’re looking at little, portable ones.

Honestly, ORC’s greatest virtue is that it takes up basically no storage space and has a minimal footprint when you play. Seriously. 

If I was going somewhere and I knew I was going to be playing two-player games, I’d pack something like Battle Line. If I just wanted to pack games for just-in-case (restaurants, plane trips, vacations), ORC would get included. Maybe as a game to play while watching TV.

Honestly, that’s kind of been my experience with the Pack O Game library in general. It’s a diverse game library that always fits in the bag. But there are some games, like GEM, that stand out as games period.

ORC isn’t a bad game. It just isn’t a standout game. I’m sure I’ll still play it and, maybe after a few more games, I’ll find that it’s decisions per minute ratio makes it a hidden gem.

How Elric grew up from an emo teen

My Elric phase took place back in the eighties. Which meant that I read the Elric books after the short stories were collected into fix-up novels but before Michael Moorcock went back and wrote a bunch more books. In other words, about half the books were written after I finished the series.

For me, the most striking (not necessarily the best) parts of the series are the earliest written, which hilariously includes Elric’s death. (Spoiler, he dies at the end) They were some of Moorcock’s earliest writing and you can tell it was written by someone who was under thirty :D

Not because they’re badly written. Oh, quite the contrary. Moorcock being one of those writers who helps redefine a genre was already clear. 

No, it’s because Elric, in the earliest stories, is basically a whiny emo-teen. He is the scion of one of the most advanced civilizations in his world, one of the most powerful sorcerers in his world and something of a manslut, not to mention he has a God-killing sword. But he is still driven by angst. He’s kind of a weird wish fulfillment character, able to beat whoever he wants and still engage in self-pity.

It really says something about how good an author Moorcock is that those first stories are so compelling and interesting.

Amusingly, at the time when I read the books, the first chronological book was the last one written. By then, Elric was more melancholy and thoughtful than angsty. When I reached the first written stories in Weird of the White Wolf, the third book, the change in his personality was quite shocking. 

I just found out that there are at least three Elric books I didn’t know existed. I have a stack of books to read but I’m going to have to look into that.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Wield and ‘I need an Elric TV show!’

I just finished Wield, a game by John Wick, and I really don’t know what to think about it. 

In the game, you play an artifact of great power, an intelligent magical item that has its own will and goals. Stormbringer from the Elric books (and the real hero, according to some of my fiends, I mean friends) was a major influence.

Which is cool and more than enough to interest me.

However, one of the things that throws me is that you have a second character, a ‘hero’ who is carrying the artifact _someone else_ is playing. More than that, each hero has their own destiny which is gong to be contrary to the artifact’s goals.

And that’s where it gets funny in my head. Playing an artifact or multiple characters doesn’t bother me but having conflicting goals... That doesn’t bother me. I just don’t know how it would go. I’ve played a lot of different RPGs so not having a good idea of what Wield would play like is kind of weird for me.

There’s also a mechanic I find strange. Artifacts have control over their ‘heroes’ and they can give them great power. However, the more power they give, the less control they have. Which makes absolute sense with the idea that the artifact is the real character and the heroes are disposable hit points. But it is weird from a traditional, thematic point of view. I get more of Stormbringer’s sweet soul-drinking power AND I get more autonomy? Woo hoo!

I think what I need to really wrap my mind around is that Wield isn’t about the ‘hero’. You might go through a bunch of them. It is the story and the legacy of a scary magical item.

Which reminds me. Where is my Elric TV show? Seriously. You’d really think that would be a property that would get snatched up in today’s market. I have to assume that the rights must be in some kind of legal limbo but I want my albino emo-teen cursed-sword guy TV show.

Slender is when a cool theme can’t save horrible mechsnics

I tried Slender: The 8 Pages purely because of the theme. It is a one-page, Print-and-Play solitaire game based on a video game based on an urban legend/cryptozoology based on an internet meme.

I find the Slender Man simultaneously creepy and hysterical. I mean, we can trace the origin of the guy back to a specific thread on Something Awful. And the visual of a skinny guy with no face sounds like it was stolen from an old Doctor Who episode from when their special effects budget was bubble wrap and cardboard walls. (And then it seems like Doctor Who stole it back for the Silence)

At the same time, the sheer simplicity of the idea and the visual of the Slender Man cuts through any wool gathering and is just visceral and terrifying. 

The game has you going through a ten-area woods, looking for eight pages with a failing flashlight while the Slender Man hunts you. And you resolve everything by rolling one die with six being lethal failure.

Okay, the gameplay is terrible. As one of the comments pointed out, the only meaningful choice is how to allot two skill points between stealth, speed and search. And since speed and stealth are how you avoid dying at the hands/tentacles/oh-my-god-what of the Slender Man, search is a useless choice.

I gave it the old college try and even tried adding some house rules to make it more thematic. Which just made the gameplay drag and when the game doesn’t last five minutes and it feel likes it is dragging, that really says something.

A year or so ago, I tried a one-page game called The Sword of Valhalla which I found a bit meh. A dungeon crawl with no combat but some nifty bookkeeping. Since then, I have found enough other one-page games that have made me appreciate Sword and, boy, Slender really does that.

At the end of the day, Slender: The 8 Pages reminded me that I shouldn’t ignore all the warning lights just because the theme is cool.