Tuesday, May 29, 2018

I finally go to the Adventure Zone

As a rule, I am not interested in watching or listening to other people play games. I know there are whole genres of videos of people playing board games, role playing games and video games but I think it generally falls under the category of watching someone else eat.

However, Carrie recently introduced me to the Adventure Zone, a podcast of a family playing D&D and other RPGs and I’ve been enjoying it. I think a big part of it is because they are podcast comedians first and RPGers second but still RPGers.

Many years ago, I tried listening to Kevin Smith’s Crimson Mystical Mages, which may have only lasted one episode. It failed for me because it was just dirty jokes with the game falling apart as a game. The Adventure Zone works because it may be funny and irreverent but it’s still a story and game.

They do play a bit fast and loose with the rules but I’m cool with that. There are times when I think we all could learn something from that. Dedication to rules should be reserved for conventions and other official events :)

Adventure Time may become a regular part of our routine.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Wandering Stars is just the start of a good idea

The Indie Megamix Mixtape has been by go-to over the last couple years when I want a quick little RPG fix. While I am in the middle of two or three longer RPG books I’m reading off and on, sometimes I want to be able to read and process something in one sitting.

In almost the same sitting, I read My Mother’s Demons, Dyin’ Day and Wandering Stars. The first two were emotionally strong works. Just reading Dyin’ Day was a little traumatic for me. Then I got to Wandering Stars... which is a party game.

That was quite the jump, let me tell you!

Okay, here’s the elevator pitch. The host sets up an obstacle course/puzzle that the players have to solve. (And by that, I mean redecorate the entire house :D) You can’t use your arms  or walk standing up if you’re by yourself. You have to touch chests for one player to use one of their arms and their eyes have to be  closed. You can only talk if someone touches your shoulder and you have to talk to the ceiling.

I have a very loose definition of RPG. Wandering Stars doesn’t even come close :D 

Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t sound fun or, quite frankly, a riot. It does sound like it’d be a lot of work for the host so, unlike almost every other game in the Mixtape, it will take a lot of prep work. Which isn’t a flaw, it’s just a necessity of the form.

What is a flaw is that two pages is not enough to make Wandering Stars a functional set of instructions. It is the form of the Mixtape format but, boy, it does not serve this game well at all. There needs to be a discussion how you develop obstacles and challenges and puzzles. Full examples of a complete setup would also be good.

Because, if you are taking the time and effort to turn your whole house into an obstacle course, you don’t want to do it purely by trial and error. A bad first experience will be your last Wandering Stars experience since why go to the trouble again?

As it stands, Wandering Stars is the outline of a good idea. As well as quite a break from deep, serious little RPGs :D

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Found an RPG that was too much for me

Dyin’ Day is a short form RPG about a father taking his babe, no more than nine years old, up the mountain to kill them because a prophetic dream told them to. And, unlike Abraham and Isaac, the game definitely ends with the killing.

Okay. I hit a wall with this game. As a daddy, this game is one that I cannot handle, period. 

It’s a two-player game from the Indie Megamix Mixtape. It openly admits that Trollbabe was a major inspiration, which wasn’t remotely a surprise. The babe player is the GM and creates the trials and tribulations. The father player uses the mechanics from Trollbabe to resolve them. 

Dyin’ Day is an interesting game for me. It’s well grounded mechanically (no surprise given its pedigree) and does a good job evoking the setting of a folklore Appalachia in its two pages. But it hit me with a theme I flat out cannot handle.

Monday, May 21, 2018

My Mother’s Demons promises to bleed onto the table

There is a thin line between experimental group therapy and some indie RPGs. (Not that I’m in a position to talk. A lot of my unpublished RPG work can be described that way) My Mother’s Demons definitely dances on that line.

From the Indie Megamix Mixtape, My Mother’s Demons is a short form RPG about a daughter going to her sick or dying mother but she can only communicate with her mother’s demons.

It’s critical to understand that demons, in this case, doesn’t mean any kind of supernatural creature or even a negative part of the mother’s personality. They are the mother’s coping or protective mechanisms like shame or anger and they are fiercely invested in the mother’s well being.

The game is entirely narrative and has the daughter asking questions which lead to the demons framing scenes in order to provide answers. The daughter will not be in active player in the scenes but she can help guide the scene. In a way, the daughter is the game master. The game ends with the daughter having a conversation with each demon, putting them to rest so the mother can be well.

An important concept in many indie games is bleed, which is when emotions spill over from the game. My Mother’s Demons has a ridiculous potential for bleed. In fact, I’m sure that’s the point. A game of My Mother’s Demons without bleed would basically be a failure.

I respect the game for creating a structure for potentially very powerful experiences. However, I would be reluctant to play it myself and be very careful who I played it with. 

Even by short form, Indie RPG standards, My Mother’s Demons is a niche creation. Unlike many niche games, though, you might not know if you are in the niche.

Making a game colorblind friendly goes a long way for me

I originally had so little interest in YXZ that I almost didn’t download it. However, it is just nine cards with no other components and not much ink involved so I made it. And while I haven’t been turned into a fan, it’s more interesting than I thought.

YXZ is part of the 2018 Nine Card PnP contest and it is literally a stripped down, nine card Set. Seriously, the designer, Bogumil Koszalka, suggests using Set cards to play with if you don’t want to make the cards.

Unlike Set with its four variables (color, number, shape and texture), YXZ has just two: shape and color. Deal out cards on the table and whoever finds three cards with three elements that are the same calls it out. If they are right, they get a point. If they are wrong, everyone else gets a point. First person to five points wins.

Here’s the thing. YXZ has a grayscale option. And as someone who is colorblind, that is huge. While I find Set simply okay as a game (pattern recognition and accessibility are its virtues for me), their color choices were horrible for colorblind people.

Seriously, they not only picked both red and green, the most common form of colorblindness, they gave them the same level of saturation. It’s very, very hard for me to tell them apart and that’s bad in a speed game.

Pink or orange instead of red, yellow or just a lighter green instead of the green they picked, gray or black for either one. It would not be hard to change Set to make it more colorblind friendly. 

The grayscale YXZ, using outline, light gray and black, is both colorblind and black and white printer friendly. And, frankly, that’s enough to make me appreciate it.

The actual game play is pretty slight, in large part because it is just nine cards. Which is admittedly an element of the contest and could be easily expanded by adding number as a variable. As it stands, nine cards doesn’t create that many combinations. 

That said, I am planning on teaching it to our four-year-old. I think it will be a good exercise in pattern recognition and work with a four-year-old’s attention span. And I laminated the cards so they are waterproof and very durable. Good for out-of-the-house. (Of course, that’s how I make most cards)

YXZ probably simplifies the idea of Set too much. However, I really appreciate the graphic design. Yes, super simple but it solves every need it has to. And I will get some play out of it.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Akur-Gal - more meditation than game and that’s okay

Akur-Gal, from the 2018 9 Card PnP contest, is a very simple game. The nine cards form a three-by-three picture based on a Babylonian tablet. Shuffle the cards, lay them out in a three-by-three grid and then swap cards to make the tablet correct.

Oh, did I mention that it’s a solitaire game? It’s a solitaire game. I’m really not sure how you’d make it multi-player.

While you will lose if it takes you more than nine moves to make the tablet correct, as long as you don’t make a move that puts nothing in the right place, you’ll be able to complete the game in eight moves at the very most. I’m pretty sure that there’s a solution that guarantees, with perfect play, five or six moves.

Which probably sounds like I’m going to say Akur-Gal is a waste of ink and terrible game. But I don’t think so. It’s a game that I keep on periodically pulling out and playing and it’s a game that I can see myself getting steady play out of. I’ll probably even make the ink-heavy version at some point.

What Akur-Gal is is a very, very simple game, one that takes very little time to play and not too much mental effort. You don’t turn your brain off but you just calmly look for patterns and pleasantly makes things work.

I don’t view Akur-Gal as a tense game or a complex puzzle. I view as, well, basically kind of meditation. It is one of those games that puts my mind in a Zen place and I’m more relaxed after I’m done playing it. And since one game takes a minute to play, that’s a handy little exercise.

Akur-Gal isn’t for everyone. Heck, I’m not sure if it’s for most people. However, it does work for me. Simple rules, nifty Babylonian art, it’s nice.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Is PnP taking over my life :D

So far this month, I’ve spent a lot more time downloading PnP files and crafting PnP games than actually playing any games. I realized this when I was trying to think about what I wanted to blog about :D

Admittedly, once I started downloading games from the current two player contest and nine card contest, I went back to look at older contests. Not all the files are still there, which is another reason to go back and look.

At the moment, I’m focusing on solitaire games and games that don’t have any other components from the current 9-Card contest. Because, well, that’s the easiest stuff to get played.

I’ve been looking into ways of making better components. Printing on sticker sheets, higher bond paper, spray adhesive, spray on midge podge. But, frankly, my current method of heat laminating copy paper is just really cost effective/cheap. I’m getting a great return for my material investment.

When I started really doing more PnP in January, I wondered when I would run out of steam. (For instance, we will be traveling in July. Not craft time) I’m sure it’s going to happen but I’m still crafting away.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

I Am Lynx - a nifty pnp

Hysterically, the first game from the 2018 9 Card Contest that I’ve really gotten into is one that the designer pulled from it :P Admittedly, it’s because Marek Kolcun already had other designs submitted.

I Am Lynx is a solitaire game that’s designed to be played entirely in your hand. Which, I swear, is a mechanic that I am seeing more and more often. It’s been around for a while (I’m sure there are traditional card games that use it) but I feel like I’m seeing it more and more often.

I Am Lynx is a simple game, where you have a forest of four cards, including your lynx card. The rest of the deck, which you draw from every turn, is held sideways in your hand, which isn’t that hard when the whole thing is just nine cards.

You hunt prey, do your best to dodge hunters and try and protect your lynx kittens over the course of four seasons. It isn’t complex but there are real decisions to make and the theme works very well. It’s a walk in an unforgiving woods.

I’ve been having a lot of fun with I Am Lynx. It’s easy to play just about anywhere and doesn’t take any real time to play. It’s my current game to reach for when I just have a few minutes.

Marek Kolcun is redesigning the game to be eighteen cards and I’m in the middle of making a copy of the current prototype. Having a greater variety of cards and another layer or two of rules is very promising.

The nine-card version I’ve been playing with is now consigned to permanent alpha or beta. The eighteen card one looks like it will be just plain better. But the nine card version was definitely worth my crafting and it might live on stuffed in my wallet for an anywhere game.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Yea, PnP contests!

Well, I found a few rabbit holes to fall down. The submissions for both the 2018 9-Card Contest and the 2018 Two-Player Contest have been posted. Between the two, there’s over a hundred Print-and-Play games and I’ve been methodically downloading and filing them all.

Truth to tell, I am only going to start carefully examining them and planning which ones I want to craft after I have them filed :D

I’m going to have to go back and check but I swear that there has been a jump in the number of entries in both contests. And, with just a cursory glance, it seems like the quality is going up too, even taking Sturgeon’s Law into account.

I know full well, even though I have been crafting more and more, I will never make even half of the games I’ve filed away. And I am okay with that. Digital hoarding is much more manageable to physical hoarding.  

Still, I know I’ll be crafting four or five of the entries in the next few weeks or days, although I doubt I’ll get to play test enough to give any feedback before the contests end.

And let’s face it. Having a bunch of nine cards games filed away makes it handy for those times when I just want to sit down and make a game in fifteen, twenty minutes.

Really, you just got to love the PnP community.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Thoughts on learning games

I am starting to wonder if I’m getting fuzzy in the head. Over the last month, I have found myself getting seriously muddled by rules.

Specifically, trying to teach myself Maid in the Woods, Count of Nine and Prince of Pies. I’m still not sure I really am playing Count and Prince right.

(In defense of Maid, I printed out the cards, including instructions on our black and white printer, turning into grayscale. That made it really hard to read them until I just went back to the PDF.)

On the other hand, I have learned The Architect, Mystic Vale and Kingdomino (and another four of five games, come to think of it) without a problem during the same time frame. So I have hope that my brain hasn’t gotten too soft.

None of seven or so games I’ve listed are complicated. They’re all pretty light and casual, including the ones that I’ve struggled with. So it’s not like I’m struggling to learn complicated games.

And, while I was working on this blog, I realized something. All the games I’ve struggled with are Print-and-Play games by hobbyists. In fact, it’s not unfair to say that they are still in the beta stage. So the problem may not be that I’m losing my cognitive skills. Maybe the issue is with the rules.

And I need to remember that when I craft games other people have taken their own sweat, blood and tears to put out there for no profit, I am choosing to be a play tester. I shouldn’t wallow in confusion or complain. I need to figure out what is confusing me and respectfully post questions.

Which I may or not get around to doing  but I have to remember that the problem isn’t in my cognitive skills but my laziness :D

Post Script: I just learned that Count of Nine is part of the 2018 9-Card Contest so it definitely still in development. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Murderer’s Row - Tiny but tons of replay value

Murderer’s Row is a Print-and-Play solitaire game that hits a lot of sweet spots for me. 

One of my sins as a PnP solitaire player is that I usually don’t set aside time to play solitaire games. I just play them when I find I have a few minutes so I play a lot more games that are just cards or tiles that I can just shuffle and go and be done in five minutes.  

Murderer’s Row fits that bill ridiculously well.

The game consists of eighteen cards, each one showing a person/profession and a special power. Most of the special powers are about killing other cards but some of them involve moving cards or resetting them.

Shuffle the deck and deal out ten cards in a row. Then, using their powers, you have to kill everyone until there’s only one card left. Last man standing. (And it is theoretically possible to actually have _no_ cards left) And, every time you use a power, you flip that card over to indicate that it’s exhausted.

Between what cards come out and the order they come out, there is a lot of variability in the game. And, yes, the position of the cards is a big deal since the powers are very specific. For instance, the Swordsman can only kill an active card that is beside it.

My absolute least favorite type of card is the couple that kill a random card. After I get my random setup, I want to be able to solve the layout and killing a random card doesn’t fit into making real plans.

I have gotten an obnoxious amount of play out of Murderer’s Row. I made the half-size, simple art deck, which is small enough that I can play it just about anywhere. I could probably play it in my hand, fanning the cards. And I’ll probably will make the Birds on a Wire so I have a copy for my bag and a larger copy for around the house.

Murderer’s Row isn’t a deep or heavy game. But it does give me a seemingly endless series of little puzzles to spend a couple minutes solving. Between ease of crafting and play, it’s a game that I definitely recommend for PnP.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Looking at my April PnP

Wow. It’s already May. April flew on by, at least as far as my Print-and-Play crafting was  concerned.

In April, I crafted Space Strips, I Know An Old Lady, Darlin’ Corey (an RPG), (your name) and the Argonauts, Prince Of Pies, The Architect, Dragon Punch and Down. None of them were large projects. Really, they were all small projects. One of them, Darlin’ Corey, is only three cards. And almost all of it was done in a couple crafting sessions.

I had planned on doing more crafting than that but life does have a way of getting in the way of those kind of plans. Eh, I bet this is not going to my worst month for PnP this year.

I ended the month with six projects in some state of production, not counting the stack of stuff I’ve just printed but not done anything else with. If I just complete those six projects in May, I’ll have gone through more sheets of components than everything I crafted in April :D

And I have to say that I keep finding interesting stuff to craft.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

How I spent Tabletop Day

This year, I decided to formally participate in International Tabletop Day. I honestly wonder if Hallmark is going to eventually make cards for it. (Seriously, you could put incorporate a game like Coin-Age into a card and make the card a functioning game)

My local friendly game store had events throughout the day so I decided to go. I’m trying to go to events there once a month and this was my April one. I got in four games: Boss Monster 2, Kingdomino, 7 Wonders and DC Deck Builder. 

I’d never played any of the games in the Boss Monster series, light card games about being a video game boss building a level/dungeon to kill adventurers. It’s not really the kind of game I seek out but I’d play it again. I also felt it managed to make building a dungeon mechanically super simple while still working. 

On the other hand, I have been very interested in trying out Kingdomino. Not only did it win the Spiel De Jahres, it seems like it would work well for us for a work night game and something I can see teaching our son in a year or so. And I got to try the giant version.

Kingdomino wasn’t an amazing experience but it does what it does very well and I liked the drafting system in it. It was basically what I hoped it would be. My experience greatly increases my chances of getting the game.

7 Wonders continues to deliver and the seven-player game of it was the highlight of my day. 

And I remember why I don’t like DC Deck Builder with more than three, although it didn’t help that whoever last used the store copy put it away all messed up. With five players, it dragged and dragged and two people had to leave early. 

Lesson: ALWAYS pack For Sale or High Society or Slide 5 or another easy to teach, fast playing game that can handle five or more players. Despite heavy purged of my collection, I still have a wide selection of games that fill that slot.

Over the last four or five gaming events I’ve been to in Tucson (fund raising events, open gaming, RinCon the local convention), I’ve started running into and playing with the same folks. I’m slowly becoming a part of the local community.