Tuesday, August 28, 2018

You too can build DinoWorld!

I’ve been meaning to write about Welcome To DinoWorld for about a year now. Since the game is going to be kickstarted soon, it’s really time for me to finally do it.

Welcome to DinoWorld, at least in its current incarnation, is a free Roll & Write game where each player is designing their own theme park that has real dinosaurs. Why yes, there are rules for dinosaur breakouts and ensuing devastation. Why do you ask?

Everyone starts off with an almost blank grid to draw their park in. There are three stages to every turn: Acquisition (drawing in buildings), Path (drawing in paths) and  Security (how close are those dinosaurs to breaking out?) And all three stages revolve around rolling one to three dice at the start of the turn.

The acquisition phase is what I think really makes the game shine. The first time a number is rolled, you assign that number to a building or attraction and draw it in. Every time after that the number is rolled, you have to add that building or attraction to the board. As the game goes on, more dice get rolled, adding to the decisions.

I also have to note that some of the buildings or services aren’t just for points but add special abilities. You are developing an infrastructure, not just drawing a map.

Paths is, well, drawing in paths with pieces determined by the dice. After all, guests need to be able to get to the dinosaurs and other attractions.

And security determines how close particular dinosaurs are to breaking out and causing property damage. And remember, that’s your property!

The game ends when either someone runs out of space or has too many dinosaurs on the loose. And, not surprisingly, most points wins.

Taken in complete isolation, Welcome To DinoWorld is a good game, fun with an amusing theme and plenty of choices. But when you add in that it’s a free to download and doesn’t require any more construction then printing, that adds a lot of value to the game. Plus, there’s a lot of game crammed onto one page.

Last year’s Roll and Write contest at GenCan’t really made me reassess how much you can do with the R&W format and Welcome To DinoWorld, the winner, really impressed me. My reaction to playing it was ‘Why is this not on Kickstarter?’

And now I’ve learned it will be on Kickstarter for a couple months. And apparently they’ve been working on making a lot of changes on the game. I’m quite curious to see what it ends up being like and I am planning on backing it.

For now, at least, the original version is free and out there and well worth checking out.

Discovery Beach Birthday Cake

My birthday was over the weekend and, pretty much since the start of our courtship, Carrie has baked me a boardgame-themed cake. In the last year, we haven’t played too many boardgames together, other than some card games. However, we have played a lot of games with our son.

So Carrie made the cake inspired by our favorite game to play with him Curious George: Discovery Beach Game.

(Okay, it may not be his favorite game. That might be Connect 4 or MasterMind for Kids. But the Discovery Beach games really are good kids games. Fun moving parts that play into the decisions)

The board has removable panels that you lift up to see blue sand and various colored tchotchkes. Carrie duplicated that by cutting out panels in a sugar sheet and using candy shapes. It came out really nicely and was a yummy cake to boot.

I also taught myself the solitaire game Shooting Party (Haven’t decided if I want to go so far as to make the Edwardian deck but I have had fun with the game) as a way of fitting a new game into my birthday.

After the doodle went to bed, we got in some games to Six and wrapped up with a game of Jaipur. It’s been quite a while since we’ve played Jaipur and it’s even better then I remembered. That little game really is an evergreen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

My thoughts the day after I PnPed Palm Island

I’ve been interested in Palm Island pretty much since I ever heard of it. I finally crafted a copy of the PnP version and played pretty much as soon as I was done cutting the cards.

And it’s pretty much just what I hoped it would be.

Palm Island is a game about developing an island village. What it really is is a game about upgrading cards. The whole game is a small deck of cards and you play it with the deck in your hand, hence the whole _Palm_ Island bit.

One paragraph explanation: Every card has four spaces, one on each end and they are double sided. The active side is whatever is up and facing you. You have access to the top two cards of the deck. Some cards have materials you can store (turning sideways) so you can use the materials. You can upgrade cards, paying stored materials to either flip or turn the card. You can also discard the top card to the back of the deck. Go through the deck eight times and the. Count the points on your upgraded cards.

Huh. That was a longer explanation than I expected.

I first heard of Palm Island when I looked into a PnP prototype called I Am Lynx and learned that it was helped inspire that game. And, for whatever reason, I couldn’t find the PnP on Boardgame Geek or anywhere else so I was waiting for it to come out. Literally two days before writing this, I saw the files. I immediately downloaded, printed, crafted and played it.

The two no-surface games I’ve been playing lately have been the nine-card version of I Am Lynx (really need to try the 18 card version) and Down. Both have been good but very light. Itty bitty plays that take a few minutes. Palm Island actually feels like a ‘real’ game with its longer, deeper play.

There’s definitely some real decisions and development as you go through the deck, managing resources and trying to both improve those resources and end the game with points. It’s not heavy but it’s not fluff either. That’s not bad for seventeen cards that never leave your hands.

The PnP version is one deck and only for solitaire play. The full, published version will have another, different deck for two-player and achievement cards. More than twice as much stuff. I’m really looking forward to seeing that.

This is truly a first impression. I just finished crafting the game yesterday. But, man, what promise it has!

I poke at Katego

Okay. Since I bashed Katego in passing, I feel like I ought to actually write about it.

Basically, there are eleven point slots, two through twelve. Everyone takes turns rolling two dice and assigning wherever they roll to one of the slots. After everyone’s gotten eleven turns and the scoreboard is filled, whoever has the highest roll in each spot gets those points. But if there’s a tie for highest roll, no one gets the points. Most points wins.

There is nothing ‘wrong’ with Katego. It’s very simple but all the rules work. I would even go so far as to say that it has meaningful choices. However, it doesn’t have any zing and that’s coming from a guy who loves abstracts and dice games. It feels more like an exploration of probability theory than a game. (Which it may have well been)

Katego would be completely unknown if it hadn’t been designed by Reiner Knizia and free. It was originally published in his book Dice Games Properly Explained in 1999. Pulling it off the shelf (is anyone surprised I own the book?), he writes it was designed in 1990. Which is pretty much right at the start of him being a professional designer. 

So it might really have been an experiment more than a game and that might also be why it has more of a pub game feel. Judging it too harshly is like lambasting P. G. Wodehouse’s first book, The Pothunters. (On the other hand, the only way I can forgive Love Among the Chickens is that it gave us Ukridge)

I don’t hate Katego. Frankly, I just find it dull. It’s an interesting historical footnote but there are better little dice games out there to play. (Like Reiner Knizia’s Decathalon :D)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Some mini reviews about some free R&W games

A week or so ago, I posted a blog about some free Roll and Write games you can print out yourself. Some of them I’ve written about and some of them I’m planning on writing about but I thought it would be fun to do a quick paragraph or two about each one.

While most of these games can be played solitaire, I did want to pick games that could be played multi-player. If we switched to solitaire, you got a lot more choices of free R&W. However, playing with other folks is a big part of gaming.

Reiner Knizia’s Decathlon - Being from 2003, this is the oldest game out of the ones I picked basically out of the back of my mind. Okay, it’s a collection of ten mini dice games. That’s the game in a set sentence. Honestly, it’s a fascinating deconstruction and exploration of Yahtzee. Its biggest flaw for me is it can run a little long but it’s still fun with plenty of choices and people are still playing it after all these years for a reason.

Okay, I feel like I should also mention Knizia’s other free dice game, Katego. Yeah, it’s not nearly as good. 

30 Rails - This is the lovechild of Take It Easy and Metro. (I’m going to steal that line from myself when I finally get around to giving it a proper review) You’re filling in a grid with tracks. One die tells you which piece of track you’re drawing in and the other tells you the column or row. Full of tough decisions that will make you throw the pencil across the room. Minimal art and components with very simple rules but it comes together so well.

Bento Blocks - The only game on the list you can’t play solitaire (but the designer used the same ideas for the really fun solitaire Ada Lovelace: Consulting Mathematician) In the game, you use dice drafting to pick out Tetris shapes to fill in a grid that’s a cross between a bento box and a sudoku puzzle. It’s an idea that I believe will at some point get published and then get a lot of love.

Recycling Route - Using path drawing, set collection and I-Cut-You-Pick dice drafting, you drive through the city and pick up recyclables and garbage. There’s a lot going on in Recycling Route, including the ability to upgrade your truck. It feels like 3/4 of a pick-up-and-deliver game. I wish it had the last quarter but it still an amazing piece of work for one piece of paper. As time has gone on, I’ve come to like it more and more.

Welcome to DinoWorld - Welcome To DinoWorld won last year’s GenCan’t game design contest and I can see why. You are not only creating a map, you are creating an infrastructure of dinosaurs and special buildings. As the game progresses, you assign die numbers to different types of buildings so there’s a lot of variety and replay value. It has the meat of a much bigger game on a one-page, three dice R&W.

I also have learned Welcome To DinoWorld is going to get Kickstarted. My response is what took so long? I don’t know if the free version is going to continue to be available but it sounds like they are doing a lot of upgrades and changes so it might. Regardless, I am backing it.

I freely admit that price can make a big difference in my opinion of a game. The fact that you just need access to a printer, a pencil and some dice to play all five of these games definitely adds some shine to them in my eyes. But all five of them go well beyond ‘eh, it’s free, print it’ They are fun stuff.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Do cute pigs make up for limited choices?

While going through the game closet with our four-year-old, I came across what I am pretty sure is the most mindless game I can enjoy, Pass the Pigs. 

Take the ancient pub game of Pig and replace the two dice with two rubbery toy pigs. Roll the pigs until you either decide to stop and bank your points or bust. Get to a hundred points and you win.

And since you’re rolling pigs, you’re not counting pips. Landing on their backs or feet or balanced on their nose and ears, that’s the sort of thing that earns you the points. However, if one pig lands on their left side and the other on its right (which has a dot on it), then you just and lose all the points you got it on that turn.

And let’s make no mistake. The whole reason that you play the game is play with the adorable little pigs. The toy factor is like 75% of the game. And, honestly, that’s enough for Pass the Pigs to stay in my collection.

However, with only two dice or pigs, the amount of control and decision making power you have is incredibly limited. On top of that, since they are pigs, it’s much harder to figure out the odds of busting, although landing on a side is the most common way for a pig to land.

Pass the Pigs’ day in my playing was so long ago, it was before I recorded plays. It spent some time as a super portable game I could take anywhere and teach anyone. Basically coffee shops.

However, other games quickly took its place. Farkle and Cosmic Wimpout and, in particular, Cinq-O all offered more interesting choices while taking up about the same pocket space and playing time. Until I decided to revisit Pass the Pigs, I hadn’t played it in years.

Frankly, despite the pigs, our son grew bored with the game more quickly than I did but he’s also not yet into push your luck games. Will he change his mind when he gets older or continue to pass on Pass the Pigs?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Childhood’s End - still powerful more than 70 years later

I first read Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke while on vacation sometime when I was in middle school. I was very lucky that I had absolutely no idea what the book was about, apart from seeing the illustration of the Overlords in Barlow’s Guide to Extraterrestrials.

I still remember being floored by the book. The ending took me by surprise. A couple years later, I read a speech by Kurt Vonnegut where he gives away the ending in the first couple sentences and I was really glad I went in knowing nothing.

(I was similarly lucky and happy to read both The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express completely ignorant)


Okay, Childhood’s End is about how the human race is conquered by benevolent aliens called the Overlords. They bring peace and harmony to the world but their end goal is to help humanity ascend to a higher power, ending the human race for all intents and purposes.

Rereading the book, it’s interesting how dated some elements of it are. The Cold War, the Space Race and memories of WW II are a strong part of the background of the first generation under the Overlords. There are also some comments about race which were clearly written before the civil rights movement.

I also find it hard to believe that any author in recent years (maybe any author post-new wave) could have the human race give in so peacefully to alien invaders. The ease which humanity slides into the utopia before the last generation is born strains my suspension of disbelief.

Having said all that, Childhood’s End is still a powerful and profound book, one that is still a genuine masterpiece of literature. The lack of conflict gives the book a dreamy feel that makes it easier to get pulled in.

I always forget, every time I read the book, how little control and understanding the Overlords have over humanity ascending to the Overmind. Instead of either master puppeteers or following a precise set of instructions, they are clearly doing their best to guide a tsunami. This actually makes the whole ascension thing more powerful by making it more mysterious and unknown.

Childhood’s End isn’t my favorite Clarke book. That would be Fountains of Paradise or maybe Rendezvous With Rama. However, there is no denying that it is powerful and brilliant.  

Minimalism can get in the way

I am a big fan of micro games. A lot of that comes from how, when I first started out, my game collection could fit into a backpack and most of my gaming was at coffee shops. Easy to transport and small footprint were a big deal for me.

Actually, I’ve come full circle a bit because, when I go to a gaming event these days, I just want to take a small courier bag of games with me. (Of course, that’s because I can count on other folks bringing huge bags of big games)

With game lines like the old Hip Pocket Games from Cheapass Games and Pack O Game and Button Shy’s Wallet Games, not to mention individual micro games like Love Letter, I can still get quite the variety in a small bag.

BUT I recently found myself thinking that minimalism can get in the way of teaching, particularly with non-gamers. What gets stripped out can become a barrier for entry.

(And, sweet Catan, it took me four paragraphs to get to the point I wanted to make. Cats alive, I can ramble!)

I’m not a big chrome or theme guy but there’s no denying that those are things that can help not just make a game pretty but easier to understand and play. And those are things that minimalist games, by their very nature, minimize. With some games, it almost seems like the designers assume players will already know core concepts so they can skip them. I have definitely read RPGs like that.

This occurred to me when I found myself comparing Mint Factory to Sticky Fingers, both very light and simple worker placement games. Mint Factory literally fits in a mint tin, which means that it fits in most pockets. Sticky Fingers, with a board and different decks of cards, requires an actual, if small, box.

That said, Mint Factory has a _slightly_ opaque flow of how you build things and the workers are also effectively money. Those are _very_ low barriers to entry and even a minimally experienced gamer should have no problems. But I don’t think it’s a good intro to concepts, just a very portable and very decent game.

Sticky Fingers, on the other hand, has a board which explicitly shows the flow of the game. It also has a very accessible theme. You are burglars who get to tools to steal loot to sell. It is more accessible by having a clear flow of actions and having a theme, bolstered by the art, that makes the actions easy to understand. 

I like both games but I’d rather teach Sticky Fingers to my parents or other folks who have no idea what worker placement is. (I am, of course, ignoring the fact that I’d really use Stone Age or Lords of Waterdeep (or even Agricola, which was my wife’s first worked placement game) )

I appreciate minimalism but sometimes it doesn’t help.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Do I buy R&W or just make them myself?

I recently heard 2018 referred to as the Year of the Roll and Write. (It was on Shut Up and Sit Down, which a friend recommended I try, and during a preview of Welcome To, which sounds like a really fun game) I’m sure someone will actually do some kind of meta exploration of the recent escalation and evolution of designer R&W games but I feel like it’s been going strong for more than just this year.

(From what I can tell, Qwixx is what really got the ball rolling but games like Roll Through the Ages and the Catan Dice Game and Zooloretto the Dice Game proved the market was out there many years earlier. I will also admit that games like SteamRollers are showing how R&W can be have serious depth and meat)

Honestly, I like R&W a lot. Heck, I even enjoy the odd game of Yahtzee now and then. However, I have this problem going out and buying R&W games: There are enough good free ones I can make myself that I almost never feel like buying one. Shucks, add some sort of plastic protector and some dry erase markers and you have a copy that you can use indefinitely.

Off hand and focusing on games that are free, legal, fun and suitable for multiple players, I would recommend Knizia’s Decathlon, Bento Blocks, Welcome to DinoWorld, Recycling Route and 30 Rails to anyone who is interested in Roll and Write. If I were to open it up to games that are exclusively solitaire, the list would explode. And that’s without trying hard.

I am a lazy PnP guy, with a big focus on micro card games that don’t require a lot of work. But R&W Games are the ultimate lazy PnP. You just need a printer, some dice and some pencils. And some of them really are very good.

Let’s face it. Nobody can play every game that’s out there. What we end up playing has to be part of a balance of time and money and personal tastes (both your own and those of the folks you are playing with) For me at least, PnP games balance those elements very well and the ones I’ve mentioned strike me as ones that will do the same for other folks.

At the same time, I have to be fair. It seems like published R&W games are becoming not just more and more polished but also more and more complex. In the case of games like Welcome To, going beyond the PnP may prove very much worth it.

(Also, to be fair, I will and have bought PnP files for R&W games. I like making PnP games)

Monday, August 6, 2018

It’s good to share ones’ love of gaming

I used to refer to myself as a board game evangelist, something that I’ve stopped for a whole lot of reasons. One of them is that it smacks of telling you what kind of games you’re supposed to like. As opposed to finding what games you actually like.

I also used to say that if you don’t like board games, you just haven’t found the right board game yet. And I still say that and I’m willing to help you find that game.

My late, beloved grandma found her game long before I was born and that game was Scrabble. And she didn’t need any other game and that is really cool. That’s just one of the many lessons I learned from her.

I have to admit, I am a big fan of what different people have called Classic Euros/German Family Games. While I had a history of board games from things like my high school’s war game club and Chess, games like Catan and Lost Cities and such are what really got me into board games. 

And they are my choice for trying to make people happy. As family games, they are designed to be accessible, relatively short and keep everyone engaged. (Of course, I can make arguments for party games and abstracts and Ameritrash. War games are harder to sell as an intro to board games)

And over the last year, I’ve tried to pack one light, quick game of that school when going to events and they always seem to work. For Sale has had a good run for me and Money had some good innings as well.

I don’t try and pack a bag full of them, like I did when I was younger. Instead, I just try and pack one game that I both feel like playing and that I feel confident will work. I’m not looking to make someone into a convert to school of German Family Games/Classic Euros. I’m just looking to make sure everyone at the table is having a good time.

You know, maybe next time it will be TransAmeica’s turn.

I didn’t give Fzzzt! a fair shake

This is not a review of Fzzzt! It’s been so long since I last played Fzzzt! that all I remember is being really frustrated by it. However, it’s been niggling in the back of my mind for the last few days.

This what I remember from when it first came out: it was billed as a tiny deck builder so I what I expected and wanted was Dominion in miniature.

Of course, that’s not what Fzzzt! is. It’s an auction game that uses deck building as a mechanic for both building up your money and getting machine parts for points. But since that wasn’t what I was looking for, the whole experience was frustrating.

I think it’s very safe for me to say that I didn’t give Fzzzt! a fair shake. It’s one thing to judge a game on the first couple plays or because you got a rule seriously wrong. It’s another to dislike a game just for not being something it’s not. (I hate Puerto Rico because it’s not Poker!)

While it would be interesting to revisit Fzzzt! and approach it purely as an auction game, I doubt that will happen for me since I’m pretty sure I have gotten rid of it. If it does ever happen, I suspect my opinion would improve.

Interestingly, I did get my goal with Star Realms, a pure deck builder that’s easy to reach and fits in my pocket.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Too many games means never understanding them

Chasing the next big thing might be a better turn of phrase than my usual ‘too many games, not enough time’.

You known exactly what I’m talking about. It’s when you’re so busy getting to the next new game that the last new game only gets a play or two. If that.

So you never really get to grok the game and understand how it really works. So you never really get your money’s worth out of your purchase. And if the game has a lot of bells and whistles, you never get to see them all.

(Expansions can be the worst. If you weren’t really playing a game much or at all, expansions just make a game you’re not playing more expensive. The game whose expansions really paid of for me personally was Dominion, although Carcassonne’s first two expansions were also saw a lot of play for me. Oh, and Ticket to Ride.  Okay, expansions for evergreen games are worth it)

This really came home to me with kickstarters with stretch goals for extra goodies. For instance, I made sure to get all the races and such for Tiny Epic Kingdoms but I _still_ haven’t gotten it on the table! I’m in the same spot as if I’d just made the basic PnP demo :D

In some ways, my current focus on PnP both helps me keep this habit going and helps alleviate it. On the one hand, I’ve crafted far more games than I’ve actually played, even just counting solitaire games. On the other hand, I’ve spent a _lot_ less money and they take up less storage space. And crafting the games is its own fun. 
It’s tough because the market now has so many games and SOMEone has to be the early adapter. For me, though, that’s not me right now.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

My July PnP

I knew that the summer was going to be a dead time for PnP crafting for me. And, in particular, I knew July would be bad since we’d be traveling for half of it. (I wondered that might give me a chance to play a variety of solitaire games but it really didn’t. Thank goodness for Onirim) 

I thought about crafting a quick nine-card game, just to get in some crafting in July. But I couldn’t find the energy and enthusiasm. It wouldn’t have been fun, just drudgery for no good reason. Which kind of defeats the idea of this as a hobby.

So I was ready to just post a blog that said ‘Nope. Didn’t make nothin’.’

Then I realized it would be fun and amusing to make the laziest PnPs I could. There are a number of games that just involving printing out one sheet of paper with no cutting or pasting. I don’t consider just printing them out to be PnP crafting but I do consider laminating those pages to be the minimum for me to call it PnP crafting.

So, on July 30, I fired up the laminator and laminated copies of 30 Rails, Hall of the Dwarven King, the new art version of Recycle Route, Scissor Fight and Napoleon and His Marshals: The Dice Game.

I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll play Napoleon and his Marshals but I like the idea of a ‘full’ war game where I just have to make the board and add dice to make it work. On the other hand, I am looking forward to getting in more plays of 30 Rails. It’s a minimalist game in almost every way and so good. I want to play it enough that I feel like I can review it and then play it some more.

And I am very curious about Scissor Fight. The idea of a game where you’re cutting out shapes to put into outlines is very interesting but I don’t know how well it will work in practice. The rules do seem to cover all the loopholes I could think of. Might be a good hand-eye coordination activity when our son gets a little better with scissors.

What does make me happy is that I didn’t craft these games to fulfill some imaginary quota but because I’m actually interested in them.