Monday, December 31, 2018

Obligatory year end wrap up blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 27, 2018

But nothing beats the printing press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the printing press, that was a big deal.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Atlanteon is an abstract is basically just good enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 21, 2018

Abalone - a perfectly good abstract I have no interest in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Rosenkonig - a little abstract that doesn’t quit

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

So there’s something there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Why dancing bears matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Further thoughts on Tussie-Mussie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 7, 2018

Sometimes, you need some buy in to get involved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Super early impressions of The Abandons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Initial impressions of Tussie-Mussie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hobbling down memory lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 1, 2018

My November PnP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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