Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Ending the year with a little bit of Jerome K Jerome

I decided to cap off my 2019 reading by reading Told After Supper by Jerome K Jerome. The only thing I’ve previously read by him is Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), which is one of those classics of the English language that I think everyone should read. This tiny little novella doesn’t rise to the same heights but it does come from the same place.

Boy but the Victorians loved their ghosts stories. If the collections of ghost stories from that era are anything to go by, it was a national mania. And Christmas ghost stories sure seemed to be a big going concern. Dickens sure helped encourage that.

Told After Supper is allegedly the stories and experiences of some men telling ghost stories around the fire on Christmas Eve. Except that it’s really about them drinking so much Christmas punch that they can’t walk in straight line.

It’s not the first sendup of the Victorian Ghost Story I’ve read. Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost at least starts off as one and the criminally underrated John Kendrick Bangs wrote some fun ones. I particularly liked one about having a ghost who made chills go down the spine being asked to stay in as air conditioning. 

Told After Supper has the same rambling style that Three Men has. It has a very conversational tone and seems to go nowhere but it’s a fun journey to that nowhere. It doesn’t feel as timeless as Three Men but I’m glad I found out it existed and I read it.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Dunsany Dreams 14

Spring’s Music

When the crocus bloom and the snow is only left in piles of weeping slush, the sing of spring begins. It is a song without words and the music is hidden. Yet, it is everywhere, carried by the merry winds and full of the rich, raw smells of wet mud and fresh grass.

The song dances in between the trees and whispers to  green buds that are beginning in the branches. The sing dances in the meadows, making the young grass bo and bend. The birds, still coming back from the south, know the sing of spring and so do the waking creatures in their burrows and beds.

Spring is here. The winter has gone and life has been renewed,

And in the little streams that wind their way to the rivers and then to the sea, black sludge flows.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

2019 Print and Play Solitaire Contest was a delightful holiday experience

I am finally getting around to looking at this year’s Solitaire Print and Play Contest. Oddly enough, it’s not a contest I’ve look at as much, mostly because I focused on micro games when I started really hunting for PnP files. It also took me a bit to get into solitaire games.

But design contests are an awesome place to look for PnP tiles. Not only are they a one-stop hunting ground, other people have vetted the designs for you. Plus, the Work in Progress (WiP) threads often offer a lot of insight in the development.

I have been focused on contests like  nine or eighteen card contests or Roll and Write contests or mint tin contests. So looking at a no holds, do what you want contest was a different kind of experience. I looked at games designed to be used with a regular deck of cards, micro games, Roll and Write games and games that would be major builds to make.

The nine contest is still my favorite design contest (and I sure hope there is one coming up for 2020) but, having not looked at a contest in a bit, the 2019 solitaire  was a fun smorgasbord of games and surprise holiday trip.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Solitaire Spellbook Swapping is itty bitty but nifty

There was a game in the 2018 9-Card PnP Contest called Akur-Gal that consists of swapping cards on a 3x3 grid to complete a Sumerian tablet. It still holds the record for the slightest PnP that held me interest at all. I really think of it more as an activity than a game but it has worked well for me as a mental coffee break.

Solitaire Spellbook Swapping (SSS) from the 2019 Solitaire Contest takes the idea of swapping cards on a 3x3 grid and actually turns it into a game, at least by my lights.

The game consists of nine cards numbered one through nine with each book being a wizard’s spellbook. You need to put them in the right order, sorting out the library at at Hogwarts or the Unseen University (Ook!) And every move is swapping two cards in a 3x3 grid.

But, ah, here is the clever bit: Every book contains one spell. Okay, every card is an action card. Each one lets you do a specific kind of swap like swapping two even numbered cards or swapping Nd two cards that are touching. Every time you use an action, you tap that card and can’t use it again. Use up your action cards without getting the cards in a row, you lose.

I have had fun with SSS. The moment I saw it, I had try it and it only took a few minutes to make a copy. It’s not perfect (solving it may be easy enough that I have to switch to the more difficult variants) but it was worth the minimal effort to make it.

SSS is a very simple game that takes only a minute or two. It doesn’t elevate the idea of a nine card puzzle to the level of being the equivalent of Power Grid. But it definitely makes the choices more interesting.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Dunsany Dreams 13

A Simple Truth

During the day, the abattoir stank of blood during the day and reeked of bleach at night.

But it holds this truth. There must be death for meat to be born.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Do beer and pretzel games need big stacks of cards?

Finishing up the PnP version of Goblin’s Breakfast got me thinking about Beer and Pretzel games, since it’s a beer and pretzel game as well as a take that game and a family game. 

Beer and Pretzels isn’t (aren’t?) my favorite genre of games but I do like having a few around. They definitely have a niche. There is a time and place for a rough-and-tumble casual game with room for trash talk and turning off your brain. (College seems to be a prime time to be that time)

But I found myself thinking about Beer and Pretzel Games I’ve played like Nuclear War or Chez Geek or Guillotine or Lunch Money and they all have lots of cards. 

Which makes sense.  Having lots of cards is a way of having a high random factor and room to have lots of jokes or other silly stuff. I mean, I hate, hate the mechanics of Munchkin with the fire of a super nova but John Kovalic did draw some funny cartoons for it.

I don’t know if this makes any sense of having a big deck of action cards lets a game do some of the thinking for you. And that would normally be terrible but works for Beer and Pretzel Games.

BUT... can pure dice games be Beer and Pretzel games? For instance, is Zombie Dice a Beer and Pretzel game? It doesn’t have cards and it doesn’t have any that that but it is casual and thematic and makes people laugh. Would have I played it at three AM in college after a marathon session of D&D?

The answer is almost assuredly yes so a game that consists of a handful of dice, doesn’t have a stack of cards or a way to hurt other folks can still be a Beer and Pretzel game. I can even see an argument that Liars Dice can be a Beer and Pretzel game so even the silly theme is optional.

At the same time, lots of action cards and a fun theme seems like they help a lot. If I woke up tomorrow and decided that it was my new life goal to make a Beer and Pretzel game, that’s where I’d start.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

We have taken steps to have better party games

I don’t see myself playing a lot of holiday games this year but there is one game that I have come to associate with the holidays. Apples to Apples, since it’s the party game you can play with anyone. The party game that I have seen played at more Christmas parties than any other game.

I have two strong opinions about Apples to Apples. First, it’s a very strong game design. Second, I could happily never play it again :P

Back when I was a young one, Trivial Pursuit was the ‘great’ party game and I think it’s a terribly flawed game. Trivia is dangerous because it’s so binary, either you know it or not. (Wits and Wagers figured out how to make that work which is amazing. And pub quiz adds booze, which changes everything. You can decide if it’s for better or worse) And it had a meh implementation of Roll and Move.

So, when you consider that I came from a place of charades and Trivial Pursuit, Apples to Apples was a revelation. It was accessible to the point where you could play it with just about anyone and people didn’t get punished for not knowing the capital of Zanzibar or how to mime Christopher Walken.

I know Apples to Apples wasn’t the first ‘designer’ party game (Barbarossa came out before it did, for example) but Apples to Apples was my first experience with it and the first experience for many folks I know. I really think it changed the party game genre.

BUT I think that the ideas that it introduced have been done better since it came out. I would much, much rather play Dixit than Apples to Apples for example. And, yes, I know that tells you how old I am :D I really do think that Apples to Apples paved the way for better, more innovative party games, games that surpassed it.

I’m not big into party games but I do sometimes play them and I’m glad they have gotten better.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Why did I take so long to try the Bogey?

Since I tried out Card Capture, a game designed to be played with a traditional deck of cards, I decided to learn another one that I kept reading about, the Bogey. While Card Capture felt like a ‘modern’ game that uses traditional cards, the Bogey felt to me like an traditional solitaire game with a ‘modern’ twist.

The rules are freely available and are only one page but here’s the thumbnail. You have a hand of five cards and are trying to sort the deck into columns of decreasing values (you can skip cards or it’d be bloody impossible) of the same suit. BUT after ever move, the Bogey gets a move. You take the top card of the draw pile and do your best to play it to your tableau. You can only have twelve columns so if the Bogey forces you to start a thirteenth column, you lose. 

In other words, it takes a traditional solitaire concept and adds an AI :P

My first reaction was that the designer has taken Lost a Cities and turned it into a solitaire. Which is a hysterical idea since Reiner Knizia made Lost Cities by turning a solitaire paradigm into a two-layer game. The Bogey embraces one of the basic paradigms of solitaire card games, sorting cards by suits and ranks. But it adds what seems like such a simple and obvious touch with the Bogey and that gives it its own spark.

It’s pretty obvious, i like the Bogey. While having an AI making trouble for the players is a more ‘modern’ idea, the game feels kind of timeless. It’s a game that I can see working for non-gamers and gamers alike. I’m annoyed with myself for not trying it sooner.

The Bogey isn’t super innovative but it works really well and its fun.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Card Capture - deck building with regular cards

Okay. Card Capture is a solitaire deck builder that uses a regular deck of cards.

As someone who is interested in PnP and DIY gaming, it was pretty much inevitable that I was going to check this game out. Im fact, considering that it originally came out in 2018, I’m amazed it took me this long. Almost as amazed that it took so long for someone to make a deck builder just using a regular deck of cards.

Card Capture was designed to be an introduction to deck builders. Which could be an excuse to make the game simple and dumbed down. Card Capture is simple but I wouldn’t call it dumbed down.

Okay, the full rules are online and free but let’s give the thumbnail. The object of the game is capture all the faces and aces. At the start of the game, you divide the cards up into a player deck (the jokers and all the twos, threes and fours) and an enemy deck that’s everything else.

The basic idea is that you have a row of four enemy cards. Every turn, you have to take one away. You can capture/claim a card by spending an equal or higher value of cards from your hand _of the same suit_ If you can’t do that, you can discard a card and the first card in the enemy row to the enemy capture pile. BUT if a face or ace card ever goes into that pile, YOU LOSE! The last thing you can do is sacrifice. Discard two cards into the enemy capture pile and put a card from the row under the enemy draw pile.

What makes Card Capture tick is that is all about trashing cards and making it a double edged sword. Getting rid of all the twos as early as possible? Great! But having to make too many sacrifices can make you run out of cards. If you short-suit yourself (and it’s easy to do it you’re not careful), you will lose.

I have not played the game enough to know if there is a dominant strategy that would make the game boring and I don’t know for sure that that bad shuffles can make the game impossible to win (but I think that is true) What I am sure that the game doesn’t play itself, that your decisions make a difference. And I think even if the game can be broken or solved, it will take enough plays to figure it out to still be fun.

Card Capture isn’t flawless. I do think luck can overcome clever planning. And, like any game that just a traditional deck of cards, it’s dry and themeless and that can be a deal breaker for some folks. And, to be honest, if I was introducing someone to deck building using a solitaire, I’d still prefer to use Friday by Friedemann Friesse. 

However, I am having fun with Card Capture. I love that I have a new and different option if all I have on me is a deck of cards. The mechanics hold up and, if all you have to work with is a deck of cards, that’s a big deal.

So, yeah, if you’re at all into traditional card games, check out Card Capture.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Dunsany Dreams 12

One Ending

It was war.

There’s nothing new about war. Indeed, peace is not nearly as common. But this was a bitter war that lasted for years upon years. It was a war where brother fought brother and sometimes streets and homes were battlefields as well.

The one place of peace was the grave yard and the grave digger found no rest, even though he was not a part of any fighting. The handle of his shovel grew shiny with wear as he worked day and night.

Then came the day that the grave digger looked up from a grave to see Death in half s dusty long coat.

‘Is it time for the war to be over?’ he asked.

‘Only for you.’

‘That will have to do.’

Friday, December 13, 2019

A deck of cards is a an abstract strategy game

I’ve been meaning to try out Card Capture for a while. A solitaire deck builder that just uses a regular deck of cards? That’s something that I have to look into. The idea taps into both the possibilities and the limitations of a deck of cards.

(This was going to be a review of Card Capture but the tangent just went to far. I do like to ramble)

A deck of cards is the most amazing tool you can have in your gaming library. It _is_ a game library, one you can fit in your pocket.  It is the most flexible game system you’re going to find and there are hundreds of games for it andit’s something that you can usually get non-gamers to play.

At the same time, a deck of cards is very abstract. Which doesn’t make any difference for traditional games but can make a more ‘modern’ game seem thin and dry, particularly if there is a theme attached to the game. 

Which, quite frankly, doesn’t seem quite fair :D I’ve seen a lot of trick taking games that might have spiffy artwork and a theme but really aren’t that far removed from Whist or other trick taking games. But even that teeny tiny step away from abstraction makes a difference. I love abstracts and even I know that that little bit of flair makes a difference.

(And there is an actual practical reason for this. Theme and specialized cards can make a game more accessible. Easier to process and understand. But that’s a whole other topic and I have already rambled far afield enough)

Which isn’t to say a regular deck of cards can’t work as a ‘modern’ game. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of Lamarckian Poker, even pickup games with strangers. Admittedly, it uses many elements from traditional games but blends them in a way that feels non-traditional. 

On the other hand, even though you can easily play it with a regular deck of cards, I enjoyed The Shooting Party a lot more after I made a themed deck. A big difference between those two games is that Lamarkian Poker is built on mechanics and The Shooting Party is built on theme. 

Fundamentally, while no one lists a regular deck of cards as an abstract strategy game like Chess or Go, it is very much an abstract system and suffers when theme is pushed onto it. (Unless you view it as it’s own theme. Individual cards and poker hands are iconic, after all)

A deck of cards is a door to so many games, ancient and new, but we have to respect its limits.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Board games as comfort food

An old gaming friend recently let me know that Station Master was getting reprinted via Kickstarter. Since I have a copy of the Mayfair edition, I didn’t feel any need to back it but I was glad that it was getting reprinted.

But it got me thinking. Station Master is a game that I consider a good game but not a great game. It isn’t a game that I think gives you one of those amazing, memorable gaming experiences that you bore non-gamers with. But it is a game that I’d always be willing to play.

In fact, even though I have ruthlessly culled my collection over the years (although not so much that it actually frees up a closet), Station Master has never been in the cull pile. Its a game that I very much plan on keeping.

Because there are games that are the kind of games that you plan an entire evening around. There are games that are a kind of special event. Back in my old gaming group, playing Advanced Civilization once or twice a year was one of those games.

And then there are the gaming equivalent of comfort food, games that aren’t big productions but games that are not just easy to get on the table and get in a play or two, they are games that you actually do that with them.

So, honestly, these comfort food games are what I have played more of over the years. And a decent percentage of my collections qualifies as comfort food games. It’s great to eat steak but that’s not what you eat every day.

But they do have to be games that are good enough that you want to play them over and over. And that’s no small thing. It’s a special kind of just good enough that is actually super excellent.

Station Master, you know, it deserves to get reprinted.

Monday, December 9, 2019

A tiny game about creating tiny spaces

2019 9 Card Game Print and Play Design Contest - Condense the Code

As a lazy PnPer, this contest was an enormous boon to me. One sheet of components is pretty reasonable as a project, even when I’m low on time and energy. And the returns I’ve gotten from the entries I’ve played have been a great return for the time and materials I’ve put into them. I will admit that I focus on short solitaire games so I’m sure the be missed some gems. But I keep going back and exploring more ideas from the contest.

Condense the Code consists of nine cards that each have twelve squares on each. The squares come in white and dark flavors and every card has a different pattern.

Shorn of its backstory, Condense the Code is a tile-laying game where you can (and need!) to overlap the cards as long as the squares match. You’re trying to make the nine cards take up as little space as possible. Your score is the longest width by your longest length plus their difference multiplied by three. And you’re going for a low score.

There’s also a three-game legacy variant. After each game, you can rip off two squares from a card, which actually will make the game easier.

The developer openly notes that Condense the Code was designed to be a simpler version of Orchard, the winner of last year’s game. It’s pretty easy to see how Orchard influenced Condense the Code. And it’s a tough comparison for Condense the Code. Orchard is one of the best nine card games I’ve played and I’ve looked at a lot of them.

The real brutal comparison is that Orchard uses double-sided cards while Condense the Code has single-sided cards. You only use half the possible patterns in Orchard while you use the same nine patterns every time in Condense the Code. It got to the point that I started planning ahead, knowing which cards I hadn’t drawn yet.

Condense the Code’s biggest strength for me (and I admit that this is damning it with faint praise) is that it has no additional components. All I have to do is shuffle the nine cards and I’m ready to go. And sadly, there are times when that’s what I’m looking for. A itty bitty mental break that can be over and cleaned up in a few minutes. I don’t lack for fidgeting games but it’s nice to have variety.

But I also have to give credit where credit is due. Condense the Code is an ink-friendly, one-page project. If you wanted to do a legacy copy where you’re ripping off pieces, you could just do it on regular copy paper. It is very much something I’d recommend to someone dabbling in Print and Play, just getting their toes wet.

Condense the Code isn’t brilliant game that shakes up the world of micro games but it is a fun way to fidget. When it comes out, it does lends itself to ‘one more time’ replay. It has flaws and limitations but I do keep pulling it out now and then.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Dunsany Dreams 11


The grave digger had paused to eat a green apple when he saw Death in his dusty long coat coming down the lane.

‘Everyone has to have profession,’ said the grave digger, ‘and mine is as good as any and better than most. I’ve served kings and paupers in their time. But your profession comes before mine and it looks like it’s my time.’

But Death said to him ‘Not yet. But, as one professional to another, I wanted to let you know there is a powerful amount of work coming your way.’

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

A rant about how I hate gateway as a term

One of the terms I hate is Gateway Games. (I also hate the term Filler Games but I also find that one harder to avoid) I understand the concept of the games that are easily to teach and introduce non-gamers into the modern world of gaming but I think Family Games or Casual Games covers the same idea better and without the idea that these are games that you leave behind as you ‘grow up’.

Both the terms Filler and Gateway imply a lower value of a game, which is definitely part of my problem. Ticket to Ride is considered one of the classic Gateway games but is has never been a game I’ve outgrown or grown tired of.  The Gateway label does it a disservice. Well, okay. I think it does any game that gets slapped with it a disservice.

I also may be reacting strongly due to experiences with game snobs. Liking longer and more complicated games doesn’t mean you are better or smarter than everyone else :P

One of the things that really brought me home to the idea that casual  games can be lifestyle games was the Pairs system. It’s not in my top five game systems but it is flexible and easy to introduce to people. It does the job that it was meant to. It is the epitome of a gateway game since you can teach many of its games to drunk people. It is the opposite of so many complex games in many genres.  But it is still good and very replayable.

This actually started out as me writing about Tokaido but things got a little out of control. Labeling games can be dangerous because it can make us look for something in a game other than ‘do I want to play it?’ It’s a useful tool and a necessary tool but it can be a dangerous tool.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

My November PnP

Thirty days hath November and those days have gone by. In that time, I made the following Print and Play projects:

Ducks in the Pond (2019 Roll and Write Contest)
Zero Degrees Kelvin (2019 Roll and Write Contest)
Barbarian Vince
Ring Tales (2019 9-Card Contest)

Needless to say, Barbarian Vince was the big project of the month for me. I did do some cutting to make Zero Degrees Kelvin but the two Roll and Writes were basically just laminating the play sheets.

And I am very curious about Barbarian Vince. It looks like an okay game at best but it also looks like it might be a real throwback experience of 80s style adventure gaming  in one deck of cards. I have a felling that I’ll get a surprising amount of enjoyment out of it.

So much of my actual gaming these days is quick little solitaire games, almost all of which are ones that I made as PnP projects. It might sound crazy but with Roll and Writes, the fact that I actually have to get out a dry erase marker and some dice makes them feel like I’m doing a little more, playing a more involved game even if they are very simple and short. 

I know I need to explore more complex Roll and Writes but the two I made in November will be still make me happy.

I have a feeling that December will see a mild uptick in my crafting.

Dunsany Dreams 10

The Poet in the Wilderness

The poet stood on the wilderness, speaking his words to world. Though there was no audience, he knew that the plants and the wild animals still heard his voice, although they could not understand his words.

The sun shone down upon him and warmed him. When the poet felt too warm, the wind came and cooled his brow.

Yet, the clouds came over the sun and wind grew too strong. At last the rain came, chilling and soaking the poet. He ended his words and left the wilderness to go back to his rooms.

Yet, as the poet went in to the fire in his hearth, the gravedigger continued to dig. He couldn’t stop digging graves just on account of the weather.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Abstract game or art project?

Some board games make good art activities for younger kids. And, at least for me, abstracts are the games that seem to do the best job at it.

Two occurrences in about a week’s span really brought that home for me.

First of all, I learned that our son’s kindergarten teacher uses both Blokus and Blokus Trigon in the classroom. Not as the games but as cooperative activities. I found out about this by our son pulling out my copy of Blokus Trigon and saying that they had a copy at school :D

The second was when our son decided he wanted to have a board game night with daddy and started pulling out my stack of GIPF games. (TAMSK is stored elsewhere due to its size and I don’t have LYNGK, in case your curious) And gosh darn it, didn’t he find the games interesting to manipulate and make patterns with, ZERTZ and DVONN in particular. He actually paid attention to the rules of DVONN but wasn’t interested in actually playing it :D

It makes sense that abstracts are good for this kind of play. Games with tiles and chits and cards and such don’t have the same ‘artifact’ appeal. Glass beads and stones and balls and pyramids and such are actual physical objects with all the dimensional and tactile elements that go into being just that.

I am hoping that this eventually turns into actually playing the games :D

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The usual Boardgame Burnout

Ah, it’s that time again. The time when I get kind of burnt out on gaming. Really, while it happens under different circumstances, it’s been happening to me for years. The only real change is what I’m still doing. (Years ago, it was playing only Button Men online)

I have long stopped worrying that I’m actually in danger of giving up gaming. Life is a series of peaks and valleys and life. If life were a flat line, I’m pretty sure you’re doing something unhealthy.

I can trace it back to the start of October. I had my big convention experience of the year, which was very good. And, after that, I was apparently sated.

But one thing I’ve tried hard to do is still do at least one ‘real’ Print and Play project a month. Yeah, that’s my one hold out from burn out. As much as I do enjoy crafting, didn’t expect that.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

No spoilers initial impressions of Frozen 2

Okay. It’s been about twenty-four hours since I watched Frozen 2. So this is all about first impressions. I’m curious to where my thoughts will be six months from now.

No spoilers no spoilers no spoilers

Frozen was the first Disney movie our son saw and it remains his favorite movie. I have possibly seen it more than a hundred times and I still like Let It Go and think it is a great movie.

So, as a family, we are invested in Frozen and, as parents, we were afraid it would be bad.

But, in some ways, I liked it more than the first movie. Time will tell if that’s just because I haven’t seen it literally dozens of times or because it has some elements that I think were really well done.

Still no spoilers still no spoilers still no spoilers

Here’s a couple problems sequels can have:  the original work tied up all the loose ends so there isn’t more story to naturally tell; the characters did all their character development in the first movie and they are flat characters in the later movie. Worse, they repeat the same character arcs.

I firmly believe that Frozen 2 continued to the next natural stage of the story with higher stakes and the characters had further character development, leaving them all meaningfully changed by the end of the movie. It was also a darker movie than the first one with a couple deeper choices than I expected. I don’t know if I’d have let our son watch it at three-years old.

Frozen is a big deal. Not only did it have a once-in-generation song with Let It Go, it deconstructed the idea of love at first sight, which is a dangerous idea in real life. The sequel doesn’t recycle the story but instead explores how we grow older and sadder and wiser. Maybe that’s why it resonates with grownup me.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Dunsany Dreams 9

When He Walks Again

There will come a time when the hubris of not one but all will come. When it does, mankind on a whole will be gone from the Earth, leaving only crumbling ruins and poisoned waters and gutted mountains.

But life will find a way. Life will not end even when we do.

And in that time, Pan will walk the world again. Pan is dead but Pan knows he will live again.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Ring Tales is an interesting experiment

Every once in a while, as I’m combing through Print and Play options, I come across a game that is actually a role playing game. And, boy, is Ring Tales one of those games.


Not that it tries to be anything but a role playing game. But I found it in the 2019 9-Card Print and Play Contest. And those contests can be really experimental places but an RPG is still an unusual thing to find there.

And, unusually for me, I’m more interested in the mechanics of Ring Tales than the narrative concept. And I’m much more a fluff guy compared to crunch. I firmly believe people love the stories they tell with games than the tools they use to make those stories.

The concept is that you are natives of Larry Nivea’s Ringworld with the registration number filed off, although it’s a ring around a world, not a star. I’m not actually sure how that works in a ring world sense. Anyway, there are twelve locations and they help you define each scene with twelve scenes making a game.

[The first draft of this blog, I spent five paragraphs trying to explain the mechanics and I knew it was a slog so now It’s one paragraph]

Ring Tales has a rotating game master and each scene will have one conflict. There are  four possible methods of resolution which really break down to force, guile, intelligence and persuasion. The game master secretly lists the potential methods in order of how well the game master decides they will do. Than players then vote in the decision. Depending on the vote, you get success, success but, failure but and failure. 

Boom. That’s it. 

Okay, there is more but that’s the meat and potatoes of it.

[I also have to note that the graphic design, while simple, does the job well. You track character health and how dire the global situation is by rotating cards. The game is designed to be played with just the cards. No dice, no pencils, just the cards. Which is far from unique but still nice for a light, portable RPG.]

Man, every time I look at a super rules light RPG, I always think that they are so group dependent. That you need the right chemistry and trust and creativity to tell the story. And Ring Tales is no exception. You don’t have the ‘game’ of something like Dungeons and Dragons with discrete wins and losses, with room for individual wins and losses. it’s all about working together not for a story goal but creating a story.

However, a lot of tiny RPGs are practically group therapy with an almost painful level of bleed and intimacy. Ring Tales doesn't have that. It supports the style of a casual, freewheeling adventure. And I know from experience that pushing the bleed works.

But Ring Tales isn’t about figuring out how to solve problems, even though that’s what it looks like on paper. It’s about figuring out a way to tell an interesting story with a level of hidden information or maybe even bluffing. Is that going to work or get in the way? Honestly, probably depends on the group.

I like the idea of a super portable RPG. I like collaborating to tell a story. And I like the idea of a tiny, short form game that doesn’t involve bleed but tell a more traditional adventure story. Does Ring Tales deliver? I don’t know but I like that it was tried.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Invisible Cities - an inner atlas

I stumbled upon Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino by completely by accident with no idea what it was about or its reputation as a great book/modern classic. Which might be a very appropriate way to fall down this rabbit hole of literature. 

The book consists of fifty-five descriptions of cities, interspersed with conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Kahn. Which sounds pretty simple. Marco Polo describing cities to Kublai Kahn.

Except that it isn’t simple. The cities are fantastical, impossible cities. Sometimes anachronistic, sometimes magical, sometimes just plain bizarre. The book is a dreamscape of cities that have never been and could never be.

And it’s not even clear that Marco Polo and Kublai Kahn are real themselves. One or the other might be imaginary. Except that they are just characters in a book. They really are imaginary!

My personal favorite interpretation (and it’s not my only one) is that the book is deconstruction of the very concept of places. The cities say more about the person who is describing the cities than the cities themselves. Invisible Cities doesn’t tell us about places. It asks questions about the human condition.

What is real? What is unreal? And what do we get out of the unreal, what do we need from the unreal?

Invisible Cities isn’t just a book that I’m glad that I read. It’s a book I want to reread every six months to see what has changed in it, what new things I get out of it. It is a classic and it really asks you to explore concepts you hadn’t realized you accepted.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Dunsany Dreams 8

Three Learned Goals

The business man said ‘I will build factories and museums in my name. I shall be remembered forever after I die.’

The politician said ‘I will write laws and make treaties. I shall be remembered after I die.’

The post said ‘I will write poems and lyrics that will move every ear. I shall be remembered after I die.’

Death in his dusty long coat looked at the three of them. ‘I shall give you your chance,’ he said.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Thoughts about RPGs in small spaces

I have been looking at Ring Tales from this year’s nine-card PnP contest and, at some point, I’m actually going to write about the game. However, the game made me ponder some random thoughts that didn’t fit neatly into discussing the game itself.

First, the game was designed to be played in the car. Which is an idea that I love, an RPG that you could play during a long, boring trip. It’s also an idea that I’ve never been able to pull off :P I think there is inevitably too much to distract you, particularly if you’re the one driving.

But the idea of a game that can work under those restrictions, minimal rules let you forgo dice or maps or miniatures or other randomizers, that seems like a kind of platonic ideal to me. Mind you, I am already aware of games that already fit that bill, like Baron Munchausen or Puppetland. But it seems like a design space worth exploring.

Second, the designer’s notes describe the ‘no and’ to ‘yes and’ mechanic as old. To someone who got started with first edition D&D, that mechanic still feels fresh and innovative. And as someone who has gamed with a lot of improvisers, I think it is such a great mechanic.

Third, Tales of the Ring is a micro RPG, a concept that I am still trying to wrap my mind around. A micro game, in the board game sense, is easy to understand. It’s a game with only a few components. (Often, that also means a small footprint and easy to teach rules and a short playing time but not necessarily) 

But it doesn’t take much space or stuff to play most RPGs, as long as you’re using theater of the mind instead of miniatures. A handful of dice and some play sheets plus some pencils doesn’t count as a lot of components.

And a short playing time or being rules light doesn’t qualify a game as a micro rpg. I’ve never heard anyone ever call Baron Munchausen a micro RPG even though it has practically no rules and is designed to be played in one short sitting.

I think there are two things that can make a RPG a micro RPG. One is small volume of total printed material. If the total game, rules and background and fluff and all, is only one or two pages, it might be a micro RPG. The other is narrowness of focus. Not just limiting a game to a specific genre or even a specific narrative but a very narrowly defined scenario. 

The Name of God _might_ be a micro RPG. The original rules take up less than a page and you have a very specific structure and goal. Even then, the game is open enough that I’m not sure it qualifies as a micro RPG. 

Game poems as a genre fit the bill but I never hear them being called micro RPG. They have their own goal of evoking an emotion or experience.

Really, while there is a need and a design space for rules light RPGs and short form RPGs, micro RPGs might be too limiting an idea.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Abstracts and kids

Some board games make good art activities for younger kids. And, at least for me, abstracts are the games that seem to do the best job at it.

Two occurrences in about a week’s span really brought that home for me,

First of all, I learned that our son’s kindergarten teacher uses both Blokus and Blokus Trigon in the classroom. Not as the games but as cooperative activities. I found out about this by our son pulling out my copy of Blokus Trigon and saying that they had a copy at school :D

The second was when our son decided he wanted to have a board game night with daddy and started pulling out my stack of GIPF games. (TAMSK is stored elsewhere due to its size and I don’t have LYNGK, in case your curious) And gosh darn it, didn’t he find the games interesting to manipulate and make patterns with, ZERTZ and DVONN in particular. He actually paid attention to the rules of DVONN but wasn’t interested in actually playing it :D

It makes sense that abstracts are good for this kind of play. Games with tiles and chits and cards and such don’t have the same ‘artifact’ appeal. Glass beads and stones and balls and pyramids and such are actual physical objects with all the dimensional and tactile elements that go into being just that.

I am hoping that this eventually turns into actually playing the games :D

Monday, November 11, 2019

Hisss: not great but great with five-year-olds

I recently bashed Rivers, Roads and Rails for being a children’s game that really doesn’t work well as either game or an activity for kids to enjoy. The next kids game that I tried out was Hisss, a game that is mechanically similar but worked much better for us.

The short explanation for Hisss is that it’s a tile laying game where you are building snakes.  The heads and tails are all either one color or wild but each segment are two colors. Colors need to match when placing tiles, just like in games like Carcassonne. If you complete a snake, you get that snake and its tiles count as points. Most points wins.

There are three things that made Hisss a more enjoyable experience than Rivers, Roads and Rails, most of them being the game being simpler. There are less than half as many tiles. The connections are simpler, one snake segment as opposed to three kinds of possible  paths. And the rules are _much_ better written.

In short, Hisss is a lot more accessible for little minds who don’t have that much patience. Hisss takes the concepts of tile laying and makes them manageable for the young.  Which isn’t as easy as it sounds. And having a tighter rule set is so much better.

For adults, it’s not a great game. I’m not even going to call it a good game. Hisss is not one of those kids games that adults can get into. However, it is a game that can keep a child engaged until the end. That might be be damning with faint praise but it’s also true.

The Last Kids on Earth was too awesome for me

After I learned that the cartoon The Last Kids on Earth, which my son didn’t care for, was based on a series of books, I read the first one. Which I didn’t care for :D

The Last Kids on Earth is about a group of middle-schoolers/high schoolers in an apocolypse that includes both zombies and kaiju.

And that was kind of my problem with the book. It was a mashup of zombie apocalypse and giant monster disaster and superheroes. (Seriously, superheroes. The kids fight giant monsters in hand-to-hand combat and win. They are totally superheroes.) Now, all three of those genres can mesh but I didn’t think they did that very well here.

The books have a goofy, lighthearted tone that I found very jarring. and much of that centered around the protagonist. An orphan and a social outcast, Jack uses the end of the world to live his best life. Any elements of angst are lost in him treating the disaster  like a video game.

Which could still work if it came across as a coping mechanism. But the world really does act like a video game for him. He is living the dream of the end of the world letting you do whatever you want. 

In fact, every other character in the book comes across as more nuanced and relatable :D Which is actually fascinating for me. That means making Jack so one-note was an intentional choice. He is a video game protagonist, like Mario or Link, a blank slate for the players or readers to fill in.

One of the core elements of zombie apocalypse fiction is being grounded. Adding giant monsters and the characters somehow gaining the fighting skills of Daredevil or Batman is far from grounded.

(I actually do wonder if ordinary middle schoolers becoming basically superhuman gets addressed in the later books, if that is a side effect of whatever the disaster really is. If that is the case, that would really help my suspension of disbelief.)

All of that said, these books have been very successful and I can see why. Take your average thirteen-year-old and ask them to describe a zombie apocalypse and this is what you get. It might make Warm Bodies look like Garth Ennis's Crossed but it is clearly the most fun apocalypse you could hope for. The rule of cool is always in place. Common sense or rational thought take a second seat to things being neat.

The Last Kids on Earth has a lot of problems but, man, it knows its audience. Which, from a publisher’s viewpoint, is the most important thing.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Dunsany Dreams 7

Finding Memory

I found myself walking in a field that I had never been in but I knew from dreams. It ended in a hill that was green with grass and seemed to rise up into the sky.

The hill seemed too steep to climb yet climb it I did. Up and up, the hill carried me and I knew that it was the place that I needed to be.

And at the top of the hill, I saw Pan before me, shaggy and hooved and horned. All I could do is fall face down with my face in the green grass.

And he said ‘I need neither reverence or fear. But remembrance is good.’

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Italo Calvino makes me want to play impossible games

Reading Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, I have a craving to design a game about creating cities in a few paragraphs, developing a map of urban worlds. Which means I’m completely missing the point of the book :P

The book has Marco Polo describing fifty-five cities to a bemused Kublai Kahn. He breaks the cities down into eleven categories and they all have women’s names. Beneath this poetic atlas structure is a deconstruction of language and geography.

Or so reviews and analysis of Invisible Cities tells me. I don’t grok that yet. In fact, I feel like I should be rereading the book again in six months and see how much it’s changed for me over that time.

So my desire to make a game out of it is based on the most superficial reading of it. But it’s still there.

I picture a set of tables. On your turn, roll to see what category the city is. Roll to see what name it is. Roll to see what details you are allowed to describe, like architecture or trade goods or monuments or such. From those rolls, you create a city in a few words.

Perhaps there might be two tables of categories and you must find where the city you are dreaming up fits on the matrix, turning a spreadsheet grid into a map of imagination.

Or perhaps the city that you dream of must fit onto a postcard. And after you have written your city into existence on your postcard, you must put a stamp on it and send it to the next player, letting them know it is their turn to bring a city to life on a postcard. And at the end, everyone has a physical artifact of a city that has only come to be due to the game.

Aaaaand I’ve just crossed the line from game to performance art. Probably the kind of performance art that would end up annoying everyone involved.

I’m actually not even halfway through Invisible Cities and I know it’s not a book about world building but more of world unbuilding. My feeble understanding makes it feel more about how you describe a place says more about you than the place.

But it still makes me want to build dreamy worlds.