Thursday, September 12, 2019

Encyclopedia Brown is trapped in the past

The new children’s show  The InBestigstors has made me decide to revisit the Encyclopedia Brown books. Encyclopedia Brown didn’t invent the kid detective genre (that happened at least fifty years before that and probably much older than that) but it did promote a new level of ‘fair play puzzle’ to the genre.

Everyone already knows the Encyclopedia Brown formula works but here’s how it goes: Every story is actually a puzzle where there’s one or two clues that contradict the criminal’s explanation and show that they are guilty. Sometimes it’s an honest to goodness logic puzzle and other times it’s just someone contradicting themselves. The answers are in the back so the reader has a chance to figure it out before looking. 

(And, no, Encyclopedia Brown wasn’t the first time that was used but it sure helped popularize it)

My memories of the stories were that the characterization was very flat and that most of the explanations worked as the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence. (Of course, Encyclopedia Brown had the winning card of his dad being the police chief so he had that backing him up)

What I forgot was how corny the books were. Everyone, including the narrator, is constantly making groan-worthy jokes. And all of the local kids have one quirk or odd hobby that makes them stand out. Mind you, which each case being only a few pages long, that’s only way to make the kids stand out.

As literature, Encyclopedia Brown is really nothing. As I already mentioned, the stories aren’t actually stories. They are really just puzzles. Theme, character, even plot are minimal. But they’ve encouraged generations of kids to read and maybe even think so that’s a good thing.

What I found interesting, though, is that the books are like a time capsule. The first book was written in 1963. So, of course it’s dated. If it wasn’t dated, something would be disturbing and wrong. And I don’t think the books are an accurate picture of childhood in the 1960s any more than Norman Rockwell is an accurate picture of America in the 1940s. But it does give me an idea what an idealized, sanitized image of childhood was like.

After rereading the first three books (published in 1963, 1965 and 1966), I decided to read the last book which was published in 2012. I wanted to see if the author included cell phones or at least personal computers and microwave ovens.

The title story of Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme did feature, well, soccer, which is a sport I don’t think would be discussed in 1963. So Donald Sobol at least managed to get to the 1980’s. Beyond that, time seemed to be frozen and Encyclopedia Brown was still charging a quarter per day (plus expenses)

Looking at Encyclopedia Brown as an adult in 2019, part of me wonders how and why I read so much the stuff when I was little. But, if it makes my son read more and think about puzzles, I won’t mind if he reads it too.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Taran Wanderer ties the whole series together

I think of the Chronicles of Prydain as the Lord of the Rings for middle schoolers. And I don’t mean that as an insult but as serious praise. Both are heroic fantasies in a functional low-magic setting where there’s high magic in the wings. And both have ‘normal’ folks on the frontline against a greater scope evil.

However, the Chronicles of Prydain are much shorter and more accessible. Basically, they’re easier to read :P

One of the great strengths of the Chronicles is character development. In addition to fighting against the evil that is Arawn, the books are the story of Taran growing from a young idiot to a sadder, wiser adult. And part of the reason when that works is because Lloyd Alexander takes his time. It’s a gradual coming of age story.

It really doesn’t get kicked into high gear until the fourth book, Taran Wanderer. It’s doesn’t fit the structure of the other four books, being episodic as opposed to revolving around one event. However, as distinct as each episode is, they definitely build on each other.

We start off with a fairly jolly adventure with King Smoit (My fantasy casting for him is BRIAN BLESSED) We then have a sword and sorcery adventure against the evil sorcerer Morda. Next is Taran’s heartbreaking experiences in Craddoc’s valley. Finally, Taran ends up in the Free Commots, where he gets some experience in smithing and  weaving and pottery.

In other words, the action and adventure, including one of the more high fantasy sequences in the whole series, is at the front of the book and the mundane world of growing up is at the back. It works because Alexander eases us into it and it’s a process that takes Taran months to live through.

Taran Wanderer is the book which really pushes the Chronicles to the next level in my arrogant opinion. Because it takes the subtext of coming of age and makes it the text without being didactic. (Okay, too didactic)

I sometimes wonder if the Chronicles of Prydain has been left behind in the sands of time. (Probably not since they’re still in print) If they are, I blame the terrible 1985 movie. But they are really good, particularly when you’re in middle school.

Monday, September 9, 2019

You know, the InBestigators is jolly good fun

Our son recently discovered the children’s show The InBestigators on Netflix. Frankly, his parents might be getting more out of it than he is. 

Imagine if Encyclopedia Brown If it was a comedy and Australian and possibly directed by Christopher Guest. Four fifth-grade kids solve problems around their school and neighborhood with frequent cuts of them narrating the events as a vlog.

The show embraces the mockumentory format a lot more than I was expecting. We watch the kids usually doing something else (like failing at origami or not repairing a printer) while they describe the latest case to the camera. Instead of just being an occasional confession cam, the vlog is a subplot.

Each of the detectives has a distinct and quirky personality. Ezra is earnest and obsessed with science. Ava is hyper and super social to a silly degree. Sporty Kyle has a heart as big as a hot air balloon and his brain is about as empty as one well. Maudie, who is the one who actually does the detective work, is also withdrawn and socially awkward. It’s not the best child acting I’ve ever seen but it’s several cuts above very nice young men and women doing their best.

The writing is beautifully, wonderfully snarky. I don’t think our five-year-old gets half of the jokes. I love it when a children’s series includes bonuses for the parents but does so by being witty instead of ‘hidden’ raunchy. The show is actually funny.

As wacky as the show is, there are some surprisingly serious topics discussed. In addition to cases about cheating in class or vandalism, the show delves into parents getting divorced and bullying and losing a parent. And the InBestigators doesn’t give pat, easy answers to those subjects.

The InBestigators isn’t our new favorite show but it is funny and discusses things kids need to deal with in a non-preachy way. Our family is glad we found it and another season or two would be nice.

My September RinCon time

Saturday was the last RinCon fundraiser. I’d missed the ones in July and August so I wanted to make sure that I got this one in. I was there for four, five hours and every game I played was new to me.

I started off with Wingspan, which I’ve been wanting to try because I quite like Tussie Mussie. And the promise of Elizabeth Hargrave’s earlier design did not disappoint. Wingspan is the better game of her so-far two and there’s a lot more game. You build up a tableau of birds but you get fewer actions every round,

While Wingspan wasn’t billed to me as an engine builder, that’s what it really made me think of. There are enough random elements, particularly the bird food dice tower, that made me wonder if the random elements could be too swingy but I really enjoyed the game. I definitely want to play it again.

The heaviest game I played was Heaven & Ale, which is a game about Medieval beer brewing. It was almost insistently counter-intuitive. You don’t build up points but various supplies that get crunched into a simple formula to create points at the end of the game. It was a very interesting process but I’m not sure if the game was fun or if trying to parse the system was fun. Heaven & Ale is a game where I know it’s clever but clever can fool you into thinking clever is good.

The last and simplest game I learned was Reef, which has absolutely nothing to do Reef Encounter. It is really an abstract themed around building a coral reef with chunky, stackable pieces. You either draw a card or play a cards. Cards let you place two of those chunky pieces and score points if you match a pattern on the card. It was jolly good fun and I can see it as a game my family would enjoy.

Sometimes, I end up playing lots of little games. This was more playing a few middle-sized games and it worked out well.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Thanks for so much Doctor Who fun, Terrance Dicks

On August 29, 2019, Terrance Dicks passed away. He wasn’t a household name for a lot of folks but his work had a big impact on me. And, okay, he was kind of a household name in my childhood house.

While he did a lot of work writing and editing for television, Terrance Dicks was significant for me because he did a lot of work on Doctor Who. Between editing scripts and writing some too, he was part of the creative team from the Patrick Troughton era through Peter Davidson’s time. His scripts included co-writing The War Games and writing Robot, The Brain of Morbius and The Five Doctors among others.

So, some fairly significant stories.

However, where he really hit me was was all the novelizations he wrote. Back in the 80s, my access to the actual show was whatever re-runs PBS showed. The skinny little Target novelizations were a big part of my formative Doctor Who experience. Terrance Dicks wrote dozens of them. I later learned he got a lot of the original script writers to write novelizations as well.

Now, I have to admit, we aren’t talking about high art here. Most of Dicks’ own novelizations were practically just the scripts. And there is a big difference between reading what Tom Baker said and watching him chew the scenery with gusto. But, by golly, it let me get into Doctor Who in a way I never could have otherwise.

Thank you, Terrance Dicks.

My August PnP

August has gone by so quickly that I find myself already behind now that we’re in September :D Still, I did do some Print and Play crafting during August and here’s what I made:

Tempus Imperium
Catan Coop

Eventually, I am going to miss my goal of making a ‘big’ project each month but I haven’t yet. I’m quite happy to have finally made a copy of Bali, which was my big project for August. The fact that I’m pretty sure it’s been out of print for decades doesn’t bode super well but I think it will prove worth at least making a home made copy.

Tempus Imperium and Catan Coop both just involved laminating a single page. Still, I am quite curious about them both. Tempus Imperium will be the first time I’ve tried a Roll and Write where you replace dice with the date and time. I don’t know how well that will work but I think it’s something worth looking at. Catan Coop is something I’d never heard of (not a great sign) so I’m curious to see if it’s any good. Having a version of Catan (even a simplified one and a cooperative one) that I can carry anywhere would be nifty.

September looks to be another busy month but I’m hoping to crank out at least one ‘big’ project if nothing else.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Three Men in a classic about nothing

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome is one of those books that I think everyone should read. It’s a classic that somehow doesn’t really say anything at all but it’s such a charming nothing.

Allegedly, Jerome was planning on writing a travelogue that described a boating trip on the Thames that he and two of his friends made. However, the humor element took over and a fictional dog got added to the mix and that led to the book we have today.

The book is still kind of about that boating trip. Indeed, the trip is described well enough that you can recreate the trip today, which many people do. But most of the book is the characters, particularly the narrater  going on long, rambling asides that are often hysterical. Jerome describing his Uncle Podger trying to hang a picture is one of the most perfect slapstick bits imaginable.

There are some odd shifts in tone. The bit where the narrater begins imagining King John signing the Magna Carta comes out of left field and always makes me wonder if I missed something. And the description of a suicide victim they come across is a drastic shift in tone unlike anything else in the book.

However, for the most part, the book is a leisurely journey that basically goes nowhere but its a relaxing, fun trip. The tone is so conversational that it feels less like a book and much more like a monologue and not in an annoying way :D

I was shocked after reading the book for the first time to learn that it was written in 1889. That’s at least thirty years older than I expected. The book is so candid and witty that it feels more modern. Indeed, while I have absolutely nothing to back this thought up, I think of it as one of the first modern British comedies.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Fleeting memories of the Book of Catan

In my memory down memory lane, I came across a memory I haven’t thought about in a long time. Die Siedler von Catan: Das Buch zum Spielen. It’s been well over a decade since I last saw what might have been the only copy I’d ever seen.

Das Buch, as it was called at the table, is a collection of scenarios for Catan. There are fifteen different rule sets in the book that tweak Catan, as well as the components in order to implement them. It’s basically a huge set of expansions. I’m also pretty sure that it was only ever published in German, although translations were available. (I think Mayfair provided one and I think that’s the one we used)

Sadly, I don’t remember Das Buch that well. It was a couple different lifetimes ago. I know that I played three different scenarios but the Great Race one is the only one I remember. Which I might have won and definitely thought was fun.

Now that I remember that Das Buch actually exists, I really want to go and take a look at it. It feels like it could be great or possibly just great for its day. Some games, like Memoir 44, thrive on having variants and scenarios. And Sid Sackson knows, Catan has had a lot of them, although I don’t know if I’d say all of them have thrived for me.

I know there are English translations floating around the internet. Boardgame Geek itself has a couple. So I can at least read the scenarios, even if actually playing them might be tricky. Could be amazing discoveries. Could be just interesting historical footnotes.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

My first expansions of Catan

While I am rambling down memory lane about expansions (I promise I won’t do this too much), I find myself thinking about Catan. While Carcassonne was where I really explored expansions, Catan was another space I discovered expansions early on.

At the time, as far as my group was aware, there were three expansions: the five to six player extension, Seafarers and Cities and Knights. There’s quite a bit more now but that’s what we knew about. And, as time has gone on, my opinion about each one has basically reversed itself.

I used to think of the Five to Six Player extension as the most essential one to get. But I now think that adding more players just makes the game drag. There are much better games to play if you have six players.

I originally thought of Seafarers as the weakest expansion. I mean, it added ships and gold tiles. It didn’t really add anything new that I could see. Well, I was dumb because it adds versatility and variety to the game while still being true to the core system. (I have been told it was supposed to be part of the original game) A very important idea in the game (at least to my mind) is the modular board and Seafarers really explores the mechanic.

Cities and Knights. Man, Cities and Knights. That was a game changer in so many ways. Cities and Knights changed Catan so much it was like a different game. It added at least another level of the economy and infrastructure. It added a whole new form of conflict.

At least one friend of mine said that you don’t want to play any other kind of Catan after you first play Cities and Knights. Then you don’t want to play it again after the fifth play :D Cities and Knights added complexity but it felt like it didn’t add depth, at least compared to the complexity it added. I will say this for Cities and Knights, it did a good job of adding  theme.

It didn’t take my group long to decide that we just liked four-player vanilla Catan. And, while we live now in different parts of the country, I can safely say that we all still really like Catan. It was a binding experience and the expansions were a part of that.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

How deep can a dry erase game be?

One of my fantasy goals is finding a dry erase game that has the heft of a game that, you know, has components. Basically, the idea of playing a heavy game while sitting in an airplane. And, yes, we already have that and it’s called use a tablet, silly. Which we have done, in fact.

Still, the idea of going low tech is appealing. There’s the ‘look ma, no batteries’ factor, of course. However, actually doing something with real stuff with your hands adds a visceral level to a game.

A few years back, I checked out a game called Akua that looked like the ideal I was looking for. It was a perfect information game that was just a board then add different colored markers. So, mechanically, it is the kind of game you can play on a Greyhound bus. Which was a really cool idea to me, even though I haven’t been on a Greyhound in a dog’s age.

The problem was that Akua was intricate to the point of being convoluted. It didn’t flow. I am not saying I’ve completely given up on it but it’s got issues.

Basically, I’m asking for the unreasonable :D The game I want needs to be simple enough that it can work within the medium but deep enough to be meaty and satisfying.

Well, I’m going to craft a couple games that I think will scratch a similar itch.

One is Tempus Imperium, which I understand to be the prototype of the Tempus Quest series. It’s a Roll and Write but you use the time and date instead of dice. I’m quite curious to see how it turns out and I might check out the Tempus Quest series if I like it. It’s infrastructure building with a random setup based on when you’re playing it. No dice required, just a watch.

At the same time, it’s a solitaire so it kind of fails one of basic my needs. But the idea, if it works, seems like a good building block.

The other game I’m looking at is a Catan variant called Catan Coop. It’s an ink friendly Roll and Write where you’re working together to each get seven points before the bandit destroys too many hexes, which the bandit can do in this variant. You keep track of resources on a table on the same sheet of paper as the map. You do need dice and a pawn for the bandit. Beyond that, everything is either drawn or notated on the one page. 

It does lose some points in that you do need dice and some sort of pawn. But I suppose that a metal clipboard and a magnet for the pawn plus some sort of tiny dice tray could make it work for the mythological Greyhound that I’ll never get on.

Still, for a stupidly portable form of Catan, it’s worth my looking into. Print the board with the table one side, the rules on the other, and laminate it. I can stick that in my bag where it will take up no space and play it anywhere. This is Catan for a backpacking trip.

If it’s any good, of course. I mean, it doesn’t have development cards which is a major loss but understandable to simplify the game.

As I’ve already mentioned, the idea of a travel dry erase heavier game is unnecessary. Honestly, tablets make more sense. But it’s fun to think about.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Lord Dunsany gets in your brain

At least once a year, I find myself reading the early works of Lord Dunsany. (Because those are the ones that are public domain and I can’t seem to find any version of his later stuff online or even affordably in print. Seriously, who is sitting on the rights to the Jorkens stories!?)

One of the side effects of reading early Dunsany is the urge to write like he did. Ursula K. Le Guin even referred him as “the First Terrible Fate That Befalleth Unwary Beginners in Fantasy" and boy was she right. It even happened to Tolkien and Lovecraft. Neil Gaiman may have never recovered :D

(Just joking, Mr Gaiman, sir. You mastered Lord Dunsany’s tropes to tell your own stories)

And it happens to me every time.

‘In the black halls of the Fortress Inconsolable walks the almost forgotten god T’rtl Wx. All know that he is truly a god but none can recall him what nature of godhood was given to him. Even in the moldering library of Bubblbth, which lies on the far end of the catacombs of the decadent city of Rhode Hows, the oldest and most faded of scrolls mention his name but not his nature.

‘Of all the wizened sages and plucky nimble-fingers who dare to enter  the Fortress Inconsolable to seek out T’rtl Wx and discover the truth of his nature, none have yet to return. For the dark halls were built without a floor plan and every bathroom is undiscoverable.

‘And eternally does T’rtl Wx walks, forever waiting for an honestly good cup of tea for Oolong will never suffice for him.’

Seriously, Dunsany rewires your brain.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Yahtzee, Ducks, and Dice

When I ‘make’ a copy of a Roll and Write game, I like to either laminate it or put it in a plastic binder sleeve. Then I can just use a dry erase marker and play that copy over and over.

The down side of that approach is dry erase markers tend to be smudgy. Which is fine for doing things like checking off boxes but it’s a pain for games that require more finesse. Games that require me to write little numbers or letters are frustrating. (Six Sided Stout, as an example)

So, from that perspective, Ducks in the Pond from the 2019 Roll and Write Contest is perfect. It’s pretty much nothing but checking boxes. Which, quite frankly, is why it was one of the first games from the contest I tried out. I didn’t even bother printing it out, I just drew the boxes and put that paper in a sleeve.

Ducks in the Pond is a game about being a bird spotter who specializes in ducks. Over the course of six days, you try and spot as many ducks as you can, resting on the seventh day because counting ducks is hard work!

Okay. Brutal honesty time. The theme allows for a design that I think is quite visually nice but doesn’t really have anything to do with the mechanics. Mechanically, the game is a Yahtzee variant. Not that I have any problems with that. Yahtzee is an okay game in and of itself and shines as a really good starting point for other, usually better games.

To get points, you fill out two rows of dice combinations. One is triples and the other one is other stuff, like full houses. Unlike Yahtzee, you don’t automatically get rerolls. Instead, you get some limited dice manipulation. You can pay a die to do something to another die. A one lets you adjust another die up or down a pip. Three let’s you reroll. Two dice can be a wild. And you can pay a six for the next day to be sunny.

Okay, this is actually the most interesting part of Ducks in the Pond for me. You get six dice on day one. Every subsequent day, you get one less die with only one die on day six. But paying a six lets you get six dice the next turn. Which is kind of a huge deal.

I’m not sure what to think of Ducks in the Pond. Frankly, it’s more luck-based than Yahtzee. After all, you have to use dice to get any rerolls and not being able to a six to get six dice in your next turn can be catastrophic. 

On the other hand, I have had fun with it. You are so strapped for resources, each round is a puzzle to figure out how to get the most out of a roll. And it’s so quick that the luck factor doesn’t bug me. It’s good for one more time. 

On the third hand, there are a lot of quick little dice games out there in the land of free PnPs. There’s nothing in Ducks in the Pond to make it stand out in the crowd. It’s just another tree in the forest.

Eh, Ducks in the Pond free to download and doesn’t require any construction. I’ve enjoyed it enough I’ll make a nice copy at some point. If you think you’d like it, check it out.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

More blathering about expansions

I used to have a love-hate relationship with expansions. Now I have a love-hate-meh relationship with expansions.

Don’t get me wrong. Expansions can breath new life and expand the breadth of a game. That can be a good thing. But they can also bloat a game or just make it different, not better or more interesting.

Ignoring all the supplements and expansions that I ran into with D&D, my first poster child for expansions was Carcassonne which happens to be an example of the good and the bad of expansions. The first two expansions, Inns and Cathedrals and Traders and Builders, are great expansions that add a lot of interesting choices to the game. But things slowed down for my group with Princess and Dragon, as well as the Tower. By the time we hit the Catapult, we were expanded out.

And there were folks who wanted to always play with every expansion they had. That led to games that were literally three times as long as the vanilla game. And you had so many different rules to keep track of. I remember coming to really hate the King and Scout expansion during one of those games.

In the end, I actually got rid of the base game and all the expansions as well as some of the spinoffs. The only Carcassonne I kept was Hunters and Gatherers, along with The Castle. And over the course of many years, that’s all I’ve ever needed.

And that’s the crux of the matter. Expansions are only worth it if you are going to play the game enough to get the intellectual and monetary value out of them. And that’s why I’ve become meh to them on a whole. I have found I can get a lot of play out of a game before I need them.

(And if the argument is that the expansion fixes a game? Oh, that infuriates me. I heard that for both Thunderstone and Pillars of the Earth. I don’t want to buy a broken game and then spend more money to fix it. I don’t want to buy or play a broken game period. If it’s broken out of the gate, then it should have been fixed before it was printed.)

When it’s actually necessary and actually good, an expansion is great. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Why Project Shrinko is so nifty

Right now, one of the neat ideas that has been going around the Print and Play community has been Project Shrinko. For the historians who are reading this, the idea is taking a larger game and making a smaller PnP version that’s still true to the spirit of the original.

Important point. This isn’t just making a physically smaller version, like a chess set with tiny pieces. It involves having fewer components, as well as _probably_ a simpler rule set, shorter play time and fewer players. 

This is _clearly_ not a new idea. Heck, that was one of the selling points of San Juan was this very idea. That was about fifteen years ago and I am absolutely certain it wasn’t the first. 

I think there are two really useful aspects to this approach to a game. One is that the Project Shrinko versions are a way for you to try out a game and decide if you want to actually make the investment of buying the big game. Although, if you’re not into PnP, that might not work out for you :D

However, for me, I have to ask myself how much am I actually going to play a game. That’s where reason number two comes in. If I’m only going to play a game once or twice a year, making the Project Shrinko version makes a lot more sense from both a storage and money standpoint.

Frankly, I realized I was sold on this idea a while back. I don’t have either Elfenland or Tigris and Euphrates but I do own King of the Elves and Euphrates and Tigris: Clash Of Kings. (Them be the card versions of those games) Years will go by without me playing them but this way I can get a taste of classic games while minimizing my storage space. I have just enough for my needs.

A couple years ago, I heard a discussion about Kickstarter stretch goals on a Dice Tower podcast, that you could spend a lot of money to get a lot of extra stuff but it was only worth it if you actually played the game enough that you used it all. And that’s so true. Back in the day, my group got most of the Dominion expansions and it was totally worth it since we played it all the time. Other games with expansions... not so much.

So making a stripped down, smaller version of a game might actually give me all I’d end up playing anyway :D

I don’t know what l will end up making but I have a feeling that when I start planning for the fall and winter crafting, Project Shrinko will be part of my consideration.

Monday, August 12, 2019

We liked the Dora movie more than we expected

Our five-year-old was really pumped to see Dora and the Lost City of Gold so we agreed to take him. Oddly, he’s not really invested in the franchise so we were both surprised he was so interested in the movie. Although his entry was Dora: Into the City so Dora as an older kid who hangs out with other human beings is his baseline.

Short version: it was not nearly as bad as we were afraid it would be. In fact, we enjoyed it as much as our child, albeit for different reasons. It wasn’t a perfect movie but, boy, have I seen some much worse kids movies.

For us, Dora worked because it threaded the needle of acknowledging the absurdity of Dora’s world and behavior without turning it into a parody. Yeah, acting the way she does is a strange and even unnerving in real life. On the other hand, the movie celebrates that she is true to herself and ultimately a positive influence on her friends.

In other words, the movie didn’t talk down to kids and it didn’t disparage things that are important to kids.

The plot was very, very predictable with almost every plot twist foreshadowed way in advance. But that’s kind of how these movies work so that didn’t bother us since the pacing was well done. 

One element that I did find jarring was the portrayal of Swiper the Fox. For the most part, the movie was grounded in magic realism, like Indiana Jones. Magic and such are real but they are hidden. Swiper, on the other hand, was a giant, fully anthropomorphic fox completely out in the open. Not even Boots the monkey was so extreme. Still, it’s hard to knock Benicio del Toro.

By no means would I call Dora and the Lost City of Gold a perfect movie. But recycling a show aimed at preschoolers from twenty years ago into a movie was a really dubious idea. Getting a fun family movie out it was a lot more than I expected.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Crimefighters, a tiny RPG from the mists of time

I first ran across Crimefighters earlier this year (although I technically have owned it for a couple decades through Dragon Archives) And as someone who is fascinated by quirky little RPGs and odd bits of RPG history, I have no idea how I never heard of Crimefighters before.

Crimefighters was published in 1981 in Dragon Magazine issue 47. The whole thing, including an adventure and a one page history of pulp heroes, is 22 pages long. And, to the best of my very limited knowledge, that’s all that was ever published for it.

I didn’t know that complete RPGs were printed in Dragon Magazine back in the early 80s. I don’t know if there any others. I know that Dungeon Magazine had some, like Hijynx and Thunderball Rally, but that was 20 years later. Crimefighters might be unique for all I know.

The game itself revolves around pulp heroes like Doc Savage or the Shadow. And I have to say that looking over the rules, it definitely takes me back to an earlier time. It’s a fairly simple, percentile-based system. It honestly strikes me as a system you’d master after one session.

There are two bits that struck me: classes and super powers.

The game doesn’t actually have classes or alignments. Instead, you can choose to be a defender or an avenger or pragmatic. Other than role playing direction, they only affect how you get experience points. 

And you have a whopping five perfect chance of getting a super power in character creation, although you can spend experience points to try and get another roll. And they are powers like hypnosis or luck or having a commanding presence, very low key. Daredevil would be the equivalent of Superman in the universe of Crimefighters.

I have to admit, for me, Crimefighters is more of a historical oddity. The fact that it exists at all is fascinating to me. However, I don’t have any interest in actually playing it. I have quite the stack of unplayed RPGs that I’m never going to get though and Crimefighters is pretty low in that stack.

However, if someone wanted to try a game that wasn’t just old school but honest to goodness old, that’s when I’d think Crimefighters would come in handy. It’d be easy to pick up and play. Crimefighters could be a very low investment time capsule.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Very random jottings about game selection

I recently pondered what I would pack if I was going to game with a group that I had barely played with. (Hey, it could happen!) 

My small bag list ended up being Take It Easy, TransAmerica and For Sale. I could potentially make endless permutations of games like them but those were my initial, gut-level choices. They are all games with simple rule sets that are easy to teach. At the same time, they are also meaty enough to feel like a ‘real’ game and not just fluff (Your mileage may vary. I’ve met folks who consider Puerto Rico a filler but I also think they were posers) Finally, they are all games that I’ve been playing for years with a wide variety of players and people have always loved them.

You know, the next time I go to an event, that might be what I’d put in my bag. Heck, For Sale is already the game that I always make sure to pack. 

Basically, I have shifted out of the Cult of the New and gone to the Cult of the Tried and True :D

And I tell myself that I would be happy finding a group that I could get together with once a month and play For Sale or Ticket to Ride but I know I would end up ramping it up, just like I’ve done in the past. If left to my own devices and without any judgement, I end up bringing a different batch of games every time. Just I’ve done every other time :D So if I find this imaginary group, I want to avoid that.

But one designer who I find myself thinking that, if I had a regular group, that I would really want to break out is Michael Schacht. (Knizia is good too but he’s more of a lifestyle) So many Schacht staples are great games that work on a work night. 

Zooleretto, Hansa, China (I don’t have Web of Power), Paris Paris, Patrician, California, all are games that take less than an hour to play and I have consistently had fun with all of them for years. (I should look into what he’s done in the last five, ten years :P) 

What all this tells me, beyond I’d like to find a gaming group, is that here’s something to be said for games that hold up over years of play.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

My July PnP

July has come and gone, which means it’s time for me to write about what Print and Play projects I made last month.

Saloon Shootout (2019 9-Card contest)
Legacy of the Land (2019 9-Card Contest)
Under Falling Skies (2019 9-Card Contest)
Escape of the Dead (three card version)
13 Sheep
Lantern (2019 Roll and Write contest)
King of Dune

Not bad for a summer month. A handful of small projects (Indeed, I made the three-card Escape of the Dead just because I had extra space in the laminating folder when I made 13 Sheep) and one larger project, King of Dune.

While I wouldn’t pass up a copy of The King of Siam or The King is Dead, I am happy to have the King of Dune version in my collection. Having a modular version of the board is something that I really like. It adds a lot to the game.

When I decided to try and make a larger project ever month earlier in the year, I didn’t think I’d keep it up for more than a couple of months.  But I’ve managed it for six months (Sorry January) And I already have plans for August.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Haunted House: Save the Children - No effort and no choices

I stumbled upon Haunted House: Save the Children on one of my regular searched for PnP solitaire games, although it’s not actually a print and play game since it just takes a deck of traditional playing cards, a couple of dice and some way of tracking health points. No construction necessary. 

You are exploring a seriously haunted house, trying to rescue four children or die trying. That’s actually pretty much the entire theme of the game but it doesn’t need to be anymore than that.

Shuffle the deck and go through each card, one at a time. The aces are the four kids you’re trying to save. The queens are gentle spirits who will heal you. Deuces don’t do anything. Everything else is trying to kill you. The dice come in to resolve threes through tens. Roll equal or over or take some damage.

Haunted House:Save the Children commits one of the cardinal sins of game design in my worldview. There are absolutely no choices involved. You flip over a card and do whatever the rules tell you to do. 

Shockingly, this doesn’t offend me that much. That’s because the game didn’t even cost me printer ink. All I had to do was get out some game components I use so much I don’t even actually put them away.

There are a variety of variant rules. They do things like add flavor text and tables of random events and increase the odds of dying horrible. They don’t actually add any choices though :D

Years ago, I picked up a game called Adventurer: Card Game that did the exact same thing. The only difference is that it had thematic illustrations and cost money. Having to pay for the experience, that enraged me to the point that I haven’t forgotten or forgiven an otherwise completely forgettable game.

Yes, being free and construction free actually makes me not mind Haunted House.

Haunted House isn’t a game I can really recommend. If you’re looking for a free game for a mental coffee break, there are plenty of more interesting choices. However, I did have fun being able to try it out without any effort. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Escape of the Dead, better than I remembered

At a very different place in my life, I first discovered and played Escape of the Dead. At the time, I considered it a game whose chief virtues were that it was free PnP that took minimal construction skills and played out in maybe ten minutes. Now, I still think those are some of it’s strongest points but I value those things more :D

Short version: Escape of the Dead is a solitaire dice game where you are trying to fix your car before the zombies break through the walls. It uses a Stone Age-style worker placement where you assign dice to one of three zones. Four dice to spread out over killing zombies, rebuilding your barricade and fixing that darn car.

One of its biggest criticisms is that there is a degenerate strategy where you focus on killing zombies and use the bonus for killing ten zombies to fix the car, until the end where you go all in on repairing the car. And, to be honest, it’s a pretty reliable strategy. There’s still a chance you’ll lose but the odds are in your favor.

At the same time, the game itself is streamlined without any fiddlyness. Each step is easy to understand and flows into the next. And since the zombie spawn rate increases as the car gets closer to being fixed, Escape of the Dead does a good job ratcheting up the tension. In other words, the game is far from perfect but it manages to still be fun.

Over the last few years, I have played a lot more PnP solitaires, particularly short ones as parent breaks. Going to back to Escape or the Dead, I found that it does very well as a mental coffee break. Thematic and with a tense endgame, it does the trick.

When it comes to free PnP games, I freely admit that I have a different standard than I do for published products or PnP files that I’ve paid for. I do cut them more slack. While Escape of the Dead definitely has some flaws, it’s worth both printing out and playing.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

I hope Lantern is the first spark of what is to come

Lantern was the winner of the Best Game category in Boardgame Geek’s 2019 Roll and Write contest. So, of course I had to print it out and try it out. In fact, I laminated the play sheet because I figured it would see multiple play.

Lantern is, for all intents and purposes, a one-page dungeon crawl. It’s far from the first one-page dungeon crawl I’ve ever seen but it definitely has some touches I like. It’s a solitaire, which actually means I’ll play it more :D

At the start of the game, you roll six dice to create your adventurer. You assign the die to numbers to critical hit, counter attack, magic spell, constitution, and experience, as well as the special campfire area in the middle of the adventure. The first four let you manipulate the dice while experience and the campfire give you a limited way to recharge the abilities.

The sheet has been eight zones. Seven of them are encounters that require a specific combination of dice to defeat, ending in a dragon that requires six of a kind to kill. The other one is the campfire that I already mentioned.

As I mentioned before, there are a surprising number of one-page dungeon crawls out there and there’s some that I haven’t tried yet but I should. But the game that Lantern really reminds me of is Delve. Both games are just sets of encounters that you roll dice to resolve.

Delve is literally Yahtzee with dice combinations as special powers. Lantern, on the other hand, is all about dice manipulation. Of the two, I think I like Lantern better. You have both more control and more difficult choices since you can only use each manipulation a limited number of times and they are also your life points.

Not that I want to disparage Delve. It’s aged pretty well and still gives you a decent dungeon crawl experience in five, ten minutes. Not to mention that I’m pretty sure it’s been an influence on the genre and I’d be surprised if Lantern’s designer never heard of it. However, it’s biggest advantage in a comparison is a lot of extra material has been designed for it, including a scenario generator.

However, from what I’ve read, the current version of Lantern is still a work in progress. It sounds like there are plans to add restrictions and conditions to zones and possibly create whole new adventures. Which is great because I think Lantern has a lot of potential.

So, at the moment, Lantern is a fun little Roll and Write and I can see why it placed so well in the contest. But I am hoping that the best is yet to come.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Take a couple minutes to fence in some sheep

My latest foray into Roll and Write, as well as Print and Play, has been 13 Sheep, which is one of the more minimalist Roll and Write I have found. And, yes, with games like Criss Cross or 30 Rails, there is some competition for that. (Not Another One still holds the title though)

13 Sheep is played on a seven by eight grid. There are thirteen sheep which are inside squares and eight or nine bushes in the ‘lines’. You are going to be drawing fences in the grid, trying to enclose groups of sheep. However, the fence shapes you can draw are determined by a die roll, you can’t draw over bushes and you have a limited number of turns before the wolves show up and it’s all over.

Here’s how it goes. Get a sheet. If there’s more than one person playing, make sure everyone has the same sheet. Then roll the die. Each number has a three segment line shape assigned to it and you have to draw that one on your sheet. You can rotate them but you can’t flip them. And, on top of those pesky bushes, you can not cross over an already built fence or draw on a space where a line already is.

You’ve got a timer, the wolf track. You cross off a box with every roll and the first seven rolls are free. However, the last four boxes have numbers in them (6,5,4,1) If you roll that number or higher, the game immediately ends. (Why the row doesn’t just end with the four, I can’t tell you) You then score up each enclosure.  More sheep means more points. Most points wins, unless you’re playing solitaire. In which case, you are your own competition.

13 Sheep is an odd beast for me. The game is, at most, going to last ten die rolls. Maybe just seven. And the dice are going to really control what your options are. At the same time, the game doesn’t play itself. You have to actually make decisions and make the best with what that die gives you. But the die can stomp your plans into the dust and laugh at your tears.

One of the biggest virtues of the game is also its biggest drawback. It is so gosh darn short. It’s only a few minutes so it’s easy for casual play. With just one die, you can fit in a play or two while waiting for your coffee or appetizers. And you can teach it to just about anyone in that time.

But it is also so short. Seven to ten die rolls isn’t enough for luck to flatten itself out. The potential to make clever choices isn’t nearly as great as the power of the random number gods. The power of choice fights against the illusion of choice.

Still, it’s a free PnP game that doesn’t require any kind of cutting or folding. And it is so short that being thrashed by the die doesn’t sting that much. In fact, I've found it has a strong ‘one more time’ effect. So if you’re willing to go in on the game, I don’t think it’ll be a game breaker. It won’t be your new forever game but you’ll have fun with it for a bit.

One concern I had, that the game initially had just two boards, has been assuaged by the designer creating a random board generator. Which can make some weird boards but offers a lot more variety.

At the end of the day, 13 Sheep isn’t a perfect Roll and Write. Ada Lovelace or BentoBlocks do dice-based shape forming better and deeper. And luck beats planning every time. However, I am having fun with it and it might be a game that I include when I send out greeting cards.