Thursday, February 28, 2019

Checking in on PnP contests

My favorite Print and Play contest is the nine-card contest. 

A big part of that is because it is the lazy crafter’s dream come true. One page of cards and maybe some dice or tokens and I’m done. Big projects are awesome but it’s also satisfying to be able to make a finished product when I’m crunched for time.

And every year, I feel like the entries get more interesting. I am honestly expecting to see a Kickstarter for last year’s winner, Orchard.

I’m waiting until the contest is really over before I start, well, downloading everything :D I wish I reliably had the time to play test during the contest but life doesn’t work that way :’(

But I couldn’t help but still skim through entries. Two things struck me. There are legacy games (?!) and at least a couple ‘in hand’ games.

Going back to the rules, I see that legacy games have been added as a special category, allowing for additional components like pens or scissors as long as it’s a legacy game. Okay, I got to admit that marking up and cutting homemade components that I can easily make again makes a legacy game a lot more appealing :D

As for ‘in hand’ games, games where the cards stay in your hands the whole time, I don’t remember any being made in previous nine card contests. Eighteen card contests and solitaire contests (which include Down, which is nine cards :D), yes, but not this particular contest. And while in hand games have been around for at least over a century, I wonder if Palm Island has increased interest in them.

I’ve had a slow PnP year so far but this contest (and other contests, like the Roll and Write contest) will increase my crafting.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Progress in not buying games

For that last few years, I’ve set a strict limit on how many games I would buy. In fact, my goal for 2017 was to not buy any games at all. But I haven’t set a limit or made a pledge for 2019. 

It’s not because I’m giving myself permission to get as many games as I want. No, it’s because I’ve gotten good enough at not buying games that I don’t need any help :D

Slightly more seriously, it definitely takes time and effort to change your habits and the way you think. Going from compulsively buying games to not buying any means rewiring the way you think.

I actually didn’t think about limiting my purchases in 2019. I realized it was almost March and that not buying games was just a given. I just assumed that I was going to keep any purchases to a minimum without even actually thinking about it. That’s progress.

I do make some thrift purchases, which does count really. They take up shelf space and cost money and add to the too many games and not enough time equation. For the most part, though, I thrift kids games.

(And Print and Play has filled in some of focus too :P)

I’m sure that, at some point, I will have some kind of relapse.o Hopefully not for a while and not too bad. But if and when I do, I know that I get back in the groove.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Can one page capture all the Lasers and Feelings of Star Trek?

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at RPGs, let alone played one. However, I recently took a third and longer look at Lasers and Feelings, a one-page game named after a Double Clicks song (We’ve actually heard them in concert) and blatantly inspired by the original Star Trek. In fact, the mechanics are entirely based around choosing to either play a Spock or a Kirk.

Okay. Here’s the core mechanic. The thing fits on one page so you know only one mechanic can fit in. Other than some descriptors to justify situational bonuses, your character is defined by a number from two to five. There are two kinds of actions in the game. Laser actions, where are all logic and left brain and reason, where you want to roll under your number. Feelings actions, which are all squishy and passion, you want to roll over. So, pick a high number if you want to be Spock and a low number if you want to play Kirk.

The clever bit, because there always has to be a clever bit, is if you hit your number exactly, you get laser feelings and get to ask the GM a question. And you can then redo your action based on that new knowledge.

The first thing that went through my mind when I was reassessing Lasers and Feelings was ‘Did I just read a one-page Trollbabe back?’ The answer was clearly no, since Lasers and Feelings doesn’t break the narrative structure the way Trollbabe does. However, the one number stat and how it’s used definitely reminded me of Trollbabe.

Okay. I’m pretty sure that the mechanics would hold up under play. Lord knows, I’ve played with games with even less structure and focus. But that doesn’t answer the bigger question: would it be any fun?

One of the big questions I ask when I look at an RPG is what kind of stories is it going to let me tell? If all I get is some tables and a conflict resolution system, I’m not interested. 

Lasers and Feelings gives you a paragraph of background and some tables to pregenerate a sentence to describe an adventure for the GM. Which is still more than some systems I’ve seen and what do you expect from one page?

But here’s where I wonder. The game is pretty obviously inspired by Star Trek, the original series in particular. So you go in with a setting and a style of stories already in mind. Is that enough to invest you in the game and make the stories work?

I don’t know and I am pretty curious about that. Since Kirk and Spock never die (except in the movies), there lack of a death mechanic seems appropriate. But they do sometimes fail. Could the shift to more drama focus actually make this game really feel like Star Trek?

I also learned that Lasers and Feelings inspired what seems to be a hundred hacks, exploring different themes. I will definitely have to take a look at those.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Sometimes, the rose colored glasses lie

In the earliest days of my becoming a dedicated board gamer, before I had discovered Boardgame Geek, there was a time when my entire game collection could fit into a backpack.

I remember finding a wicker basket of them at a comic book store in Ohio in 1998 and being completely bewildered. If I had bought a copy of Kill Doctor as I’d been tempted to, it might had gotten me into board games years earlier.

(The reality is, without an actual group, I’d have bought it, read the rules and thought about playing it. Having people to play with is more important, particularly when you are starting out)

Back in in those days, my backpack of games consisted of a few card games from Looney Lab, some of Cheapass’s Hip Pocket line and, the prize of my collection back then, the travel version of Settlers of Catan. At the time, I wondered why I would ever need the full-size version. (Less eye strain and the ability to use expansions?)

Okay, here’s the point I’m wandering to. There can be times when I romanticize that time. You know, I was just discovering games and I didn’t have to manage a closet full of games. 

But that was before I had a regular group to game with. That was before I learned about resources like boardgame geek. It was before I started exploring ordering games online. And I had discovered BSW but about all I was playing on it was TransAmerica and Can’t Stop. I had really explored how to game online.

In other words, I don’t have to run the rose colored glasses much to realize that those weren’t the good old games. They were just the start.

No, the good old times didn’t really start until I had all those other experiences :D

Friday, February 15, 2019

Sometimes, I get a lot out of ‘free’

I recently asked myself what we are willing to settle for when it comes to ‘free’ print and play. However, now I am pondering the other side of that question. What are we able to get that we wouldn’t get otherwise? 

Every board game is an investment. At the absolute very least, they are an investment in time. However, a fundamental question that just about all of us have to ask is how much money are we willing to spend on a game and how much time and enjoyment does it take to feel like we got a return on our investment? 

Here’s one of my dirty little PnP secrets: at least when it comes to Roll and Write games or Micro Games, I don’t have a problem getting only a few plays out of it. If I pay sixty or a hundred bucks for a game, I want it to to be an amazing experience that will see hours of play. But a game that is two or three sheets of components and took me maybe a half hour at most to make? That doesn’t have to be the game of a lifetime.

And because of that, I have gotten to play games otherwise wouldn’t have played or possibly even known about. Sometimes, I’ve discovered genuinely good games that I have ended up playing a lot. Sometimes I have discovered games that were interesting experiments in game design. And sometimes I’ve played that games that were meh or even bad but I didn’t mind that much.

Those experiences probably make up at least a quarter of the last couple years of this blog :D

So what did Ed Brubaker do to Captain America?

I got out of regularly reading comic books sometime in the 90s. I didn’t give up on the medium. It just become too much of a money and space issue to get monthly issues. (Graphic novels are awesome, though) So it often takes me years to read a storyline. Which is why only now have I actually read Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America.

First confession, I wasn’t much of a Captain America fan. I actually read most of Mark Gruenwald’s run, which I would describe as bland but serviceable. His Steve Rogers was a Boy Scout to the point of being banal. There were some neat ideas but dull execution. His Captain America didn’t feel that... super.

Second confession, when I heard about Bucky getting brought back from the dead back in 2005 or 2006, I hated the idea. One, Bucky being dead is iconic. Two, the concept of Bucky hasn’t aged well. (Just look at how much Robin has had to change to stay great) Three, Bucky being dead is fundamental to so much of the character of Captain America. (Although dressing Rick Jones like him was just disturbing)

So, I didn’t go into Ed Brubaker and The Winter Soldier with the highest expectations, even though I know it has been described as some of greatest Captain America storylines every written. 

Short version. It was much better than I expected. It wasn’t awe inspiring the way rereading Planetary or reading Tom King’s Mister Miracle earlier this year was. But it was a phenomenal use of Captain America and completely justified bringing Bucky back from the dead.

Obvious observation: Brubaker wasn’t writing a superhero story. He was writing a noir thriller. Almost all the characters could have been wearing regular clothing and it wouldn’t have made a difference. (The Falcon really is a super hero in this story and I love him for it)

And that is a huge part of what makes the storylines work. The situations aren’t solved by punching people or even by technobabble schemes. Even as the Red Skull works on making America burn, everything is on a human level and Captain America and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and The Black Widow and Sharon Carter are just a fraction above being human. Everything is as grounded as superheroes can be without being Daredevil.

I found Brubaker’s take on a variety of characters interesting. He gave Jack Monroe a disturbing yet appropriate death. He made Doctor Faustus interesting to me for the first time. But it was his approach to Bucky Barnes that had the most impact.

Brubaker didn’t just reinvent Bucky to make him a viable character. He did it three times. He retroactively made him an assassin back in World War II. He made him  cyborg killer. Then he made him Captain America, a Captain America who explored redemption which seems like a theme worth examining.

I kept on reading for fifty issues, which surely says something. And I also ended up feeling that bringing Bucky back from the dead was a good thing. Brubaker made it work, which is amazing.

It was a fun surprise.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Very Clever Pipe Game still holds up

While it’s been years since I’ve gotten it out, The Very Clever Pipe Game was a very big deal for me when I first started down my road to becoming a dedicated gamer. Basically because it was a game I could take anywhere and teach really easily.

Hey, these are the things that can make all the difference :D

Let me give the elevator pitch. VCPG is a connection game made up of a deck of cards where players are trying to make closed groups in order to score points. There are two colors of pipes and two colors of floors. Depending on how you want to play, you are either a color of pipe or floor.

One touch I really like is the pillar rule. Each card is two squares to you can make an empty square with cards on all sides. That’s a pillar and it counts as a cap for any pipes or floors next to it.

VCPG is a very simple game. However, it’s also a very tight game. The rule set and the deck of cards are very streamlined without any fiddliness. It probably helps that I was playing the second edition, which was heavily revised. For one thing, it has less than half the number of cards. That extra revision and play testing probably helped a lot.

VCPG is also one of the few Cheapass Games from that era that doesn’t need any extra parts. These days, I have multiple tool boxes of game bits but, back then, not needing any extra bits made a big difference. All I needed was a baggy of cards and I was good to go.

All of that meant that VCPG is a very portable, very accessible game. More than that, luck of the draw creates enough variation that it’s a game that you can keep on playing over and over. For someone who wasn’t just getting his toe into board games but also learning how to learn games, that was all a big deal.

My original copy of VCPG looks like it was dropped off a building and then run over by a car. It’s has clearly seen a lot of love. These days, its niche has been taken over HUE. Mostly because I like the scoring system and it handles multi-players more simply and elegantly.

But VCPG still holds up. It has a simple job but it does it well. I’d cheerfully play it again and I know there’s stuff in it that I haven’t explored yet. I really only played it using the pipes, not the floors. That alone is a whole zone of the game I don’t know about.

The Very Clever Pipe Game was a nice thing to discover and helped lead to a much bigger world.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

How my opinion of Mapple has changed

My, what a difference seven years makes.

Seven years ago, I first discovered and wrote about Mapple. And, at the time, I was fairly disparaging. My opinion of it now is a fair bit better, thanks to having a lot more PnP experience under my belt.

Mapple is a free game, really a free family of games, from Cheapass Games. And it is a really easy build. You just have to print off one of the four boards, add coins for pieces and you’re done. The rules are even on the margins.

Every board was made for a convention and each map is actually of the city where the convention was held. Well, most of them are. Each map is broken down into areas.

Both players get a quarter, two dimes, three nickels and four pennies. One player is heads and the other one is tails. You take turns placing coins in spaces, with only one coin per space. The clever is bit is that if your opponent has a coin of lower value next to where you placed your coin, you get to flip it and make it your own. Game ends when you run out of coins and you get a point for every space you’re in. Most points wins. A full game is doing that twice so everyone gets to go first.

Okay, Mapple is a perfect information abstract. If you don’t like those at all, it won’t change your mind. If you only kind of like them, it’s a real quick one so it’s not a bad choice. In fact, I like how every game is ten turns so you know how long it’ll take from the start.

Every board has more than twenty spaces and there are four boards so Mapple has enough variety that it shouldn’t get formulaic or predictable too fast. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s solvable but you get four boards to solve.

Okay, why has my opinion of Mapple changed? I still think it’s an okay game but not a life changing game. However, in the last seven years, I have looked at and, more importantly, played a lot more PnP games.  I am now comparing it to its own pool of games. And it’s does pretty well by that standard.

When you’re actually buying a game, you want some serious replay value. You want a good return for your investment. Here’s a dirty little secret about PnP games. It’s more okay to not get a ton of play out of them, particularly ones where you just print off one page. 

And I’ve honestly gotten more play out of Mapple than I have games that I paid for. I like stones on the board abstracts. I find Mapple a relaxing little exercise. It isn’t a life-style game that I’ll play forever. But I will play it enough to make to worth my while.

[I do feel like I need to compare Mapple to Coin-Age since they are both tiny games that use coins as the central pieces. Here’s my comparison. They’re not really alike. Coin-Age uses the coin flip, creating a random element and a much more dynamic game. It plays out differently. I like the idea of Coin-Age more but, at least these days, I’m more drawn to playing Mapple because it’s more restful]

Friday, February 8, 2019

Repeating: wow, there’s a lot of games getting published

Man, I’m so old that I remember was Bohnanza was Uwe Rosenburg’s big creation. (Still an awesome game, by the way) 

And I’m cool with that. I’m not so old that I remember when Avalon Hill was the center of the universe but I have been playing board games in a dedicated way long enough to have some perspective and to have younger gamers scorn me.

My gaming focus for the past couple years has been Print and Play so when I look at Best of 2018 lists, I’m not surprised I haven’t played any of the games on them and generally really only know them by title and nothing else.

But I got to admit that not only do I not feel jealous of the folks making these lists, I feel exhausted looking at them. 

I don’t know if it’s the whole getting older thing or if the board game industry is just pumping out that many more games but being a part of the cult of the new seems like a full time job, a huge investment of time and money.

Back when I was at my most fanatical, I spent too much money on games and I was sometimes out gaming three nights a week. Which, looking back, wasn’t healthy btw. But if I somehow could get a TARDIS and use it to bring that past me to now, I think they’d still be overwhelmed. 

(You know, before going to Gallifrey or Woodstock. You know, between Skaro and Metabelis Three and Telos and such, there’s no ‘nice’ iconic Doctor Who planets)

I don’t think I’m just being a grumpy old gamer, saying ‘Hey kids, get off my lawn! I’m freezing it to turn it into a curling court!’ I think that the environment really has changed that much in the last decade or so. I also think there are some really amazing games being developed and gaming ideas being refined. It’s not that the golden age is behind us. It’s just that being buried under that much gold will collapse your rib cage and sternum.

I think the current market and environment is downright amazing. But I don’t think you can embrace it all and survive.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

My earliest memories of Worker Placement

Is it a sign that I’m old that I remember when worker placement wasn’t around?

Okay. I wasn’t into gaming when Bus came out and that’s considered to be the earliest example of what we’d end up calling worker placement. (Neat but weird game, btw) But I was firmly entrenched in board games when Caylus showed up like a grenade going off.

Confession time. I’ve never gotten into Caylus. It didn’t click for me or anyone in my circles. The fact that the cubes were bizarrely colorblind unfriendly did not help. But I do wonder what I’d think if I ended up in group that loved it.

So my real introduction to Worker Placement was Pillars of the Earth. Which was a pretty fun and accessible intro to the whole idea. For a little while, the game did very well for me and my friends.

But... the limited variety of craftsman and the order they came out became too predictable too quickly. Any game, if you play it enough, can become formulaic but Pillars of the Earth became that way faster than I’d have liked. And when I was told it could be solved by buying the expansion which cost about as much as the base game, that was the first time the idea of buying an expansion really stuck in my craw.

Stone Age ended up being the game that really won me over to the concept of Worker Placement. At the time, that felt a little weird. The whole rolling for dice to get resources made me wonder if it was really a Worker Placement game. And I have a friend who memorized all the cards and huts and became bored with the game. (But he did that not by intent but by playing it that much)

However, Stone Age was accessible and had some serious replay value. It was easy to teach and easy to get folks to play and easy to have fun with. 

There have been a lot of Worker Placement games I have enjoyed since then. Agricola and Lords of Waterdeep have been a big part of my journey. It’s a mechanic that has almost become an assumption, it seems to me.

But I personally got there by not getting into Caylus, stumbling over Pillars of the Earth and falling in love with Stone Age.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Having fun just cutting paper

When I make PnP projects, I don’t tend to make one project at a time. I make one stage at a time. 

Not counting the joyous hunt for files, my crafting tends to go in four stages. Printing off the components. Cutting out the components. Laminating the components. Finally, cutting out the components. There might be other little touches, like gluing backs to components before cutting but that’s the basics.

So I tend to do a lot of printing. Then do a lot of paper cutting. Then a lot of laminating. Finally, a lot of laminated paper cutting. 

Here’s the thing. Lately, I’ve found the paper cutting, though it takes the longest and is the most exacting, very relaxing. So I’ve been doing a lot of that. However, while it’s pretty fast and physically easiest, I find laminating the most stressful. Sometimes, the rollers accidentally folds up the sheet, spoiling it. You know, mechanical error instead of me error :D

So now I have a bunch of cards and tiles and boards waiting to be laminated :D

Oh, such a terrible problem, I know.

Truth to tell, this just hammers home the fact that I don’t just make PnP games in order to play them. (Although that is kind of the biggest reason I do it) I make them because the crafting is a fun and relaxing activity.

Honestly, I look at what I crafted last year, which includes a lot of as-of-yet-unplayed games, and I know I wouldn’t have made nearly so many of the act of making wasn’t important to me.

Mister Miracle explores real life

A good friend of mine recommended Tom King’s Mister Miracle to me, saying it was the best thing he’s read since All Star Superman or Sandman. Certainly strong praise in my eyes.

So, I read it.

I have long been a fan of Mister Miracle. He’s a great character visually and symbolically. He was designed to be an expression of freedom and individuality.

And Tom King took him to a darker place than I think I’ve ever seen the character go. I am not sure if I can honestly say that I had fun but I do think that the series had impact and power and actually had something to say.




The series starts with Scott Free, Mister Miracle, trying to commit suicide, which pretty much tells you what kind of ride you are in for. In fact, one theory is that the rest of the series is a dying hallucination, like the movie Jacob’s Ladder. From there, Scott deals with work, depression, parenthood and marriage. Work means both performing as an escape artist and fighting in a war, by the way.

The series doesn’t have a lot of big, epic, cosmic moments. Instead, it has a lot of little moments that resonate a lot more with real life than most comic book hero stories. In particular, Scott and Barda becoming parents and coping with a newborn rang true to my memories of that experience.

There’s a lot of black humor in Tom King’s Mister Miracle. The scenes where both Orion and Darkseid have a snack from vegetable trays are hysterical. But they don’t subtract from how grounded the series is. They just remind us how life sometimes is funny, even when it’s also horrible. 

The series also addresses Scott Free’s origins more seriously and more deeply than I think they ever have. I am pretty sure that Jack Kirby meant for Scott rising up from the abuse and drugs of Granny Goodness to represent the power of free will. Tom King asks ‘Okay, what kind of damage is that really going to do?’

I have now read and heard different interpretations of what the ending means. Personally, I’m going with that the decision to live a real, grounded life is at least as valid as being some kind of cosmic superhero.

I read that part of the inspiration for the series was how the political events of 2016 started giving Tom King panic attacks. I can see how that might be true and how the series is about working through that. 

Not a fun series. Maybe one of the best uses for Mister Miracle ever.

Friday, February 1, 2019

My January PnP

Yup. Monthly roll call.

This January, I made Aqueduct and Blood Rush.

You know, I had a small list of games I was planning to make and I didn’t make any of those, although I did start to make them. In fact, I’ve got at least a half dozen games at different stages of completion.

Last year, I got a lot more serious about PnP. Maybe even a little overboard. Looking at my notes, I made over a hundred different PnP games. (At some point, I’ll post a list, I swear!) And I haven’t played over half of them :D

Eh, when you first get into something, you always go a little crazy.

So I don’t mind slowing down. I learned a lot last year, not just about the actual making of games but what kind of games that will see play and I’ll like. So, 2019 will probably see fewer games made but games more judiciously chosen.