Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A one-card PnP I never heard of?

I spend a lot of time looking for and at print-and-play games. I have a particular interest in micro games since, well, I’m lazy and they’re easy to make.

So I have no idea why it took me four or five years to learn that One-Minute War, a two-player, one-card bluffing game exists :D (And, no, while I am prepared to accept a very broad and flexible argument about what is a war game (or a train game or an RPG, etc), I can not call this a war game)

The whole game consists of one card with ten foldable tabs, one row of five for each player. Each turn, you simultaneously throw one to five fingers to indicate which tab you’re using. 

One lets you bring back a dead soldier. Two beats five. Three beats two and one. Four beats one, two, three. And five beats one, three, four. 

A beaten soldier gets folded down. There is a special rule to throw zero fingers, sacrificing a soldier of your choice to win the turn. The game ends when someone runs out of soldiers/tabs or there is a stalemate or an agreement to end.

Okay. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The whole one card with ten tabs is just a cute alternative to having ten cards. That said, it makes for a super portable game and it makes it easy to play as an in-hand game, standing in line or such. So it’s a gimmick that actually has a point.

More than anything else, One-Minute War reminds me of R, a micro game that came out a few years earlier. R had eight cards with more complex powers (not that takes much) One-Minute War is simpler than R in almost every way and, let’s be honest, not as good a game.

Which really begs the question, why play One-Minute War when R is out there? Which can be a question for a lot of PnP games but feels particularly striking due to the similarities between these two games.

The first and most obvious answer is that it’s not only free to download but such an easy build that is virtually free from a component standpoint too.

And the novelty of it being one card is actually its biggest selling point. Yes, it’s cute but it also makes it ridiculously portable, as well as an In-Hand game that can be played anywhere. That’s a legit selling point. One card and you’re good to go.

One-Minute War isn’t the first game I’ve seen that’s just one card but it might be the best I’ve seen. No, there’s not a lot of competition. If you let me throw in dice or coins or such, that one card gets more interesting. And you know I’m going to end up carrying a copy everywhere.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Three-Body Problem drags me in

When my hold on The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin came up at the local library, I had absolutely no memory of reserving it or what it was about. Still, I figured I’d better read it.

And I’m glad I did. And when I learned that there were two more books, I reserved them as well.

Spoilers... spoilers... spoilers...

The book is a very slowly developing one where so much of what is actually going on not getting revealed until close to the end. The characters and the readers wander through a disturbing fog.

Which is very effective because the book turns out to be an alien invasion story and the aliens’ goal is to subvert and confuse human culture before their ships finally get here in a few centuries. Create cults and fake miracles and just obfuscate science in general.

According to Wikipedia, The Three-Body Problem is one of the most popular science fiction books in China, which happens to be where it is from. And it definitely has a different feel than most American science fiction, although I have some flashbacks to 70s new wave. The point-of-view characters are classic anti-heroes (a la Death of a Salesman) The most conventionally heroic character, cowboy cop Shi, who actually solves the conflicts, is a secondary character.

The Three-Body Problem is a fascinating, difficult to book that is also an absolute page turner. I found it engaging and off-kilter and I couldn’t put it down.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Doomed to Sequence

As I’m looking at games the next stages for our son’s gaming interests, I found myself looking again at Sequence.

Sequence is a cross between Go Moku and a deck of cards. You are trying to make two lines of five tokens on a board where every space is marked by a specific card from the deck. Yup, play a card and place a token on that spot. Two-eyed jacks are wild and one-eyed jacks let you remove an opponent’s token.

I’m going to be honest. I’m pretty meh about Sequence. Luck can play a big role. I think one of my issues is that individual cards can have very different values. Compare Sequence to Just 4 Fun Colours, a very similar game. Any given card in Just 4 Fun Colours can cover six spaces on a six by six board. In Sequence, any given card can cover two spaces on a ten by ten board.

Even by the standard of luck in games, Sequence feels swingy. And I like Cosmic Wimpout so I’m no stranger to random chance! And if someone draws more jacks, they have a huge advantage.

Buuut.... it is really easy to teach. And the swingy luck might serve as a leveler when playing with a small child. The bug might be a feature in that case. And, as weird as it seems to me, the theme playing cards might work well for some folks.

In theory, I could easily make a copy. Heck, I could laminate the board and use dry erase markers instead of tokens. However, I know that to convince most people (like small children) to play, having a ‘real’ copy will be a big deal. Of course, that shouldn’t be hard to thrift.

And maybe Sequence can lead to Go Moku.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Embrace how you always cheated at Choose Your Own Adventure

A few years ago, I stumbled across the Parsely RPG, a system designed to emulate old school interactive fiction. It’s a fun game, part party game and part RPG and part street theater. The biggest downside to it is that you can only play each scenario once per group. 

Enter Cheat Your Own Adventure. It’s a free RPG whose existence I discovered through Play By Forum. Instead of being based on old computer games like Zork, it’s inspired by the Choose Your Own Adventure game books, hence the name. But let’s be honest, it’s a pretty similar idea.

In Parsely, one player is the computer/game master. They have the map and the adventure and everyone else takes turns giving instructions. And frankly, a lot of the fun of the system is the GM imitating the artificial stupidity of those old games. And it is a lot of fun.

Cheat Your Own Adventure, on the other hand, has players turning playing the reader and everyone else gives choices. So, it’s kind of like you takes turns being the PC while everyone else is the GM.  

Mechanically, after the active player makes a decision, two dice are rolled, trying to beat or equal an increasingly high number that caps at twelve at the end of the game. 

Rolling under means game ending, over-the-top failure and death. But that doesn’t mean the end of the game. No, just like with a real Choose Your Adventure book, you can go back and make another choice, which will automatically work. (You did it too. Own up to it) Twelve rolls and you wrap things up. 

There’s actually a lot I like about this system. It has a lot of replay value and every player has a lot more agency in the story you end up telling. Every story-based game depends on the group but I think this would work with a lot of groups. It’s seriously on my list to try.

Cheat Your Own Adventure doesn’t fire Parsely for me. The GM is an artificially stupid computer is a really awesome mechanic when done well. However, I think it is a game that will be easier to play more often.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Carrying In Hand games everywhere

Okay. I said I was going to do it and I’ve done it. I made a second fidget box, my pet term for a small, extremely portable box of solitaire card games. 

They live either in my bag or on my nightstand and the games are really more for fidgeting or taking mental coffee breaks than being the focus of my gaming life. You know, except when they are :D

One of the things had has haunted me when it comes to make these little to-go libraries is size. The first set of cheap plastic boxes I picked up are too small for larger cards and are slightly convex so the cards at the bottom have to be even smaller :P This second cover box is actually a plastic case that gum came in. It is longer and wider so larger cards can fit into it but it’s more shallower so fewer cards can fit :D

But it fits my big goal. I can fit the Palm Island PnP demo into it. 

While playing more Palm Island, which I am doing, is awesome, it was two of the prototypes from the current Nine-Card PnP contest that made me decide to make an In Hand box. Which means I’ll probably be making new copies of those games in a few months when they are further developed.

9-Card Circus has to using several different actions to sort the cards, creating runs and balancing symbols. I am still trying to grok it but I feel like it’s ambitious in its design and I like that. I want In Hand games to be more than just fidgeting. Even if I decide in the end that  it doesn’t work, I’m glad that it was tried.

On the other hand, Labyrinth Runner, which creates a maze of forking paths out of nine cards in your hand, is amazing for fidgeting. It’s been a great anywhere game. I haven’t bothered trying the advanced game, just playing the light one over and over.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Sherlock Holmes is for every setting

I divide post-Doyle Sherlock Holmes into two categories. True pastiches... and everything else :P
Is the story set in late nineteenth century and has Watson and Holmes dealing with natural events and people? Then it is probably a straight pastiche. Are there elves or robots or aliens? Then it falls under everything else :D

To be fair, the line is a fairly unclear one. The Adventure of the Creeping Man from the original cannon kind of crosses the line. The Basil Rathbone movies I’ve watched seemed to be set later but are otherwise not fantastical. On the other hand, the Downey Junior ones are in the right time but have some fantastic elements. But too fantastic?

Okay. True confession time. I prefer the more fantastic stories. One of my first real introductions to Sherlock Holmes, before I had more more than a couple of the original stories, was Sherlock Holmes Through a Time and Space, edited by Isaac Asimov. 

Beyond the fact that I happen to love fantasy and science fiction, I think more fantastic pastiches are a little more forgiving. If Sherlock Holmes is a robot or a alien teddy bear or investigating a were-automobile (yes, all examples from the collection :D), you’re not expecting the stories to read like they were written by Arthur Conan Doyle.

That said, I have come to really enjoy well written legitimate pastiches. I partially blame August Derleth and his Solar Pons. Openly written out of a love for Sherlock Holmes, they aren’t perfect but they are a lot of fun and made me appreciate Derleth a lot more than I had before.

One book I stumbled upon and rather enjoyed that I have to comment on is Conned Again, Watson. It’s actually a series of math lessons but written as Sherlock Holmes stories. I found it entertaining and educational. Not brilliant and not for a serious student of math but it stuck with me!

Sherlock Holmes is at home everywhere.

My PnP plan that won’t survive two months

As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, I’m trying to take a different approach to my PnP projects in 2019. Which really comes down to just being more picky about what I make :D

But I’m also trying to pace myself better as well. Last year, a lot of my crafting took place as big binges, often followed by weeks of making nothing. Now I’m trying space things out more and have a slow but steady rate of crafting.

I’m also trying to more formally plan out larger projects. In my case, a larger project means more than two pages of components :P I’m trying to plan one larger project a month, with the goal of actually getting them done and without burning myself out.

Actually, that sort of just happened. I made Haze Islands in March and I told myself I should make Black Sonata in April. Then I asked myself, is this a thing?

Frankly, I give that part of my plan until May before it falls apart.

And I’m sure I’ll cave and have some crafting binges too.

Still, it’s healthy to try and heave a goal and moderation.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

What’s it like to not be the library?

There are many factors that determine what games you get exposed to. Not the least of which are when you were born and where you live. If you were born in 1865, there’s a lot of games that you are never going to see.

But one that I am thinking about is who you know and play with.

Because, at least in my limited experience, it’s the person who does the research and buys the actual games that ends determining the groups library and what the group ends up playing. I’m sure there are groups where everyone is that person (which must make for some interesting arguments) but I’ve usually seen a max of two in a group.  

Here’s the thing. When I’ve been in gaming groups, I’ve been the obsessive compulsive who spent hours reading Boardgame Geek and studying rules and buying too many games. I was that guy.

Actually, I have to imagine that a lot of the folks who read a blog like this are that gal or that guy.

So I wonder what it’s like to show up on any given week and have no idea what your insane friend has dug up and how well they’ll be able to teach it.

Yes, there were the regular favorites like Ticket to Ride or Puerto Rico or Dominion or Palatinus (we had our quirks) but I regularly showed up with a new treasure to explore.

The downside was I had so many treasures that we didn’t replay a lot of them :/

I am sure that I will end up in another group, probably in the next stage of our lives, and if I end up being that person again, I’ll definitely reign it in more.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

In Hand and no table needed

While I have used the term surface-free for games that can be played while holding all the parts in your hand, I’m getting the impression that the term In Hand might be the preferred one. Although In Hand might just refer specifically to cards games where you hold all the cards.

To be fair, it’s not like there’s some governing body demanding a strict etymology for board game terms. It’s really more of a organic process. 

I have to admit that I have come to like In Hand solitaire games a lot over the last year or so. I’ve come to like solitaire games and I mainly play them as parent breaks (quick little mental breaks) So a game that I don’t even need a table to play and can play waiting on the car or lying in bed is awfully handy.

Now, from what I can tell, In Hand games have been around for a long time. Apparently sailers played them back in the day of tall mast ships. Even if that isn’t true, that’s too romantic an idea for me not go ahead and believe.

Palm Island is my current gold standard for In Hand games. It feels like a ‘full’ game with resource management and developing an infrastructure. Mind you, that depth comes at enough of a time price that it doesn’t work for a quick mental coffee break. But I think it pushes the boundaries of what you can do with a deck of cards that stays in your hands, as well as being a very good game. 

And I wonder if it is inspiring other In Hand games. I feel like I’m seeing more of them over the last year. There isn’t a flood but I swear there’s more of them.

I have a tiny box of solitaire games that I keep in my bag, my fidget box. And now I’m thinking of developing another fidget box that is nothing but In Hand games. I’ve seen more and more variety. And they work well for games on the go. 

For me, they are often a form of fidgeting.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Laika is a game designed to break your heart

I think that short form RPGs need of be about one idea. The shorter the form, the more focused and concentrated they need to be. If an RPG takes less than two hours, it has to be a punch in between the eyes.

Which is why it seems like so many of them seem to be so darn tragic. Let’s be honest, it’s easier to make folks cry than to make them laugh. Comedy is harder than tragedy.

Which brings me to Laika, an RPG about saying good bye to something forever and is designed for one player. 

When you deal with more indie, more experimental RPHs, they sometimes blur the line between an RPH and a board game or story telling or a drama exercise. In the case of Laika, it blurs the line with ritual. To be fair, it’s not the first time I’ve seen that happen. (Brave Sparrow comes to mind)

The game is just a few pages long and free to download so I won’t go  into detail about the game. In a sentence, you go through several steps to make something go away that you will never get back.

That can be a very powerful experience to put yourself through. Possibly unnecessarily traumatic but powerful. 

But what made Laika absolutely brutal for me was that invoked Laika, the first dog in space. Who the Russians sent up with no plan or intention of bringing back. By putting a face and a true story to the process, it really made it visceral.

Laika skates the line between RPG and something else. Its not something that I can see myself playing more than a couple times and not in a row. But I think it succeeds in its goal of creating a sense of loss.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Hey, I went thrifting!

I’m not normally a thrifter. Not because I object to thrifting but I’m very conscious of storage space and I have become a lot more picky about what I buy in general. However, this February saw a lot more thrifting than usual.

Eh, the neighborhood Goodwill had some good stuff.

The actual big item for me was finding a copy of Airlines Europe. Considering I’m used to seeing battered copies of Checkers and Trivial Pursuit, that was quite a surprise. And it’s a game I’ve had my eye on since it came out. It may well be the highlight of my entire year of thrifting.

However, we ended up finding a lot of things with our five-year-old in mind as well. We picked up a sadly incomplete copy of Pictureka which we knew that he would have fun with. We also picked up a spare copy of Mexican Train Dominoes because, if you’ve ever played dominoes with a preschooler, you know you end up looking for dominoes.

The highlight for the kid games was finding two Ravensburger titles, Mystery Garden and Rivers, Roads & Rails. Both of which turned out to be complete, which is always nice and not something I can count on when it comes to thrifting. (I’m still bummed about getting a copy of Warchon that had none of the pieces. Which I will someday make homemade copies, I swear)

Neither of those games are ones I’d pull out with adults or even older kids. However, our son has already shown a lot of interest in them and I think they will earn their keep.

I doubt I’ll have another month as good for thrifting but you just need one good month to get some good games.

Stern and Byrne, nine amazing issues of Captain America

I recently decided to read a hefty chunk of Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America. But when I read about the different eras of Captain America, I discovered Roger Stern and John Byrne (both comic legends) had had a run from 1980 to 1981.

How did I not know about this? 

Well, to be fair, I was just really getting into comic books when they came out. And the two of them only worked on the series for nine issues, 247 to 255, which is barely any time at all. 

However, the fact that those nine issues are still remembered and revered says something.

So I sat down and I read those nine issues from a couple generations ago. And they are amazing. 

One of my complaints about Mark Gruenwald’s lengthy run is that Captain America doesn’t feel like a larger than life character, like a super hero. Not so in these nine issues. Captain America effortlessly breaks the laws of physics with his acrobatics and his shield slinging. And with him fighting foes like Dragon Man and Mr Hyde and Baron Blood, his feats are downright mythic. 

Reading them back to back, it’s hard not to compare Brubaker with Stern/Byrne. Brubaker tells the deeper, richer story with Captain America the soldier, the spy. Stern and Byrne tell the story of Captain America the Superhero. Brubaker is the better literature. Stern and Byrne are the better comic book.

My February PnP

After not doing very much in January, February saw an uptick last in my PnP crafting. I knew I’d have one but I figured it would wait a couple more months. I made Jurassico (from the 2017 GenCan’t R&W contest), Tussie-Mussie (color), Six Sons of the Sultan (color), Sprawlopolis (color), Oh My Lair, Labyrinth Runner (beta from 2019 Nine Card Contest), 9-Card Circus (beta from 2019 Nine Card Contest) and Circle the Wagon (color). And I made one cut to make Jurassico so it was more than just laminating a page :D

Making the color versions of Tussie-Mussie, Sprawlopolis and Circle the Wagons were the highlights of PnP month. I had already made black and white versions of them but color versions is going to make them easier to play and easier to get other folks to play :P

I actually printed off Six Sons of the Sultan two years ago and I’m honestly not sure when I’ll get to play it. But I want to start working through some of my backlog of games that only got to the printing stage of crafting.

I wasn’t planning on crafting anything from this year’s Nine Card PnP contest until it was done since I knew I wasn’t going to be able to give play testing feedback so I might as well download and print the most final versions of the games. But I really wanted to try the two ‘In Hand’ games I saw.

As I keep saying, I want to be more deliberate and use more judgement in what PnP projects I tackle in 2019. However, sometimes, I’m still going to be impulsive and do some binge crafting.