Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Reveling in this year’s 9 Card contest

I am a print-and-play file horder. I used to be a game hoarder and this obsession takes up a _lot_ less space :P And let’s face it, some files are available for a limited time so its good to make sure I have them for the uncertain future :D

Anyway, that’s a roundabout way of saying that, now that the 2019 9 Card Print and Play Design Contest is done, I’ve downloaded all the files (even the withdrawn ones that are component complete since I’m just that kind of guy :P)

(Yes, I have already made some of the games and even given feedback but I wanted to wait until the contest was over so I’d have the most finalized version of each game)

Anyway, the contest has 97 entries, all which are free to download and make. 97. In comparison, the first 9 Card contest in 2017 had 41 entries. If there is a contest next year (and there probably will be), what is that going to be like?

That’s kind of an insane number. Even if Sturgeon’s law is in play and 90% of the games are crap, that’s nine or ten good nano-games. And that’s nothing to sneeze at. And many of the others are going to be either interesting experiments or wonderful disasters, worth it for me at least to craft nine cards and look at.

I seriously doubt I will make all of them but I like having the option. And sometimes, I like to craft for the sake of crafting and a nine-card game that I will never play is better than a bigger game that I’ll never play for that :P

I am amazed at the work of the contest moderators. This was months of work and the reason I’m afraid that there won’t be a 2020 Contest is because it’s become too overwhelming. I have no idea how they did it.

And Under Falling Skies is now top of my list for games to make and quickly try out.

Friday, May 24, 2019

My never-ending quest to understand Tintin

I recently read the Unshaved Mouse’s review of The Adventures of Tintin and that made me decide to revisit Tintin. For at least the third time.

I know that Tintin is a revolutionary comic strip/book series that is beloved in almost every corner of the globe except for my own country. But I’ve never been able to get into Tintin.

I think part of my problem is that I found out about Tintin when I also discovering comic books like Sandman or The Books of Magic. Tintin wasn’t edgy or dramatic in the same way those books were. I also found the art ‘cartoony’ and the stories strangely dense. 

(I have since realized that the comics were originally serialized so each page had to stand on its own so the density makes a lot more sense)

However, I had this ridiculously belated realization about Tintin that  seriously changed my perspective on the comic: Tintin started in 1929 and had hit its stride by the early 1930s. In comparison, Superman first appeared in 1938 and Batman in 1939.

When I look at what Tintin’s contemporaries were, Tintin is amazing. Seriously, artistically and story-telling-wise, Tintin seems decades ahead of its time. Clean, well done art. Okay, beautiful art. Surprisingly intricate storylines.

Mind you, one of Tintin’s strong points is a stumbling block at least for me. Tintin is practically a tableau rosa, both visually and personality-wise. Seriously, the guy makes cottage cheese seem spicy in comparison. Tintin will always do the right thing. He will eventually solve every problem. He will put you in the hospital if you hurt his dog. And that’s pretty much Tintin.

On paper, Tintin is practically Batman between his ability to fight and solve mysteries but he’s just so bland. And that’s kind of the point. He is a blank slate that we can project ourselves on. But he’s just not engaging to me.

(Captain Haddock, on the other hand, is great. And, if I had to make the choice, I’d rather be locked in a death trap with Tintin than Batman. I’d get out either way but Tintin would be nicer about it)

This time around, I’m starting my latest exploration of Tintin with the Cigars of the Pharaoh. (Not going anywhere near Tintin in the Congo) And while I am still not yet a fan, I can see more and more why generations of readers are. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

A Game Poem that emphasizes the Poem

Reading The Tears Devour You from the Indie Mega Mixtape, I was reminded why I read the individual games in the collections so slowly, even though I could probably read all thirty-odd of them in one sitting. It’s not just because they’d all blur together but so many of them are these tiny little emotional bullets.

So many of these tiny, short form RPGs read like exercises in group therapy. I say that a lot but I have to because it’s true. (Not that I’m recommend that you use them as a substitute for therapy. In fact, I’m adamantly against that) And The Tears Devour You is a doozy of an example of that.

It’s a game for two players and all you need is each other, some pencils and index cards. Index cards are like the duct tape for tiny indie games. You can use them for so, so much.

In this case, you use one each to write down things like hopes and dreams and wishes. Then you swap cards. The card you get, that’s your character for the game. And the rules tell you to be faithful to those ideas and to not be a jerk.

You play out four scenes: standing on a mountain, bathing on the sea, lying together, and the sky is falling. You have a secret list of the feelings: madly, truly, deeply and doomed. Secretly choose one for the scene and no repeats.

And that’s it. Four scenes and no definitive ending but you are allowed to wonder what happens next. (Some games ban that)

If nothing else, The Tears Devour You is really poetic and really rings true to the songs that inspired it.

I’m kind of glad that I that I don’t gorge these tiny games because I’d totally fail to appreciate them. The Tears Devour You is a sweet little game poem but the way you create each other’s characters is what makes me think hmmmm, this could be good.

The Tears Devour You isn’t perfect or brilliant but it has enough potential to make me really consider it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Is there anything else like Igloo Pop?

Igloo Pop might not be the weirdest game I’ve ever played or the most unique but I don’t know of another game that’s anything like it.

Okay. Stripping all the gloss off the game, you have twelve rattles with two to thirteen beads in them. You have to figure out how many beads are in them by listening to them. Flipping them over to look at the labels is cheating :P

There’s a little more to the game than that. After all, you have to competitively listen to rattles and get points in order to figure out who wins the game. But the heart of the game is figuring out how many beads are in a rattle.   

I’m pretty sure that I’ve gotten rid of my copy. Igloo Pop is such a neat idea but it’s harder in practice to get more than a ballpark idea of the number of beads. Which wouldn’t be a game breaker for me except that I could never get anyone to play the game :P

It is supposedly a children’s game but I think our son would either get distracted by the toy factor or, more likely now that he’s getting older, frustrated with it. So I don’t really regret no longer owning it, even though we’re parents now.

All that said, I still like Igloo Pop. It’s such a fun idea and if there’s anything else like it out there, I don’t know about it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Muddled impressions of Mech Capture

Mech Capture is a PnP not-quite-micro-game of trying to overwhelm enemy mechs and capture them. The game consists of two 18-Card decks and that’s it.

Here’s how I understand the game: The cards form a seven space grid that forms a hexagon with a center space. Enemy spaces are center, twelve o’clock, four o’clock, and seven o’clock. You get to use two o’clock, six and clock and ten o’clock spaces.

Short version, you play your cards to surround enemy cards. If you have the right number of  matching symbols, you capture it. If you have too many of the symbol, you destroy the card and don’t get to score it. If you manage to capture more points in enemy mech than they manage to hang onto, you win.

I’ll be honest. I’m pretty sure I’ve been playing the game right but that’s because I’ve gone through the informal Q&As on the BGG boards. The rules really need some expansion and clarification. The rules are two pages long and they could have used another page.

And I’m still not quite sure what I think about Mech Capture. When I first read the rules, I found myself hoping that I had found a solitaire Battle for Hill 218. And Mech Capture really isn’t. While board position does matter for the enemy mechs, it doesn’t for yours. By my third game, my reserve was just my hand and I just discarded cards to capture or destroy.

I’ve tried a decent number of solitaire PnP games at this point (and I’m planning on playing plenty more) and Mech Capture doesn’t quite fit into any niche for me. It’s not quite light enough for me to feel like I’m fidgeting but it doesn’t have the depth or agency to make me feel like I’m ‘gaming’.

(To put that in perspective, Elevenses for One and Palm Island do feel like gaming to me)

That said, I like how there is a real spacial element to the game, even if it is honestly limited to the enemy mech. And while the game play is really about hand management, there is a functional combat system. I don’t feel like I’m playing a war game but I do feel like I’m playing an abstract strategy game.

And I’ll be honest. The fact that the game is nothing but cards is a plus for me. It makes it much easier to sit down and play. A five-minute game that takes five minutes to set up has more to overcome than shuffling some cards.

I think further play leading me to know both decks will actually add a level of agency to the game. At the same time, luck might still overpower choices and the game feels like there should be more. Like the ideas could be recycled in a bigger and better game.

And I need to try the campaign play. I think that would really improve the game. As I’ve said, it doesn’t quite work for me as a fidget game so making it bigger might be better.

While further play might make me change my mind one way or the other, Mech Capture is a game that I’m glad that I made and is interesting to explore but not one I’d recommend.

The story of Henry Sugar really is wonderful

I have a theory about The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl. It was published in 1977 and, by then, Dahl’s children’s books had eclipsed his writing for adults. So the publishers collected seven of his earlier works that were still okay for kids and made a book out of them. 

The result is certainly eclectic. Two autobiographical pieces and a non-fiction piece that isn’t autobiographical, along with, you know, four short stories. They range the light comedy of The Hitchhiker to the straight up horror of The Swan to the gentle whimsey of the title story. And none of them have the phantasmagorical nature of his children’s books.

I first read the book when I was in my single digits. At the time, it was interesting but it felt strange because it was so different than everything else I’d ever read by the man. And, reading it as an adult... it’s still pretty strange because the stories are also pretty different than his standard fare for adults, which tended to be black comedy with nasty little twists. 

All that said, it’s a good read. The title story in particular is a fun ride because it is an engaging story and because it defies every expectation you have for Dahl, actually being a happy story.

The Girl on the Boat feels like a sinking ship

While reading The Girl on the Boat, one of Wodehouse’s early romances before he tackled comedy on a full time basis, I am reminded why I like his later straight-up comedies more.

(Make no mistake, there is romantic elements in his comedies as well. However, as I’m about to discuss, they are seen from the sidelines as opposed to the main stage)

Conflict in every form of Wodehouse (school stories, romances or comedies) seems to be centered around some form of trickery. In The Girl on the Boat, the protagonist Samuel Marlowe spends a lot of the book as a frankly manipulative scoundrel and yet we’re supposed to be behind him. Billie, the girl he’s in love with, has such ridiculous expectations that it’s hard to sympathize with her either. In some ways, they deserve each other but it’s hard to like them.

(Oddly, Jane and Eustace, the barely appearing beta couple, are more likeable because they are honest about themselves and each other. She’s controlling and over-the-top and he’s a shrinking violet but they don’t lie about it.)

On the other hand, Bertie Wooster in the Jeeves stories is endlessly using trickery and connivery and bad judgement in the name of love but he’s doing it for other people. In other words, while Bertie is constantly making a mess of things, he’s not doing it for his own selfish reasons but to help out his friends. He’s an idiot and nitwit but he has good intentions. 

And that makes all the difference. Bertie Wooster is a hopelessly incompetent hero but he is a hero. He may not be the hero we want or hopefully deserve but he’s the one we’re stuck with :P 

The problem with The Girl on the Boat is there are no heroes.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Actually playing a game in my wallet

Pretty much from the get go of my interest in board games, I have been into having some sort of ready-to-go game bag. Games like Cinq-O or Pico 2 have lived in back pack or satchel for what seems like time and memorial. And I have take to carrying small cases of micro games, both multi-player and solitaire, in pockets for the past few years.

However, I may have taken this as far as I can without tattooing a tick-tac-toe board on myself by making my wallet a functional game bag.

It started years ago with Coin-Age. I have the official copy on authentic credit card plastic and it has lived in my wallet ever since I got it via Kickstarter. But I never have much change on my person so it’s been more of a neat thing to have as opposed to a functional game. Sort of a gamer badge, so to speak.

However, when I discovered One-Minute War and promptly made a copy, I had a functional game that was one card and nothing else. Which was also small enough to fit in my wallet without being a problem.

(I really like Button Shy’s Wallet Line but 18 cards takes up to much space in my actual wallet) 

However, I have yet to have an occasion to pull out One-Minute War and say ‘Why, yes, I do have a game on me! Best of three, say what? What do you mean I read too much Wodehouse?’

So I decided that nine cards might work. So I made a trimmed down set of cards for Down and they seem to work pretty well for the wallet. Down isn’t a very good game. However, it is a solitaire game that takes about a minute to play and is played entirely with all the cards in the hand. So it’s perfect for when you’re standing around waiting.

In other words, Down will definitely get played. 

For me, having not just a fully functional game in my wallet but one that’s going to get played is breaking a barrier. In a more real way, my wallet is now a real game bag.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Cthulhu Dark is so simple there’s nothing but the horror

Lovecraft leaves a long shadow, in part because of the disturbing and disturbed creativity of his work and in part because it’s now public domain and people can just go crazy with it, pun intended.

I picked up the original, bare bones version of Cthulhu Dark a while ago and finally decided to take the five minutes to read it. It is one of the most rules light Lovecraftian RPGs I’ve seen. The mechanics take up four pages, including clarifications and design notes.

Your character consists of a name, an occupation and a sanity score that starts off at one. If you want to do something _that is within human capacity_ you roll. If your occupation can reasonably help, add a die. If you want to risk your sanity, add your sanity die. Three dice is as big as your dice pool can ever get. Unless you’re challenged, you will succeed. Your high roll will determine the level of success. One being barely succeeding and six being an amazing success.

Sanity rolls, which are required every time you see or do something that shakes your sanity, require rolling under your sanity or your sanity goes up one. Hit six and you are hopelessly insane and out of the game.

A few other observations: Trail of Cthulhu is clearly a big influence. If you’re investigating, you will always learn enough to move on to the next scene. There are no combat rules. Fight a horror and you automatically die. If you try to cast a spell or such, that’s out of the realm of human action so you just use your sanity die. You can do it but it’s a really bad idea.

Okay. I have looked at a lot of Lovecraft RPGs over the years. Call of Cthulhu is one of the big influences on my RPG life. I have also looked at a ton of rules light systems. Cthulhu Dark surprised me by hitting a lot good notes for both.

This is Lovecraft as bleak, cosmic horror. Your characters are fragile, powerless pawns facing forces that can overwhelm you by existing. Even compared to other Lovecraftian systems, you are so very weak. As mentioned, combat is ‘you die’. While sanity isn’t a spiral, the long odds are not with you. Doom is pretty much assured, hard baked into system.

If you’re going for cosmic horror, all this is a good thing. The universe is an empty place that will crumple you up like a used tissue. Embrace it! 

I understand the Cthulhu Dark has been expanded to a full book. The rules are still the same and minimalist but you get design notes, settings and adventures. At some point, I now want to take a look at that.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

How the tally list has affect my PnP

The monthly PnP tally list on BGG (https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/482943/monthly-print-n-play-tally-list-subscription-threa) has had an interesting effect on my PnP crafting.

Originally, if I saw the list, I just used to for ideas for future projects. Which, you know, I still do. There’s so much possible PnP out there that every resource is helpful.

But, when I decided to stop being anti-social and get involved, that changed my approach to PnP, at least for larger projects.

(As a lazy PnP guy, anything that’s more than two pages of components counts as a larger game. For instance, I’m planning on making two sets of the numbered Orchard so we could have a two-player games. So that turned a nine card game into thirty six cards and a larger project for me :D)

So, here’s the thing. I interpreted the list as a pledge that I would make X game on the given month. I later realized that most folks use the tally list near the end of the month to say what they actually had made.But by then, I was kind of set on having my entry be a goal for the month.

So, in order to be able to ensure that I would actually get a project done in the month I’d say was going to get it done, I started working ahead. 

I used to just print out what I was interested in. Then, after I started working ahead, I’d cut the components. Now I’m laminating them and saving the laminated sheets to trim when I’m ready to complete the project.

I used to do a mass cutting, a mass laminating and then a mass trimming. Now I’m saving at least the trimming for a little at a time :D

This makes a little more sense when you consider that I’m in PnP as much for the crafting as playing the games afterwards. Can’t lie. While I’ve played a lot of PnP games, I have also made a lot more than I have played.

I also know that while I have been crafting on a pretty regular basis for most of this year, I am going to hit some sort of slump. Summer is usually good for that. So having some projects waiting in the wings will be good for that.

So, yes, I consider this to be a good thing. It’s encouraging me to make larger projects and it’s also encouraging me to pace myself.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict exceeds the books it preceeds

In the interest of being a completist, I read the prequel to the Mysterious Benedict Society, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. Like the title flat out states, it’s the story of the childhood of the patron of the children in the series. 

Short version for those who don’t want to read the rest of this: It’s a stand-alone so you don’t have to have read the other books and it’s really the best book of the lot, at least until some more get written.

Here’s the relatively spoiler free summary. It’s the story of how Nicholas ends up at a broken down, dying orphanage and how, while having some adventures that show how clever he is, he grows from being a selfish brat to an actually good person.

Seriously, Nicholas starts off as a Brer Rabbit/Anansi archetype and develops into more of an all-loving hero kind of guy. And the book does so in a nice series of beats that does a good job pacing his character arc.

There are two things that I felt made the prequel better than the actual series. Setting/tone and the actual plot.

The main series has a Lemony Snicket Lite feel. An absurd world that has a Kafka-esque set of rules running it. But the reason that works in A Series of Unfortunate Events is because it plays that to the hilt. In The Mysterious Benedict Society, the world seems unfair and absurd but, oh, people aren’t that bad and everything works out.

The Extraordinary et al, the world is still unfair but the tone is much more realistic. And that works much better. Nicholas is a child, albeit, a brilliant one. He has to learn more about the world and people in particular. I’d rather have our son read this version of growing up.

Point number two: despite having scenes of Nicholas tricking bullies and pulling off clever schemes, the plot is really his growth as a person. The riddles and zany conspiracies of the main books are fun but this is more interesting and meaningful.

I almost didn’t read the Extraordinary et al. I enjoyed the series well enough but it wasn’t that special. However the book ended up being a nice surprise.

The long view of the Architect: it keeps getting better

About a year ago, I tried out a solitaire game called the Architect. At the time, I thought it was better than I had expected and I knew I should play it some more. Yeah, it took me a year to get back to it.

(Spoiler: it is even better than I remembered it being)

The Architect is an 18-Card tile laying game where you are creating the floor plan for a one-story home. It needs to have a central corridor and as few isolated rooms, doors opening into walls and gaping holes in outside walls as possible.

The tile-laying rules are very generous. There are columns that have to form a grid. Beyond that, you can both cover up previously placed cards and tuck under them. That gives you a lot of flexibility.

Which you need because it’s surprisingly tough to make a good layout. The rules say you should have plenty of space when you play and the rules weren’t kidding. Unlike many similar games where you end with blocky card patterns, The Architect can create some very snaky, spread-out layouts.

Going back to The Architect, I realized what really makes it tick and stand out is that every card is very different. In a lot of tile-laying games, there’s a lot of symmetry and similarity in tiles. Every card on the Architect is very distinct while still being very true to the architecture theme. I’m really impressed with how much design work had to go into this seemingly simple idea.

The variety of cards creates a lot of interesting decisions and means that the layouts really change from game to game. There’s a lot of changing challenges and replay. 

I have played a lot of micro games. I’m a lazy PnPer and they’re easy to make. And I have seen a lot of game crammed into a few components. But even by that standard, there’s a lot of game in eighteen cards here. If it was 52-cards, it would be overwhelming.

The more I have played The Architect, the more of an interesting puzzle it becomes. Eighteen cards and minimal ink, I’d recommend it to anyone who is curious.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Finding your perfect city in Sprawlopolis

I have finally tried Sprawlopolis, last year’s shining star from Button Shy games. Took me long enough and my first impression is that it lives up the the hype.

Sprawlopolis is the spiritual sequel to Circle the Wagons. In addition to being by the same design team, they are both 18-card tile laying game where the flip side of the cards are the scoring conditions. The big difference is that Sprawlopolis is a cooperative game.

Which was not a selling point for me. I love Pandemic but, as a rule, cooperatives are not my cup of tea. (Watch is our child fall in love with them and I play nothing but until he goes to college) But I think that being a cooperative actually was better for the core concept.

Okay, in Sprawlopolis, you are city planners, working together to design a city. At the start of the game, shuffle the cards and draw three. Those will be the special scoring conditions for your game and you won’t be using the map side of those cards this time.

Something that is actually quite clever is that the scoring conditions don’t just tell you what you score or lose you extra points in the game. They also each have a number on them. The three numbers on your cards add up to the target number for that particular game. You have to score at least that many points to win.

Now, I’ve just played the solitaire rules, where I have a hand of three. With two to four players, you pass the hand around. Every one has a card but the active player has three. They pass the two cards they didn’t use and draw a new one. I like that a lot. It adds a lot of interaction to the game.

Each card has four quadrants (one in each of the four different colors), as well as some roads. Placement requires that at least one quadrant must share an edge an a quadrant on the board. You can overlap but you can’t tuck your card under.

After all the cards are placed, you get points for your largest area in each of the four colors, lose points for each stretch of road and go over the special scoring cards. If you meet the target number, you win!

You know, showing someone how to play the game using examples would be a lot easier than writing all that out :D

As you already know, I like Sprawlopolis a lot. Circle the Wagons is a solid game but Sprawlopolis takes the core ideas and makes a cleaner, more streamlined game. And being a cooperative helps that. You can have more players and you create a larger tableau. You have a variable scoring target as well as variable scoring. Sprawlopolis is a puzzle with a lot of permutations. It’s a great use of eighteen cards.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

My April PnP

May has rolled in and it’s time for me to look at what I’ve made during April. Let’s see:

Black Sonata 
Criss Cross
Drakestail (2016 9-Card Contest)
Mountain River River Sun (2019 9-Card contest)
Ninja Samurai (2019 9-Card Contest)
Cotillion (2016 9-Card contest)
Mariner (2019 9-Card Contest) 
Doctor Smuglfreud’s Marvelous Machine (2018 9-Card Contest)
Living La Vie Loca (RPG)
Devil Bunny Hates the Earth * (one page)
Name of God, original (RPG)
High Score
Gold Digger (Cheapass Version)
Qwixx (laminating score sheets from the game)
Rolling America (laminating score sheets from the game)
Planet Run
Escape of the Dead * (original as one page)

I’m going to be honest. I didn’t plan on doing this much crafting in April. I went a little out of control and did some binging. Which I don’t care for since I can’t maintain that level of crafting and not get burnt out. Still, it happens.

And, to be honest, I have some games already cut and laminated for May so I just have to trim them. It’s all part of my kooky plan to keep my crafting steady and constant.

I want to note that this isn’t the first time I’ve made the first version of Name of God, with simple art and only four roles. This time, I made it double sided (four roles on side and rules on the other) and used five mm plastic to laminate it, making it as portable and durable as I could. It lives in my bag, allegedly so I always have an RPG on hand but really more like some sort of lucky charm. I have the files for the much larger second edition and I do plan on making it this year. 

I do wonder if this will be my most productive month this year.

And, as ever, I need to work on playing more of the games I’ve crafted :D