Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Looking back at Hive and Blokus

When contemplating modern abstracts, two games that were huge for me and games I’m no longer that interested in are Hive and Blokus. Both of which I consider to be poster children for “You don’t like abstracts? Try this one’

Mind you, I still think both games are top notch and, more than that, still very important. Hive continues to be held up as the game that people who hate abstracts love. Blokus has had and I’m pretty sure continues to have mainstream success. I think they’ll both be around and getting played twenty years from now.

Hive faded for me because the folks I regularly play with are meh about it and prefer other light abstracts. I’d certainly play it again and it’s not leaving my collection. And it is definitely a modern classic.

As a rule, I’m more of a fan of putting stones on a board than moving stones around the board. However, Hive does both. It isn’t the only build-the-board-as-go game but it is the best I’ve seen. Tile Chess seems to force the game to fit that idea while it feels organic and intuitive in Hive.

On the other hand, Blokus has left my collection. I do think it’s a very good design and an abstract that works brilliantly for four players, which isn’t the usual count for a perfect information abstract. However, I found meh as a two-player (at least once a game, it seemed like someone would forget which color they were on) and it’s downright dreadful as a three-player game.

To be fair, Blokus Dual and Blokus Trigon are what have replaced it. So, it’s not like I went that far away. However, Blokus Dual is so much stronger as a two-player game and Trigon is great at both four-player and three-player. To be even more fair, neither of those two games I like more would exist if it wasn’t for the original Blokus!

(Note number one: Blokus 3D started out life as Rumis and really isn’t part of the same design process. I do like Rumis quite a bit, though)

(Point number two, in case anyone is wondering about Cathedral, I’ve never been able to get into it. Which is odd since it really seems right up my alley)

While my interest in both these games has faded (although I can see Hive getting rekindled), they both were big deals for me in the past. And I think they are still big deals for abstracts and the hobby.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Thoughts on abstracts you can get in while adulting

I wanted to write about abstracts that I like since being an adult doesn’t give me the time to pursue Go. (To be fair, having hobbies other than Go also didn’t give me time to pursue Go) Games that I think would click with folks who don’t normally play abstracts. But when the list hit the double digits, I realized I was never going to come to an end.

I did notice two things about the games I was choosing. They had short playing times, really under a half an hour as a rule. Second, each move tended to be dynamic and really change the board.

As a comparison, take Checkers. Someone much smarter than me once said that a game of Checkers is slowly working your way to making one big move. I think Checkers is a brilliant game and there’s a reason it has stuck around for centuries. But I don’t enjoy it. Even more so than Chess or Go which I can break down into individual pieces, Checkers is one big picture with lots of tiny pieces that I can’t hold together in my head.

Is Checkers a good game and one with a surprising amount of depth? Yes, particularly when you actually use the the rule that if you can capture, you must capture. But it is not a game I really like or have time to understand. If I had that time, I’d spend it on Go.

In contrast, I’ll use Pentago as a counter example. As a Tic Tac Toe variant, it’s one of the simpler abstracts I enjoy and it takes probably five minutes to play. Place a stone and turn one of the quadrants. Have five stones in a row at the end of your turn and you win.

In Pentago, every move has a dramatic effect on the board, particularly seeing as how you are actually moving the board itself. The board is small enough that the patterns you form aren’t overwhelming. At the same time, there are enough options that the game isn’t a simple formula like actual Tic Tac Toe. It does make your brain work.

Pentago isn’t my favorite abstract (although I’d always be willing to play) but it is one that feels like a classic abstract while still having modern innovation. It exemplifies what I’ve found I’m looking for in an abstract. And it’s one I can get other folks to play.

I know that pure abstracts aren’t for everyone. But I think that there are games out there that are accessible and fun for a large audience. And I love Go but I don’t have the time for it. But there are abstract games that I do have time for. And there are games where those two things come together.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Adulting made Go to hard for me :’(

Go was a huge milestone for me. Not only is it one of the most genuinely brilliant games ever created and incredible training for your brain, one of my major gaming groups started out as a Go group before becoming a more general gaming group. (My decision to bring Blokus Trigon so we could have a three-player game had a lot to do with that transition)

And I haven’t played Go in years and I don’t see that changing any time in the near future. And that’s because GO IS _HARD_

Seriously, a good game of Go is something that you should set aside an afternoon for and try not to go in with your head cluttered by other stuff like responsibilities and exhaustion. Adulting makes Go more difficult!

I realize that if I had played Go long enough and with enough dedication, I’d have started to have some understanding of Joseki, which might have helped some of the strainof play. Joseki are patterns that are considered optimal for both sides. In other words, Joseki can help you with the minutia and focus on what really are the critical moves.

I view Joseki as understanding the game to a subconscious level, although I know that’s not what it really means or is. But being able to use Joseki denotes a deeper understanding of Go, one that I’m in no danger of reaching.

Instead, my abstract journey has led me to more short-form abstracts. My mind still craves patterns and decisions. Just ones that can fit in adult life.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Ninjago has turned around and kicked it’s way into our hearts

Lego has long been a part of our household. Honestly, as a toy that our son could get into when he was three and might be still enjoying when he’s a teenager, Legos are amazing. (And, by the way, trying to follow the instructions of a Lego kit with a small child makes you realize that Lord Business is the real hero of the LEGO Movie)

However, what made Legos really blow up in our home was Ninjago. And the TV show is entirely to blame. Don’t get me wrong. The toys are fun but the TV show is what made our five-year-old’s imagination go up to eleven.

Now, we had seen the Lego Movie and the Batman movie and other Lego cartoons. We had a sense of the snarky humor that defined Lego cartoons. (We later saw the Ninjago movie and everyone in the house thinks it’s much weaker than the TV show, by the way)

But Ninjago was different. It was funny and kid—safe but it had a much stronger sense of drama. In fact, at most, I’d describe it as an action dramedy that sometimes becomes a flat out drama. (Seasons five, eight and nine are particularly dark for me)

(I also have to add we have not watched any Bionicle, which also sounds like a more dramatic Lego cartoon so I can’t compare it)

My original one-sentence description of Ninjago was Lego meets Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But, for many reasons, I would now describe it as Lego meets Avatar the Last Airbender. The show consists of story arcs that last one to two seasons and has a remarkably strong focus on character development. In fact, I’m convinced Avatar was a strong influence on Ninjago.

Indeed, trying to explain it to the grandparents is hard because the show changes so much from season to season. There is no ‘watch this one episode and you’ll get it’ because even the genres can change from season to season. The best I can do is Legos that fight :D

The relative complexity of the story-telling (contrary to what some fans say, this is still a kid’s cartoon first and foremost. Of course, I’m the guy who argues that My Little Pony:Friendship is Magic and Doctor Who are children’s shows (and I love them)) is what I think really hooked our son. He’s been given enough ongoing story to really become invested in it. And that has spilled out into playing with the toys and telling his own stories. 

I think that I didn’t get into a cartoon that was focused on long term story telling and character development until I discovered Robotech and I was about twice our son’s age. And, without rewatching it, I’m pretty sure Robotech is a more mature story, seeing as how it’s a war story that includes death, soap opera romance and near genocide. But I was, you know, ten.

Man, what will our son be watching when he’s ten?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Winner’s Circle is always a winner to me

Reiner Knizia’s Winner’s Circle is one of those games that I have not played nearly enough. It’s also a game that I don’t see ever leaving my collection. On top of that, it’s a game that has never disappointed any table I’ve had it at.

One look at the cover will make it clear that Winner’s Circle is about spaceships doing battle. No, no I lie and lie badly. It’s about horse racing.

Just like in real life, you are betting on horses. And in Winner’s Circle, each horse is unique and distinct, just like each Doctor on Doctor Who. Each horse has a value in four different symbols. That’s how far it’ll run when you roll that symbol on the die (which is horse head, horse head, horse head, horse shoe, saddlebag and jockey hat) And every horse is different with some pretty steady and some clearly designed for that long-shot chance. (Oh, and there are more than enough different horse tiles for multiple races. Twenty-eight In fact. You get variety in your line up)

Okay. Here’s the even more clever bit. On your turn, you roll the die THEN choose which horse your going to move, flipping over its tile. All the tiles have to be flipped before they flip back over so the favored can’t be picked over and over again in a row.

At the end of each race, the first three horses pay out and the last horse loses money. But, the payouts are based on the number of betters. So you win less money for betting on a favorite and a long shot can really pay off. 

All right. I have a confession to make. I have more fun with Winner’s Circle than Colossal Arena, which is arguably Knizia’s classic betting game. Winner’s Circle is just more streamlined so I can focus on having a good time. Colossal Arena is amazing but it’s a lot less casual.

And Winner’s Circle is a great game for casual gamers or family gamers. It takes that old and much-mocked mechanic, Roll-and-Move and turns it on its head. It’s so easy to explain but Knizia uses it to offer honestly interesting choices. 

And since anyone can move any horse, which can mean staying stock still, everyone is invested in every turn. Cheers and profanity are part and parcel of having Winner’s Circle on the table.

There Is the absolute top tier of Knizia’s ludography. Games like Ra or Tigris and Euphrates that are like the Gods of Olympus that will be played until the sun becomes a dwarf star. But, man, he’s got so many games in the second tier and those games are any designer would be proud to have created. His second tier games are still rock star.

Winner’s Circle or Royal Turf is definitely one of those games. It’s a family weight game that is easy to understand and explain and play under an hour but is just so much fun.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Old Nathan, seemingly off the beaten path but still pure David Drake

I first read Old Nathan more than ten years ago. At the time, I hadn’t read Manly Wade Wellman’s John the Balladeer stories. At least not more than one or two in random anthologies. Since then, I have both them all and read that David Drake was a friend of Wellman and wrote Old Nathan as a tribute.

Now, I don’t know if there’s a lick of truth to that story but Old Nathan sure reads that way. That being said, Old Nathan is a far cry from being a pastiche of the Silver John stories. It has its own, very distinct voice and tells a very different story.

The book is a collection of five very heavily interlocking stories about a backwoods witch doctor or cunning man or hedge wizard (you get the idea) uses a bit of magic and lot of cleverness to solve crisis. It’s not five stories about the same guy but the story of that guy in five parts.

And since this is David Drake, that guy is a flawed and damaged hero who rise above his own flaws and overwhelming odds to do the right thing. John the Balledeer was a straight up hero. Old Nathan is a broken man who manages to make the world a better place.

Indeed, the last story is downright harrowing,  not just  because of the stakes but because Drake has managed to make us invested in Old Nathan. 

Without giving any spoilers away, I don’t see there ever being any more Old Nathan works. This isn’t an open-ended series. The book ends in a way that is an interesting and final ending.

Old Nathan isn’t one of David Drake’s more well known works, probably because it isn’t his usual genre. But it’s a good one.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Broetry is a book of poems that are bad for the wrong reasons

During a recent bout of insomnia, I picked up Broetry which I had gotten as part of a bundle of electronic books. It is allegedly low brow poetry for people who don’t appreciate ‘real’ poetry. Which really makes me wonder if the author missed decades of the urban poetry movement. I’d have to say that it fails on so many levels that it’s downright fascinating.

Many years ago, back when I still occasionally listed to Smodcast, Kevin Smith found a dictated diary that he made as a teenager. He and his cohost found it hysterical to find out how pretentious he was back then and named his younger self Emo Kev.

If Emo Kev chugged a case of cheap beer and attempted to write poetry, the result would be like Broetry.

Broetry is supposed to be funny but it’s a little too earnest to be comedic. And, contrary to claiming to low brow, it’s more whiny and pretentious than low brow. It’s less low brow and more middle class after it got kicked out of the house.

I will give it this. With its obsessions with girls and pop culture, Broetry takes me back to so many conversations in college and the years immediately following college. It’s not low brow. It’s trying to figure out how to be an adult and failing.

I think the poems would be stronger if they were either more raw while not trying to be funny or more silly without trying to be deep. One extreme or the other would have worked much better.

How I learned to love Friday

One of my failures as a casual solitaire gamer is that I had never really gotten into Friedemann Friese’s Friday, not even enough to decide if I didn’t like it. I’d have to say that since it’s been around long enough and remained in print long enough to count as a standby/beloved classic of the genre.

Don’t get me wrong. I had played it. I even bought when it first came out and still own it. But I never played it enough to really get how it worked, not enough to grok it.

So I knew getting it as app would let me play it over and over enough to actually get an idea of it really works. So I did that. (Some games, particularly solitaire card games that require lots of shuffling, are more fun for me on devices)

Okay, now I’ve finally played Friday enough to grok how it works and I like it.

Elevator pitch: you are Friday, whose peaceful island has been accidentally invaded by Robinson Curroso who it turns out has the common sense of Bertie Wooster. You need to keep him alive and help him beat two pirates at the end so you can get him out of your hair and off the island.

Friday is a deck building game but it has a huge difference from just about every other deck builder I can think of. You don’t have a hand. Instead, you draw X number of cards per turn. (It’s more complicated than that but that’s the thumbnail of how it works)

One of the most important things I learned about making the game work is that you are managing two decks, not one. You need to not only manage your own deck but the hazard deck. Every card you don’t take will get cycled around.

The other thing I learned is that Friday makes trashing cards more important than any other deck builder I have ever played. AND IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT IN DECK BUILDERS! I REMEMBER WHEN THE CHAPEL WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT CARD IN DOMINION! But smart trashing of cards in Friday is absolutely essential. The game will beat you like Captain America beating a nameless Hydra mook if you don’t. 

Friday, as I knew it would, joined my reliable collection of solitaire games that I play on a device but feel like I’m really playing a card/board game. Sometimes,’you don’t have the time or space to set up a physical game but, by golly, you have your phone.

Friday isn’t perfect. It can be formulaic but that’s kind of the case for just about any solitaire game. It is very engaging and fun and a game that I’m glad I took the time to figure out how to enjoy.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Pretty Fairy Princess, a game that teaches gaming

I am always on the lookout for RPGs that are aimed at kids or least suitable for them. I do this even though I know our son isn’t going to be interested in table top RPGs :D It’s an interesting subgenre.

The most recent one I’ve looked at is Pretty Fairy Princess. Well, the demo rules at any rate.

To say the name is right in the nose is an understatement. The game is exactly what it says on the tin. Each player plays a princess who is also a fairy and pretty.

In fact, the three main stats are Pretty, Fairy and Princess. Each one has two substats. Pretty has Pep and Sparkle. Fairy has Trickery and Magic/Luck (pick one) Princess has Love and Scrapbooking. I love that last one.

Each primary stat gets assigned a number: 1 or 2 or 3 (Naturally, you use each number once) Then, you assign each substat get a success determination. You see, you use a deck of cards in the game and your success types are things like number cards or red cards or face cards.

Every one gets a hand of cards they lay face down in front of them in a row. When you have to take a chance, you point at one of someone else’s cards with the wand you made at the start of the game. The main stat determines how many cards you can pick and the substat determines what’s a success.

It’s an interesting system because it’s really easy to explain but there’s definitely a layer of number crunching in it. And it’s transparent enough that you can work on crunching the numbers in your favor easily.

The cards that are in each people’s hand are public knowledge. You just don’t know which is is which in the face down row. It’s anrules light narrative system so it’s easy to justify picking a favorable trait. In short, the game lends itself to being able to game the system for success. But it’s a game about happy pretty magical princesses having adventures so I’m cool with that. It’s a game for kids and rewards them understanding how odds work.

However, what I will really take away from the game is the two paragraphs about running the game. Which comes down to adventures are built like scavenger hunts. 

Which I think is great advice for running a game for younger kids. It gives you and the kids a structure that is easy to understand and breaks it down to a series of manageable goals. It’s not such great for running for adults since a series of fetch quests isn’t ideal for older games but it’s one I’ll keep in mind for kids regardless of the system.

Pretty Fairy Princesses wouldn’t be my first choice for an RPG for young kids. There are some really good ones out there like Hero Kids or Mermaid Adventures or No Thank You Evil. But I do like how it has a system which teaches kids to game the system and I think it gives really solid GM advice. I definitely got something out of reading it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Call of Cthulhu as a reading list

I don’t know about for anyone else but the Call of Cthulhu RPG rulebook served as a reading list for me back in the 80s. 

At the time, there was no internet. At least, not that I had access to. The local library and book stores had limited selections of Lovecraft (Thanks, Del Rey for the affordable reprints) But finding stuff by other authors, that was really hard.

And if it wasn’t for the fact that most of the descriptions of the foul beasties that make up the wonderful world of the Call of Cthulhu included descriptions from the stories with citations, I wouldn’t have even known that there were stories out there for me to look for.

At the time, this was a revelation for me. I had no idea that there was this wealth of cosmic horror out there. Stuff I would have had no other way of finding out about if it wasn’t for the role playing game.

Boy, do we live in a different world now. And boy, is it fun to live in the future!

Mind you, it took me a long time to eventually find some of those works. I didn’t find and read Ramsey Cambell’s Lovecraftian stories until I was in my thirties. Which is a shame because they turned out to be really good. His Severn Valley stories create their own internal mythology of cosmic nastiness.

Amusingly, it went around the other way too. When I finally read Notebook Found in a Deserted House by Robert Bloch, which I understood to be the origin of the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath, I found out they were actually shoggoths (which Lovecraft created) Chaosium made them as the brand new dark young to bulk up t heir bestiary :D And, in turn, authors have used the dark young in stories.

(Notebook et al is a really good story regardless and I’m glad I read it for its own sake)

Seriously, The Call of Cthulhu RPG wasn’t just a game. It was a Wikipedia of Eldritch Horror. And that was just super cool.

(Incidentally, by the time I got around to reading Gary Gygax’s Appendix N, it was more of a checklist of stuff I’d already read :D)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Too many choices for fidgeting

Last year, I got into what I’ve been calling parent break games or fidget gaming. Tiny little solitaire games that only take a couple of minutes to play, mental coffee breaks. Print and play games have been an essential part of the process since the cost per component is so much lower. Spending twenty dollars on a game that takes less than five minutes to play isn’t appealing. Less than a dollar on material costs makes a lot more sense to me.

However, as I have been slowly exploring entries in this year’s nine card contest and found some promising parent break games, I realized that I’ve reached the point of an embarrassment of riches :P

When I first started exploring fidget games, any game that was good for fidgeting basically got an extra star because of that. I wasn’t being very choosey. But now I’m found that the pool of possible fidget games is wide enough that it’s reasonable to be picky.

There are some games that have really stood up. Murderers Row, for instance, continues to not disappoint after months of play. However, a lot of them play themselves out pretty quickly.

For me personally, that’s not a big deal. At this point in my PnP life, one or two pages of cards is a low enough investment in materials and time that a lame duck project isn’t a big deal. If I can get at least five plays and learn something, it was worth it for me.

But there may be one or two folks out there who might actually consider making something I talk about. And there are games that I’ve played a bunch of times for fidgeting but I can’t in good conscious recommend to anyone. 

Still, it’s part of the journey. The world of PnP is chock full of interesting items and shining some light on any of them is good.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Hoity Toity - so much more than Rock-Paper-Scissors

When I think of Rock-Paper-Scissors and board games, I think Hoity Toity (also known by a half dozen other names) by Klaus Teuber. It’s much more than R-P-S but that’s definitely something you’re going to reference when you teach the game. It’s also a reminder that Klaus Teuber can make some great games that don’t have anything to do with Catan.

Hoity Toity is about British nobles amassing collections of antiques for prestige and rubbing it in each other’s faces. As I’ve written before, it’s like a Wodehouse novel. And maybe an argument about why folks should eat the rich.

The core of the game is secret action selection. You can go to the auction hall or the castle. After you choose where you’re going, you choose what you’re going to do. In the auction hall, you can hope to buy one of the scarce antique cards or you can try and rob the till. At the castle, you can display a collection or steal from a collection or use a detective to catch a crook stealing from a collection.

(I find the scoring track very amusing. Not only does it track how far along you are but also how many spaces you can earn with your antique collections)

The end result of the Rock-Paper-Scissors/Hidden Action core of Hoity Toity creates a constant level of interaction that just keeps getting ratcheted up as the game goes on and the stakes keep getting higher. The game does a great job of keeping everyone involved and in everyone else’s business.

Hoity Toity is _far_ from the only game that uses hidden action selection but it does it very well. There’s definitely some meat behind your choices as you try to make a good antique collection and figure out what your opponents are trying to do. At the same time, it plays in less than an hour so it’s easy to get on the table.

While Catan is what set the world on fire, it didn’t come out of nowhere, either in the big picture of gaming or in Klaus Teuber’s designs. Not only did Hoity Toity win the Spiel de Jahres, I have been told it also attracted attention on this side of the Atlantic, back when German-style family games were practically unknown in the US.

Hoity Toity is an old game by modern standards, almost thirty years old. (Don’t look at me that way, Go. You’re forever young) But it holds up very well, particularly for its intended family audience.

The Black Island is where Tintin clicked for me

Okay. First of all, I have to eat some crow. While I realized that HergĂ© and his studio revised the artwork of some of his older works in the 60s, I thought they just added color. It seems they also added a lot of refinement and detail. So, while I still hold that Tintin is pretty awesome, it isn’t a revolutionary and ahead of its time as I thought.

That said, I’ve been reading some of the earlier volumes (with the revisions and I’m very curious how some of the elaborate landscapes looked in the original versions) and Tintin started to really click for me with the eight volume, The Black Island.

The actual story itself is pretty simple and could be described relatively spoiler-free as Tintin and Snowy chase some bad guys pretty much the length of the British Isles. There wasn’t much mystery or complex plans going on.

However, that left room for me to focus on the action sequences and the slapstick comedy sequences, which are sometimes one and the same. The pacing was really solid and I sometimes felt like I was reading the story booking of a movie. Poor Thomson and Thompson’s escapades in a plane felt particularly cinematic.

I also was glad I was reading the story as an album. I enjoyed the keystone kops-esque silliness of two pages of firefighters trying to find the key to the fire station but if I had had to wait a week or a month to find out what was going to happen to Tintin unconscious in a burning building, I wouldn’t have liked it as much :P

Tintin was originally created for a conservative children’s magazine so you don’t get edgy apart from drug dealers, alcoholism, political refugees... and, you know, scratch the surface, Tintin deals with some surprisingly serious issues. The comics have a light-hearted feel aimed at kids but it deals with some adult issues.

What I was going to say, before I got into the last paragraph, was is that Hergé and his studio did a good job telling stories that were full of action and comedy. More and more, I can appreciate why Tintin made such an impact.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

If you can’t beat the conspiracy, join it. Against your will.

44: A Game of Automatic Fear is a free RPG by Matt Snyder, the same guy who gave us Dust Devils. My old group always meant to get around to playing Dust Devils but we sadly never did.

In 44, the game master controls Section 44 and its conspiracy to replace humans with robot duplicates while the players try to uncover the conspiracy and survive. Mostly try to survive.

The game is only 37 pages long so it doesn’t have much in the way of setting information. That’s partially because the game master and players develop some of the details themselves but it’s also because everyone already knows how Invasion of the Body Snatchers stories work.

The core mechanic is tiny dice pools with the high die being your roll. Players have three traits (resolve, contact and material) which determine how they solve problems, contacts that let them pull in more dice and anxieties, which are penalties that also let you set aside dice to use later.

Both the players and the GM also get a pool of reserve dice that they can use in any conflict. However, those are one-shot dice and when they go away, they’re gone. That’s particular harsh for the players since they share their pool.

Damage comes in the over arching concept of stress. Stress can make you lose contacts to the conspiracy. Stress can damage your qualities. Stress can even make you get replaced by an evil duplicate and fight against the remaining humans.

44 is set up as a one session game with an actual count down. There are four rounds and every player gets one scene in each round. Everyone helps develop the scene, even if they’re not in it, and the scene ends when the conflict requires a die roll. At the end of every round, there is a roll to see which side is gaining ground. After the final roll, everyone gets an epilogue.

I am of two minds every time I look at 44. On the one hand, it doesn’t feel very innovative and it doesn’t have a spark that makes me want to run out and play it. On the other hand, I also think it’s a very solidly designed game that would be easy to sit down and play and would also be fun to play. 

I like the fact that there is a countdown. For one thing, that means that there is an end to the game and you have an idea when it’s going to come. But it also lets you know how much time you have left.

I also like that 44 really lends itself to cinematic play, with each scene having one big decision. No rolling for each punch. Each scene has just one roll that decides how things go. In fact, combined with the countdown, the game really has the structure of a movie. If you played a campaign instead of a one-shot, it would be more like a movie series with each session being a big event that shakes everything up.

But most of all, I like how you can become part of the conspiracy but still be a part of the game. Honestly, that’s what really pushes 44 into being a game that I think would be fun and engaging. Also, a game ending with the conspiracy winning but that’s okay if it’s a fun ride on the way.

44: A Game of Automatic Fear doesn’t shake up my world. It doesn’t have the spark that ignites my imagination. But I think it would be fun and a great deal for free.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Cosmic Coasters - war, abstract, weird

I recently tried out a game that was nothing more than Rock-Paper-Scissors with a different theme. Which really wasn’t worth it. However, it got me thinking about how Rock-Paper-Scissors can be a good starting point. 

No, I am not yet talking about Hoity Toity by Klaus Teuber. Which is an absolutely brilliant game and part of what makes it brilliant is the Rock-Paper-Scissors style of hidden decision. No, I’m thinking about Cosmic Coasters, which isn’t as brilliant as Hoity Toity but still takes Rock-Paper-Scissors to a higher level.

It’s Looney Labs game, which is how I ended up finding out about and getting it very early in my collecting. It’s closer to the Looney Pyramids end of spectrum than Fluxx. It’s an abstract war game that is printed on beer coasters. (You supply your own pieces. Glass beads seem to be a popular choice.)

It was actually one of the first games I wrote a review about : which also covers the rules pretty well.

Each coaster serves as a player’s board/base/planet/moon which is made up of different types of spaces, including the ability teleport your pieces to the other boards. You win by taking over an opponent’s board to the degree you can teleport a piece home.

It’s actually an oddly intricate game for an abstract that takes about ten minutes to play. You need to occupy three spaces to build a new piece and occupy three other spaces to teleport a piece in the middle and there are optional special powers.

When I think of abstracts, I tend to think of the Go model of simple rules with complex decision trees. Cosmic Coasters doesn’t fit that model very well :D It definitely has its own feel.

The Rock-Paper-Scissors combat where the defender winning just pushing the attacker back helps the game balance. A more straightforward capture-by-moving-onto-another-piece would lead to stalemates.

That said, Rock-Paper-Scissors, particularly over several rounds, isn’t a random system. It’s a psychological game. Which means Cosmic Coasters can tilt to one player’s advantage easily but not by chance.

As time has gone on, my interest in Cosmic Coasters has waned. Even in the Looney Lan catalog, there are better abstract war games like Sandships or World War III or Homeworlds. However, it is both a good use of Rock-Paper-Scissors and really distinct.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Mariner - an amusing exercise in card management

2019 9 Card Game Print and Play Design Contest - Mariner

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

Mariner is a tiny little game that was inspired by the NASA missions of the same name. It consists of eight cards you actually shuffle and a checklist of missions. The contest rules banned pencils or pens so Mariner’s rules list cubes to check off missions but I used a dry erase marker.

You draw a hand of three cards. If you have a card in the check list, check it off (the order is Venus, Mars, Venus, Mars, Mars, Mars, Venus + Mercury) Then, you discard one card out of the game and the rest into the staging area, which is really a discard pile that you you get to shuffle when you need to draw.

Three of the cards are Mariner missions, which let you pull specific cards out of the discard pile. That’s the sum total of special powers but we are talking about eight cards.

So, the game is all about constantly cycling through a tiny deck, among sure that you keep from discarding Venus, Mercury and Mars. Because then you’re going to lose, period.

Okay. This is the biggest issue I have with Mariner. It is too easy. Once I had an idea to manage the deck, I’d say I’d win at least two thirds of the time over the course of a couple dozen plays.

But, here’s the flip side. I got In a couple dozen plays in short order. More than that, it has kept in coming out and kept on getting played. Like so many tiny solitaires, it’s takes no time and no space to play but I also like the card manipulation. There’s just enough there to keep my mind rolling along. It would be interesting to see the game expanded to eighteen or more cards.

Oh, and I also like very simple, from-a-science-text-book-from-the-70s art for the low ink version. Very ink friendly but very evocative at the same time.

When I wrote the rough draft for this blog some weeks ago, I ended by saying Mariner is a fair-to-middling game. And I still think that’s true. But I keep on playing it. It’s like a comfy pair of slippers that won’t do for a real walk but are nice to have on.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

My May PnP

May has gone by (whoosh!) and it’s been another month where I’ve done some print-and-play crafting. In the merry, merry month of May, I made:

The Shooting Party
Mech Capture
Tic Tac Tactics (2019 9-Card Contest)
Orchard (two sets of numbered cards, one-sided)
Trial With Error (2019 9-Card Contest)
Fire & Fury (2019 9-Card Contest)

May was a good month for me. Not only did I actually make some stuff, I stuck closer to my goal of crafting while not binging. I had planned on making two ‘larger’ projects plus some smaller stuff. My only ‘binge’ was Mech Capture and that’s because I really wanted to play it right away :D (Yeah, crafting just to craft and game hording are motivations too)

And now we’re entering into Summer, which i know can be a much harder time to get any PnP done. I’m hoping that going into the summer with a plan will let me get at least one project done a month.