Thursday, August 29, 2019

Three Men in a classic about nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Fleeting memories of the Book of Catan

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 22, 2019

My first expansions of Catan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

How deep can a dry erase game be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 19, 2019

Lord Dunsany gets in your brain

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

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

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

And it happens to me every time.

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

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

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

Seriously, Dunsany rewires your brain.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Yahtzee, Ducks, and Dice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 15, 2019

More blathering about expansions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Why Project Shrinko is so nifty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

We liked the Dora movie more than we expected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 9, 2019

Crimefighters, a tiny RPG from the mists of time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 5, 2019

Very random jottings about game selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 1, 2019

My July PnP

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

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

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

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

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