Thursday, April 23, 2020

Games about a short rest I didn’t know existed

When I was recommended to check out Cozy Town, I discovered that it had been created as part of a game design jam about Short Rests last year.

Other than Cozy Town, I haven’t begun to look at, let alone audit the other submissions  from the jam. However, I am putting that link out there because I feel like games about pausing in life and feeling safe and comfortable might come in handy during the Coronavirus lockdown. 

I am constantly amazed at the resources that are out there on the internet. Despite being someone who is always looking for stuff, I keep finding events and contests that I had no idea existed. Indeed, despite seeing it refenced several times, I’ve barely scratched

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Cozy Town, a game where nothing bad happens

After getting into Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I went looking for an RPG that had a similar feel for community building. What I really wanted was something like The Quiet Year until someone told me that Cozy Town was verbatim what I was looking for.

So, I found it and checked it out.

In Cosy Town, you are creating a safe and cozy community together. The core concept is communally creating a map of the place. Along the way, you will develop the folks who live there, the resources the town has and the holidays they celebrate. While there will be individual characters, they don’t belong to anyone. Everything belongs to all the players.

The game plays out a year in the life of the community. You divide up a deck of cards by suit, with each one being a different seasons. Each turn, the active player draws a card and consults the guide. Each card describes an event that takes place and asks a question about how the resolution affects the town.

After that, the active player can choose one of the three actions: add a feature to the map, have a friend of the town visit or prepare for an event.

I have to say that, while it would be super easy to create an Animal Crossing-style town, a lot of the fluff options that are suggested are actually even more whimsical and saccharine than Animal Crossing, to the point that Animal Crossing would end up on the gritty, realistic side of Cozy Town. 

It’s beyond obvious that Cozy Town is heavily influenced by The Quiet Year to the point that it’s practically a reskin. Mechanically, they are border on being identical. And, yet, they are almost on the opposite ends of sensibility. The Quiet Year runs on scarcity and the innate conflict that comes out of scarcity while Cozy Town explicitly bans scarcity and conflict.

I am fascinated by The Quiet Year. It’s a very unique gaming experience. Cozy Town is also fascinating for me. It is what I was looking for in a game that emulates Animal Crossing. At the same time, I have a feeling if I played it more than once, particularly with the same group of people, we’d end up bending the rules on scarcity and conflict. I mean, you need some level of conflict to create drama.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Turns out kids love games that let them attack their parents

In our periodic efforts to introduce non-video games to our six-year old, we tried Uno. And, in doing so, we learned a valuable lesson, one that might affect our chi e of games with our son.

Six-year-olds _love_ take that cards. 

Holy Flying Spaghetti Monster, when he realized he could attack Mommy or Daddy, he was all in. Skip cards, +2 cards, +4 cards. We knew he had one because of the manically giggling and the jumping up and down in his seat.

And when he learned that the edition of Uno we bought had blank cards so you could make your own action cards, he immediately made completely broken and over-the-top attack cards, like skip ten turns.

It’s been a long time since he was this excited about a card or board game (and that was Curious George Discovery Beach, which is still one of the best kids games I’ve played, at least by my lights) I don’t know how long his love for Uno will last (Maybe another session?) but it was nice that he was so enthusiastic.

Now I’m wondering how do I use this knowledge, use this love of attacking his parents in games? He is still learning how to read so games like Guillotine or Fluxx or We Didn’t Playtest This At All would just frustrate him. Maybe Aquarius or Goblin Breakfast?

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

James Ernest writes a fun memoir

I finally read Cheapass Games in Black and White by James Ernest. It’s a retrospective on the history of Cheapass Games by the founder and guy who designed almost all the games. It’s about one third commentary and two thirds reprints of ads, rules, packaging and components.

Man, I am both the target audience and the worst audience for this book. On the one hand, I really like Cheapass Games and I have a large collection of their games (that, wonderfully, doesn’t take up much space) On the other hand, that means I have the originals for almost all the images so two thirds of the book is unnecessary for me :P

(Incidentally, you can’t try and make an PnP project out of the book. You do get complete rules but you don’t get complete scans of the components. Which is fine because a hefty chunk of those components are available for download on the Cheapass website.)

Seriously. There are literally about three games discussed in the book that I don’t own. And one of them was reprinted in Chief Herman (I didn’t even know Tishai had been independently printed.) Swag was a convention only game that was turned into Captain Treasure Boots, which I do own. And I just never bought Veritas.

The memoir section are a lot of fun. James Ernest has a very conversational style, which makes him enjoyable to read. He invites us on a journey, talking about his work and life and his philosophy of about game design. Which could be dryer than a desert but he makes it sparkle.

It has been said (I’ve said it but I am far from the first) that James Ernest most legitimately punk of game designers. He isn’t defiant or out to hate parents (his or otherwise) He is simply out to do his own thing, regardless of what anyone else thinks. He is an iconoclast not for the sake of being an iconoclast but because that’s how he can get what he wants done.

Getting some insight into that  and a lot of anecdotes about that is fun. The book isn’t a how to guide to game design or game publishing but you will still learn a lot, possibly while not even noticing.

Cheapass Games in Black and White is a good read. If you have the slightest interest in Cheapass Games or game design or game, you will do yourself a favor reading it.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Tiny bits of tweaking can make a difference

I recently picked up the second version of Paper Pinball: Laser Sisters. Paper Pinball is a guilty pleasure for me. I think that Robin Gibson made a better series of games with the Legends of Dsyx and I also think that they are very swingy. However, the Paper Pinball games are very easy to get in a play when I just have a couple minutes. So they get in a decent amount of play.

Out of the three Paper Pinball tables I first tried out (Wolf Hackers, Laser Sisters and Sherwood 2146), Laser Sisters was my least favorite by far. And for a very simple reason. I didn’t like the implementation of the slingshot mechanic.

Every Paper Pinball table I’ve seen (and I’m assuming all the ones I haven’t) have their own little twist that keeps them from being the same thing over and over again with different art. In the case of Laser Sisters, it’s slingshots, which you check off to use each dice as its own value as opposed to adding the two dice together.

The problem I had was with the value of the section called Targets. You cross them off with a specific value. On the original Laser Sisters, the values were 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Filling those out meant heavily leaving on the limited uses of the slingshot and the 1 Target absolutely requiring it. So, instead of the slingshot mechanic increasing my choices, it was actually more limited.

In the second edition, the Target numbers are now 2, 3, 4, 10, 11, 12. The one is gone and only half of them need slingshots. So I can now use slingshots for other things, like ramps. 

It’s still super random and swingy but this change makes one of the tools the table has more flexible. I’m kind of curious to see what the second edition of Sherwood 2146 looks like.

The point of all this isn’t that I like a tiny change in a game that is super casual. Frankly, I have a literal binder full of quick little Roll and Writes that I have fun with. One more or less isn’t a big deal.

What is the real point of me writing all this is that little changes can make big changes in a game experience. (Game balance as well but that can be harder to judge.) A side effect of looking at a lot of Print and Play files is you get to see a lot of prototypes. So you get to stages of development. 

Sometimes, the difference between a good experience and a bad one is the the tiniest details.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

How would you make a table top Animal Crossing?

Since I have discovered Animal Crossing (only eighteen years late to the party), I decided to see if anyone has made a tabletop RPG about Animal Crossing because of course I did.

The closest thing I’ve found is a one-page Lasers & Feeling hack. 

I swear that Lasers & Feelings is the most hacked system in existence. It doesn’t hurt that it is a one-page, super light system. The original game, inspired by a Doubleclick song, is themed around the original Star Trek with the serial numbers filed off and built around the dichotomy of logic and emotion. I think it’s work well because that’s a conflict that lends itself to Star Trek and, while there is no actual setting, you can just use Star Trek wholesale.

In the Animal Crossing hack, the two ends of the spectrum are Fashion (social) and Animal (physical) The biggest difference mechanical difference is that if you hit the target number exactly, you get a bennie. In the original Lasers & Feelings, the GM gives you more information and you can change your action.

I am glad that David White created this hack and it’s clearly a work of love. But, for me, it doesn’t feel like Animal Crossing. It’s designed around mission-based stories. Which works great for Star Trek but doesn’t jibe with my concept of Animal Crossing, which is infrastructure development. The Lasers & Feelings system is built around conflict and I feel like Animal Crossing would work better as collaborative.

The game that I think would really lend itself to an Animal Crossing hack is the Quiet Year. That’s a game where you collaborate to create the map of a community over the course of a year. No one has their own characters. You jointly own everything. Obviously, an Animal Crossing hack would be more upbeat than the story of a post-apocalyptic community in the year before things get really bad.

Animal Crossing tells a different kind of story than a lot of RPGs (but not board games) It’s interesting to consider how to translate it to the tabletop.

Monday, April 6, 2020

A couple of handy PnP sites for folks under lockdown

I have already written about a few games that, particularly if you are new to Print and Play, are worth making of you are under lockdown and can’t get out to game. Next, I want to write about a couple of web sites where you can find some nice print and play files.

Just like before, these are not the only place where you can find files but I really like these ones. 

PnP Arcade is the big one for me. Like the name implies, it’s a one-stop shopping grind for a lot of different kinds of PnP games. (Not war games, though. I’m not really into war games but I know there are sites like Wargame Vault out there) Jason Tagmire of Buttonshy Games helped create the site and I’ve been making PnP Buttonshy games for years.

In addition to games from Buttonshy, PnP Arcade has stuff from other publishers who do a lot of PnP. Jellybean, Good Little Games, Grey Gnome and Heavy Metal Snail are all companies I used to check regularly and I can now find out users they are up to through PnP Arcade.

PnP Arcade is chock full of free games so you can test the waters without having to pay anything. Although, if you’re like me, you will eventually spend some money there.

The other site I want to mention is Cheapass Games. For years, they have had free games on their site, including some really good games like Button Men, Agora, Lightspeed and Kill Doctor Lucky. However, when they were promoting the retrospective ‘Cheapass Games in Black and White’, they added a proverbial ton of their older games.

(And, at least for a little bit, Greater Than Games is offering the digital version of that book for free)

What is great about the Cheapass Collection, from a lockdown/limited resource standpoint, is that most of them are black and white, as well as ink light. And some of them just involve making a board. The old Cheapass mantra of using dice and cards and pawns from other games has a whole new life under these circumstances.

Cheapass, particularly in their early days, made some pretty kooky games and not all of them hold up. But they can be a lot of fun and there are enough gems to make the site worth exploring.

As I’ve already written, there are actually a _lot_ of places to look for PnP tiles, free and otherwise. Boardgame Geek is probably the biggest single site, in actuality. And PnP Arcade and Cheapass Games do lean on the casual game side of things. But I still think they are great resources. And, if you are only just now exploring PnP as a gaming option, I think they are even better.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Some Print and Play suggestions for folks on lockdown

I recently wrote about how PnP has helped me decompress and deal with the stress of being on lockdown. Both in the act of actual of making stuff and looking for things that I can get on the table. And there’s actually a lot less spare time under these circumstances. 

And then I was asked for some suggestions.

With so many of us not able to leave the home and so many game shops not open, print and play is an option really worth discussing. I know that other folks have been discussing this and I also know that I’ll suggest is stuff I’ve discussed before. Still, if I help even one person, I should.

30 Rails - if I was told to suggest only one game for folks stuck in their homes, 30 Rails is the game I’d suggest. It is so easy to build that even folks without access to a printer can make a copy. It can play any number of players, including solitaire. And it’s really good. The love child of Take It Easy and Metro, 30 Rails is a connections Roll and Write game where you draw out paths on a grid. It uses familiar ideas and has plenty of tough decisions.

Outlaw - A dice game that just requires you to print out a couple pieces of paper with no cutting, Outlaw is a Pikomino-style game. I like Pikomino better but not everyone has access to Pikomino. Not everyone has a big game collection at home. For some people, someone else owns the games they play and they may be cut off from those games. 

Okay. Moving onto to a little bit on construction.

Autumn - An eighteen-card tile-laying game, Autumn is very simple but very solid. Between using the pie rule and requiring cards to overlap, Autumn offers some real choices and some real variety in its play. Plus, it has a nice solitaire option. It a game that I’ve kept coming back to for more than two years.

The Decktet - The Decktet is a deck of cards with six suites BUT the cards are multi-suited. It offers a real twist on the deck of cards. More importantly, the Decktet has some very solid games. Games like Emu Ranchers, Jacynth and Magnate. I made my first copy years ago by printing it out on card stock and cutting them out with scissors. And I’ve never looked back.

This is not my final word on the subject. Heck, this is barely scratching the surface of the subject. But I think these four games a good start.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

We Are All Just Fine creates a world that isn’t fine

We Are All Just Fine by Daryl Gregory is a book that teeters between being clever and being predictable. The elevator pitch of the book is that it’s about a support group for survivors of horror movies.

It’s not quite as pedantic as that. The actual story is how a therapist brings together five survivors of supernatural violence in a world where most people don’t believe in the supernatural. As they explore their interlocking secrets, they discover a new danger they have to deal with.

Honestly, describing it any further than that would involve lots of spoilers.  

I will say that there were a lot of elements that were supposed to be twists that were easy to see coming. One character had to have a specific secret and, given the limited cast, the process of elimination made it obvious who it was. At the same time, if the author decided to drop that story element, it would have been a glaring absence. In many ways, it was the literary equivalent of a thriller movie where the plot doesn’t challenge you at all.

At the same time, there are some very nice touches that do make it better interesting. None of the character fit neatly into a cliche. The character who would be the alpha male in most works is arguably the least effective person in the crisis, for instance. And, unlike Big Trouble in Little China, he knows it. The book creates a horrifying world.

But the strong point of the book is the tone and setting. The eldritch horrors that are out there are no humanized at all, even the ones that are part human. They are alien with goals that are never fully explained or realized. The characters are never in any real control and they remain vulnerable and scared to the end. 

And that made me glad I read the book.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Animal Crossing is the art of the Zen

I didn’t used to be much of a video game person, although I have to confess that I have always played them now and then. However, with the Coronavirus lockdown, video games have become a lot more important for me and the rest of the family for decompression, relaxing and just staying sane.

In particular, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been huge for us. 

Now, I was already a fan of the Nintendo Switch. It combines the best aspects of the wII and the DS into one really amazing package. (My wife got me a DS early in our courtship which is why Professor Layton is one of my heroes) But Animal Crossing is the perfect escapism when everyone needs some escapism.

In case you didn’t know (and I didn’t, really, before New Horizons), you come to a small community of funny animal people and help develop the community in the Animal Crossing games. In the process, you also catch a lot of fish and bugs and renovate your home with the help of massive but interest-free loans. It’s a resource management, infrastructure development and dollhouse all wrapped up in one. In New Horizons, the community is a deserted island and you start out in a tent.

I understand that there has been a lot discussion over whether or not Animal Crossing is an RPG series. By my lights, it is. But the real character you are leveling up isn’t the funny little person you have running around. It is the town you are creating. But that funny little person is an essential part of of the immersion (as opposed to a game like FarmVille)

Right now, so much of the world is spending a lot of time within four walls. And leaving those four walls can be pretty stressful for those who have to. The ability to go to a peaceful island where you can do whatever you want, everyone is friendly, and the worst thing that can happen is a wasp nest falling on your head is pretty good wonderful.

It also helps that, by video game standards, Animal Crossing moves at a glacial place. There are seasonal changes and I don’t even know if the Switch lets you play with the calendar to hurry the year along. Things take time. Mario is about split second timing. Animal Crossing is about being chill.

Nintendo hit the ball out of the park by creating such an immersive zen experience.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

My March PnP

March has been a month. Looking at this list, it’s hard for me to believe that it was only four weeks ago I made some of these. Since then, we have started homeschooling and been on lockdown due to the Coronavirus. There have been some times when print and play has helped keep me relatively sane.

This is what I’ve made:

Autumn Tree (2018 R&W Jam)
Autumn Leaves (2018 R&W Jam)
Wolfe & Co
Raging Bulls
White Chapel Cultist (2019 R&W contest)
Robots of Eternity (2019 One Page Contest)
Wurfel Bingo
My Little Castle
Stand Up Bakery (prototype 2020 9-Card Contest)
Roll Estate
Night Class part 1
Spellcraft Academy (Legends of Dsyx)
Arabica (2017 GenCan’t Contest)
Captain’s Curse (2017 GenCan’t Contest)
Halloween Movie Marathon (2018 R&W Jam)
Brad Nordeng’s Hepthalon (2019 R&W Contest)

I am still making a ‘big’ project each month. This month was Wolfe & Co. I have no idea when I printed it out but I decided it was time to make it, even though I’m now focused on solitaire games.

However, I spent a lot of little moments, laminating Roll and Writes. Since I’ve had to become a home school teacher, I have a lot less free time but I have time for that. And being able to do that has been calming and satisfying. And I have found that if I only had a little time for games, Roll and Write are the easiest games to get in.