Friday, December 31, 2021

Obligatory year end blog - warning - it’s boring

 In 2021, I started included monthly updates on my blog so the thought of a year-end update isn’t as interesting this year. But, you know you got to do it.

I will say that 2021 was a better year than 2020 but 2020 was a profoundly bad year. The Pandemic is a (hopefully) once-in-generation event whose effects will still be felt years after it’s finally over. 

My only face-to-face gaming was with my immediate family. If there were any local conventions, I didn’t hear about them and I’m pretty sure there weren’t any. 

Print and Play and solitaire gaming continued to be the primary focus of my gaming and I continued to curate that. Less crafting a game because it was there and more and more focus on making games I want to and would play. And online play continued to be there for me.

Honestly, a lot of 2021 was spent focusing on getting life outside of lockdown going again so gaming wasn’t a priority. Under those circumstances, Print and Play Roll and Write games are so awesome. They let me keep on exploring games with limited time, space (mental and physical) and resources.

2021 was a busy, honestly productive year for us. Gaming just wasn’t a focus but it did help keep us sane.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Kids Creative looks promising for the classroom

 Earlier in 2021, I broke my two and a half year hiatus from Kickstarter to back Radoslaw Ignatow’s Lots of Games Roll and Write collection. (Which has given me lots of fun) Well, he got me to do it again for his Creative Kids Collection.

After stretch goals, it ended up being a collection of fourteen Print and Play games. So, it’s given me a new set of games to go over. I’m slowly going through at least the Roll and Write games from the collection.

As the name of the collection makes abundantly clear, the games are aimed at kids. Some of the games are aimed at kids as young as five. His earlier games weren’t super complex but they were still discernibly more complex than the Creative Kids Games.

Now, being simple or aimed at a younger audience does mean poorer quality. But, honestly, so far, I’d say that Ignatow’s games aimed at an older audience are honestly better. (But, to be fair, I still have some games to go and some of them look promising. The more I play, the better it gets)

BUT… Part of the mission statement for this collection was games that you could use in a classroom or similar setting. And I think that the collection has a lot of promise there.

An hour might sound like a lot of time for a little Roll and Write game. But when you have to teach the game as well as run and manage it, that time can get eaten up fast. Some of the students/participants may have been taught Catan in the cradle but you can only go as fast as the slowest participant.

When I tried out My Farm from the the Creative Kids Collection, it reminded me of Ignatow’s earlier Alpakaland. If I was playing for my own enjoyment, I’d pick Alpakaland. However, I can see myself being able to teach a room of fifth or fourth graders My Farm in a class period and I don’t see that happening with Alpakaland.

The Creative Kids Collection may not be for the dedicated gamer but that’s not the audience. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

I don’t have a Star Trek joke for Deep Space D6

 I’ve been vaguely aware of Deep Space D6 pretty much since it first showed up. I even downloaded the app. But it took trying to play a different dice games for Dicember 2021 for me to actually try it.

So, I decided to look at the tutorial… and then played the game five  times in a row.

While the title implies that the game is themed around Star Trek Deep Space 9, it’s really one of the space ship wandering around the universe versions of Star Trek with the serial numbers filed off. And, as a Doctor Who fan who hasn’t watched a lot of Star Trek and thus isn’t the best guy to judge, I feel like it really nails that feel.

The game consists of a spaceship playmat, a stack of encounter cards and some dice. Well, you also have to have some tokens to track hull and shields. Honestly, the spaceship, with its separate hull and shields and  stasis beam, is what makes the game a spaceship game and not a dungeon crawl with a different skin.

The dice are the crew and you assign them to different tasks each turn. Each pip is a different kind of crew member. Each one does something different and I think it succeeds in being immersive and thematic.

One thing that makes the game both great and nightmarish is that encounters don’t go away until they are resolved. (Most of them are enemy ships and you resolve them by blowing them away) If the dice don’t let you manage them, you end up fighting an armada while terrible things go wrong on board.

And, yes, the lack of control the dice can give you is the biggest issue with Deep Space D6. You have to manage your hull, your shields, your dice pool and the encounters. If you don’t roll what you need to do at least part of that, you will get buried. I’ve had games last six turns.

There is some dice manipulation… through the commander pip. So you have to roll a specific pip in order to manipulate the dice :D

That said, after you get an idea how the game works, it seems like you tend to win or lose by the skin of your teeth as opposed to massive swings one way or the other.

In short, I can see why some folks don’t like Deep Space D6 but I’ve been having a barrel of Klingons worth of fun with it. At some point, I want to make the fan expansions and maybe even look into the published version.

Friday, December 24, 2021

A couple of free Holiday R&Ws

 I decided to celebrate Christmas by playing some Christmas-themed Roll and Writes. The two that I rolled with were The Cuboid’s Proud Christmas and Giftbringer.

(I had planned on also trying out Pohutukawa Christmas but its rules are literally missing step four. I suspect it’s a formatting error but it f you want me to learn a game, there needs to be a basic level of clarity in the roles)

The Cuboid’s Proud Christmas is themed around decorating a Christmas tree. Mechanically, it’s actually all about creating sets of dice. Two twos, three threes, etc., a set for each ornament on the tree. 

I like dice manipulation and this game is _nothing_ but dice manipulation. Rerolls, flipping dice, adding or subtracting, etc. Every turn is a puzzle.

I don’t know how well it would do with more than two or three players and I’ll have to play it more to see if it’s balanced. However, I like the moving parts.

When I first looked at Giftbringer, I felt that it looked like a Radoslaw Ignatow design. Then I looked at the designer and felt very observant.

Giftbringer is set in an alternate dimension where the Vikings have gifts instead of pillaging. It uses the Take It Easy paradigm of everyone using the same die rolls on their own board.

Over the course of ten turns, you use a pool of four dice to recruit Vikings (who supply gifts to give and can carry milk and cookies away) and pay for moving across the map to deliver gifts.

Giftbringer is all about managing resources, both the die rolls and your Vikings. There may be an optimal path across the map but the random factor of the dice keeps the game from being solved.

Giftbringer _might_ be simpler than Proud Christmas. It is definitely more intuitive. It’s a game that you can plonk down in front of folks and get the game going in two minutes. And, as a family holiday game, that’s a big plus.

I have heard folks say that free PnP games are a gift to the community and I agree with that. Both Proud Christmas and Giftbringer are definitely gifts and I appreciate both of them. 

That said, I will say that I do think that Giftbringer is the stronger, more polished game. I have already started recommending it to folks as a way to celebrate Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Yeah, I finally read Mona Lisa Overdrive

 Early in 2021, I decided that this would be the year I’d finally finish the Sprawl Trilogy. I’d already read Neuromancer and Count Zero more than once but this was the first time I read Mona Lisa Overdrive.

You know, I try not to spoil works but I can’t really discuss Mona Lisa Overdrive without spoilers. So…




Like Count Zero before it, MLO follows multiple characters. We have Kumiko, a Yakuza princess who is mourning her dead mother. Her father sends her to England to get her away from one gang war, only to land her in another. There is Mona, a drug addict and prostitute, who is pulled into a scheme and a world bigger than she’s ever known. We also have Slick Henry, a damaged artist and ex-con in the middle of nowhere whose nowhere turns into the epicenter of a world changing event. And finally, Angie Mitchell from Count Zero. She is at the center of the two conflicts: a plot to kidnap her and the next evolutionary step of cyberspace.

And the supporting character who runs through all of the plots is Molly Millions, the original street samurai. Except she is older and wiser and not so street. But, while she doesn’t pull any Wolverine fight scenes, she is clearly a lot more in control and a lot deadlier than she was in Neuromancer.

One of my observations (not criticisms) of Count Zero was that it was almost a standalone work from its predecessor, Neuromancer. Mona Lisa Overdrive, the third and concluding volume of the Sprawl Trilogy, ties those two books together.  It makes the three books a series.

A definite part of the overall arc of the Sprawl trilogy is that the ‘human’ level conflict gets smaller while the ‘internet’ level gets bigger. While the human conflict in MLO involved lots of death and money and power, it feels petty compared to the gestalt mind of the internet making its next big step.

Count Zero is still my favorite work in the trilogy. It is tighter and the danger of the stakes getting lost is stronger. And Neuromancer informed an entire genre. Mona Lisa Overdrive is honestly the weakest of the trilogy but only because it stands next to such giants. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

Unsurmountable: it’s you versus that mountain

 Unsurmountable is the third game in Scott Alme’s/Buttonshy’s Simply Solo series. For me, a work really earns its series label when it hits three works so good on them.

The game, like all of the games, is very simple. You are trying to build a mountain out of the cards with a path that runs from the bottom to the top. (For the sake of clarity, I should mention it’s a two-dimensional mountain)

You have eighteen cards and nothing else. No dice or tokens or such. Seventeen of the cards are mountain cards that show paths and a special action. The other card is the rescue helicopter with a one-time ability to put one card from camp/your hand at the bottom of the deck.

Shuffle the mountains cards and deal out four or five in a row. (The number depends on the difficulty level) You can either add the first card to the mountain, which will be a step-pyramid, or use the special power on any of the other cards. Draw back up and repeat. If you form a path to the top of the mountain before you run out of cards, you win!

Unsurmountable has five levels of difficulty, which is a very good design choice. After you get to know the deck, the game becomes dramatically easier. So the game needs the extra challenges to keep it interesting. I view the second level (four cards in your hand) as the base game with level one as a tutorial.

The worst thing I can say about Unsurmountable is that I still like Food Chain Island better. Scott Almes and Buttonshy started out the series with a very strong game in Food Chain Island. 

Unsurmountable is a micro game that is designed to be played in ten minutes or so. It is not going to be Gloomhaven or Agricola. However, within the framework of its design expectations, it does very well. Mechanically, it is intuitive and easy to understand but the choices are legit. Sometimes you get the mountain. Sometimes the mountain gets you.

Not everyone is looking for a solitaire micro game. But, if you are, Unsurmountable is worth looking at.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Halfway through Dicember

 We are about half way through Dicember. 

Let’s go through the ground rules: there are three levels of challenges. Play fifteen different dice games, play thirty-one different dice games and play a different dice game each day in December. (Which would still be 31 games but with a time structure)

Oh and online play or app play count BUT only if it duplicates the analog version of the game. (And if it doesn’t, why would I want to play it?)

I went in, aiming for the regular challenge level. I was pretty sure I could do the second level. I wasn’t too sure about the third level but I am tracking the dates of plays just in case.

Well, I am almost at thirty-one plays. Which honestly isn’t a surprise. I’ve really gotten into PnP Roll and Writes. I have a decent library of dice games to tap. 

So, that leaves the third level of the Dicember challenge. A different dice game each day of the month. And there are four hurdles to to doing it.

Pacing - making sure I don’t play too many different games when I have free time 
Life - And some days, I really don’t have free time and Dicember isn’t a priority. As the holidays kick in, that will get more so.
Fun - Feeling obliged to play a game can be a grind, which defeats the purpose of playing a game
Asynchronous Play -

Okay, that last one requires a little explanation. I play a lot of turn-based games online with long distance friends. It’s great. But I can’t control when the game will end which was how I had five dice games end on one day. Which was great for reaching thirty-one plays but not great for a game a day. On the other hand, we might not finish any of our games of Castles of Burgundy this month :P

Eh, I’ll at least reach the second challenge before January. It adds a new element to my month. And if it stops being fun, it’s okay to stop.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Trying not to spoil Encanto

 Our family watched Encanto. Okay, let’s talk about while minimizing the spoilers.

I really want to avoid discussing the plot but Encanto is about a magical family in Columbia and their magical house with the protagonist being the one daughter who doesn’t have a magical power. The film discusses the nature of family and community.

Honestly, I think it is the best film to come out of Disney’s animation studio since Moana. (We all like Frozen II but it has some pacing and script issues)

The scale of the movie is smaller than a lot of Disney movies. The stakes are literally on a family level. With that said, said stakes are very important to the characters and that importance is successfully conveyed to us, the audience. It’s a more intimate story than trying to save the world or a kingdom but it also more relatable.

I know some folks who don’t like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music but I think it definitely works in Encanto. It’s a fun soundtrack. There might not be a ‘Let It Go’ in it but that was a once in a generation lightning bolt.

And, of course, the animation is amazing. That’s kind of been the point of Disney since Snow White et al but the point still stands.

Basically, as a parent and a consumer of cartoon musicals, I’m glad Encanto exists.

Monday, December 13, 2021

All is Bomb is a nifty puzzle

 When I saw All is Bomb, I knew I had to try it just on the concept alone.

You need to serve the princess the perfect breakfast. You need to consult the prophets before they explode to choose the right food before it explodes to give the princess before she explodes. Because everything will explode because ALL IS BOMB!

Somewhere, James Ernst is wondering why he didn’t think of this theme first.

The base game consists of eighteen cards. The cards have a passive side and an ignited side. You have to play the card to flip it to ignited. The ignited side is more powerful but you discard it after you play it.

The goal is to play an ignited prophet to determine which of the three foods you need to serve the princess. You then need to play the ignited princess and then play the correct ignited food. 

And then I’m guessing everything explodes.

This is the clever bit. After you shuffle the deck at the start of the game, that’s it for randomization. BUT each card has a number on it. When you play a card, you draw that number of cards, add the last one to your hand and put the rest at the bottom of the deck on the same order.

So you cycle through the deck but in an unusual way. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen this mechanic before. And you have a lot of control (almost all the cards let you rearrange the deck in some fashion)  but you have to use that control to work your way through your puzzle.

First of all, the theme is hysterical. (Prophets of breakfast dishes on top of everything being a bomb?) At the same time, the game play reflects the theme. And I find the mechanics quirky and engaging.

I like it.

I made a copy of the low ink version, which doesn’t have the expansions. I may well make the color version so I can try the expansions.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Rock Opera ‘79 is a cool flavor of crazy

 In Rock Opera ‘79, you play a rebel rock band out to stop The Man and his soul crushing disco. Which sounds like a crazy idea but the actual game exceeded my expectations in its craziness.

A friend of mine recommended it many months ago and I finally picked up the free version. Which is _almost_ enough to play the game but lacks some character creation rules. But was enough to fill in the setting!

(Mechanically, the game is built around draw decks BUT has this fun little rule: the players can play rock anthems or the GM, excuse me, The Man, can play Get Mellow anthems. They give bonuses for their respective sides. BUT you have to play the actual song on a device and the bonuses only last as long as the song. Cue every player adding In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida to their play list)

I went in expecting a slightly Gonzo version of the 1970s in the United States. Instead, it’s a dystopia that is sliding right into a post-apocalypse. 

Man, where do I start? After a major nuclear war, western civilization was run by a computer named SIBIL who would be right at home in a game of Paranoia. SIBIL apparently broke down, the divide between the haves and the have-nots got even bigger and organized crime has become  the closest thing to government lef by The Man. 

However, an astronaut had discovered that going into space makes you one with the cosmos. And Rock and Roll can do the same thing. The ability to expand the mind and soul and give people a level of untouchable freedom and happiness is a threat to the powers that be. So they created the Discontent Suppression Field, Disco, which is addictive and suppresses will power.

So we have literal outlaw rockers trying to bring freedom and happiness to the oppressed masses while The Man is trying to suppress free will and creativity, while civilization is collapsing.

Oh and there is a literal iron curtain bisecting the world and the Martians really are out there.

In other words, this is well realized crazy with a lot of options for the game master/The Man to take things in different directions.

Because of the setting, I will actually remember Rock Opera ‘79 and would play it given the chance.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Count Zero is better than Neuromancer

 Since I had reread Neuromancer by William Gibson near the start of the year, I decided to reread its sequel Count Zero too.

Summary: in many ways, I like Count Zero better.

Count Zero is the story of three different characters, each in their own storyline. We have Bobby, a wannabe hacker; Turner, a corporate mercenary; and Marly, an art expert. Yes, of course, their stories are interconnected but they are still their own thing. Marly doesn’t even meet the other two.

It’s a good book so I don’t want to spoil it too much. All three of the characters are caught in the plans of a guy who is so rich he’s ceased to really be human and the works of what are Voodoo loa, the fractured pieces of an AI or both. 

I have to be honest. I find myself constantly looking at Count Zero either as a stand-alone work or comparing it to Neuromancer. As a stand alone work, it is really good. However, it is a study of contrasts with Neuromancer.

It is definitely shares a setting with Neuromancer and the events of Neuromancer clearly shape what’s going on in Count Zero. However, there’s only one shared character and you could honestly read Count Zero as a stand alone work. You should still read Neuromancer, of course.

The really interesting contrast for me is the characters. Case and the rest of the crew in Neuromancer are damaged, self-destructive people. And, by the end of the work, they are still self-destructive, only varying in the degrees they are damaging themselves. In Count Zero, we still have damaged people but they are all struggling to do better, to be better. It isn’t nearly as punk or noire but it is more interesting.

While Count Zero didn’t create a new genre, I honestly think the plot is more complex and the character development is better than Neuromancer. I read Neuromancer and appreciated its influence. I read Count Zero and appreciate William Gibson.

I should finally actually read The Mona Lisa Overdrive.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Why I forgot Prince of Pies

 You know, it’s never a good sign for a game when you forget that you’ve played it. Prince of Pies was one of those games. I was looking at In Hand cards games, saw it and realized I had made and played a copy.

Okay. Let’s get this part of the way. Prince of Pies is a Print and Play solitaire that’s played in hand. So you have to make it yourself and you play it by yourself and the cards stay in your hands the whole time.

The deck consists of double-sided, double-ended cards so every card has four faces. The cards are Jacks, Kings and Pies. You use Jacks to get pies and manipulate the deck. Kings give you penalties and two Kings in a row ends the game. Pies are points.

Here’s the basic idea. You have a hand of four cards with the draw deck under the leftmost card, which will always be a Jack. Every hand is assessed by the first and last card. If it is two Jacks, you take any pies between them for points. If the last card is a King, the King’s special power goes off. If there are two kings in a row, the game ends. If the last card is a pie, nothing happens. If you didn’t remove any cards, discard the second card. Draw back up to four.

Every Jack has some kind of special ability (rotate a card, flip a card, swap Jacks, swap a stolen pie with a pie in the hand) They can use it once and then get replaced with next Jack you draw.

Okay. Here’s why Prince of Pies doesn’t really interest me enough to remember it. Deciding to use the Jack power is the only decision you can make. And sometimes it can be quite effective but most of the game comes down to cycling through the deck and hoping luck works in your favor.

I found myself comparing Prince of Pies to the Shooting Party, another PnP solitaire that can be played In Hand. The Shooting Party is also about cycling through the deck and has a fairly simple core strategy of filling up your hand to control your discards.  The decisions for optimal play are pretty obvious. But you still have to actually do some work in order to make it happen, as opposed to just drawing cards and hoping for the best.

The Prince of Pies isn’t broken. It works as designed. It’s just… boring. There are older In Hand games, like Foothold Enterprises or the Zed Deck, that have held up better and newer ones that are definitely better.

Friday, December 3, 2021

My November Gaming

Since February, I’ve been posting about what Roll and Write games I’ve learned each month. And make no mistake, Roll and Write has been very good for me. But In November, I started itching to learn other types of games.

Really, thanks to design contests.

I’ve already written about the Flipuzzles collection, which is no longer free (and good for the designer!) As puzzles that consist of single cards you flip and mentally keep track of your position, they are tricky but their minimalism is very convenient.

And the Flipuzzle collection represents something that seems to be becoming more and more common with design contest games. They are prototypes with the goal of eventual publication. I like to tell msyelf that I’m getting in on stuff ahead of the game but I’m really just a Guiana pig :) Okay, I get to be part of the play testers. Does that sound better?

Another design contest game I tried was Squarcles, a speed puzzle game. Very little to it but what is there works. If I ever make a tiny travel box of dice games, Squarcles would make the short list.

My ‘big’ gaming experience for November was learning Unsurmountable. It’s the third game in Buttonshy’s Simply Solo series by Scott Ames. (Incidentally, I feel that hitting the third work in any media point where it officially exists as a series. That’s just me, though)

It’s a tile-laying game where you are trying to create a pyramid of cards to form a mountain and make sure there’s a continuous path from the bottom to the top. Each card shows a mountain path and has a special power. You have a hand of cards and you can either play the first card as a tile or use the special power of any of the other cards.

While Food Chain Island is still my favorite game in the series, Unsurmountaboe is a solid entry in the series and it will keep hitting the table.

I also _finally_ played the 18-card version of I Am Lynx. I had some confusion about the rules that three minutes of careful reading would have sorted out. The nine card version got me interested in In Hand games but there’s not much to it. The larger version is still very slight but feels more like an actual game.

And since I haven’t had a month go by this year without learning a Roll and Write, I tried out Pipe Dream from the 8th R&W design contest. A very simple game, it’s all about drawing paths in grids. 

It’s far from the first path drawing game I’ve played. The question I always ask is ‘Would I rather be playing 30Rails?’ Pipe Dreams does not pass that test but it does have one design element I like. A timer. Failing to reach an ever increasing length by a X number of rounds means you lose. That makes the game interesting.

In short, it was a really a last minute filler to get in a November Roll and Write but it had some nice design touches.

I started a new job in November so, for a wide variety of reasons, I didn’t game as much. But, looking at the month, learning new games was took up a higher percentage of my gaming time. And December will probably be the same… probably with more Roll and Writes :D 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

My November PnP

November was a busy month for me, which included starting a new job. However, crafting games proved to be a good form of decompression so I did get some PnP crafting. 

Here’s what I made:

Gelatinous Cube Dice
Button Men
All is Bomb
13 Sheep
Flipuzzlesand the original Thin Cube
Sunday Match (2021 Contest)

My ‘big’ project was Gelatinous Cube Dice. I honestly don’t have high expectations for it but I couldn’t pass up a dungeon crawl a Gelatinous Cube, which has to take the prize as Gary Gygax’s laziest monster design.

Quite a few of the games are tiny ones that I used to fill in empty spots on laminating sheets. I am looking forward to trying All is Bomb.

But the oddest PnP experience I had in November was that Flipuzzles was picked up by Button Shy in between me making a copy and playing it.

It’s been a time of changes but PnP is one of the ways I’ve been keeping the ship steady.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Looking at the 18-Card I Am Lynx

 I Am Lynx is a fairly significant game for me. It wasn’t the first in-hand game I saw or played. However, it was the game that got me really interested in the genre and the game that made me hunt down Palm Island.

The game itself has you create a landscape out of four cards with the draw deck held sideways. One of the cards will always be your lynx, who moves through the wilderness. Cycle through the four seasons without being killed by hunters and that’s the game.

There’s honestly not much to the nine card version of the game. After a couple games to get to know the rules and the way the game works, it’s really just a walk in the woods. But I have gotten a surprising amount of play out of it over the last few years. It’s more of an exercise in relaxation than a game but sometimes that’s what I want.

I have now finally tried the 18-card version. I had been initially thrown by a card that had arrows on it. That turned out to be for saving your place if you needed to stop playing and didn’t have anything to do with actually playing. (Okay, as a beta, there is some fuzziness in the rules in general)

While I Am Lynx is still no Palm Island and 18 cards (really 17 cards since one of them is a bookmark in case you want to stop for a while) is still a micro game, the longer version stretches the game to the point where it feels more like a game rather than a meditation. (Not that there is anything wrong with a meditation in nine cards)

There are more hunters. Hunting for food is _slightly_ more complicated. There are rules about shelters I _think_ I understand. 

But what really makes the longer version of the game better is just that it is longer. In the nine card game, you cycle through the seven cards that form  the draw pile so fast that you can makes threats (ie hunters) go away easily. A fifteen card draw pile is big enough that you actually have to deal with stuff. 

I Am Lynx’s greatest strength is that it gives you an environment to play with. Seriously, there are other in-hand games that give you more choices to make. But the walk in the woods is enough for me to enjoy it.

I Am Lynx’s real importance to me is it got to me to go find honestly better games. But I still like it enough to occasionally play it. And the bigger version is definitely better.

(I couldn’t find a place to comment on this where it felt like it fit but both versions were designed for contests but never actually entered. I believe that means they are effectively unfinished betas. They are pretty fun for games in that state)

Friday, November 26, 2021

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving surprised me with its heart

Our son surprised us by asking to watch the Peanuts Thanksgiving special on Thanksgiving. 

Earlier this year, he’d wanted to see It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and we were surprised at how bleak it was. So we weren’t sure what A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving would be like.

While it’s probably the most prominent animated Thanksgiving special (there aren’t a lot), it’s no A Charlie Brown Christmas so let’s get a summary going.




In A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, the conflict comes from Peppermint Patty inviting herself, as well as Maurcie and Franklin to the Browns for Thanksgiving dinner. However, Charlie Brown will be celebrating Thanksgiving with his grandmother. His hastily thrown togoether meal disappoints Peppermint Party but Marcie points out hypocrisy. In the end, Grandma Brown invites everyone to her condominium for a traditional meal.

While there is a scene where a chair comes to life and fights an epic battle with Snoopy, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is surprisingly grounded. Really, if a group of elementary school kids were to try to throw together a feast, popcorn, toast, pretzel sticks and jellybeans seems pretty believable. The special feels even more slice of life than usual for a Peanuts special.

As a grownup, the conflict in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving takes on a different tone. Peppermint Party invites herself into the Browns’ Thanksgiving because her dad has been called out of town and she’s all alone. 

While it is barely touched on, Peppermint Patty has a single parent home. (I remember Marcie’s mom made her a skating dress because Peppermint Patty didn’t have a mom) Unlike Charlie Brown being in the unrealistic position of getting a Christmas tree (something a grown up would be expected to do), Peppermint Patty’s situation is very believable.

And when Marcie calls her out on she imposed on Charlie Brown and then blamed him for not living up to her expectations, Peppermint Patty feels bad and apologizes. I can’t see Lucy doing that.

While the situation isn’t as ‘big’ as the Christmas or Halloween specials, the stakes in the Thanksgiving special are more grounded and thus hit home on a different level. I found it surprisingly effective.

A Charlie Brown Christmas was a medium-changing work that has informed animated specials in general ever since it’s creation. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving can’t touch that but it surprised me with its sweetness.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Games for Thanksgiving?

 While I often wonder what games are appropriately thematic for October and Halloween, I never do that for November and Thanksgiving. Which just goes to show you that ghosts and witches and Cthulhu are more fun than pilgrims.

And to be fair, most of the things that you can theme Thanksgiving around are general enough that there are plenty of games that already cover that ground. History, agriculture, cuisine, American football? Yeah, we’re good.

Honestly, the first game that comes to mind for me is Agricola. Which is set in Europe around 1670 so clearly historical accuracy is the most important part of Thanksgiving for me :P

Seriously, though, if Agricola ended with a communal feast, it’d be perfect.

But there are plenty of communal feast themed games out there. The game I’d choose out of that lot is Burgoo, in part because it’s actually in my collection :D Seriously, though, it’s more likely to hit the table this holiday, thanks to playing time and table space.

The other game that screams to me Thanksgiving is Settlers of the Dead, which is a PnP R&W solitaire about being a colonist trying to feed their family while fighting off the zombie apocalypse. And it’s only because the artwork includes ‘pilgrim’ hats. (Yes, I know they are actually puritan hats)

Maybe I’ll actually try it in celebration of Thanksgiving :D I’m pretty sure the game is weighted against combat being a viable option but it’d still be fun for one or two spins.

I honestly don’t know if I’ll put this much effort into Christmas gaming.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Dicember? What’s that?

 December 2021 is the seventh annual Dicember!

Never heard of it before now though.

Anyway, the idea is to challenge yourself to play dice games in the month of December. The normal challenge is to play fifteen different dice games during December. The harder challenge to 31 dice games. The really hard challenge is 31 dice games and play them on different days. You know, a different game every day of the month.

Okay, I decide to go in on the normal challenge. Over the last couple years, I’ve really gotten into dice games, particularly solitaire Roll and Write. 

The rules allow for solitaire play, as well as IOS and online play, as long as they actually, you know, follow the rules. If a game plays the same digitally as it does analog, it’s good. 

So I sat down and made a list of the dice games that I play, one way or another, on a regular basis. And, yeah, I hit fifteen different dice games without a problem. For me, Dicember is any given month at the moment. 

For a moment, I flirted with the idea of learning fifteen NEW TO ME dice games in December. But, since starting a new job, my time to game has shrunk and so has my drive to binge solitaire games. And I want to enjoy learning games, not blitz through them so fast that I don’t remember anything about them. 

Still, there are R&W games on the stack of games I want to learn. And there are plenty of R&W games I’ve already learned I could try again. I know that I don’t have the time to do the really hard challenge but I will _try_ the medium challenge.

Maybe every month can be Dicember but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth celebrating.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Squarcles- where minimalism makes it work

 I’ve been poking at a tiny game called Squarcles. It’s another game from this year’s One-Card Contest. You need four dice (ideally two white and two black but any two colors can work) and some way of keeping score so it’s pretty minimal.

It’s a speed puzzle game. The one-card part is a double sided card with a grid of interlocking black and white circles and squares.

Each turn, roll the dice and set aside the one that is the farthest from you. The three remaining dice define the elements you’ll be looking for. Odd numbers represent circles and even numbers represent squares. Black and white are black and white.

Flip the card over and everyone races to find a symbol on that side that has all the elements of the dice. First person to put their finger on a working symbol gets a points. Eight turns is a game and most points wins.

At first, since there are shapes inside shapes, I thought the actual values of the dice were an element. Nope, just even/odd and black/white. Which, to be honest, that makes the game workable.

The word that really comes to mind with Squarcles is functional. All of the parts work. The second word is portable. This isn’t a game I’d schedule. It’s for waiting for people to arrive or the food to get to the table. It’s probably he hilarious at a bar with drink players.

If I’d have had it way back when my collection fit in a backpack and was built around playing at coffee shops, Squarcles would have done well. It’s a pleasant little mental exercise. 

But what Squarcles really does is make me think of Ricochet Robots and Riciichet. Those were two of the first timed puzzle games I intentionally  tried. (Boggle is something that just happens to people. Good game but there is a cultural osmosis thing going on)

I still think of Ricochet Robots as one of the best examples of a timed puzzle game. But just about everyone I played it with didn’t like it. I couldn’t justify its space on the shelf. I do sometimes play it online or play Ricochet Pyramids, a Looney Pyramid tribute.

Ricochet (also published as Leonardo and Picus) was a deck of cards. The puzzles were finding the path created by five random cards. It’s honestly so-so but just being a deck of cards has kept in the collection.

So… times puzzles are very casual in my gaming life and smaller size work better. So Squarcles should do okay.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Alcatraz versus the Unreliable Narrator

 I have finished the fifth book in Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz books. And ooooh boy, do I want to write about them.

But the books are too much fun for me to spoil :) So I don’t want to go into any of the twisty plot elements. But the format gives me plenty to discuss.

Alcatraz is an orphan who discovers that he actually nobility of a fantastical hidden world, has vast magical powers and is at the forefront of the battle between good and evil. Which makes the series sound like a clone of Harry Potter. Instead, it relentlessly subverts those expectations.

Alcatraz is the narrator of his own adventures. And he is not just an unreliable narrator. He brags about being an unreliable narrator. On top of that, he discusses literary tropes and literary history, getting side tracked from the actual narrative constantly. 

Interestingly enough, it isn’t quite as meta as it sounds. Alcatraz doesn’t know that he’s in a book. He knows that he’s writing a book. (Well, within the context of the books. I’m pretty sure Brandon Sanderson is real author)

This has the interesting effect of letting Sanderson actively discuss the nuts and bolts of literature and writing while still making it make sense and be accessible within the context of the story.

And Alcatraz is a _fun_ narrator. Snarky, actually pretty funny and self-depreciating to the point of being legitimately damaged, Alcatraz is engaging and sympathetic. He’s very much of a guile hero but one whose desperate, cunning plans tend to have unfortunate and unforeseen consequences. He frequently points out that, since he is writing his autobiography, that he clearly lives through the books but there are still stakes.

The Alcatraz books pulls off being an interesting experiment/exploration in writing and being a decent story as well. Since it is theoretically aimed at younger readers, it needs to have the second part. Still, the former is really the selling point of the books.

So. Good books. Glad I read them. Go read them.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Some closing thoughts on Cozy Grove… for now

 Well, I finished the story portion of Cozy Grove. At least until they release more content.

Cozy Grove, as I’ve written about before, is a video game that is best describe as Animal Crossing with ghosts for villagers. Not a 100% accurate but that’s good enough for you to know if you’d want to play it or not.

Before the social and pandemic strife that has been the last couple years, I’d never heard of Iyashikei as a genre at all, let alone one for video games. And now that’s just about all I play :D

Iyashikei is a Japanese term for healing and is used to refer to works that are decompressing and soothing. Man, it’s a handy concept to have found out about.

Okay. Spoilers


You have been warned


Okay, the story part of the game (as opposed the decorating and landscaping part of the game) has you interact and council seventeen different ghosts. Getting through them all will take between three and four months since Cozy Grove has slow paced, daily gameplay.

The first fourteen ghosts are relatively recent passings and their stories are interconnected. However, the last three are ghosts from ancient times.

And, while their stories were interesting enough, I did not find the ancient ghosts as evocative or as  engaging as the other ghosts. It was like the last chapter of a book was actually from another book.

That said, I got literally months of relaxation out of Cozy Grove. It was well worth the playing for me. And if they add more ghosts, I’d play some more. But, for the moment, I’m back to being focused on Animal Crossing :)

Friday, November 12, 2021

I guess I got a sneak peek at Flipuzzle

 I had been planning on writing about my PnP experiences with Thin Cube and the rest of the Flipuzzle collection that has currently been developed. However, the files are no longer public because Buttonshy is planning on publishing them.

Still, even if they aren’t currently available, the system/family is an interesting one.

Flipuzzles aren’t actually games, at least as I define a game. They are puzzles with set solutions. With that out of the way, they are decidedly interesting puzzles.

Okay. Let me see if I can explain how they work. Each puzzle is a two-sided card. While the exact details and particular rules vary depending on the puzzle type, they all have this basic formula. They all involve moving on a grid. When you move on the grid, you flip the card and you will be in your new position on the grid on the other side. Same coordinates. Different side.

And here’s the part that can be the best and worst part of Flipuzzles. The card is the only component. You have to mentally keep track of where you are on the grid. That makes the puzzles incredibly portable and convenient. But that makes it easy to lose your place. Well, at least if you’re me.

This actually pushes the games out of the fidget department and into the cerebral territory. I actually have to really concentrate to work on the puzzles. Which isn’t a flaw. They are just a different kind of mental exercise than I went in expecting to see.

I do want to highlight the Thin Cube puzzles. Thin Cube won best overall game in this year’s One Card PnP Contest. It actually translates the idea of a Rubik’s Cube into a single card. There is a lot of puzzle packed into the medium. Unfortunately, between having a black-and-white printer and being so color blind that even the colorblind friendly palate is hard for me anyway, it’s extremely hard for me to parse.

As I understand it, the Flipuzzles will serve as Buttonshy’s game of the month. I think they will be perfect for the format. Each puzzle is self-contained as a singly card, make them easy as both a mailing and a PnP.

Between this ans FlipWord, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve seen from D. Teuber. I’m going to have to look at Word Trax.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

You know Falling Angel is a tragedy going in

 Probably the worst thing I can say about Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg is that I figured out the twist by the second chapter. And, no, I didn’t even know it inspired the movie Angel Heart, let alone seen that movie.

That actually didn’t spoil the book for me. I knew where the story was heading and what the ending would be (and I was right, by the way) However, the actual journey to get there was the real reason to read the book. I’m pretty sure everyone who goes to see Antigone knows how it ends but buys the ticket anyway. 
Falling Angels is a hybrid of horror, classic tragedy and hard boiled detective. And while the hard boiled detective genre frames the story, all three elements are essential to the story and are woven together surprisingly well.

Since the story is basically nothing but a whole bunch of twists, I am going to skip it to avoid spoilers. And, yes, it’s obvious but that doesn’t mean I feel like spoilers. A private detective named Harry Angel is hired by a Louis Cyphre. And bad things happen. There. That’s enough.

I’ll give this fair warning. There is some graphic violence in this book. It actually succeeds in being disturbing.

Falling Angel isn’t a perfect book but it does the things it needs to do to work well.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Why are there so many games in my wallet?

 I was startled to see how many games I had stuffed into my wallet when I did a quick inventory. It wasn’t a crazy number, only four. Still, it’s just a wallet.

I’ve kept a copy of Coin Age, the one they printed on credit card plastic, in my wallet basically since it was available. And I’m not sure it’s ever seen any play since I never carry coins unless I know I’m going to a place with penny squishing machines. Still, it’s a size and material designed for a wallet so I don’t mind having it there.

(And now I want to play Coin Age)

The game that has spent years in my wallet and actually gotten played is Down, an in-hand game of tracing a line along eight cards. It’s honestly just a fidget activity while waiting in the car but that has been enough to let it see plenty of play. 

More recently, I added a business card-sized copy of 13 Sheep. I don’t always have a dry erase marker on me but it has seen some play since I added it. Plus, if I ever have to explain how a multi-player solitaire R&W works, it’s a good example to show someone.

A couple weeks ago, I added a set of Flip Word cards. That is where I wonder if I crossed a line with the whole game in a wallet thing. Still, it’s a good game that just needs those cards so it stays.

I know there have been One-Card Game Design contests last year and this year. If a wallet game library is something to develop, that might be a place to mine for ideas.