Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Even middling Lord Dunsany is good

I was surprised to realize, when I started reading it, that I hadn’t read Tales of Three Hemispheres before. While there are vast  sections of Lord Dunsany’s writings I haven’t read, I’ve still read a lot of his early short stories. 

There was a period about ten years ago when I was reading collection after collection on Project Gutenberg and I assumed I had read Three Hemispheres then. I’m glad that I didn’t. While it isn’t the best Dunsany wrote, if I had read it amidst a flood of other Dunsany, I’d have missed what nifty elements it does have.

The book actually breaks down into two distinctive parts. Some unrelated stories and three interconnected stories, including the previously published Idle Days on the Yann.

I enjoyed the first part. The stories might not have been extraordinary but even middle of the road Dunsany is good reading. I particularly liked the Old Brown Coat, which would have been at home as a Jorkens story.

But the last three stories, collectively known as Beyond the Fields We Know (a phrase that since been pounded into the ground until it has reached the Earth’s core), that’s the best part of the collection. Although the best story being a reprint from an earlier collection doesn’t Tales of Three Hemispheres any favors as a stand-alone book.

I’m not exaggerating that each of these stores is Lord Dunsany going to the land of dreams… and being a tourist. In particular, Idle Days on the Yann is a flat-out travelogue. It isn’t a narrative. It’s world building. And in Lord Dunsany’s hands, world building is magical.

Between The Gods of Pegana abs Beyond the Fields We Know, Lord Dunsany basically created solar books.

Tales of Three Hemispheres is not one of Lord Dunsany’s greatest hits. However, it isn’t just for the completists either. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Wow, the Great Pumpkin is BLEAK

 Since stories are already selling Halloween stuff and you can only watch The Nightmare Before Christmas so many times in rapid succession, we let out seven-year-old watch Its The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It’s a special that neither of us had watched in at least a couple decades.

Wow. Was this actually aimed at kids?

The world of Peanuts is always bleak but there is usually some element of hope somewhere, particularly in the specials. And there are some many that there have to be ones I’ve forgotten or never seen. But the Great Pumpkin seems particularly bleak.

All of the characters are either mean or miserable, with the exception of Snoopy. It’s just a profoundly unhappy setting. In particular, the way that the world treats Charlie Brown is rough. Linus and Sally choose to ignore trick or treating and parties to wait for the Great Pumpkin. Bad things just happen to Charlie Brown. Every adult in his neighborhood singling him out to give him a rock is Kafkaesque.

The most redemptive character is Lucy. While she is cruel and bullying, she also gets extra candy for Linus and brings him home from the pumpkin patch in the middle of the night.

Truth to tell, given sophisticated jokes (needing to have a signed document notarized, denominational differences between Santa Claus versus the Great Pumpkin, demands for restitution) as well as the black comedy (as opposed to the slapstick of, say, the Three Stooges), I honestly wonder if adults were the actual intended audience for real.

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Sound of His Horn is a fever dream of dystopia

 The Sound of His Horn is a novel that I occasionally saw listed as an influential one but not one I heard a lot of conversation about. As if it was a book that mostly read by authors :D It was written by Sarban, which was the pseudonym for the British diplomat John William Wall. And, as I read the book, I couldn’t help but wonder if his professional life influenced his artistic one.

The Sound of His Horn is a ‘What if Hitler won WW II’ stories but it’s one that not like any other I have read. Instead of an authoritarian dystopia, it is a fever dream with touches of primal fear and Brave New World eugenics. 

The story is framed as a story within a story. An unnamed narrator hears the story from a WW II veteran named Alan Querdillon who is clearly suffering from PTSD. During the war, he escaped from a German prison camp. Shocked by a mysterious barrier, he wakes up a hundred years later in a world where Germany had won.

The entire future section of the book takes place at the hunting estate of Reich Master Forester Count Hans Von Hackelnberg. Almost medieval in many respects and science fiction in others, the estate is an absolute horror show where human beings, sometimes genetically modified, are the prey.

There is absolutely no way to talk about The Sound of His Horn without mentioning the complete objectification of women in the bad future. They are hunted, bred to be hunting animals and even used as furniture. Since this is depicted as despicable and nightmarish, I’m choosing to believe that Sarban does not support such a view. The degree of dehumanization is profoundly and effectively disturbing.

And I also have to mention Von Hackelnberg. While he actually shows up in a relatively small portion of what is already a short novel, he looms over everything. A giant of a man who is full of primal rage and violence, I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be supernatural or not. His scorn for his fat, pampered guests emphasizes his other nature.

As I mentioned before, Querdillon is clearly suffering from PTSD in the present time and the future section has a definite fever dream quality. A very possible interpretation is that he went mad and all of his fantastic experiences were in his his head. That possibility makes the already dreamy, nightmarish book even more uncertain.

After reading The Sound of His Horn, I can see why the book is considered so influential and also why it doesn’t seem to be widely read. I don’t know if it is a good book but it is a memorable and disturbing one.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

What is the real value of stretch goals?

 Magpie Games just finished up a Kickstarter for a licensed RPG about Avatar. (The Last Airbender/Kegend of Korea, not the ‘let’s see how many ideas we can steal from Poul Anderson’ one) As I understand it, they had a $50,000 goal and raised over nine million dollars. Is that a record? I can’t keep track of Kickstarter anymore.

A good friend commented on how tempting the Kickstarter was with all of the stretch goals. Even though he has never watched any version of the show, doesn’t really have much interest in it and doesn’t see himself running the game.

Which led to two us commenting that the extra value of stretch goals only has actual value if you’re actually ever going to use them.

The older and more cynical I get, the more I feel very cautious about stretch goals. All too often, I don’t even get a game on the table more than couple times, let alone enough to make any use of extra stuff. The Fear Of Missing Out that stretch goals creates is often a reality of missing nothing.

To be fair, there have been stretch goals that have turned out to have had value for me. For instance, the stretch goals for the Pack O Games Kickstarters were additional complete games. Which I did play and got value from.

Still, if stretch goals are the deciding factor me me, I probably shouldn’t back the Kickstarter.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Agricola is a game that’s all about labor!

 When thinking about what game to retire about for Labor Day, I thought about Agricola since it’s all about doing manual labor!

Agricola came out fourteen years ago… OH MY SWEET CATAN, I’M OLD!  And that’s when Uwe Rosenberg stopped being the Bohnanza guy (a game I still totally love) and being a designer of games that cover medium-sized tables.

It’s been a while since I’ve played Agricola but that’s entirely due to time and opportunity and table space. I’d happily play it again. And from what I can tell, it may have had some revisions but it’s never gone out of print. But what is it that makes Agricola so nifty? 

It uses a solid worker placement system. The different decks of cards give it vast variety and replay value. Later editions had adorable animal meeples. The game is a delightful work of game mechanics.

But I think an additional element helped Agricola go off like a bomb and has helped its long term success. It’s really easy to understand. Which is a more fun way of saying it’s accessible. Everything you do in the game makes sense. You are doing basic agricultural chores. 

When I was more of a gamer snob, I used to have a meh opinion of theme and fluff. I thought it was just a way for Fantasy Flight to justify charging a lot for a bunch of plastic. But I now realize that these things can help you wrap your brain around a game and allow it to be more intricate. Agricola could theoretically be rendered as a total abstract but it would be not only less fun but also harder to understand.

Agricola. Maybe not my favorite Uwe Rosenberg game. Maybe not yours. But it is a good one.

And happy Labor Day!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

My August R&W

August came close to ending what has been my monthly learning new Roll and Writes. Which was never an actual goal of mine. It just kept happening :D August was just a busy month but I did manage to learn a few.
While I was already familiar with Robin Gibson’s Paper Pinball series, I tried a couple boards that I hadn’t tried before.

I’d played an earlier version of Sherwood 2146 but I tried the most recent version this time. I also tried a board from the second season, Squishington Goes to Venus. (Judging by the art, Squishington is a budgie that NASA sent to the planet Venus)

Paper Pinball is a guilty pleasure of mine, a game series that has slowly grown on me. They are very much part of the roll-them-dice-and-fill-in-boxes school of R&W. Which can be brilliant (The Clever family of games, for instance) but I’d call Paper Pinball just okay, if amusing.

I intentionally tried a very early board and a later board. And the differences were definitely there. Sherwood 2146 is so very simple and the decisions border on being mindless. Squishington, while still very simple, actually gave me choices and actual interactions between board elements.

Paper Pinball is still strictly a guilty pleasure but if someone asked me to recommend a board, it would be from season two. I will save season one for when I’m feeling brain dead, which means they will still see play.

The other Roll and Write I tried out for the first time is Stonemaier’s Rolling Realms. Holy cow, that was a completely different experience from Paper Pinball.

The game consists of nine micro-games, each inspired by one of Stonemaier’s larger games. It was developed as a game folks could play together long distance when they are under lockdown.

I’m not going to try to evenly lightly summarize Rolling Realms. It definitely uses the idea of there being way more to do than you can ever get done.

There have been ten different versions of the game, not counting the official version that is coming out. That makes it a little weird for me to access. And I’ll need more plays to really get even a vague handle on how many actual decisions the game has.

The only real issue I’ve had is that fitting all the micro-games and the rules on one sheet of paper leads to rule questions. The published version will have a rule book so that should clear that up.

September looks to be busy too so I don’t know if I’ll get in any new games. Even if I don’t, it’s been a better run than I expected.


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

My August PnP


Okay, here’s what I made in August:

Timeline: Classic - Print and Play Demo

Yup. That’s it. School started for our son at the start of August so that’s where our focus and time and mental stamina was at. My goal is to get one ‘meaningful’ project in a month so I’m content.

I got the files from Asmodee’s website. I’ve looked at the series but never tried it so this will be a chance to sample it. Which is the entire point of a demo :D

The demo consists 30 of the 55 cards, over half the entire game. Would getting the complete game be that much more rewarding than the demo? I do have to wonder that.

September looks to be another month where PnP isn’t a priority. Eh, life gets crazy.  As long as I get a little crafting in, it will help me stay balanced.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Limes takes Cities and makes it better

 Limes might seem like Martyn F did a mashup of Take It Easy and Carcassonne. Which isn’t actually the case. It’s a refinement of his earlier mashup of Take It Easy and Carcassonne, Cities. :D

Short version: you are creating a four-by-four grid of tiles, creating a map. You are also playing meeples down to score specific parts of the map, Carcassonne-style.

Incidentally, the word Limes isn’t being used as a the citrus fruit but the Roman term for borders and border defenses along what would become Germany. So you are building a map of part of the Roman Empire and I got to learn a new definition of Limes.

So, everyone has an identical set of 24 numbered tiles, along with seven meeples. Someone randomly draws a tile and everyone places that tile. It will all seem familiar if you’ve ever played Take It Easy… or Karuba… or Criss Cross… or Rolling Realms. Wow, this has become a really common mechanic. You are forming a four-by-four grid so you won’t use all the tiles and you will end up defining the dimensions of the grid as the game goes on.

You can also either place a meeple on the tile you just placed OR move a previously placed meeple to an adjacent geographic feature.

The tiles are divided in four areas. They can be water, forest, city or watch tower. And all of them except for watch towers are doubled up on some tiles. And, Carcassonne-style, meeples score points in different ways depending on what they are are standing on.

Most points wins. Unless you’re playing solitaire. In that case, just try to do really well. 

Okay. I really enjoy playing Limes. You have to be in the mood for a Take It Easy-style game and it is definitely a light game. But if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s a good choice.

Cities, back in 2008, was a big deal for me. Along with Wurfel Bingo, it was one of the first Take It Easy-style games I tried that wasn’t Take It Easy. And I still quite like it. But Limes is an improvement. You can score using all four types of terrain and each scoring method is distinct.

Now, I have only played Limes online ( The one downside to the physical version is only has enough components for two players. At one point, I had three copies of Cities so I could play up to twelve people.

I had wanted to try Limes for years and it turned out to be well worth playing.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Railroads and Dungeon Crawls

 Now, I don’t mean a dungeon crawl set on a train, although what limited knowledge I have of the cartoon Infinity Train makes me think that might be what that is.

Railroading is when a game master has the game set up so that there’s a preordained set of events with predetermined outcomes. The players effectively become actors in a script that’s already been written, without any acutal agency.

Dungeon Crawls, of course, are adventures that are set in some sort of spatially limited set of areas. Dungeons, castles, temples, caves, ruins, they come in different flavors but they are all a defined set of areas.

Part of me wondered if they were variations on the same idea. After all, there usually is some kind of order in how you go through a dungeon. Then I realized that they weren’t really the same at all.

You see, railroading controls what you can affect, sometimes even what you do. A dungeon crawl just controls where you can go. Maybe. I was once in a party where the party leader specialized in divination. Once he also got access to teleportation spells, he would crack open dungeons like Danny Ocean. (Fortunately, that amused the dungeon master)

The long and short of it is that I don’t like railroading. It turns the game into a movie that the game master is trying to force into existence. It turns the players into being an audience, not participants.

On the other hand, I have both a fondness and appreciation for a dungeon crawl. Yes, it is a controlled and limited environment which leads to controlled and limited choices but everyone knew what they signed up for. It’s transparent and doesn’t have a predetermined outcome.

I have also known plenty of game masters who have suffered from Bruno. Being able to get away from complex politics and elaborate schemes and villages where everyone has detail personalities and just run a dungeon? I am beyond fine with someone needing to just handle some orcs coping with home invaders.

And if someone says why don’t you just play a game like Descent in campaign mode with funny voices, I would say why not? 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Wow, was Grimtooth’s traps its own thing

 I decided to take a virtual trip back to an earlier age in RPGs and look at the original Grimtooth’s Traps from 1981. It is certainly a look back at a time when RPG philosophy was very different.

Grimtooth’s Traps was the first in a series of game supplements that consisted to literally page after page of traps. There weren’t any game stats for any of them (at least in the original versions of the book) Just diagrams, descriptions and snarky commentary. Lots and lots of snarky commentary.

The most entertaining part of the books and probably a big reason why there ended up being so many volumes is that the narrator is a sarcastic troll named Grimtooth who feels that the deadlier the trap, the better. Since so many RPG books from this time period read like engineering text books, the Grimtooth books have a lot of character.

And as a general rule, the traps involve either a crazy amount of engineering or magic. They are wildly over the top , not even remotely cost effective and often ridiculously deadly.

Honestly, I’m hard-pressed to believe a lot of dungeon masters actually used these traps. Not only would they be potential total party killers, they would slow the game down to a crawl, even if you had a party of nothing but thieves.

That said, I can see making some of the larger traps into the centerpiece of a tomb or ruined temple or a mad wizard’s proving grounds. They don’t necessarily have to violate the part of the Hickman manifesto that says architecture should make sense.

I can’t  say that Grimtooth’s Traps and the books that followed it are examples of an era old enough that most Grognards aren’t old enough to remember since they are so atypical. And I think it would take some work to make traps actually useful. But Grimtooth is a fun read.

Monday, August 23, 2021

The Count of Nine is a fun nine cards

 If you’re even just casually into PnP games (which, since I’m a lazy PnPer, is really where I’m at), you’ve heard of Count of Nine. It’s a Euro in just nine cards. No dice or cubes involved.

The game is all about infrastructure building. You are trying to build a big building and that is going to take resources and smaller buildings.

The cards are double sided and orientation matters. When they are in your deck, they are sideways. When you build a card, it goes upright in your tableau. When they are sideways, the resource on the top of the middle is the active resource.

You slide cards and flip them in order to expose resources and potential building to build. When you run through the deck, you can leave the deck unchanged, rotate the whole deck, reshuffle it or rotate just one card. All this can give you access to different resources.

The game ends when either there are no more possible moves OR you choose to end it. Your score is based on the buildings you built MINUS how many rounds you played. So there can be a reason to stop early.

It took me two tries to figure out the game. While the sliding and flipping was kind of different, what needed to click in my head was how the cards interacted. For one thing, you need a crew to build anything. At my current understanding of the game, building a tavern to get guaranteed access to a crew once a round is important. And some buildings require smaller buildings so you can’t build a different building on that card.

Okay. I definitely enjoy Count of Nine. I think it’s fun and well designed. It gives me a legitimate Euro experience in five, ten minutes with just nine cards. After a couple learning hiccups, the game becomes intuitive so you can just shuffle and go.

I do sometimes wish there were more cards. The game can sometimes feel formulaic, particularly if you play it a few times in a row. But the game is well balanced as it stands and adding more cards would make the game less tight.

The Count of Nine is one of those Print and Play games that I would say, if you have the slightest interest, make it and try it. It will be worth the work. It’s not perfect but it’s a pretty cool nine cards.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Pokethulhu is a cute idea wrapped in a meta package

 After I learned that Pokethulhu was actually a thing, I had to find it and read it. Neither one of those things was that hard once I actually knew it existed.

Anyway, it is an RPG that I _think_ was created as a gag and never intended to be played, although it does have a perfectly functional dice pool system attached to it. Yes, we have reached the point where it’s easy enough to throw in functional mechanics into a joke game.

As the name makes blatantly clear, the game is a mash up of Pok√©mon and the Cthulhu Mythos. The older you are , the weaker your sanity is, so that’s why it’s kids who go out to become cultists and catch abominations. Which is FAR from the strangest thing I’ve seen done it either franchise.

To be honest, Pokethulhu would be a one-note joke that would be immediately forgettable if it wasn’t for one over-arcing conceit. The idea that the game is based on an existing IP and makes constant references to it. It’s like Norman Sprinrad’s Iron Dream only not nearly as disturbing. It’s a step beyond being based on a fake product. It’s like you are playing a game where you are playing a game in that setting.

And it even plays into the mechanics. Players can play chaos cards, causing bizarre effects, but only if another player makes specific quotes from the Pokethulhu cartoon. Which, of course, doesn’t exist.

Having to come up with lines from a cartoon that is non-existent is the most compelling reason to play the game in my opinion.

The single funniest thing in the tiny RPG was a listing for a pokethulhu named Skoobai-Thulhu. In the cartoon, a cultist named Shagai has one and has to use Skoobai-snacks to get it to do anything.

I have seen a lot of RPGs that I have looked and said ‘Man, I want to play that.’ Pokethulhu isn’t one of them. BUT man, was it a fun read!

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Nearing the middle of Cozy Grove

 As I wrote a couple months ago, we started playing Cozy Grove. It’s a video game about being gently helping unhappy ghosts let go and pass on. And we’ve made it to about the halfway point.

Short version: the game has kept us engaged and want to keep playing. So, that’s a thumbs up.

Here’s a recap: You are a spirit scout, a branch of scouting that is into wildernesss skills and helping the restless dead find peace. And you are stuck on an island that is full to the bursting with unhappy ghosts. Who are all pretty friendly. At the worst, they are rude but they will still talk to you. You don’t have to worry about the dead trying to horribly murder you.

While there is a plenty of crafting and decorating for you to do, the heart of the game is fulfilling literally hundreds of fetch quests. And, slowly, you find out each ghosts story. As opposed to random, faceless ghosts, you have a small collection of ghosts, each with their own story to explore. 

And so far, those stories range from the melancholy to the seriously depressing.

Every time you level up, the island expands and you get a new ghost so we haven’t seen everyone yet. But none of the stories have been ‘inappropriate’ and forced us to edit them for our seven-year-old.
None of the stories are that surprising. We’ve only completed one but they all seem to have plenty of foreshadowing.

Cozy Grove hasn’t been shocking or surprising but it has been a slightly sad way to decompress.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Okay, Tom Baker was great. I admit it.

 I keep going back and forth when it comes to Tom Baker. 

As someone who got into Doctor Who in the mid-80s, Tom Baker was _the_ Doctor. He still holds the record for the most years on the show. He was the iconic version of the character. If people knew nothing else about Doctor Who, they knew about the scarf. 

And there have been so many times that I have felt his time on Doctor Who is so over-hyped. But, to be completely fair, I blame that almost entirely on Graham Wilson.

While my introduction to Doctor Who was reruns of the Jon Pertwee era, a lot of the people I knew who loved Doctor Who had been introduced through Tom Baker. For some, he was their only Doctor. I’ve heard of at least one station (I think it was a college TV station, not a PBS one) that ONLY showed Tom Baker. When they’d get to Logopolis, they’d loop back to Robot.

I think of Tom Baker’s time as breaking down into three distinct parts. Phillip Hinchcliffe as the producer, Graham Wilson as the producer and John Nathan-Turner as the producer. And, frankly, I don’t think Phillip Hinchcliffe’s time as a producer can be overhyped. Those three seasons are such a golden era of Doctor Who that I have seen retrospectives that basically ignore Tom Baker’s other four seasons!

Graham Wilson’s time, on the other hand, was hit by budget struggles, production union strikes and a demand to make the show lighter and sillier. (Mary Whitehall was the murderer of children’s  dreams)  There were still some gems. City of Death is a _classic_ But I sometimes rewatch The Horns of Nimon just to relive my utter amazement that it exists. 

Honestly, as controversial as John Nathan-Turner was as a producer and a human being, I remember having a sense of relief when I first watched his one season with Tom Baker. I was just so tired of the goofy tone of Wilson and the Doctor being so unbeatable. 

Tom Baker’s time had some low points (The Nightmare of Eden anyone?) but it had more high points than low points. It was during his time that Doctor Who had its first time as an international phenomenon. And as singularly unique as Tom Baker is, I don’t think another actor could have done the same. We may well not have a New Who without him.

Okay. Tom Baker’s Doctor was great.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Flipword - my new go to pocket word game

 Flipword is the most recent nine-card word game I’ve looked at. It’s not a huge field but I’ve seen at least five of them so there’s an interest there, at least for designers. And, to be honest, it is the best one I’ve found in case you don’t read anything but the opening paragraph.

It’s a print and play game originally from the 2021 Nine-Card Contest. All you need to play is the cards and some way to keep score. The core concept of the game is dead simple. Each card has a condition on each end and both sides, so four conditions on each card. And by condition, I mean some kind of rule that a word has to follow. Be seven letters, end in T, have exactly two vowels. That sort of thing.

There are rules for a base game but there are also nine more rule sets for playing with the cards. There’s competitive rules, solitaire rules, cooperative rules. They all involve having three (or two or even four) cards out and coming up with a word that fits all the conditions. One actually has players have their own hand of cards, which was neat.

Last year, I tried out and really liked a nine-card word game called Word Chain. The first player comes up with a word and each card involves coming up with a new word that builds from the word before it. I think it’s a really killer design with vast replay value since changing the first word changes the entire game.

But Flipword has a much greater ‘one more time’ factor. I start playing it and then I keep playing it. It is more accessible than Word Chain and I _think_ simpler. I like the design of Word Chain more but I have more fun with Flipword.

Flipword is a game that takes up basically no space, either to store or to play. If you keep score      in your head or just play for fun, all you need the cards. It is super easy to teach and should work for non-gamers and casual gamers. So, it’s been added to my travel bag.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

My biggest takeaway from Coco

 As I am perpetually years behind watching even kids movies (and I have a kid so those are usually the only movies I watch!), it was only a month or so ago I finally saw Coco.  It only took me four years.

And everyone I know who watched it and didn’t force me to see it has a lot to answer for.

While Coco doesn’t knock Inside Out down from being my favorite Pixar movie, it is very high in my opinion and enjoyment. Not only is it ridiculously visually beautiful, I really enjoyed the music. I don’t know if Pixar has done any other musicals. 

And keeping with how rare their musicals are, all the music is diegetic (I had to look that word up), meaning all the musical numbers comes from the characters actually performing them within the context of the story. IE, there isn’t an offstage orchestra and the songs aren’t in theater of the mind.

I am not going to give away any spoilers because there must be some people like I was who haven’t seen the movie yet but would like to. But there is a takeaway I want to comment on.

The movie has two protagonists, Miguel and Hector. They both have their own character arcs and personal journeys to make.

However, I believe the actual hero of the story is Mama Imelda. (Okay, just saying that is a spoiler) While she has her own character arc, she is also the one who saves the family in life and in death. Imelda gets things DONE and she is magnificent for it.

I really enjoyed Coco, not the least for its kickass skeleton great great grandmother.

Monday, August 9, 2021

A Rusty Throne is a war game for folks who don’t know war games

 I am both the perfect audience and the worst commentator for A Rusty Throne. It’s a solitaire war game that feels like it was designed for those of us who don’t know much about war games. (My war game days were back in high school and that was a…while back)

It’s a PnP game. There is a board, which takes up only one page and consists of nine areas, and a small deck of cards. Beyond that, all you need is ten tokens for you and ten tokens for the AI king.

The idea behind the game is that the king has gone insane and you’re trying to take over the island kingdom. You know, in order to save the kingdom. I’m sure A Song of Ice ans Fire didn’t inspire the theme at all. Your goal is to control all four of the castles in the board. You lose if you lose your home castle.

The game is entirely card-driven. The cards have symbols for combat, actions for the king and command points that you pay for your actions. 

There are actually only two actions in the game. Adding forces to a castle you control and movement. Combat happens when troops live onto an enemy-occupied space.  And combat is pretty simple and symbol-based. Swords remove troops. Shields block swords. Then add up surviving troops and bugles. Higher number wins and the losing troop is shoved off. If there’s nowhere to run, they are destroyed.

While the game is simple; even for someone like me who isn’t war game savy, it is very procedural. The hardest part is getting all the steps in the right order without missing any.

I have to note that the game balances you being able to think and the king taking actions (sometimes randomly) from cards by making the king a lot stronger than you. The king outnumbers you at the start, goes first (which is particularly strong in battle) and has a higher stacking limit.

One lesson even I have learned is that you are not going to to win if you charge in Leroy Jenkins style. The AI king is stronger than you and you are going to have to use finesse to win.

A Rusty Throne has been an interesting experience for me and it is a game I plan to go back to. Frankly, between the relative ease of play and construction, I think this is a game that you should make and try even if you are just a little bit interested.

Friday, August 6, 2021

A war I never heard of in nine cards

 One of the things that I enjoy about print and play is that you get to see some very experimental designs. I don’t know if Charles versus Peter is actually that experimental. However, since I really don’t play war games, playing it counted as an experiment for me.

The game is about Charles XII of Sweden’s invasion of Russia in 1708. So, the first thing I learned is that Sweden invaded Russia in 1708! The game was part of the 2020 9-Card Contest so the whole game is conducted with nine cards and a bunch of dice.

Oh and it’s a solitaire. You take on the role of Charles while the random number generator gods take the part of Peter.

One of the nine cards is used tracking the status of seven different things. Your supplies, the state of your artillery, the state of your cavalry, the state of your infantry, Peter’s military might, how many key cities Peter holds and what season it is. The other eight cards have maps on one side and tactics and events on the other.

I’ve tried to summarize the rules a few times but every time, I keep doing a bad job. I’ll try to just give an elevator pitch.

There’s two ways to win. You either need to reduce Peter’s military with absolute crushing victories or take over enough key cities. And pick a path to victory and stick to it. There’s not enough wiggle room to try for both. You roll dice pools to wear down a map card’s defense.

When you build the map, you reshuffle the cards you leave behind so you never run out. It’s like building a train track by ripping up the tracks behind you. You have a hand of cards in the tactic side. Events pop up when you move, as you’d expect. 
There’s a lot going on in nine cards. Terrain, events, weather, etc.  I still haven’t done a good job describing the game but I’ve only taken two paragraphs instead of seven.

I will say it feels like it’s easy to end up in a death spiral. Once you start falling behind, things get worse fast. Which is apparently historically accurate. As I understand, Peter wore Charles down and disrupted his supply chain. 

Charles vs Peter isn’t my new favorite game but it was an interesting and educational experience. I can’t judge how good a war game it is but I feel like I learned a little something about war games.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Arthur C. Clarke can be funny?

 Every few years, I find myself rereading Tales from the White Hart by Arthur C. Clarke. After reading The Travel Tales of Mister Joseph Jorkens, I felt almost obligated to revisit the book.

Tales from the White Hart is a collection of club stories, all science fiction tall tales, being told at the White Hart pub. They are all comedic, which makes this only comedy I’ve read by Clarke. (He may have written more and I just don’t know about them)

While the fantastic club story is now a well established genre, Tales from the White Hart is a relatively old example. (Although, looking it up, Gavagan’s Bar is just a little bit older) All of the stories in the White Hart fall firmly in the Science Fiction camp, although some, like the Reluctant Orchard and What Goes Up, are pretty ridiculous. Which is admitted in story :D

Clarke himself is the narrator but most of the stories are told by the hopefully fictional Harry Purvis. And when he isn’t telling the story, Harry is annoyed by that fact. Harry Purvis is a classic Munchausen, someone who has been everywhere and knows everybody. And he gets a bit of development by the last story.

What is interesting to me is that Clarke was apparently friends with Lord Dunsany and actually name-drops Jorkens at one point. However, Clarke’s stories remind me a lot more of Wodehouse’s club stories, like Mr. Mulliner. For one thing, they are flat out comedies while the Jorkens stories I read have more melancholy and wonder. There is a snarky tone running though White Hart. And the gender dynamics of henpecked men and in-charge women also reminds me of Wodehouse :D

But Wodehouse is great so that’s okay.

Tales from the White Hart isn’t the best collection of club stories I’ve ever read. But the stories are consistently good all the way through.

(Okay. Since someone will ask, I enjoy the Callahan stories (although their quality can drastically vary), the Draco Tavern Stories and the Black Widowers (which isn’t fantastical but is by Asimov) more than the White Hart)

Monday, August 2, 2021

My July R&W

 At some point, I’m not going to have learned enough Roll and Writes to justify a monthly commentary. I really expected to hit that point before now. But, nope, not yet.

The first R&W I tried this month was Halloween Roll and Fright. I’m not sure where I actually found it. The board is a six by six grid. You roll three dice and assign two dice as coordinates and the last one as a map element. If you roll doubles, you can check off Halloween critters on a list. 

It… wasn’t good. Between the restrictions that the dice have you and placement restrictions, I found I actually didn’t have a lot of control or choices. 

Next up was a game called Maztec Duel. It was from one of the R&W contests and, from what I can tell, was designed to as PR for a larger game. You used two dice to make several steps of picking out and placing buildings on a grid. It reminded me just a little of Elasund or Blue Moon City in that building took multple steps.

But they crunched the rules down one page. Great for duplexing, laminating and done. But not great for making the rules clear. Even looking at the design forum and other people’s questions, I’m not sure I got it right and constantly looking for clarification dragged the game down.

Then I tried another contest game, Assault on the Colossus. If it wasn’t inspired by Shadow of the Colossus, I don’t believe it. I liked the theme of climbing up a giant monster to kill it but I felt like the dice determined everything and I didn’t have any real choices. There is some dice manipulation but it still felt like there one obvious choice or no choice.

After those three games, Puerto Miau was a relief. A roll and move and write game, Puerto Miau is simply okay. However, it is a fully realized and functional game. Contest games are very much prototypes but it was still nice to play a game where the rules were clear and I had choices.

(At that point, I stopped trying to learn new Roll and Writes and revisited 30 Rails because I was worried it wasn’t as good as I remembered. Fortunately, it was even better)

After that, I started trying Roll and Writes that were more established.

Radoslaw Ignatow’s Time Machine (easily his least inspired title) has you use two dice per turn to set the dials on the time machine. The settings plus connections between dials generate a number which you use to move down the scoring track. Bigger numbers are better but ending on specific points gets you bonus points. I enjoyed it but I felt like had a lot less control than his games with pools of six dice.

As I wrote elsewhere, I _finally_ played Utopia Engine. And it was really good!

The last game I learned in July was Castles of Burgundy the Dice Game. While it doesn’t hold a candle to the full game, I could see how that game inspired the dice game and I did enjoy it. As a solitaire game, my initial impressions are strong.

I know that August see not nearly as many new R&W experiences but there are still unplayed games in the pile.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

My July PnP


I tried to make good use of time in July and it was a particularly productive month.

This is what I made:

Alert: All Hands on Deck
Circe’s Labyrinth (2018 Solitaire Contest)
Race for the Solar System)
Elevenses for One (minimal copy)
Handful o’ Hoodoo
Capital Vices with expansions
Deadeye Dinah (2021 9-Card Contest)
Flipword (2021 9-Card Contest)
Mini Flipper (2021 9-Card Contest)
Kart Dungeon (2021 9- Card Contest)

Capital Vices was my ‘big’ project for the month. It’s been on my ‘to make’ pile for months and it was finally time.

Beyond that, I made or remade a bunch of smaller card games. My copy of Deadeye Dinah had gotten crinkled so I made a fresh one. I wanted a beater copy of Elevenses for One that would fit easier in my wallet so I skipped the backs and the timer cards. (It’s easy enough to keep track of time in my head)

I’m pretty sure August won’t see as much PnP making as July did and that’s fine. 

Friday, July 30, 2021

Target made me underestimate Patrick Troughton

As I’ve written in the past, I come from the generation of Doctor Who fans whose primary source of Doctor Who was the Target novelizations. It was certainly a different experience from a world where so much can be streamed at the touch of a button! That said, if I hadn’t had those books as a source of Doctor Who, I never could have become the fan that I continue to be today. 

However, there is absolutely no denying that the books simplified the stories. They were aimed at younger readers. Which was okay since I was a younger reader at the time! I have even read that Terrance Dicks, who wrote over sixty of the books, may have helped British kids learn to love reading more than any other author. (I would love to see an actual study that claims that. Still, better him than Enid Blyton)

So, when I actually got to see stories that I only knew through the books, I was often amazed at how much depth and nuance there was.  And, yes, a lot of that had to do with the actors and their acting.

I was underwhelmed by the novelization of the Three Doctors, which was a major milestone by its concept alone. And the actual episode wasn’t meaningfully different. (I am convinced that Terrence Dick often worked with the original script in one hand and a typewriter in the other) But Stephen Thorne as Omega hammed it up to eleven, chewing the scenery to the point where you’d think he was trying to eat the TARDIS console. It was over the top and kind of ludicrous but darn if it wasn’t entertaining.

And while the books never undersold the Master, you actually have to see Roger Delgado to appreciate his charm and lovely creepiness. There have been many fun interpretations of the Master but the character would have never gotten off the ground without Mister Delgado.

But I think Patrick Troughton is the one who got the worst of it. The books portrayed him as a clown, a cosmic hobo. Sight unseen, he was my least favorite Doctor.

However, actually seeing Patrick Troughton act, there is a presence and gravitas that I had no idea was there. More so than any of the Doctors who followed him (except maybe Sylvester McCoy), there is a thin layer of silliness over a core of steel. Troughton’s Doctor would see things to the bitter end and he would make them right. 

The more exposure I have to Troughton’s Doctor, the more impressed I am and the more I like him. William Hartnel was where the Doctor got started but Troughton is the one who has informed every portrayal afterwards. 

Yeah, didn’t get that from the books.

I am very glad that I had the Target books. In a world before the internet and streaming, they were essential. But, yeah, getting to actually watch the show is better :D 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Bluey succeeds as a cartoon by keeping it real

 Our son has recently fallen in love with the cartoon Bluey. I don’t know how long that will last but the more we are exposed to it, the more we his parents are appreciating it.

Bluey is about an Australiaian family in a world of anthropomorphic dogs. Mum Chilli, dad Bandit, six-year-old daughter Bluey and four-year-old daughter Bingo. Bluey is the title character but it’s very much an ensemble work. Every character has a chance to shine and sometimes it’s even one of the friends.

Here’s the thing. One of the first descriptions I read of Bluey was that it was the Australian version of Peppa Pog. But what made it work for us was the vast number of things that are completely different than Peppa Pig. While, of course, it’s idealized, it’s a very grounded slice of life show. It doesn’t show big events, just tiny common life events. Other than talking dogs, it’s the most realistic show he’s latched onto.

I was already warming up to the show when my wife insisted that I watch the episode Bin Nights. In Bin Night, the girls help Bandit take out the garbage every week. They talk about their day, with a focus on Bingo talking about someone she’s having problems with at school. That’s it. Bandit supports and comforts her but doesn’t magically solve her problems. It’s very ordinary and very sweet and very relatable.

In many cartoons, parents only exist as an extension of the child. In Bluey, the parents are very much their own characters. To the point where we enjoy the parent-centered episodes much more than our son :D

Kids shows have been about teaching life lessons for decades. My childhood included several PSAs awkwardly welded onto cartoons. Bluey actually conveys life lessons in a genuine and gentle way somehow without being preachy. Our son is in danger of actually learning something.

We know other adults who watch Bluey to decompress and we can see why.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Utopia Engine justifies the hype

 I’m honestly not sure how many years I’ve been meaning to learn Utopia Engine. It’s been one of the darlings of both the Print and Play and Roll and Write worlds for ages.  And I finally got through a game of it.

I have tried playing it a few times over of the years but didn’t seem to click in my head. To be fair, each individual piece of Utopia Engine is simple. It’s that it has a bunch of moving parts. (Well, a bunch compared to a lot of Roll and Writes. It’s not many compared to even a medium weight Euro)

In Utopia Engine, you are an artificer in a dreamy, post-apocalyptic world that feels a little like Jack Vance’s Dying Earth gone steampunk. The world will end but you can stop that from happening if you assemble the fabled Utopia Engine. To do that, you need to gather legendary artifacts that are lost in fantastic lands, activate them in your workshop, assemble them and finally bring the Utopia Engne to life.

Each step in Utopia Engine is kind of like a mini-game. You need to explore the wilderness. You will inevitably have to fight monsters in the wilderness. You have to activate the artifacts you find in your workshop. And you have to connect them together in order to make the actual Utopia Engine.

Now, I can see how someone could find Utopia Engine pretty dry. The basic mechanic is use dice to generate numbers and subtract them. You want a small difference in the wilderness and a big one in the workshop. But after I went through the wilderness and the workshop once, it all clicked and I was into it.

(For some reason, my mental calculator kept thinking I’d be rolling two d10s. Two six-siders compressed the numbers and made them easier to manipulate)

The game actually felt like an RPG campaign for me. Each artifact gave you a bonus power and the biggest monster in each wilderness area can drop special equipment. So, as the game moves forward and time runs low, you also get more powerful.

I ended up liking Utopia Engine a lot. There’s a lot of both storytelling and game compressed into two pages, plus two dice. And I felt I had some actual say in what was going on, particularly once I started getting some of the special powers.

Utopia Engine is now over ten years old and folks still speak well of it and (other than its sequel Beast Hunter) there really isn’t anything else like it. It’s not for everyone but, particularly considering how easy it is to try, I think it’s worth experiencing.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Games learned during staycation

 I recently had a staycation and spent part of the time working through my backlog of unplaced solitaire games.

This is what I learned:

Charles versus Peter (2020 9 Cars Contest)
A Rusty Throne
Halloween Roll and Fright
Maztec Duel (3rd R&W Contest)
Assault on the Colossus (7th R&W Contest)
Choose Your Adventure: House of Danger demo
Puerto Miau
Time Machine (Radoslaw Ignatow)
Count of Nine
12 Patrol
Utopia Engine
Agent Decker
Egyptian Solitaire 
The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game

Okay, I’m really just recording this for my own sake so I can easily look back at what I learned during the staycation. I don’t know how mucg interest or entertainment there will be for anyone else.

I will note that most of these games really are in the 10 to 15 minute range. I just needed to sit down and play through them. It will be easy to go back and play them again. But A Rusty Throne, Utopia Engine and Agent Decker are slightly longer games so I was happy to finally try them. 

For the records, the two highlights were Count of Nine and Utopia Engine. Which are both pretty well regarded, so not a surprise.