Friday, February 26, 2021

Let me grumble about Rolemaster some more

 Rolemaster reared it’s head again in a conversation with old buddies. One of the group used to love Rolemaster and the rest of group ranges from apathy to deep loathing.

To be fair, it has been more than twenty-five years since the only time I played Rolemaster. These are my hazy memories: it took at least two hours to create our characters. We only had time to play for maybe a half hour.  And one of my friends lost his character in the first round of the only combat.

That was enough to put a lot of us of Rolemaster for life.

Now, I firmly believe that we have a biased view of Rolemaster and I don’t claim it’s a fair one. I also think that it wasn’t just the high fatality and brutality that alienated us but how muddy and unclear the experience was. It wasn’t just the horrible deaths but the fact that we didn’t really understand why we died horribly.

On the other hand, we had some good times playing Dungeons and Dragons in the Dark Sun setting where everything is trying to kill you. More than that, we all spent years playing Call of Cthulhu where you are a squishy as wet cardboard... wet cardboard going through a wood chipper.

It’s not the deadliness. It’s the ease and transparency of play.

A lot of things have changed in RPGs, RPG design and RPG philosophy. And one of them is accessibility. I think games have become easier to understand. I like that.

I keep a copy of the original version of Name of God in my travel bag. It is the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Rolemaster. The whole thing takes just up four double-sided cards and probably takes less than five minutes to create characters and get going. Now, it’s just designed as a one-shot (albeit with a lot of replay value) not a campaign. But it’s accessible and good for time management. And that’s what works for me right now.

If you are able to get enough game mastery of Rolemaster to get something out of it, you either have a lot more time than me or you are smarter than me. Good for you and I’m jealous.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Oh, that is a good reason for a list!

When I wrote about how I can’t seem to write lists of favorite games, someone pointed out that it was a useful exercise in figuring out what games you would try to get again in case of fire or flood or such. Yeah, that is a very good reason.

About ten years ago, I went through a reverse process. I did a massive purge of my game collection that I really needed to do between moving and becoming a parent. Games were taking up space that was needed for more basic life stuff. Seeing as how I was a game hoarder, it was also very good for my mental health.

But looking at it from that viewpoint of rebuilding a lose game collection, it’s a good question. And it shifts the question from what is my ideal game or my favorite game to the much more concrete question of ‘What actually gets played?’ That shoves a whole ton of games out the door.  

I have gotten rid of a lot of ‘someday’ games, unplayed games that I am convinced will.l be wonderful when I eventually play them someday. (Someday!) Those games wouldn’t make the ‘buy again’ list. Ruthless practicality will be the rule of the day.

The other day, as I watched our son tell an elaborate story of wind spirits fighting fire demons with pieces from different GIPF project games, I realized that if I lost all the GIPF games, I’d really be intent on getting ZERTZ and YINSH again. I like the project on a whole but those two games are the ones that really see play. That was a bit of a revelation.

When you look with a cold, hard eye at what actually hits the table, you realize what actually sees use and what is worth having in the closet. Which isn’t always fun since that kind of breaks up some comfortable illusions.

I certainly don’t want to lose my collection due to a fire. For one thing, that would put us in danger. But my rebuilt game collection would be a lot smaller.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Why I can’t write lists

 I sometimes think that one of the great hobbies within the hobby is coming up with Top Ten or Top One Hundred lists. Given that the internet is awash with lists of all sorts and minds, either lists are an innately human way of thinking or David Letterman is one of the most influential people whoever lived.

However, whenever I have thought about coming up with a top ten list, I’m stymied. Such a list would change dramatically depending on the context. I think I would have to have a regular group and a years worth of play with them before I might try to write a list. At the moment, I’m focused on solitaire and print-and-play and I don’t know if what I’m currently playing would make such a list. Well, Onirim would but beyond that, it gets nebulous.

And there’s always the practical versus the ideal. I think of Go as one of the most beautiful games ever made and it was a big part of me getting into gaming. But with over a decade since my last play, would I include it as a top ten? Would my list be a list of games that I’d play if time didn’t matter or a list of games that actually sees regular play?

Truth to tell, I spend more time looking at the hobby as art gallery or experimental lab than refining my tastes. I like to look at lists to see if I see something new and unknown but I don’t see myself writing one.

Of course, such lists say more about the person who wrote then than the games on them. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! After all, one of the things you might glean is if they are someone you’d want to play with!

Friday, February 19, 2021

Oh, that’s where my D&D minis were hiding

 While looking for our wedding China (which I did find, thank you very much for asking), I found my old D&D minis from back when I played the skirmish game. Now that was a walk down memory lane.

D&D minis is as close as I ever have come to playing Magic the Gathering or any other collectible card game. It probably will remain that way unless our kid decides that he needs to embrace the Pokémon card game. Opening blind box products is fun. Buying blind box products is not :P

Looking back and knowing that a lot of folks wanted prepainted plastic miniatures for, you know, actually playing Dungeons and Dragons, having them as randomized blind boxes was really evil. And, at the time, your main choices were buying these blind boxes or buying lead miniatures and painting them yourself.

Hey, I remember when Zombies!!! first came out and getting a hundred zombie miniatures that bent if you looked at them funny was AMAZING.

While I didn’t get in on ground floor and the first wave of miniatures (it took friends being into the skirmish game for me to get into the game), I did start early enough to live through a change in the game that now seems amazing to me.

The original maps where blank grids and players would take turns placing large tiles down on the board. You’d still have a decent amount of empty space left on the map when you were done. Then they switched to fully preprinted maps. Those were thematic enough that I knew DM’s that used them for D&D games.

On the one hand, the fully printed maps drastically sped up setup time and guaranteed a balanced map. But setting up the terrain definitely added a layer of gamesmanship to the game. I had a friend who had an opening that required a two specific figures and a promotional tile that let him fireball his opponent’s starting space. A good setup was as important as your warband composition.

At the time, I thought removing a step that could effectively have you lose the game before you actually started playing was a good idea. These days, I think that’s even more true. The D&D minis game was really aimed for more casual play and automatically balanced maps just supported that.

Looking back, I am amazed at how, at least for a while, I spent a lot of time playing this game, including going to tournaments. (Where I did terribly at) I spent a lot of time designing war bands. Occasionally they’d even do well. But I’m okay no longer playing a game where I had to keep track of the special rules for hundreds of different pieces. That’s what actual D&D is for.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Forest Guardians is a beautiful game about fighting to the death

 In this particular case, I’m writing about Forest Guardians, the entry in last year’s nine card contest, not the tile-laying game about being a forest ranger in Taiwan. That does look like a nice family game, though.

In this Forest Guardians, you control a party of three mouse knights who are fighting five enemy cats. The game consists of nine cards and some way to keep track of health. (I used paper clips, which worked well)

Every single card in the game has a special power and most of the game is making the best use you can of your mice’s powers and trying to cope with the cats’ powers.

A key mechanic is what I think of as a doom clock (which doesn’t make any sense as a name but I’m using it anyway) Five of the cats (one is randomly left out of the game) are laid out in arc. Each mouse has an arc on their cards which shows which positions they attack (and for how much damage) and which positions attack them.

A skirmish solitaire game, you win if you kill all the enemy, even if you die in the process. (Yes, it’s quite possible) 

Before I talk about the mechanics, I do want to mention the art. It’s gorgeous. Seriously, I have paid good money for games that didn’t have nearly as nice art.

I went into the game with lowish expectations. I figured that with a pool of six opponents, it would be easy to figure out a formula to win. However, the positions of the enemies makes such a huge difference that the game is much trickier than I thought. 

And the enemy effects are rough. I’m not convinced that you can have an unwinnable layout but it may be possible. Regardless, you actually have to think when you play. It’s a much better puzzle than I expected and more thematic as well.

The decision tree is front loaded. The early moves, when all five enemies are alive and can cause you problems are where you make the crucial decisions. The later rounds are where you find out if those decisions will pan out. However, since the game is pretty short, I don’t view that as a problem. And the brevity makes playing another round both easy and enticing.

In short, Forest Guardians is good enough that I’m hoping it gets expanded.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Nintendo’s Clubhouse Games... is actually really good

 As a Christmas gift for ourselves, we got Clubhouse Games for the Nintendo Switch.

I can already tell that it will be a great source of play and blogging material.

Back in the days of yore, you could find game collections on floppy disks for ridiculously low prices. And they were always hot messes that, despite the bargain basement prices, you still overpaid for. Well, Clubhouse Games provides an answer for ‘what if one of those collections was good?’ Of course, it costs more than ‘fifty games for five dollars’ tag but that’s the price you pay for quality and actually working.

Of course, there’s a lot you WON’T get. Anything that is a licensed product is not going to be a part of Clubhouse. No Euros, no War Games, no Ameritrash. If there’s a copyright attached, it’s not there. Abstract strategy games and card games and party games. If those aren’t your jam, this isn’t your clubhouse.

What you do get is an eccentric, eclectic collection of games, ranging from century old classics to things like tank fights and toy boxing. There are even games like darts and bowling that are callbacks to wII sports. 

It would be fascinating to see the process Nintendo had of selecting the games. I’m surprised there isn’t a form of Poker, let alone Go (Even a 9x9 board would have been something). Euchre would have been nice too. But you still get a wide selection of family games for a variety of occasions. 

But the real star is the interface. There has been an endless history of game collections in the digital world and most of them have ranged from meh to terrible. Clubhouse Games works because it has an exceedingly clean and user-friendly interface. You can actually learn how to play and then actually play the games. It’s easy and it’s not easy to achieve that kind of easy.

Clubhouse Games is not what I think of when it comes to gaming on the Switch or gaming online. But... it’s good.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Wow, the Monster at the End of This Book is turning fifty!

 Last week, a friend told me that 2021 is the fiftieth anniversary of The Monster at the End of This Book. My reply to that was that we wouldn’t have Deadpool if it wasn’t for that book. 

While I was just trying to sound clever, that might be true.

The Monster at the End of This Book has been a best-selling classic for generations so I probably don’t have to describe it. But, just like in case, it is a Sesame Street book where Grover sees the title of the book and desperately tries to keep the reader from finishing the book. He’s scared of monsters, you see. Of course, since loveable old Grover is a monster, he is the monster in the title.

According to Wikipedia, the book was designed to encourage kids to finish books. Since that idea terrifies Grover, the author is clearly relying on children’s innate sadism. However, the book’s significance is how much it explores the meta space.

The Monster et al is the not the first work to break the fourth wall and play with the meta. However, it is baby”s first metafictional book and it is a darn tooting good example of metafiction. Reread it now, I realize that it is not just a book about being a book. It also perfectly captures Grover’s voice. The different elements create a dynamic between two characters and one of them is you, the reader.

There is literally nothing that I can’t say about The Monster et al that hasn’t already been said. I have seen learned papers written about this book. The book is so profoundly about being a book.

I have had We Are In A Book! by Mo Willlems recommended to me as an even more meta children’s book. Which it is. And I know a sequel was written to The Monster et al that adds Elmo to the mix. (I don’t think it’s as good, by the way) However, none of that could have existed without The Monster et al and the legacy that it created fifty years ago.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Assessing Asmodee’s freebies

 In January, I went through Asmodee’s free PnP page again. 

A lot of publishers offered a lot of free PnP stuff last year since so much of the world had to live in some level of lockdown. Asmodee is interesting because a) they have bought their way to a huge catalog of games and b) they showed a fascinating variety of ways of showcasing their ways.

Their demos range from just enough to get a taste of a game to expansions to pretty much the whole game. The fact that the latter existed at all was quite a surprise to me and what interested me the most.

On the lightest end of the spectrum, the demo for Rory’s Story Cubes amounted to a few worksheets. I guess the alternative would be having the faces as chits you pull out a cup. I can see the worksheet model working in a classroom (I like how they included a origami die so kids make their own story die) and it got me to dig my own set. (There are now _38_ Rory’s Story Cube products!? There’s an RPG?!)

On the other side of the spectrum, Amsodee is offering Pandemic: Hotzone - North America in its entirety. I hadn’t actually realized there was a published version (or did that come out after the PnP version?) It also looks like they have complete scenarios for their escape room system, Unlock. Since the one-use-only aspect of escape room board games doesn’t appeal to me, that might be the only way I’d play one.

The demos in the middle range from just enough to get a handle on the mechanics to as much as I’d realistically play. While the later editions have added a lot, the demo of Citadels is pretty close to the first edition. Which may be more than I need :D On the other hand, there are demos I want to try to see if I’d want the full game. Which is kind of their whole point, isn’t it?

Now, PnP Arcade remains my biggest resource for PnP projects. After all, that’s their job and I’m their demographic. I also recommend Cheapass Games PnP catalog before Asmodee since that includes a huge chunk of their library and you get the whole game. And it is ink friendly. (But I have most of their games back from the original print run :D) HOWEVER, Amsodee’s site is still neat and it’s fun to sample stuff I’ve seen at the stores.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Paper Pinball has become a guilty pleasure

 My third go around with the Paper Pinball series from Metal Snail has let the series slide into becoming a guilty pleasure for me.

With that said, my earlier issues with the games still stand. They represent the lightest end of the Roll and Write spectrum. While the artwork reflects the theme, the mechanics really don’t. It is easy to choose what moves to make and I do feel that there is a dominant strategy. And, even by the standards of light roll and write games, luck can play an overwhelming part.

However, in the year since I first looked at the games, a number of things have caused me to reevaluate them.

The biggest one being quarantine and quarantine parenting. Over the last year, having a solitaire game that I can play in less than five minutes and then get back to adulting has been a very big deal. More than that, one that is analog, not digital, is quite nice.

I also have to note that my first exposure to Paper Pinball was to the three earliest boards that predated PnP Arcade. Later developed boards are, quite frankly, better. Better art, better balance and cuter little individual tweaks. 

Finally, I have played so much worse light Roll and Write games as I’ve looked for mental coffee breaks over the last year :P

Now, I don’t think they are prefect. I think there are tons of deeper and more fascinating Roll and Write games out there. Metal Snail’s other Roll and Write line, the Legends of Dsyx, is more interesting in my arrogant opinion. And I think when I revisit Sid Sackson’s Solitaire Pinball or finally try WhizKids’ Super-Skill Pinball, I will find mechanics closer to a metal ball bouncing around a machine.

But, as I said at the start, Paper Pinball is a guilty pleasure. It’s not perfect. There are plenty of flaws. But it does a good job amusing me. And that’s what a guilty pleasure should do.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Is Lord Peter Wimsey too perfect?

 Every time I read a Lord Peter Wimsy  story (which happens reasonably often), I find myself thinking what an odd character he is. He’s like Doctor Frankenstein stitched Sherlock Holmes and Bertie Wooster together and threw in James Bond’s pancreas for good measure.

The protagonist, no, the hero, of a good number of mystery novels and stories by Dorothy Sayers, Lord Peter is insanely wealthy, really quite brilliant and a dapper hand at just about any skill he puts his hand at. And anything he can’t do, his manservant Bunter can. (Thus answering the question of what if Bertie was as smart as Jeeves. We’d still get fun stories but they’d be about murder) There’s a lot of Mary Sue elements and wish fulfillment to Lord Peter.

But... the shadow of World War I and the changing world of England in between the wars helps counter those elements. The works aren’t just set in that time period. They were written then too and Dorothy Sayers had a keen eye for what was going on in society. Lord Peter served in the trenches and occasionally has bouts of PTSD. He also has guilt over thre number of folks he’s sent to death row, particularly because he isn’t driven to solve crime by justice but by his curiosity and amusement.

For all of his crazy money and amazing talent and silly last name, Lord Peter is damaged.

My introduction to the series was Gaudy Nights, which was a terrible introduction to Lord Peter Whimsy but an amazing one to Dorothy Sayers. The book is really about Harriet Vane, Lord Peter’s love interest, and the state of feminism and women’s rights in England at the time. (And if the common theory that Harriet is an author insert, then Lord Peter is definitely a work of wish fulfillment)

I haven’t actually read all the books. That’s because every time I try, I start over from the first book. Maybe I’ll try reading them in reverse order this year. But they are good reading.

As I said at the start, Lord Peter is strange. He’s practically perfect in so many ways and many of his stories are downright pulpy when actually looking at the crimes. However, Sayers ability to capture the turbulence of a changing England saves him and his stories from being silly and forgettable.

Monday, February 1, 2021

My January PnP

 January. The start of a new year. A new year of Print and Play crafting. So, what did I make?

Good Little Gardens
Maztec Duel
Castles of Burgundy the Dice Game
Artisans of the Taj Mahal
Forest Guardians (2020 9-Card Contest)
Sunrise in Moloka’i (2019 9-Card Contest)
Sabotage the Raj

I actually completed more projects than I planned to. I actually spent most of my crafting time doing prep work for games to make later down the line. I have a literal stack of projects one step from completion. 

Last year was so very chaotic and stressful in many ways. Print and play was very helpful in keeping things together. Craft therapy. Finishing a project is fun and emotionally satisfying. I don’t know how 2021 will go so I want a big stock prepped in case I don’t have a lot of crafting time in the months to come. 

Good Little Gardens was both my ‘big’ project for January and the first thing I made in 2021. While I am going to play it, I really wanted to make it so that my first project was a happy theme after what 2020 was like.

I admit, I made Castles of Burgundy the Dice Game really just to try it out. If I like it, getting an actual copy of the game will be the plan. And Forest Guardians turned out to be a happy surprise.

I don’t know what the year will be like. It could be that January is my most productive month. If it is, I feel I’ve set myself up well.