Friday, April 30, 2021

I’m not firing Alhambra

 A bit ago, I wrote how I wasn’t convinced that Isle of Skye (as well as other games) could fire Carcassonne because it (and other examples) lacked a shared map that players kicked each others teeth out over. However, I can see an argument for for a game like Isle of Skye could fire Alhambra.

Everyone has their own map and the game has a simple economic engine that keep its going. Isle of Skye has more player interaction and variable scoring, both major pluses.

But I don’t feel the need to fire Alhambra. And, since it seems like it has no problem staying in print, the market agrees with me. I’ve gotten plenty of fun play out of Alhambra over the years and I haven’t even bothered getting any of the expansions.

This started out as a commentary about Alhambra and how it does the job a family weight game that you can plan a game night around. But it’s really returning to the idea of firing games.

Here’s the thing. A game being better than another, similar game doesn’t make the previous game bad. For me, for a game to be truly fired, there had to be something I was dissatisfied with in the first game. 

While the idea of firing games is quite useful (and important for future game design), I think you have to be very strict at both culling your collection and being a member of the cult of the new to actively use the practice.

I firmly believe that Alhambra can be improved on. I’m also perfectly willing to believe there are similar but better games. But it would take a profoundly amazing game for me to take the time and expense to get rid of Alhambra.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Fast Train to Miyajima mixes colors to move trains

 Fast Train to Miyajima is a game from the fourth R&W contest. As I’ve explored R&Ws, I have decided there is a sub genre that can be called ‘Trying to fire Yahtzee’. Fast Train could be described as trying to fire Qwixx. Which it doesn’t do but it’s still not bad.

The game is about twelve trains going to six different cities. Well, actually you are filling in boxes in twelve lines. Fast Train is pretty abstract and the theme wafer thin. The theme does justify the mechanical difference between fast trains and heavy trains, which is nice.

You are shipping goods to Miyajima, Rio, London, New York, Paris and Sidney. You also only have two trains for each city, a fast train and a heavy train. So the company you’re managing is apparently amazingly diverse and limited at the same time. The player sheet shows the twelve lines of boxes, two for each city. The cities are color coded: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Yes, this is important.

In addition to play sheets and writing utensils, you’ll need a red die, a yellow and a blue die. The active player will choose a die and roll it. Everyone will write that number in the appropriate colored line, either the fast train or the heavy train.

And here’s the clever bit. The active player chooses a second die and rolls it. You can either fill in a box in that color OR you can add it to the first die and add that sum the appropriate secondary color! Third die, same deal only you can add it to either of the first two dice.

The game ends when someone completes X number of trains. (X depends on the number of players) Each color is accessed individually. Basically, if you have more fast train boxes but a greater heavy train sum, you score lots of points. If you don’t, itty bitty points. Most points wins.

There are things I like about Fast Train. I like the color mixing and the game-of-chicken-scoring and the fact that the active player has choices that effect the game. I like the theme, as thin as it is. But the basic structure of the decisions is pretty simple. Small numbers in the fast train and big numbers in the heavy train. And I have to wonder if the game will drag with the higher end of the player count where you need to complete more trains. Still, net positive.

Some Roll and Write games are board games where the board and pieces are a piece of paper and pencil. And some are little dice games that you play while waiting for your food or when you’re too tired to play anything else. Fast Train is definitely in the second category.

Mind you, there’s a definite place for that kind of game. There’s plenty of times I’m tired!I have a folder of them I keep handy and Fast Train has been added to it.

Fast Train to Miyajima isn’t amazing but it is a solid little family-weight game that I could picture Gamewright publishing. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Gods of Pegana broke rules that didn’t exist

 I’ve been rereading Lord Dinsany’s The Gods of Pegana regularly enough over the years that I’m not sure how often I’ve read it. I didn’t even mean to read it this time. I just found out that The Travel Tales of Mr Jorkens was available as an ebook. That made me look at other works of Lord Dunsany and I found myself reading The Gods of Pegana.

Lord Dunsany and The Gods of Pegana are both ridiculously influential.  Fantasy as a genre would be completely different if it wasn’t for Lord Dunsany and The Gods of Pegana is a big part of it. 

Authors who have listed Dunsany as a major influence include Lovecraft, Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Ashton Smith, LeGuin, Neil Gaiman, and... look, the list just goes on. It’s hard to believe one guy did so much to jumpstart fantasy as we know it.

And he seems so overlooked by modern audiences if not modern authors. It does seem hard to find his non-copywrit works which also makes me wonder if his estate is sitting on his later work.

The Gods of Pegana was his first book and it’s a tiny little thing. A novella at best or a bunch of linked vignettes. And there almost isn’t any plot to speak of. It’s a description of a fantasy pantheon of Gods and their prophets. It really reads like a holy text  for a religion that doesn’t exist in a world that doesn’t exist. 

But here’s the thing. This is one of the earliest examples of a book that is just about creating a setting and a cosmology. I have read that it was the very first (I’m not convinced of that fact but it does sound good) More than that, it was written in the context of the world, not from the viewpoint of an outsider.

World building is one of the corner stones of speculative fiction. The Gods of Pegana is a template for world building, an ur-example. I know fantasy worlds existed before it but I don’t know if anyone created whole pantheons out of cloth before. It was a game changer but the game didn’t even exist when it was written.

Did Lord Dunsany create a lot of ideas or tools that later creators would use or would someone else have come up with these tropes and concepts?

Friday, April 23, 2021

Deadeye Dinah - fussy but fascinating

The jury is still out for me as far as Deadeye Dinah is concerned but I definitely like the idea and many of the mechanics of the game.

Deadeye Dinah is one of the entries in the 2021 9-Card PnP Contest. It’s still being refined and I haven’t even tried out the most recent rules. I’ll probably double dip and write about the finished version at some point.

It’s a PnP, in-hand solitaire. You print it out and make the cards yourself; the deck stays in your hands the whole time; and it’s just you alone against the game. In this case, you are a bounty hunter in the Wild West, methodically hunting down eight different crime bosses.

The cards are multi-functional. Other than an aide card, each card can be a boss, two different flavors of action card or a scene you have to overcome. The game is a campaign, where you work your way up from cattle rustlers and whiskey peddlers to the ringleader.

In each hand/game, you are going after a specific boss. The boss card will tell you how to set up your opening hand. The fewer cards you have in your hand, the more scenes you have to deal with. You have to overcome a scene using your cards either as items or as bullets. As you go through the bosses, you will level up and get better special abilities. Defeat all eight bosses and you win the campaign.

Deadeye Dinah does have some issues. I’ve made it most of the way through the campaign and I’m still not sure I’ve been following all the rules correctly. The basic idea of the mechanics isn’t complex but you have to track of your special ability, the boss’s special ability, items’ special ability and the effect of cover (if you use it) Shootouts in particular become surprisingly intricate.

Of course, every scene being a puzzle that doesn’t necessarily have a obvious solution isn’t a bad thing. It does mean the game is more than fidgeting. However, I want to make sure that I’m not making a mistake when I figure out that opaque solution.

That said, I have played through most of a campaign so I am having fun with Deadeye Dinah. I do like that the game is played with just the cards fanned. Some in hand games involved holding the cards in convoluted ways. Deadeye Dinah being very functional is a big plus.

Deadeye Dinah is clever with well designed cards and integrated themes. However, it can be frustrating and fussy. I am curious to see what the end result will be.


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Bangsian fantasy had a silly beginning

 Bangsian Fantasy is a genre where the setting is primarily in the afterlife and people from different periods of history interact, usually in a light-hearted way. The term is probably only reason anyone remembers who John Kendrick Bangs was.

While Bangs didn’t create the idea, he popularized it with his Associated Shades books, the first and probably most famous being A House-Boat on the River Styx. The books are about a social club of the elite of the dead. Famous dead people like Samuel Johnson, Socatres, William Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Confucius, Sir Walter Raleigh, George Washington and Samuel Johnson appear. (Seriously, Bangs apparently loved using Samuel Johnson as a character)

I had read about the books and their influence many years before I’d ever actually found a copy and read it. And the books were not what I had been expecting.

You see, Bangs didn’t use the different historical figures as themselves. Instead, it was a setup for him to satirize contemporary 19th century society. The great figures of history become whiny, sarcastic club members. Which, to be fair, is the point. I don’t think you can hold it against Bangs for not writing a completely different book. And Philip Jose Farmer wrote that book anyway with Riverworld.

The Associated Shade books are light, amusing works to read so I do go back and reread them periodically. And it is really amusing that the later books feature Sherlock Holmes since they were written in between the Final Problem and The Adventure of the Empty House so Holmes was dead at the time :D (I have read that Doyle was cool with Bangs use of the character)

The high concept of the Associated Shades is so much bigger than the actual execution. Again, to be fair, that was kind of Bangs’ point. However, it is still odd to see the concept of afterlife society codified by such silliness.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Alpakaland is as close to a sandbox R&W as I’ve seen

 Alpakaland is a game about creating your very own Alpaca-themed amusement park. Which isn’t actually one of my personal dreams or even a sentence I thought I’d ever write. But I’ve written about Devil Bunny Needs A Ham so I’ve written weirder.

Alpakaland is one of those Roll and Write games where everyone has their own sheet and uses the same dice rolls. So it can be played solitaire or it can be played with as many people as you can cram in.

The core idea of the game is that you’re drawing a map on a grid. Which is a pretty common concept in Roll and Writes. However, you get a lot more free reign than in a lot of map drawing games I’ve played. There are six rounds and each round, a pool of six dice gets rolled and everyone gets to use those rolls.

You can spend pips to build roads or pen fencing. You can spend specific numbers and sums  to build buildings that have to be specific shapes. You can spend dice to get alpacas or clowns. You can use dice to fill out an advertising track. And you can spend dice to increase the value of alpacas or buildings.

There are some placement restrictions (like, everything meets to be connected by one network of roads) but you can basically do whatever you want. The real restriction is that you have to pay for it. Calling Alpakaland a sandbox game is probably going too far but there are a lot of open-ended choices in the game. The dice determine how much you can do but I feel like the mistakes end up being your own.

And here’s where it’s good: you can whatever you want but you do not have the space or the dice to do everything you want. Your choices matter and they will affect what your final points are going to be. And I find it hard to believe that even a big group will end up with maps that look anything alike.

Alpakaland succeeds at being a game that is bigger than the dice and the piece of paper that make up it.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Mixture is a mixture of too much luck and too many interesting ideas

Mixture is an odd ride.

Of the four Roll and Write games that Radoslaw Ignatov released early from his Kickstarter (we have them all now, thanks!), I feel like it is both the weakest and most interesting.

On the one hand, I think it is the most luck-based and feels like it has the most restrained choices. On the other hand, the structure of the game feels the most unique to me. 

In Mixture, you are an alchemist working on their final exam by mixing up different concoctions. Each turn, you get three different ingredients that you have to add to a lattice that represents either an alchemy recipe book or a laboratory.

And here’s what I find different and interesting. It’s really a sliding puzzle game. You’re sliding ingredients into a grid that looks a crossword puzzle. You can’t jump over already placed ingredients or contaminated spaces so you have to do your best to plan ahead. (And, no, you’re not actually sliding anything. You’re rolling up symbols and crossing them off on the board) Your goal is to complete lines of symbols.

But... each turn you just roll one die. As a general rule of thumb, a Roll and Write built around single, unmodified die roll raises questions for me. It creates an environment that is very swingy. Of course, anytime you are rolling dice, luck is going to play a part. But with only one die, lick it gets a lot more control. Even two dice is a significant improvement. (That’s why Can’t Stop works) The only one die R&W that I really recommend is 13 Sheep and that works because the game is so slight.

Now, that die in Mixture gives you a choice of two different sets of three symbols and if you roll the same number three times, you can add one to get two different sets to work with. And there are a couple special actions and bonus symbols. So, you have options. There are definitely choices. But, compared to any other game I’ve looked at by Ignatov, Mixture feels the most constrained. Alpakaland, in comparison, feels like a sandbox R&W.

Still, I haven’t seen a Roll and Write like Mixture. (If you have, I’d love to heard about it) It’s an interesting system. And there is a version that involves direct conflict. I’m really curious to see that because I think that could really elevate Mixture.

Even if it is the weakest game I end up playing from Ignatov, Mixture has been worth trying out.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

No, I couldn’t resist the Citadels PnP

 My ‘big’ PnP project for April was making the PnP demo of Citadels. (My basic criteria for being a big project is large enough that a publisher would actually print the game :P)

I have very mixed feelings about Citadels. It was a game I was introduced to very early in my journey with designer board games. And as a design, I think that it continues to hold up well.

BUT, every group I have played it with has had horrendous analysis paralysis. Games would go on for hours. And by hour three, Citadels just isn’t fun. I am jealous of folks who talk about playing it in forty-five minutes. Witch’s Brew and Broom Service were close enough to the Citadels experience that I sold Citadels without regret.

But when Asmodee released a bunch of PnP demos for community Covid support, I couldn’t help but note that their demo of Citadels was very close to the original version of the game, the version I’d been introduced to. Instead of being just enough to get an idea of how to play, the demo was enough to play the actual game.

And despite my negative experiences with the game, that was too much to pass up. Honestly, I’ve made much worse games in my PnP crafting.  Even if Citadels isn’t one of my favorites, it has remained in print for a reason.

I don’t know if I’ll actually play the copy I’ve made but I do know it’s as much Citadels as I need.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Some Kind of Genius started my Ignatov journey

 Some Kind of Genius is the first of Radow Ignatov’s designs that I’ve tried (and that was because he released early as a bonus to his Kickstarter backers) Compared to the other designs he’s released since then, it is the most ‘boring’ design of his that I’ve seen. 

Of course, boring in this case means using a mechanic I’ve seen before. At its heart, Some Kind of Genius is a game where you roll some dice and check off boxes. But that’s how you could describe Qwixx or That’s Pretty Clever or Roll Through the Ages so it’s in the company of games that I play over and over again.

In theory, Some Kind of Genius is themed around exercising your brain (which I guess you do do) In practice, it’s a bunch of sets of boxes printed over a picture of a brain. Each set represents a brain cell and each hemisphere is a network of neurons connecting the cells.

There are three colors of cells (which come in color-blind friendly shapes, by the way) and they come in three different flavors. They are: cross off specific numbers; have the dice add up to a specific number; and complete a very simple mathematical equation. Trust me, it all makes a lot of sense as soon as you look at it.

You roll six dice and then use those rolls to fill in boxes. That’s going to happen seven times and that’s game. On top of filling in the cells, you can use dice to fill in straights for bonus points in specific colors. And you can spend dice to duplicate die rolls via neurons.

After the seven rounds, you figure out your points. There’s bonus points for earning very specific numbers of colors of cells. And if you go over, you don’t get those points. Whoever gets the most points, wins. Unless you’re playing solitaire, of course. Then you are the winner.

What is hilarious is that the easiest way to explain Some Kind of Genius is to just show someone the player sheet. It’s very intuitive.

What Some Kind of Genius has is a lot of choices, particularly for a game that takes up so little time and space. By the end of the game, you won’t even have filled in half the board. So you have to priotize and the decisions you make will impact your final score.

Basically what I’m saying is that Some Kind of Genius doesn’t reinvent the wheel or come up with a new wheel, it is a very solid wheel. I have had fun playing Some Kind of Genous and will play it some more.

I currently think that completing a straight for bonus points in a color is the strongest play. However, that does mean dedicating six dice to that and without having the neurons to help you manipulate those rolls. And if you don’t complete the straight, those rolls are worth nothing.

Some Kind of Genius is a good casual Roll and Write and makes me look forward to the rest of Ignatov’s designs.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Carcassonne makes me a hypocrite

 I am a hypocrite when it comes to games firing other games.

For the most part, I refuse to believe that a game can’t be superseded. In fact, when I find a game that I really like, I often wonder what the next step will be with that idea and concept. (I have never come remotely close to believing anything has successfully fired a regular deck of playing cards thought. When one thing can replace Poker, Rummy, Bridge, Whist, Euchre, Blackjack, Spades, Hearts (you get the idea), then we can talk)

And sometimes, games can fire games on pure concept as well. For instance, the Steam family completely fired the Crayon Rail games as far as I’m concerned. Yes, they are actually quite different mechanically but Steam made me happy and feel like I was run a train line and Crayon frustrated me and made me feel like I was trying to keep one train engine alive.


I have yet to be convinced that a game has fired Carcassonne. Other than maybe a different Carcassonne game. (I love me some Hunters and Gatherers)

I remember, when it came out, Isle of Skye being held up to me as the Carcassonne killer.  And when I played it, I had thought it was a great game and one that’d I happily play lots more. If someone argued that Isle is a better game than Carcassonne, I might not agree but I’d listen.

But it’s a different enough experience for me that I can’t compare the two games in a way where firing comes in. (But you could for the Steam games and Crayon Rail games! Yeah, that’s because I really don’t enjoy Crayon Rail games)

But apart from personal preference and hypocrisy, what Carcassonne has that Isle of Skye or The Castle of Mad Ludwig or many other tile laying games don’t have is everyone trying to kick each other’s teeth in on a collective board. If you thought shutting down board sections with two-letter words in Scrabble was mean, Carcassonne is confrontation city.

If it isn’t just the filter of nostalgia, sharing a map and ge ability to aggressively fight over it is something that has kept Carcassonne enjoyable and vital to me.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The darkness in Terry Pratchett’s young adult books

 Noted after my last commentary about Young Adult literature was that a lot of Young Adult literature  is dark and discusses dark themes.

Which is clearly not a bad thing. A lot of Young Adult literature has an educational component and is talking about serious stuff. And it also has a ‘You are not alone’ effect for kids and others who are going through trauma.

The first work that came to mind when I read that remark was The Amazing Maurice and His Highly Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett, which I admit is a little far afield when you consider how many non-fantastical dark books out there.

I have been told the late but eternally great Mr Pratchett defined his Young Adult books as books that had young adults as protagonists and otherwise didn’t bother pulling any of his punches. And, man, that man could punch hard and he never punched down. He had stuff to say.

(I don’t know if he considered Equal Rites or Morte Young Adult books. They weren’t marketed as such and I don’t know if it was his choice or the publishers choice to market Maurice et al that way)

I’m not going to go into any real details  about The Amazing Maurice and His Highly Educated  Rodents since people should read Pratchett for themselves so they can laugh and question things they never thought to question. 

But the actual young adults border on being minor characters. The real focus and emotional heart of the book are the intelligent, talking animals, a colony of rats plus a cat. Pratchett definitely dwells on how nasty the lives of rats can be, particularly when humans get involved. He clearly comes from the Maurice Sendak school of ‘Don’t sugarcoat things for kids. They live in the real world and they need to understand how it works’

The result is that the first Disc World book that was marketed for kids is one of the darkest and goriest in the series. The book is downright traumatizing, perhaps too much since I remember the nightmares more than the point. It definitely had an impact though! I am choosing to believe that Pratchett made a point of making Maurice et al so dark because he thought it was something that young adults needed. 

Some people would say that his later young adult books, the ones about Tiffany Aching, are better than Maurice et al. And I’d be one of those people. Tiffany Aching is a wonderful example of a character who is wise beyond their years but still has some growing up to do. But the journey in Maurice et al of what it means to be sentient and what responsibilities that means still made for powerful reading.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Looking back and finding out Wurfel Bingo was a milestone

 I have been a big fan of legit multi-player solitaire games ever since I finally got my hands on a copy of Take It Easy more than ten years ago. Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot to be said for competition. Trying to kick each other’s teeth in is an important part of gaming. However, non-confrontation has its place too and can be the only way to get some people at the table.

In the past year, games that use the ‘bingo with strategy’ mechanic of Take It Easy have become more important because, hey, no contact. Perfect for social distancing.

And if your social distancing is over video conferencing, Roll and Write multi-player solitaire (and I have driven the jargon train off the cliff) is the  perfect format. I love Take It Easy and Cities/Limes and Karuba but everyone needs the tiles and the board. With R&W, one person needs the dice and/or cards and everyone else just needs the player sheet and something to write with.

These days, Roll and Writes have pretty much exploded. And, judging by the number of design contests focused on Roll and Writes, that’s not going away. (The fact that they have to be relatively easy to manufacture has to be a factor in that.) And a lot of them are multi-player solitaires.

I have yet to be in a position to actually play one via some form of video conferencing... but I’m ready if anyone ever asks me!

While the number of R&R multi-player solitaires might be in the triple digets, the first one I came across was Wurfel Bingo. I refuse to believe it’s the earliest example but it was only the third multi-player solitaire I had come across (and the second one was Take It To the Limit, the direct sequel to Take It Easy!)

Wurfel Bingo, also known as High Score, is a five-by-five grid that you fill out with the sum of two dice. You score lines basically by creating ‘poker’ hands with the numbers and the diagonals score double. Its origins are shrouded in a bit of mystery since Reiner Knizia published close to the same rules fifteen years before it was published.

When I first discovered Wurfel Bingo, it was a revelation. I did a lot of gaming out of a bag and having a Take It Easy experience where people needed a pencil instead of 27 tiles was an amazing space saver.

While the game is pretty abstract and simple by the standards that have developed over the last ten years, it’s still pretty strong. I particularly like how the odds of what numbers can be rolled with two dice means you can make informed decisions. Even if that does mean everyone tries to fill out the diagonals with sevens.

Since I first found and tried out Wurfel Bingo, I’ve found a lot of games that fill a similar niche. And it’s a niche that I think has become increasing important and valuable. It is no longer the top of my list for games I’d recommend. However, looking back, it was a milestone for me.

Friday, April 2, 2021

My March R&W

 Still not going to make this a regular thing. However, Roll and Writes are such a quick and easy way to get a new game fix :D

I’ve already written about how much I’ve enjoyed Yard Builder. I’ve kept playing it and kept enjoying it. The design space is just large enough to make the decision tree  interesting.

A big part of game design and game experience is how much control you have and how it is limited. (And sometimes, in games like Go or Chess, the limiting factor is entirely your opponent) If you have total control, you aren’t playing a game. You’re doing a jigsaw puzzle. And with a solitaire Roll and Write, the dice are your limitation.

Yard Builder, with 3d20, offers me enough choices that I felt like I had some control but still had tough choices.

I also tried out a game I had overlooked from GenCan’t’s 2017 Roll and Write, Benny Sperling’s Wreck and Roll. It’s a game that seems to have been designed to fit on a business card. The theme of the game is destroying a city with a tank. In practice, you’re filling a grid. You also have special power tracks and a health track. 

Honestly, it seems like just filling in the grid is the strongest strategy and just using the special power tracks to avoid taking damage. The minimal time/space/component aspect will let Wreck and Roll see some more play from me but I think there are better minimal Roll and Writes.

On the other hand, Some Kind of Genius from Radow Ignatow exceeded my expectations. It was a bonus game he released early to backers of his R&W Kickstarter. And it makes me feel like backing it was a good call. 

While the game is fundamentally about filling in boxes that are printed over an image of a brain, it does a good job forcing you to pick and choose your priorities. You can’t do everything . After more plays, I’ll have to write about it some more.

As ever, Roll and Writes continue to keep me amused with minimal moving parts.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

My March PnP

 I went into March with pretty low expectations for PnP crafting. My goal was pretty just to make one ‘larger’ project. However, I looked at some contests so I ended up being more active than I expected.

Here’s what I made:

Yard Builder
Choose Your Own Adventure: Danger House Demo
Button Men
9-Card Challenge (2021 9-Card Contest, beta)
Deadeye Dinah (2021 9-Card Contest, beta)
Simple Card (2021 9-Card Contest, beta)
Ping Ping Slam (2021 9-Card Contest, beta)
Some Kind of Genius?

My ‘big’ build for March was the Choose Your Own Adventure demo. Since I have happy memories of the books from my childhood, I’ve been curious about the games so the demo will let me try it out. I have a feeling the demo will be all I need but it was still worth making so I can see the system.

As I mentioned, I looked at some contests and that doesn’t happen without me printing out a few games. Unless I feel like I can give playtest feedback, I like to wait until the contest ready versions are done but I got impatient.

As I’ve mentioned before, Yard Builder has been my MVP of March. It’s just drawing some landscaping and not very challenging but it is downright therapeutic.

And I’m sure I will make more stuff in April.