Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Dunsany’s Jorkens throws me off my game

 For years, I’d read about the Jorkens stories of Lord Dunsany. I’d read a couple of the stories in anthologies but the actual collections themselves seemed to always be out of print. So when I finally saw a e-version of the first collection, the Travel Tales of Mr. Joseph Jorkens, I snatched it up. (Clearly, not literally)

Short version: it wasn’t what I expected.

I had read that the Jorkens stories had created the Pub Story genre. Which clearly wasn’t the case since it has earlier roots with authors such as Chaucer and Raspe and Wodehouse. Given the fantastic elements in some of those works, I don’t even think that you can claim that Dunsany introduced the idea of fantastic elements to the genre.

However, I had read that Dunsany codified the genre and influenced later authors like Arthur C.
Clarke, Isaac Asimov, L. Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, Larry Niven and Spider Robinson. So I had a pretty good idea what I was in for. I expected the dreamy writing of his early works and the tropes I’d seen used in so many later works.

The Jorkens stories (at least the early ones) are  grounded in the contemporary world, which has the effect of making them feel more dated than just about everything else I’d read by Dunsany. Not every story takes place in the Billiards Club. And Jorkens, as opposed to merely being a vehicle to tell stories, is much more fleshed out as a character than many pub narrators. In fact, the last two stories form a character arc for him.

Full confession: I struggled to get through the book. Not because it was badly written or because it was complicated. No, just because it was not what I expected. I feel like I honestly can’t assess or judge the book. At some point, I will need to reread it for what it is, not for what it isn’t. And Dunsany kept writing Jorkens stories for decades. I hope to see how they developed.

And, as I ponder it, I realize that plenty of other authors broke the ‘rules’ of pub stories and I had no problem about. I’m pretty sure Spider Robinson broke ALL of them :D What threw me off my stride was that Jorkens is not like the Gods of Pagona or The Book of Wonder or others.  And that’s not fair to the collection or Lord Dunsany.

At the end of day, I want to read more Jorkens stories and reread the ones I’ve read. Lord Dunsany never fails to intrigue and fascinate.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Roll Pirates - because everyone loves pirates

 Roll Pirates is another of Radoslaw Ignatow’s Roll and Write games where the individual actions are all pretty simple but you get a lot of options as far as how the game develops. I’m starting to think that’s one of his trademarks.

The game has each player play a pirate captain (Arrrr!) who is sailing about the map, finding treasure and developing a reputation. After six rounds, whoever has the most points is the winner.

Like all the games that came out of Ignatow’s recent Kickstarter, a pool of dice is rolled each turn and everyone uses the same rolls. However, it isn’t entirely a multi-player solitaire. (It can be played as an actual soliatire, though)

There are four ways that you can use the dice in the game. You can use them to recruit crew, who you’ll need to move your boat over the map. You can use them to unlock treasure chests, which takes three dice each. You can use them to enhance your pirate captain reputation. And, if all else fails, you can spend dice to take a point penalty. (No, you don’t want to do that. Avoiding penalties is a good idea)

Really, the game is about moving around the map, which takes up half the player sheet. The primary actions, recruiting crew and unlocking treasure chests are all about movement. (Okay, technically you can move onto an unlocked treasure but it costs you points so it’s one of those bad idea)

A big part of what makes Roll Pirates work and a game I want to play again is that the map is too big to go everwhere over the course of 36 dice. In fact, I think a quarter of the map might be more than you cover in game. You seriously can’t do everything.

The other thing that makes Roll Pirates more than just rolling dice and jotting down numbers is that, in the multi-player game, when you claim a treasure, you get to make some kind of attack on another player. This is actually a neat design choice for a couple reasons. You don’t have to go out of your way to make an attack. Going for treasure is an integral part of the game so the attacks will be a part of the game. It also means that games don’t get too scripted since other folks are going to be messing with your plans.

Each individual piece of Roll Pirates is very simple. The game is a simple one. But it gives you the space to explore different things to do with those simple actions. The game has branching choices.

It’s interesting and fun.

Friday, June 25, 2021

As I get older, Tally Ho gets weirder but still fun

 Tally Ho has been in my collection for a long, long time. The first GenCon after I realized that I really like board games, I came home with a lot of new games.

At that time, Mayfair was selling imported Kosmos games with English rules in black and white shoved in and I got a bunch of them. (I later learned that Rio Grande sold English-language editions LOL) 

Once every five to ten years, I pull Tally Ho out. And I swear it is crazier every time I look at it. It’s an asymmetric conflict of bears and foxes versus hunters and lumberjacks with trees and fowl in the middle. And, man, is it unbalanced… from a certain viewpoint.

You take all the counters, flip them upside down and randomly fill the board. So any piece can be anywhere. (On your turn, you either flip over a counter or move a counter you can legally move)

And I have had games where the placement and order of reveals dramatically determined the outcome of the game. A bear walled in by trees? They won’t be munching any humans.

But a full game is two matches with each player getting to play both sides. (I’m pretty sure the humans have the edge) More than that, with all the counters being flipped triggering the endgame, the players control the tempo and timing of the game. You have to be the one who balances the game. (I feel like that a design concept you don’t see as often as you used. Wow, I feel like a cranky old geezer :P)

Well, Tally Ho was first published in the early 70s and design priorities have changed since then. When I first tried the game, I wondered if it was secretly a war game. Now I’d describe it as a mash of abstract and Ameritrash design priorities. The cartoonish artwork looks like it’s for a kids game but there’s depth to the gameplay, between risk management and careful play.

Literally hundreds of games later, I still haven’t played another game that’s really like Tally Ho. And, while not flawless, it has remained in our collection, which can’t be said for many, many games. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Our son watches classic animation

 While our son has grown up always knowing who Elsa and Anna are and has been exposed to most  of the ‘modern’ Disney Princesses, he decided on his own that he wanted to see the ‘classic’ princess movies.

Wow. Watching Snow White for the first time in decades was wild. My brain had mentally updated the style and animation to a slightly more modern style. Instead, I realized I was watching a transition from shorts like the Silly Symphonies to something much bigger.

In particular, Snow White’s eyes were hard to follow and the forest animals were very rubber-bodied. I’ve read that the animators actually watched real animals as part of their research for Bambi and seeing pre-Bambi Disney animals is just weird for me.
That said, the dwarves and the evil queen’s witch-form are a wonderful merger of realistic and cartoony. Those scenes and anima tion, they are animation gold.

Meanwhile, while our son enjoyed the movie, he couldn’t get over how the backgrounds were flat and unmoving :D

On the other hand, Sleeping Beauty lived up to my memories of seeing one of its innumerable re-releases in the cinema from when I was a child. (Hey, we had to do something back before VHS) I have a vivid memory of seeing the s tylized opening and expecting it to fade into the Disney house style. When it didn’t, my mind boggled that the whole movie would look like that.

Snow White was watching a wheel get invented. Sleeping Beauty was watching that wheel get used for a luxury car.

(I was out of the room for Cinderella)

Monday, June 21, 2021

I forgot that Times Square was more than just a place

 First of all, I forgot that Times Square existed. Then, when I did remember that it was a real thing, I forgot that it was designed by Reiner Knizia.

The game is apparently based on a famous 1954 German film that I have never seen and I haven’t been able to find anything but the most vague summaries of. From what I can tell, it made a much bigger splash in Germany than the United States. I do get the impression that if you know the movie, all the elements click.

At any rate, it’s a card-driven tug of war with five distinct different types of pieces. (There are six pieces with two identical gray pieces) They all have their own set of rules and restrictions. Your goal is to drag either the green girl or green champagne bottle to your edge of the board.

Champagne Charlie is what I really remember from the game. You can move him as a basically a bonus move if you have more pieces on your side of the board, which is really just a track. He is a threat that keeps the game interesting.

But the game has been out of our collection for years. Times Square isn’t a bad game but I’d say that its sin is that its level of being interesting is greater than being good. With every piece having its own distinct set of rules, it’s literally a game of the exception being the rule. 

What ultimately made it leave the game closet, though, is that it’s a casual two-player game and, even after a number of purges, we still have a lot of them. Times Square just never got played.

It does feel like an unusual Knizia design. One of his hallmarks is simple systems that unfold into complex decisions. Times Square feels like it has cluttered rule book resulting in a simple game.

Friday, June 18, 2021

The introduction to Tempus Quest was too introductory

 Last month, I tried out Chris Anderson’s Tempus Imperium. It’s a PnP game where you use the date and time to set up the map and then create a list of actions. I knew Anderson had also made a series of other time stamp related games called Tempus Quest so I decided to try the first one.

(And THEN I learned that there was ANOTHER time stamp game, Tempus Infinitum, that looks like a refined version of Tempus Imperium)

Tempus Quest is a series of games or scenarios. After the introductory scenario, it looks like how you do in one scenario will effect what happens in the next one.

In Episode 0-Some Reassembly Required, you are attempting to rebuild a spaceship in a junkyard. Connect resources together to make parts and then connect them to the ship in the middle. There’s an alarm track. You check alarms off if you do something close to guard towers but you can also check them off to change your action.

Having learned Tempus Imperium first, Tempus Quest was really easy to pick up. And I have come to two conclusions.

One, Tempus Quest Episode 0 is probably the best introduction to the whole use-the-datestamp-to-generate-a-number-string idea. It uses a shorter number string and has a clear-cut goal with a clear-cut way to go about it.

Two, I liked Tempus Imperium more and I’m glad I started with it.

It isn’t so much that Episode 0 is flawed but that it hits the whole introductory thing a little too on the nose. Tempus Imperium has multiple paths to victory while Episode 0 has just one. In Tempus Imperium, you have to develop a good income. In episode 0, there’s a checklist of alarms to spend and there seems to be so many that you shouldn’t run out.

Really, I’m punishing Episode 0 for being exactly what it’s intended to be. It’s an introduction and a tutorial. Looking at the next couple episodes, it looks like the complexity level does go up.

But it did leave me wanting to play more Tempus Imperium.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Harrow the Ninth is where things get meta

 Earlier this year, I read Gideon the Ninth and it was the surprise delight of my reading year. So, of course, I had to read the second book in the series, Harrow the Ninth.

… Man, I do not know how to write about this book without spoilers for this first book since everything in Harrow the Ninth is built on how Gideon the Ninth resolved itself. More than that, it’s hard to discuss Harrow the Ninth itself without spoiling it since so much of it is a mystery whose resolution explains not just the mystery’s solution but what was the mystery in the first place.

So, I really enjoyed the book and I’m really glad I read it?



As few spoilers as possible

As few spoilers as possible

As few spoilers as possible

The world of The Locked Tomb is one of gothic horror and high science fiction. It is definitely not Warhammer 40K but man, it has some similar vibes. We are talking about a galactic empire that was built on necromancy.

In fact, the undying emperor (who is not stuck in a life support throne) resurrected his entire home solar system, which is clearly our solar system. And now all the planets have death energy instead of life energy (so much that they are only place where necromancers can be born) The heart of the empire is a zombie solar system. I won’t be surprised if it turns out that everyone is functionally undead at the end of the series.

Gideon the Ninth was an adventure story when all is said and done, albeit one that is underpinned by Gideon figuring out her relationships. Harrow the Ninth is a much denser, more complicated read. There are two different stories going on that play with our understanding of what happened in the last book, contradict each other and play with the meta nature of narration.

I will say that many of those questions do get answered and explained by the end of the book. The cosmology of the setting is explored and expanded. And we are left with a whole new set of questions.

Gideon the Ninth was more fun but I think I got a lot more out of Harrow the Ninth. And now I’m annoyed I have to wait at least a year for Tamsyn Muir to write Alecto the Ninth.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Loki takes the MCU into Doctor Who land

 I do love me some MCU. And Loki may be my favorite mini-series out of the current wave that Disney is cranking out. (WandaVision is tough competition though. I like weird, meta fiction)

Only one episode has aired as of me writing this, which means that I’m not too worried about spoilers. However, I’ll still try to be cryptic.

I do find it hilarious that the powers-that-be resolved Loki’s character arc in the Infinity War and they are getting away with still doing more stuff with Loki. They are having their Tom Hiddleston cake and eating it too.

But to be fair, I think the last time anyone has accused Disney of not knowing how to make money was when it took Sleeping Beauty eleven years to turn a profit (thanks to its astronomical production costs) And the comic book version of Loki has certainly been through a lot of story arcs.

My first impression is that Disney has put Men in Black, Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Who into a blender. Well, if the Men in Black was a malevolent organization. To say that the Time Variance Authority is morally ambiguous is being generous past the point of reasonable.

Loki, at least as of episode one, has the title character enter a completely new setting, one that I don’t think has been even hinted at existing in the MCU. And one that like Guardians, it’s a used, Star Wars-like setting where there’s lot of stuff going on we will never learn about. 

I enjoy quirky science fiction. I was bitten by a Jon Pertwee serial at a young age and it’s affected me ever since. So I am so one of Loki’s target demographic. It has moments that are truly funny and others that are honestly bittersweet but it is strange and snarky all the way through.

Friday, June 11, 2021

I taught myself Calico in my doctor’s waiting room

 While I had known a while that there was a solitaire demo of Calico online, I didn’t get around to trying it out until I was waiting at the doctor’s office for my annual physical. No one will ask for me for a blurb about Calico but it would be ‘You can learn it in the waiting room’

Calico is a game about cats, which puts it right up my alley. It’s also a puzzly abstract themed around making a quilt for those cats. I’ve heard it said homespun Arcadian themes have become their own genre but I think that’s been the case since Agricola (and that’s been out for a while) 

I really had no excuse not to have tried the game out earlier. The website is very accessible and the game mechanically simple enough that I was able to learn it while waiting for a nurse practitioner to call my name.

You have your own hexagonal grid. You have a hand of two hexagonal quilt tiles. On your turn, you place one in an empty spot. You then draw one of three market tiles to refill your hand and the left most market tile gets discarded. (Ticket to Ride strikes again!)

There are three ways to score points, at least in the demo. Groups of three or more like colors can earn a button. Specific cat tiles can be placed on specific combinations of patterns. And there are goal tiles on your board that have to be surrounded by specific combinations of colors and/or patterns.

I really enjoyed Calico, more than I honestly been expecting. A big part of what makes the game tick is the three separate ways of scoring points. Because unless you are both very careful and very lucky, they are going to conflict with each other and you are going to make choices and sacrifices. I also liked the market. That helped add choices to the game.

I’m continuing my moratorium on buying new games but Calico has rushed to near the top of the top of the list of games I’d buy. I know the complete game has more types of cats and goal tiles and scenarios. The demo entertained me but the full game sounds really good.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Cozy Grove. Come for the ghosts. Stay for the R&R

 Cozy Grove is the latest Iyashikei game we’ve tried. It’s a Japanese genre that is about healing and decompression, no conflict and often about nature.  It’s actually much more of an anime genre than a video game one but Animal Crossing was our introduction to it. (Which might be why the other two video games we’ve tried aren’t Japanese)

In Cozy Grove, you are a spirit scout, a gender neutral branch of scouting that is devoted to camping, outdoor crafts and exorcising restless ghosts. Wait, what was that last one?

You are stranded on the island of Cozy Grove which is positively teeming with unhappy spirits. Who are all incredibly friendly anthropomorphic bears. The game consists of low key fetch quests, resource gathering and decorating the island.

And Cozy Grove is a slow burn, even compared to Animal Crossing. You will run out of resources and fetch quests for the day and it won’t be too difficult to reach that point. As opposed to Animal Crossing, where you could catch fish and bugs all day long if you felt like it.

I have to make a special note of the music and graphic design. It’s a lot of fun to see areas burst into life after you’ve helped someone or added light to the world. But the music is what really sells the feels of Cozy Grove. I could listen to the soundtrack for hours.

We still have a long ways to go before we complete the game. While the stories are melancholy (these are ghosts after all), I hope there isn’t any twist like you’re actually dead all along or the bears are all restless because they killed the last scout. I want this to be Iyashikei to the end.

Animal Crossing was a quiet revelation for me. Cozy Grove isnt quite as immersive or impressive but it has its own strength and poignancy. So I will see where its story goes.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Cat Nap makes me happy

 Cat Nap from the seventh Roll and Write contest has me in a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, it doesn’t bring anything new to the party. I’ve seen all the mechanics before. On the other hand, it all fits together nice and neatly and I enjoyed it.

The idea behind the game is that you are making a quilt for your cats to sleep on. You apparently own at least six cats so you’re officially a crazy cat person.

The board itself is a grid that has six cats on it, who each take up six or seven squares and there’s a five square cross is the middle that serves as the starting point.

Take two dice that you can tell apart. One determines the shape of the piece your are drawing in and the other determines the pattern.
The first piece has to touch the starting cross and every piece after that has to the touch the side of another piece. And, no, you can’t cover up the cats. 

There are a few touches that make the game more than just drawing in shapes. If pieces of the same pattern touch, you lose points. Completely surround a cat and you get points and a one box star. Being able to fill in just one box is actually a strong bonus. Oh and there are some bonus moves of the dice just done work, which is actually pretty standard but still a good mechanic. 

The game ends when someone has to pass for a second time or gets a fifth star. You get points from stars, complete rows and columns and not having the same patterns touch. Most points wins and there’s a scale for playing solitaire.

As I said at the start, Roll and Writes that involve filling in a grid with shapes is old hat. Mosaix was doing it back in 2009. Since then, I have seen the concept used more times than I can count offhand.  There’s nothing innovative about Cat Nap.

But, you know, I still like Cat Nap and have fun playing it. I particularly like the cats blocking the vid so I actually have to make decisions rather than use the spatial skills I got from Blokus and play on auto-pilot. It doesn’t hurt that I love cats. All the mechanics in Cat Nap fit together and work.

At the end of the day, Cat Nap is a pleasant, family weight game that is free to print and play. It might not set the world on fire but it’s a game I’d recommend to folks who are looking for a free, easy to teach, enjoyable game.

Friday, June 4, 2021

My May R&W

 May continued my habit of learning and playing lots of Roll and Write games. As I have said ad nausium, Roll and Write games are a good return when you have limited time and space. The medium definitely has limitations but the benefits are real.

One game that I had already learned that I want to mention again is Reiner Knizia’s Criss Cross, which I went back to in May and played a lot. I remember being harsh about it when I first tried it and... I don’t think I was unfair even though I had a lot of fun revisiting it.

Criss Cross isn’t the minimum in what I’d accept from a Roll and Write but I think it does represent as _minimalist_ as you can get and still be good. And a lot of its good qualities come from that minimalism. It’s good for a mental coffee break and it’s great as a travel game you can play with a large group, particularly of non-gamers. But, at the same time, there’s not enough there to sit down for some serious gaming. 

I tried two different games from two different contests by the same designer based on the Divine Comedy. While Nine Circles, the Inferno game, was an acceptable, workmanlike game (which is no small thing to accomplish), Seven Steps had a dice cycling mechanic that I liked. I hope there will be a Paradise game that shows similar development.

I also tried two more of Radoslaw Ignatow’s designs. (For some reason, his PDFs confuse our printer so it’s slow going getting them printed) Those were Mage Forge and Master Your Castle. I’ll need to play them more before I feel comfortable reviewing them but I enjoyed them. Ignatow continues to give me a good, casual-weight experience with one sheet of paper.

And I finally tried Tempus Imperium, a roll and write that replaces dice with a time stamp. I quite enjoyed but the same designer all the uses the same idea with Tempus Quest that has mission-based goals and a campaign and with Tempus Infinitum that uses a simpler time stamp with more complicated rules and map. Tempus Imperium might end up replaced by its successors.

In other news, I’ve noticed that laminating sheets have been out of stock at some suppliers lately. You can still find them and I still have a stock but I’ve started using sheet protectors for Roll and Writes. I prefer the sturdiness of laminating sheets and I don’t consider sheet protectors a craft project but they will do in a pinch.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Lord Dunsany’s voyage to Mars

 I have been slowly reading The Travel Tales of Mr. Joseph Jorkens by Lord Dunsany, the first of his Jorkens collections. It took me years to find a copy so I am savoring the book. I mean to write about the whole experience when I am done but one story really struck me.

While most of the stories I’ve read so far with Jorkens are slightly grounded travel stories, Our Distant Cousins veers into serious science fiction. Which also actually makes it feel the most dated.




For a story that was first published in a magazine pretty close to a hundred years ago 

It has been said that the Jorkens stories helped codify the pub story (even though example go way back) but this one breaks a lot of the conventions. Eh, it’s Dunsany. He seems to have only followed his own rules.

Our Distant Cousins isn’t actually told by Jorkens but by an associate of his who allegedly made the first voyage to Mars but lost all the proof that he had by the time he made it back to Earth.

The actual plot is honestly an abridged version of the Time Machine by H. G. Wells only with space travel instead of time travel. However, it’s the details that really struck me and stuck with me.

The traveler gets to Mars via a conventional airplane, albeit one with a rocket attached. Honestly, I’m not sure that I’ve ever actually seen that idea used literally. 

However, he doesn’t fly through ether or does there turn out to be a breathable atmosphere in space. He actually turns off the engine and uses the momentum of the Earth to to power his trip to Mars. More than that, it takes him thirty days to reach Mars and he describes the silence and boredom of the experience. His head is stuck in a special but faulty oxygen helmet and his body is wrapped in special bandages to deal with no atmospheric pressure.

It’s the last bit that just really stayed with me. Bandages as a space suit. Dunsany actually considered the issues with flying a plan into space. No, they wouldn’t work but they make sense. That part of the story is actually remarkably hard science fiction.

Yeah, landing on a pastoral Mars where grotesque monsters keep humans as livestock sends us straight into fantasy, possible allegorical fantasy. But the space flight part is just neat.

I found out that Dunsany wrote a sequel, the Slugly Beast, where the traveler is lured back to Mars by threatening radio messages. It’s entirely from the viewpoint of Jorkens and the narrator. I think it’s a better, more atmospheric story but it doesn’t have the same science fiction bite.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

My May PnP

 May. Here’s what I made in May:

Mage Forge
Master Your Castle
Handful of Hazards (ultra low ink version)
13 Sheep (randomly generated boards)
Catan Dice + fan-made expansions 
Washington D6 (2017 GenCan’t)
Time Fixer (2017 Solitaire contest)
Spider-Man vs Sinister Six
Win, Lose, Banana
Power Duel

Okay. Here’s what happened. My ‘big’ project for the month was a handheld solitaire called Light Speed from a contest. No relation to the Cheapass game by the same name. But I duplexed the cards when I was supposed to fold them. And I didn’t notice until I was done and May was almost over.

So I made Power Duel at the last minute just so I made a ‘big’ project. By my arbitrary standards, it doesn’t have enough components to count but I did put on the effort to make Light Speed and the idea of Power Duel (a miniature version of Power Grid) is a big idea. So I feel like I’ve done my hobby its due diligence.

Beyond that, I made Roll and Writes. The Spider-Man is one I found through Juegos Roll and Write blog, by the way.