Friday, December 31, 2021

Obligatory year end blog - warning - it’s boring

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Kids Creative looks promising for the classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 27, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 24, 2021

A couple of free Holiday R&Ws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Yeah, I finally read Mona Lisa Overdrive

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 20, 2021

Unsurmountable: it’s you versus that mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 17, 2021

Halfway through Dicember

 We are about half way through Dicember. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Trying not to spoil Encanto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 13, 2021

All is Bomb is a nifty puzzle

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

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

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

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

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

And then I’m guessing everything explodes.

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

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

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

I like it.

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

Friday, December 10, 2021

Rock Opera ‘79 is a cool flavor of crazy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Count Zero is better than Neuromancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I should finally actually read The Mona Lisa Overdrive.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Why I forgot Prince of Pies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 3, 2021

My November Gaming

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

Really, thanks to design contests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

My November PnP

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

Here’s what I made:

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

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

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

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

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