Friday, December 30, 2022

The surprise that is Beach Life

Dark Imp has two different categories of Print-and-Play Roll-and-Write games: notepads and placemats. While notepads are smaller and low ink, placemats needs two sheets of paper per player sheet and are in color. Beach Life is the first placemat game I’ve tried.

Beach Life is made of up five mini-games themed around the kind of aquatic life you find at the shoreline. (Oysters,  razor clams, starfish, sea snails and crabs, in case you’re curious) Each turn , someone rolls three dice. Each player picks two dice. One to choose a mini game (sixes are wild for this choice) and one to use in the game you choose.

Five times per game, you can use the third die as a second action in the mini game you choose. The first player to complete a mini game gets a bonus five points. If you can’t use a roll, you check off a No Roll box. When a player checks off their third No Roll Box, the game ends and high score wins.

Each of the mini games is pretty simple. Check off numbers or fill numbers in. The crab walking to the water is my favorite. Each successive number has to be plus or minus one to the last one. But the closer you get to the shore, the smaller the numbers have to be.

I went into Beach Life with low expectations. The artwork is child-friendly to the point where it would look at home in Highlights. Each of the mini-games would be too simple and limited to stand in its own.

However, having to balance the die rolls between the five games proved to be more interesting than I expected. Sometimes, the choices are obvious but balancing the rest of your play until you get the rolls you are hoping for is where the decisions are.

I expected Beach Life to be a game aimed at younger kids. Instead, it’s pretty solidly in casual gamer territory and in a fun way. In fact, it feels more original than any of the notepad line.

The biggest issue I have with it is that it’s ink heavy and ideally should be printed in color. (That’s pretty much the case for all the placemat games) That really limits it in my mind for larger groups, like classrooms. But I think that’s manageable for a smaller group.

Beach Life has left me more interested in Dark Imp and their placemat games in particular.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Lingo Land is a word game for anyone

 Lingo Land was the fourth game I tried from Dark Imp's tablet collection (which is separate from their playmat collection, which you also print off and play) and it might actually be the best game of the lot. 


Lingo Land is a word building game for as many players as you want to cram in. It's also a Roll and Write, which means you roll some dice and then write something down.

Print the game sheet off. Get a couple of dice. Make sure everyone has something to write with.

The game sheet consists of five boxes and five lines with ten dashes each. The alphabet is broken down into the five boxes. Every box has one of the vowels and the last box has X as an extra letter.

You can probably see where this is going. Roll the dice. One die is assigned to pick a letter box and the other is assigned to a line where you are writing a word. You can pick any letter in your chosen box and letters can be reused. This isn't one of those games where you can only use E once. Sixes are wild.

Okay, this is the touch that actually makes Lingo Land good. Well, not just good but able to be played at all. You can write the chosen letter on any open space on the line. Having that much flexibility lets you actually do some sort of actual planning and makes the game have fun and depth.

You know, every time I write about a word game, I note that I'm really not a word game person. At this point, I have looked at a lot of word games for a non-word game person. (I still hold that Scrabble is an area control game disguised as a word game) Lingo Land checks a lot of boxes for me, though.

Lingo Land is short. It offers some flexibility. And it really favors writing longer words. (You get one point for a three-letter word and fifteen for a ten-letter word) And, compared to the other games I've tried from Dark Imp, it feels more original. (I'm probably wrong and just haven't played the right word games)

There is one flaw. You don’t get any points for nonsense words but you can make nonsense words. I can see having one or two lines as sacrifices to avoid using a pass and keep the game going. (And I can see players hurrying to use pass boxes to shut the game down faster) Still, few games are safe from spoilsports.

My experience with Dark Imp is that they make games that designed to be very accessible for classrooms or non-gamer environments. And they deliver on that goal. I would run them in classrooms and similar environments. Lingo Land is a game I'd think about playing with folks who are into Scrabble or Buy Word or such. I think it can work for a broader audience.

I went into Lingo Land with low expectations. And I think it's a game that will work for the broader casual gamer audience.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Boxing Day and Moriarty the Patriot

 I’m posting this on Boxing Day, December 26. One of the associations of Boxing Day is the wealthy people kn England giving boxes of stuff to tradesmen and their servants on the day after Christmas.


Which is actually a fun segue way for me to talk about a Manga series I’ve been reading, Moriarty the Patriot. Because the distinction between classes in Victorian England is a major element in the series.

And, yes, it’s a reimaging of Sherlock Holmes. I don’t think even Cthulhu has as many reimagings as Sherlock Holmes.

In Moriarty the Patriot, the actual goal of Moriarty isn’t crime but social revolution. Moriarty wants to end the aristocracy’s abusive relationship with the common people.

The series is also hilariously full of Bish┼Źnen, pretty androgynous men. In fact, one of the most prominent female characters transitions to male so the Bish┼Źnen count just keeps growing.

The two questions I find myself asking about Moriarty the Patriot are ‘Is it a good story?’ and ‘Is it a good Sherlock Holmes story?’ The answer to the first is a solid yes but I don’t know about the second.

Part of that problem is that there have been so many adaptations, revisions, pastiches, etc of Sherlock Holmes and their world. According to IMBd, almost 350 actors have played Holmes and that’s not even getting into novels, short stories, comic books, web comics and lord knows what other media. It’s crazy.

I’ve asked myself how big a difference just changing all the names would make to Moriarty the Patriot. And, despite having adaptions of specific stories like the Hound of Baskervilles and A Scandal in Bohemia, I’m not not sure it would make a big difference.

William James Moriarty is a really fun character. Yes, he is ridiculously brilliant. On top of that, he has amazing physical skills. He’s Batman without the mask. At the same time, he will sacrifice anything, particularly himself, to make the world better. All of his dreams have an undercurrent of self destruction.

Amusingly, his brothers are Louis James Moriarty and Albert James Moriarty. The three together are the composite James Moriarity, Napoleon of Ctime. And, while William is the most crazy awesome one, the other two are no slouches. If William is Batman, they are Nightwings.

Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand, is really only interesting for me when he’s dealing with the brothers. When he gets his own story arcs, the story drags for me. I think I’ve just seen so many versions of Holmes that this one doesn’t bring anything new to the table while this version of James Moriarty is actually different. 

(Holmes does speak in a cockney accent. I once read a short story where Holmes is a brash, underclass cockney who tells Watson to write him as a stiff upper crust or no one will believe  it. And I can’t figure out where I read that or wrote it! Does anyone reading this know?)

Moriarty the Patriot is a very postmodern work. I mean, a major character is transitioning isn’t something I’d see in Victorian era work. The social views are also very 21st century.  Some of the conspiracy theories would seem bonkers if it wasn’t for some of the real life conspiracies out there.

If you approach Moriarty the Patriot not as a Sherlock Holmes story or a story about Victorian England but as a very 21st cebtury story about social issues with a Victorian backdrop, it’s worth reading.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Sack Stackers - A PnP for the holidays

I had wanted to try out a holiday-themed game before Christmas and Sack Stackers ended up being what fit the bill. And Sack Stsckers did a good job doing something fun with the formula of filling in a grid :)

The theme of the game is that you are one of Santa elves. The automatic sack stuffer is off and you need to sort out the presents. Okay, from there, it’s abstract all the way.

You have a six by six grid with numbered columns. You have six numbered boxes that each have  five different patterns and one wild. Yeah, you know how it’s going to work. Roll two dice. Pick one for the column and one for the pattern.

So, here’s how Sack Stackers does its own thing:

You score points by making specific four-square shapes with each specific pattern. A line of four blocks with the horizontal pattern, for instance. Yes, you build up from the bottom. Yes, the five shapes are the Tetris shapes.

So Sack Stackers has you play Tetris to make Tetris shapes. 

You also get some ways to mitigate luck. In addition to the aforementioned wild pattern, you also get ten -1/+1 uses. You can even use more than one at the same time. For every two you use, you need to add a lump of coal to the grid. Which can be helpful in and of itself. Not only are isolated lumps worth a couple points, coal can fill in spaces you need filled to form shapes. You also have to add a lump of you can’t add a pattern square.

I also have to mention the graphics of the patterns each one is only two lines so they are super easy to duplicate and draw. From a graphic design, that’s well done.

Okay. So what do I think of Sack Stackers?

On the one hand, I have seen a lot of fill-in-the-grid Roll and Writes. I tried three this month alone and this isn’t even the best one. (The Blob That Ate the City has one  heck of a hook) It isn’t a bad game at all but it has a lot of competition.

Sack Stackers gives you a lot of wiggle room. Between six wild patterns and ten dice adjustments, you have a lot of control. It might even be too forgiving. (Which is a whole lot better than dice games where you have no control)

That said, the shape building is a fun mechanic and I don’t remember seeing it before. The game is easy to learn but the decisions are still there. Frankly, Sack Stackers is fun enough that I immediately played it again.

Sack Stackers is a game that can definitely work for casual gamers but I think it will also click for non-gamers and more dedicated gamers. The Christmas theme doesn’t hurt if you’re playing it during the holidays. 

Part of me wants to knock Sack Stacking for being yet another Fill-in-the-Grid Roll and Write since I’ve seen so many. But the fact is that I keep on having fun with Sack Stacking and plan on sending it to friends.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

After a five year gap, Brandon Sanderson finished the Alcatraz books

I am quite lucky because I only had to wait a year for the last Alcatraz/Evil Librarian book by Brandon Sanderson to come out. That’s because I was late to the party and didn’t have to wait the full five years that OG fans had to wait.

Okay, I’m talking about the last book in a series so you’d better believe there are spoilers. Even the title is a spoiler lol

Spoilers 

Spoilers 

Spoilers 

Spoilers 

Is that enough? Nah…

Spoilers 

Spoilers 

The last book is Bastille and the Evil Lbrarians. Because Alcatraz had a Heroic Blue Screen of Death at the end of the fifth book (so that’s what Heroic BSoD stands for, huh), his bodyguard and love interest has to take over narration.

I’m not going to talk too much about the plot. Look, Alcatraz saves the world. It’s not a surprise, particularly since he clearly survives to write the first five books. 

As I’ve written before, the Alcatraz books are a celebration of the unreliable narrator. The books don’t just play with literary tropes, they gleefully point out that they are doing it. I would argue that the heroic fantasy story is just an excuse for Sanderson to talk about how narratives work.

In all honesty, the fifth book, Alcatraz versus the Dark Talent is the high point of the series. That book explores why Alcatraz is such an unreliable narrator and is also the high point for the drama. It’s the Empire Strikes Back of the series, including the bad guys coming seriously out ahead.

Bastille versus The Evil Librarians is a more straight forward book, which makes sense because Bastille is more straight forward than Alcatraz lol In fact, the book is practically one extended action scene. Looking at the series on a whole, Dark Talent is the climax while Bastille vEL is the denouement.

One element that does come to forefront in the last book is the romance between Alcatraz and Bastille. Considering that Bastille is more reluctant about that than Alcatraz, it is more interesting from her point of view.

And it actually makes sense that Dark Talent is actually more intricate than Bastille vEL. The point of the series, in many ways, is Alcatraz’s moment of crisis. But Bastille vEL needed to happen to we could see Alcatraz’s crazy guile heroics from outside his own head. And, you know,  the story actually having an ending is nice.

Plus, Kaz Smedry unleashing a vast horde of kittens during the battle to save the world justifies the book’s existence all by itself.

Bastille versus the Evil Librarians mat not be the best book in the series. However, it does what the series needed, pulled us back to the actual narrative.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Finding an old mechanic in a different medium

Bank or Bust is a Push-Your-Luck Roll-and-Write from Dark Imp. Their mission statement is to create multi-generational family games and they also have a focus on classroom viable games. That means Dark Imp focused on making accessible game that anyone could play.

This is the core idea of the game: you’ve got a track with spaces. (Everyone is moving along their own version since it’s an PnP multi-solitaire so you all have your own player sheet.) Each turn, a die is rolled. If anything but a six is rolled, everyone still in moves that many spaces. A six means you bust. And, of course, you can drop out before the roll and get the points for the space you’re on.

And if that were it, Bank or Bust would just be a bust. I mean, we are talking about a core mechanic that is the eptome of basic, bare bones push-your-luck.

So here’s the clever bit. When you decide to stop and take your points, you can either bank them (you know, as points) or you can spend them on special powers. These include one-time powers of flipping a six or ongoing powers like your pawn starting a five instead of zero.

Some of the special powers create some weird  possible gameplay circumstances. Players have five bust boxes and one game ending condition is one player running out. But you can buy more, changing that math. The special powers can add some indirect interaction in the game that otherwise is multiplayer solitaire.

So, what do I actually think of the game?

Well, even with the special powers, it is very, very simple. In particular, just rolling one die really flattens the odds and makes the actual choices less interesting. Can’t Stop is even simpler but pairing four dice and making decisions based on the bell shaped curve of two dice creates deeper choices.

I also think that theoretically unlimited number of players falls apart due to the indirect interactions. I think six players makes more sense. That’s not a criticism, that’s just a consideration for classroom use.

On the plus side, Bank or Bust is a very accessible game on multiple fronts. It’s easy to print off. It’s easy to teach. It’s easy to get a game going, even with folks who aren’t into gaming.

However, the biggest plus is that Bank or Bust isn’t filling out a grid or a check list. I have a lot of PnP multi-player solitaire options. But this one brings Push-Your-Luck to the medium.

Bank or Bust doesnt reinvent the wheel. It’s not an innovative game. It definitely has its flaws. But it gives me something new classroom, video conference and casual play.



Friday, December 16, 2022

Palatial covers familiar ground

 Palatial, a game that is allegedly about renovating a house but is really about filling a grid with polynomials, exemplifies what I have come to expect from Dark Imp Games. Pretty much no innovation but an incredible level of accessibility on almost every level.


You have a square grid broken down into six asymmetrical areas. You have a table of six different polynomial shapes, some of which would be right at home in Tetris. Each turn, you roll two dice. Pick one die for the area and the other die to be the shape. The game ends when any player has to pass three times.

Here's the two clever bits: Some squares have triangles and some circles. You get extra points for covering triangles but you lose points for covering circles. And the one pip shape is just two squares but it is the one shape that you can have cross over the line between areas.

In other words, Palatial doesn't cover any ground that I haven't seen before.

With that said, it uses all those elements to create a mechanically solid game. You get to make choices and you have to make sacrifices.

Dark Imp's mission statement is to create games that can work in family and classroom environments. Palatial is an ink-light Print and Play game that requires just hitting the print button to make. You just need two bog standard six-sided dice. It can handle pretty much any number of players. It's easy to teach, even if the student doesn't have much experience with board games or Roll and Write.

Palatial isn't a game I'd recommend for gamers. There are too many other games like it out there that have more interesting twists or themes. But I do think it would work very well with locations like classrooms, youth clubs or random family gatherings. Easy to make, teach and play.

As I keep finding, Dark Imp Games knows what they want to do and then they do it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

White Rabbit Dice Solitaire- um, you can play it with spare dice?

White Rabbit Dice Solitaire is so simple that the rules fit on one side of a playing card. You need twelve dice: five red, five blue, one white and one green. Actually, all that matters is having four different colors.

Since it’s a free game with minimal rules, I’m not going to bother to go over the rules in details. You have a row of six dice and a hand of five dice and you have six rounds to make trades to get all the dice in the row the same pip. (The green die is the timer)

White Rabbit is amusing puzzle. I’ve found that I can usually get most of the row where I want it and then spend the last couple rounds trying to roll one die to the number I need.

That said, I would be more interested in White Rabbit twenty years ago. Even if I didn’t have mobile devices with neigh infinite solitaire games and puzzles, we now live in a world with a plethora of tiny micro and nano games. White Rabbit just doesn’t offer enough to be real competition, just novelty.

I really could have used this game a few decades ago for waiting for that one member of our D&D crew to show ups (Yes, I’m talking about you! You know who you are! ) Although when we discovered Button Men, it would have fired White Rabbit. 

It’s a cute little free game that uses stuff we both know you have lying around. But it arrived a generation too late :)

Monday, December 12, 2022

Bucket of Bolts Play Through

 Bucket of Bolts play through 


Creation:

The engineers of Sagittarius Systems were noted for their mathematical skill and their distinct lack of imagination. Sagittarius Systems did not work for the entire but they were happy to sell to them.. Their small scale shipping transport looked like a box made out of aluminum.

S3-2XL was nondescript, utilitarian and sturdy.

THE FIRST CAPTAIN

Gondo Hyperion was a long distance hauler, one of the many cogs that helped make the empire work. He was a slovenly, filthy man whose sole virtue was that he always made his deliveries on time.

His crew consisted of two brothers who both answered to the name Chance, and a reedy engineer of indeterminate gender who was called Jones. Gondo would roar and curse at them but space help anyone who hurt them.

The hold of S3- 2XL grew cluttered and dirty under Captain Gondo’s watch. The cargo was drab and boring, empty storage crates and bland protein bars that could last decades in storage. But once, 3S-2XL had had to deliver photon torpedoes to a war zone. Every member of the crew had been in a cold sweat during that delivery.

That delivery went well but not every risk was worth it.

Even though S3-2XL wasn’t rated for wild animal transport, Captain Gondo agreed to ship a giant poisonous land squid, knowing that the squid’s owner would owe him a big favor. When it inevitably broke free, one of the Change brothers died, as did Jones. Gondo himself lost an arm, a leg and his captaincy.

After the incident, the S3-2XL was put into long term dry dock. It was no longer nondescript. It was filthy. And, although no paperwork had been filed, it had earned a name. The Storm Tossed.

THE SECOND CAPTAIN

When the Storm Tossed ended its month-long repair in dry dock, it was purchased by Galahad Rockmeier. While the Storm Tossed was a tiny cargo ship by imperial standards, it was a big step for a private merchant, even one as famed as Rockmeier.

Galahad Rockmeier was nearing the end of his career when he purchased the Storm Tossed. He and his many-handed right hand man, a blue alien named Phred, has helped revive the entire economy of the Caspian solar system after they had a near fatal market crash. Since then, a mercenary named Hevexis has entered his employ, as well as a robot engineer designated as Krabby.

But having a ship of his own opened up new opportunities for Rockmeier. After they cleaned up the ship and Krabby refurbed the engine, the Storm Tossed flew to systems it had never been before.

While nothing Rockmeier did was truly illegal, his deals managed to irk both the Empire and the rising Corporate Lords. After he traded obscure herbs for a mysterious map, some imperial cadets opened fire on the Storm Tossed, later claiming there was an error in the transmission codes.

Krabby had to almost entirely rebuilt much of the Storm Tossed. Additional pods were added to its rectangular shape.

And the mysterious map engraved in the heart of a green gem led the crew to final location of the gene bank of extinct Huirsine race. In one fell swoop, Rockmeier restored an entire race.

After that, he retired, married Hevexis and sold the Storm Tossed.

But the changes Krabby had made to The Storm Tossed left it no longer filthy but mysterious.

THE THIRD CAPTAIN

Stracer Ray bought the Storm Tossed from Galahad Rockmeier. 

Stracer Ray was a bounty hunter who only dressed in gray. He had taken an oath to only use  his stellar glaive to bring in his bounties and never handled any gun or blaster.

The glaive, a unique weapon in all of the universe, had a blade made from a dying dwarf star. Only a molecule thin, there was nothing that science had found that it would not cut through.

Stracer turned the hold into holding cells and modified the ship so that he could pilot it without any help.

Stracer Ray feared nothing and turned down no jobs. He even brought down and in the mysterious being known as D’Thanhu. Not wholly made from matter and thought by some to be some kind of God, D’Thanhu still was held in check by chains of depleted uranium and given over to the Empire.

Stracer Ray made many enemies. Once, returning to the Storm Tossed, several of them tried to ambush him. Some were the loved ones of his bounties. Others were his competitors. He lost part of his face and his arm but he won. Both were replaced by cybernetic parts.

Afterwards, the Storm Tossed was no longer thought of as utilitarian but deadly.

Decades passed as Stracer Ray continued his work as a bounty hunter and the Storm Tossed saw many suns and held many prisoners. As time went on, Stracer Ray replaced more and more of his body with cybernetics. He changed the Storm Tossed as well, giving it a secret laser canon that no freight ship would ever have but he never found cause to use it.

In the end, time proved too much for Stracer Ray. His cybernetics failed and his life ended. The Storm Tossed spent decades floating around a planet, one more piece of debris along with abandoned satellites and broken missiles. The bulky, rectangular shape of its fading hull was a contrast to the curved hulls or more recently built ships.

THE FOURTH OWNER

Jonah Khronos. When the ancient Empire and the upstart Corporate Lords finally went to inevitable war, Jonah chose a third option.

Jonah formed and led the rebellion that fought against both sides. The members came from over a hundred different planets and were of many different species.

Jonah Khronos found the Storm Tossed seemingly deflect but still fully powered. He was fascinated by the hidden laser cannon and the mysterious engines that Krabby had added more than a hundred years before.

The Storm Tossed became the unlikely flash ship of the rebellion. The strange engines made the Storm Tossed more nimble than any other ship of the line.

However, that also brought on the ire of the Empire and Corporate Lords. Once, they agreed to a detente in order to work together to try and take out of the Storm Tossed and the rebellion. There were terribly losses and the Storm Tossed just barely escaped.

Even still, the Storm Tossed came out of hyperspace in dire straits. All of the oxygen had bled out and Jonah was dead. The ship crashed onto an uncharted planet. 

But Krabby’s changes were finally fully realized. The Storm Tossed awakened.

I was no longer sturdy but I was intelligent. 

And although I did not know it at the time, in the years I lay on that nameless planet, the balance of power changed. The rebellion has failed but the resurrected Huirsine people rose up and ended the war.

THE FIFTH CAPTAIN

I was found by the Charish Clan. For generations, they had been born in space and had no idea what had been the last planet the family had actually live on.  Life without gravity has made them taller than other humans, as well as considerably nimble. At the time when they found me Jaqueline Charish was the head of the family, overseeing sons and daughters and grandchildren and countless nephews and nieces.

They scavenged the vast junkyards that formed in colonized solar systems, orbiting belts of centuries of detritus. Their chief client was T!PKchol, a Huirsine merchant who clearly did most of their trade on the black market. They paid a meet pittance of the value of the salvage but it let the clan stay out of view from either the Huirsine Federation or the Trade League.

But, when they found me, they knew that they had to hide that fact from T!PKchol and others. My role in the restoration of the Huirsine people had made me legendary. Wars would be fought to preserve or destroy me.

In the end, they knew my existence would inevitably be revealed. They needed a safe haven away from other peoples. Besides, they had learned of my intelligence and they liked me.

They were the first people who took advantage of the mysterious engines Krabby had given me so long ago. With it, they were able to find a mysterious solar system that had been engineered by an ancient and lost race. Instead of the void of space, it someone has an atmosphere. It was a home that they could live in.

THE FINAL CAPTAIN

Century after century rollled by. Ages passed as I was all but dormant. The Huirsine people, despite their great second rise, faded. They fell back into extinction. With their second passing, the name Storm Tossed vanished as well from history.

The Charish Clan, who became the Charish People, dissembled my mysterious engine with mt permission to discover its secrets. Time took its toll on my circuits and I would fall into deep hibernation for decades at a time. 

Outside of the Charish domain, in the vaster universe, the Grand Collective found an ancient warship from a war that could no longer be found in any history text. Thousands of soldiers had been placed in cryogenic stasis and a slant handful survived and were able to be revived.

Among these survivors of a lost era was Erik Chance, a distant descendant of the surviving Chance brother who had worked for Gondo Hyperion.

He had been part of a crucial marine team who had been able to board the mother ship of their enemies. But he awoke to a world where that war was older than the dust of stars. 

The Charish no longer had from the wider society. The Storm Tossed was no longer was remembered but Erik Chance came from an era where I had been known. And I was part of his family’s history. Somehow, he found me. We were two lost pieces of the forgotten past.

Together, we did simple cargo transport, just as I had with his ancestor. As we traveled, he asked to play chanties that no one remembered.

When Erik Chance grew gray and arthritic, the leader of the Charish people asked for him to take them to the Grand Collective. I had led them to their sanctuary and they wanted me to bring them officially to the Grand Collective.

Then, after that final job was done, we turned away from the galactic core. And the last thing we did was go off into the endless black.




Friday, December 9, 2022

Bucket of Bolts is a barrel of fun

Last month, I wrapped up my exploration of journaling games and my appreciation of NaNoWriMo with Bucket of Bolts by Jack Harrison.

In fact, it uses the same system as The Artefact by Harrison, which is the game that I started with when I decided to look into journaling games. Which is how I found out the system is called Lost & Found. Every game is about creating the history of an item.

In the case of Bucket of Bolts, you are creating the story of a space ship. Think the Millennium Falcon or Firefly.

Like Artefact, there are no random elements in Bucket of Bolts. You create the ship by filling out a questionnaire. You then work your way through tables of prompts, choosing captains and events.

An important part of the game is time passing. In between captains, you needs to pause and wait before writing. Preferably in a dark room. As the game goes on, more time can go by with each pause.

I have to say, I had a lot of fun with Bucket of Bolts. I know that the Lost & Found system is supposed to be melancholy but the life of a spaceship felt more upbeat to me than the life of a doom laden sword.

I particularly liked how the Shifts and Currents table (part of time passing) had a couple options that were actually global events that weren’t necessarily about your ship. Choosing those made the world you create feel bigger.

In general, the Lost & Found system does a good job both guiding you through the story you are creating but also gives you plenty of room to improvise. Bucket of Bolts gives you extra options beyond the base tables, which is appreciated. Honestly, I think it will work even if you aren’t a habitual writer like me.

I do have to admit that I had been having a lot of fun playing journaling games so I was really in the mood to play Bucket of Bolts. That did have a hand in how much fun I have.

Still, let’s be honest. There is more joy in the Millennium Falcon than Stormbringer.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

How subversive can you make the Addams Family?

For the most part, I don’t watch much TV unless our son it watching it. (I’m soooo behind on Doctor Who :’( )But we did decide to binge the new Wednesday show.

For those of you who don’t know, it is about Wednesday Addams as a teenager at a boarding school of gothic adventure. If you aren’t familiar with Wednesday Addams or the Addams family in general, it’s safe to say you are not the target demographic.

I’m not going to go over the storyline because no one needs the spoilers. If you are the target demographic, you’ve probably already watched the show or are planning on it. I will say, from a plot angle, there weren’t a lot of surprises. My wife and I were able to put together what was going to happen pretty easily.

Which wasn’t actually a problem. We were watching a genre show for escapism. We weren’t looking to be challenged. We were looking for comfort food media.

What I do want to consider is the genre change that the work had to go through. The creators took a domestic sit-com (albeit a morbid one) and turned it into a young adult urban fantasy. That’s actually quite a change.  From Happy Days to Buffy the Vampire Slayer

(Amusingly, Fred Armisen didn’t get the memo. His Uncle Fester would have fit in perfectly in any of the earlier versions of the Addams Family. And was a gem)

This meant going from having murder and torture as comedic elements that no one took seriously to having them be almost as serious as murder would be in real life. (Honestly, I don’t see any community being able to cover up as many horrible deaths as they do in the series)

In fact, we felt Wednesday had more in common with Harry Potter than other Addams Family work.

So, here’s the question: does it change things too much? Is it still an Addams Family work?

Well, we now live in a world where multi-media versions of propert are as common as kobolds in a first level dungeon. I’m honestly not sure how many different versions are out there of Spider-Man, just to site one example. It doesn’t even happen to be Parer Parker (Miles Morales rocks!) Heck, Doctor Who is all one continuity and has gone all over the place in genres and tone.

So, yeah, Wednesday does count as an Addams Family work. It’s a different take on the intellectual property but it is still a use of the property. It’s clearly its own canon. It totally loses that argument. (I wish I could say that about Rise of the Skywalkers) And it did a fun job turning it into a more dramatic approach which is what actually matters.

I can see how Wednesday might not appeal to Addams purists. On the other hand, given the innate subversive nature of the Addams Family, I can see purists being thrilled at how Wednesday subverts the property,



Monday, December 5, 2022

Darkhouse - simple but not easy

Darkhouse is a Roll and Write game from the 2017 GenCan’t Roll and Write contest. Which means I’ve actually had it in my files for a while, occasionally looking at it when I’ve been going through Roll and Write games.

As I’ve mentioned before (so many times regular readers are probably sick of it), that contest was a watershed event for me as far as Roll and Write games are concerned. Even though I’d played Roll and Write games that weren’t Yahtzee in funny clothes, I still thought of them that way. The contest opened my eyes to what you could do with the medium.

The theme of Darkhouse is being a gnome engineer who is trying to power up an underground version of a lighthouse. The actual game itself is trying to fill up six interconnected grids, ideally with the same number in each grid.

The game consists of ten rounds. Each round, you roll a die to see which box you’re working with. You then roll six dice with two rerolls. (Yahtzee does make an appearance.) The dice you end up with are the dice you use to fill in that grid.

BUT the grids have connections with a die box in each connection.you can place a die in those boxes so you can move the dice around to different grids. (I am not certain if you need to pay an extra die to move a die or if the die you place in the connection box is all you need)

AND there’s a catch! Ones are useless, if you roll a one for picking a grid at the start of a round, you have to reroll it. You can’t use ones to fill in grids. You can’t use ones to make connections. And there is a designated number ine grid so you have to use the connections to fill it.

On top of that, after you roll a grid number on the turn counter, you have a limited time to fill that grid up. Failing to do that will make you fill up the empty boxes with Xs high are worth negative points.

After ten rounds, add up the values of each grid. If a grid is complete and you’d used the same number in every box, double that number. If it’s that tricky one box, triple the score if you fill it with the same number. Bonuses for getting no Xs and filling in the entire board before ten rounds. Three plays is a game and you are trying to beat 1,100 as a score.

For some reason, when I looked at Darkhouse back in 2017 (wow, that was five years ago! Roll and Writes make time fly), I didn’t grok that was I was actually move the dice physically over the sheet before writing anything down. The fact that I often use a digital die roller didn’t help. (What can I say, a clip board, a writing utensil and a die roller mean I can play Roll and Writes without a table)

Going back to it after years of Roll and Write experience (I’m scared to figure out how many Roll and Write games I’ve learned over the last five years), Darkhouse now seems pretty simple and obvious. 

That said, I do like the mechanic of actually moving the die around. (And, yes, I could try to track in all my head but it’s simpler to use physical dice) Even with the rerolls, luck can have a big impact.

I haven’t figured out a way to break the game. On top of that, between the 1,100 scoring goal and time limits within the game, Darkhouse can be a very tight play with a very limited margin for error. Those are all good points.

I don’t know if Darkhouse is an evergreen but I do think it has some fun mechanics and isn’t easy to win. For a free game, that’s a win.

Friday, December 2, 2022

My November Gaming

I hadn’t quite planned it this way but I ended up spending November playing journaling games. National Novel Writing Month made me decide to look at journaling games and find out that there were a lot more of them out there than I realized.

Some folks classify these games as RPGs. I don’t think it’s the best fit. (Does that mean writing any work of fiction in the first person is an RPG since you’re taking on the role of a different person or creature?) At the same time, journaling games do involve taking on a different role so the argument does have merit.

I ended up trying:

The Artefact
Dave Ex Machina
House Spirit
Princess With A Cursed Sword
A Light, Relfected
The Swamp You Die In
Bucket of Bolts

I’ve already blogged about almost all of these games and I will blog about Bucket of Bolts during December. And here’s the thing.I already love writing so having fun with the games was almost a foregone conclusion. I do wonder how someone with less experience writing would do with them.

I may end up using some on the classroom so I guess I’ll find out.

Having a busy November kept me away from the table so I actually played almost all of these games on my tablet. Which might not be the strongest way to play a journaling game (some games recommend actually keeping a physical journal) but it did make it possible for me to actually play the games.

The one game I learned that wasn’t a journaling game was Darkhouse, a roll and write game from the 2017 GenCan’t Roll and Write contest. When I looked at the game five years ago, it had confused me. (Wow, was that actual five years ago?) Rereadiing the rules, I realized you actually physically move the dice around the play sheet before you write down the numbers. It’s fascinating how obvious that is to me now.

I’m not actually sure if it’s a good game yet and I have a couple rules questions. (Do you need to use a third die to move dice around or does the die in the intersection cover that cost?) However, I did have fun figuring out how it actually works.

I’m not going to play journaling games this heavily in the near future. However, I’ll probably play them more often.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

My November PnP

November was a particularly busy month for work. In fact, I was worried that I wouldn’t find the time to make any print and play projects. However, I was able to complete a couple. Mostly due to Thanksgiving break :D

I made copies of

Birdscaping
Dice Spray (12th R&W contest)

Birdcaping was my ‘big’ project for the month. I haven’t had a chance to play it yet but it looks promising. 

I honestly don’t know how much crafting I’ll get done in December but the fact that I was able to get something made in November makes me feel confident that something will get made.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Planning Dicember 2022

 Ah, Dicember.

Last year was the first time I officially observed Dicember. Unofficially, I’ve probably been observing it for years. I’d just never heard of it :)

Here’s the idea: in celebration of dice games, you play different dice games. There are three different levels of the challenge: play fifteen different dice games: play thirty-one different games, play a different dice game every day of the month. 

Last year, I did the third level, playing a different dice game every day. And it honestly ended up not always being fun. One day, when I was traveling, I played a solitaire game of Shut the Box to fulfill rhe challenge. And that was clearly playing just to play.

More than that, I found myself holding off playing games so they could serve as a slot in a later day. I suppose I could have just not counted plays before the designated day but that seemed dirty pool.

One idea I had contemplated last year was doing the fifteen dice game challenge but making them all new-to-me  games. I mean, I could theoretically do that with Roll and Write games alone. But I think that would just result in grinding through games and not really enjoying learning them. 

In other words, creating too many restrictions for myself stopped letting me have fun. And that’s a big reason why I game in the first place.

I will observe Dicember again but I’m not going to try to play a different dice game each day. I’ll just see how many different dice games I play. It’s safe to say it will be at least fifteen :)


Monday, November 28, 2022

The Swamp You Die In and other interesting places

 LI came across The Swamp You Die In by finding a hack of it called A Light, Reflected.

Out of all the journaling games I’ve tried in honor of NaNoWriMo, Swamp and its hacks are the shortest in  form and the most guided. It’s also very simple, albeit not the simplest. 

Basically, Swamp consists of six tables. Roll a die,consult the table you’re on, respond to that prompt. It can easily be only one sentence. And the theme is literally what the title tells you.

To be brutally honest, the prompts tend to be pretty specific compared to other journaling game I’ve played. You can easily add wiggle room but Swamp honestly hold your hand a lot.

The original game is laid out as a comic strip, with each prompt as its own panel. While that doesn’t actually affect the mechanics, it does add a nice bit of flavor to the experience.

The game also instructs you to not look ahead and not read the prompts you roll. So far, I have followed those rules so I still have some actual replay value. 

That also means, unlike every other journaling game I’ve written about, I won’t post any of the play throught since that would spoil the game for others.

Okay, when I first approached Swamp, I found it too simple. However, the ability to pound out a game when I didn’t have time for a longer journaling game ended up being nice. Yeah; eventually I’ll see all the prompts but I’ll get in a few plays before then.

What really strikes me about Swamp is that I think it has real potential to work in the classroom. At first I thought I might be too simple. Then I remembered some students need more structure for creative writing than others.

Of course, I’ll have to change the theme from dying in a swamp!

Friday, November 25, 2022

Princess With A Cursed Sword play through

 Princess With a Cursed Sword Play Through 


(Apologies for wildly inconsistent verb tenses)

What does her gown signify?

The gown is actually the uniform of her school. It is a prim, dark blue dress with a white hem that is now stained

Why are her feet bare?

She gave her shoes to a beggar in her way to the ruins. They pinched her feet anyway.

What does her Sword want?

Her Sword wants to devour knowledge and memories.

What are her pronouns?

She and her. 

The story begins as she comes to the ruins.

Card 1 - The Devil

As she walks through the gate, the princess finds herself inside what looks to have been a great library. Surely that means that learning was once important to this place.

But the roof and ceiling are altogether gone. Years of rain and snow and sun have ruined the burnt remnants of the Mubarak. Despite it all, the air is still full of the stench of ashes and smoke.

All around her, in the midst of the silence, the princess hears voices rise. It was the ghosts of all the murdered books, like a legion of demons.

She closed her eyes and thought of all the hours she had spent in the academy’s library. She thought of the rows of books in their rows of shelves. She thought of how every book had its place, one part of a single pattern.

Two coins - one head

In her mind, the princess took each ghost of a book and put it in its place. As she did so, their voices fell quiet. But when she put the last book in place, she heard a sharp crack.

The world suddenly had lines all across. The princess took off her glasses and saw that the lenses had cracked.

Card 2 - The Moon

The princess came across a deep, wide pool that was formed in the shape of a perfect circle. Of course it was artificial. You didn’t build something around a pond. 

She doubted it had originally been a pool. Rain had filled iit.

She stared down into the water and saw tiny silver fish swimming .

Card 3 - King of Cups

It is a shadow but not a shadow. It sits on a throne that is made of moss and broken rocks and glowing vines.

It is a memory and it hungers for more memories. It hungers to turn the princess into nothing but a memory. 

Cold sweat coating her brow, she swings the sword that hisses and mutters of its own hunger.

Two coins - two heads

The sword hungered for memories and knowledge. The thing was nothing but that. All that remained on the ruined throne was a bunt outline.

In her hand, the sword somehow had a gloating, satisfied feel. And she could no longer remember her grandmother’s eyes.

Card 4 - Five of Wands

The door was made of a wood so dark that it was almost black. It was far taller than her. If it wasn’t for the bright door handle, she might well have missed the door in the dark.

When she grasped the handle, it grasped her back. Long bronze teeth grow out of the handle, prepared to bite down on her hand.

The sword in her other hand, the hand that could not release it, muttered in bored tones. The door was not knowledge and held no interest for it.

One coin - head

Desperately, she pulled away. The teeth tore at her hand and arm. She fell to the ground, free but blood dripped down her arm.

And the door swung open.

Card 5 - Page of Pentacles

At first, the princess throught it was a person. Than a statute. But, in fact, it was machine in the shape of a person.

It was made of silver and crystal and glass. It was beautiful and in the shape of a young man. 

And clearly and permanently broken.

Card 6 ~ The Sun

The princess had lost count of the stairs she had walked up and she was very good at counting. Around and around the stairs went up the ivory tower until she reached the roof and the sky above.

And the burning eyes of the gods stared down at her.

One coin - heads

The princess refused to bow her head. They were not her gods. There was a flash of darkness, as if the gods had blinked. She found herself in a gallery, far from the tower.

And she knew the gods were still watching.

Card 7 - The Magician

The princess knew that the tomb was what she had been searching for. It was in between two tall  structures, almost as if the tomb itself was a canyon.

‘It is time,’ she said. Her feet were sore and bleeding. The arm and hand that were forced to hold the sword aches.

And the sword hissed and muttered. Black smoke rose from it.

‘No,’ the princess said. 

And her hand opened. The sword fell. Fell into the darkness of the tomb. She did not hear it land.

And the memory of the lullaby her mother had used to sing her to sleep was gone.