Monday, May 23, 2022

Playing cards are a language

Looking at the Mystery Rummy series (and it has, frankly, been too long since I’ve played one of those games), I am reminded about how they are all built on the framework of public domain games. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of theme and special rules involved in making them into bona fide designer games. But the core idea is rummy. It’s right there in the name.

From that point of view, I remembered that a lot of games, particularly card games, have public domain games as their skeletons. Indeed, trick taking games and climbing games form their own vast subcategory. 

In fact, I didn’t know about the Casino/Fishing family of card games when I played Lamarkian Poker. It didn’t seem quite so original after I learned more about those public domain card games but I still think it’s a great design. With just a few tweaks, Lamarkian Poker uses an older design to give a consistently rewarding gaming experience, one that I’ve played with a wide variety of people.

It’s not a new technique. Years after I first played Uno, I found out about Crazy Eights. And to be honest, both I and our eight-year-old would rather play Uno than Crazy Eights. I’m not a huge fan of Uno but I think that action cards make for a more dynamic game.

I don’t view this as a form of cheating in design work or shortcuts that somehow lessen the value of a game. Playing cards have a long history, involving a variety of formats and a ridiculously vast nunber of games and rule sets. I have long held that a deck of playing cards is the most flexible game system you can have and I haven’t found any reason to change that opinion.

Playing cards aren’t just numbers and suits. There are a wide variety of interactions that have been developed and codified over literally centuries. Playing cards are their own language and designers are constantly finding ways to use that language to say new ideas. 

A game that I have long enjoyed Sticheln subverts many aspects of trick taking games with its anti-trump and pain color rules. However, it only works because there are previously existing paradigms for it to subvert.

No one is going to reasonably accuse Bridge of being a ripoff of Pinochle. The same goes for more recent card games.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Mach Nal/Encore keeps me calm

I have found that games involving patterns seem to be very decompressing for me.

Mind you, when I say patterns, I mean patterns being used blatantly. You can argue that every game is about patterns, just as you can argue that every game has some level of abstraction.

I have read that games revolving around pattern recognition (which is another catch all term) are used for medical therapy. Go, in particular, I remember being used to help ease issues with dementia. Or I’m misremembering and putting Go on a pedestal. It’s easy for me to do that.

With that in mind, I’ve noticed that I’ve been reaching for Noch Mal/Encore when I need to decompress. It’s short enough to serve as a mental coffee break but has a lot of pattern recognition to keep me engaged.

And when I am using MN/E as a mental coffee break, I always fall back on the starter sheet. I go through patterns I already know. It’s half decision-making and half zoning out.

On the other hand, when I actually want to use MN/E as a game, I go with one of the other six sheets. I wish that there was more color contrast (I’ve memorized the color locations on the starter sheet) but  having a variety of sheets keeps MN/E engaging. It lets it me a way to zone out or really think, depending on what sheet I pick.

(I play it electronically. Otherwise, I’d mark the sheets as a workaround for my color blindness)

I have liked MN/E since I first tried it and I can’t even remember how I first heard about or who recommended it to me. But, as time has gone on, it has become on constant rotation more and more.

I play a lot of mental coffee break games for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is they are some of the easiest to make as print and plays. But there are a lot of flash in the pans. Finding one that consistently delivers over months and years of play, though, that is good.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Kukariyo feels very familiar

When you get enough books electronically out of the library, the system starts making recommendations. Which is how I got to learn Kukariyo exists. Apparently because I read Demon Slayer. I guess manga = manga to the system.

Kukariyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits is a manga based on a series of light novels. Aoi is kidnapped to the spirit lands by an ogre because her late grandfather promised the ogre her hand in marriage. Instead of marrying the ogre… Aoi starts a restaurant at the resort the ogre runs. (The whole marriage thing is to pay for the time her grandfather wrecked the resort)

If I were asked to describe Kukariyo, I would say it’s Spirited Away as food porn with some romance thrown in. Will she marry the ogre Odanna, whose actually a handsome and nice guy, or fall for Ginji, the sweet fox spirit? Who cares, let’s talk about food and cooking! 

Kukariyo is foodie Heaven first, fantastic spirit land second and romance last.

There’s an amazing lack of tension in the work. Will Aoi manage to win over the latest troublesome spirit with her amazing food? Of course she will! Was there any question? The real question is what tantalizing dish will she spend three pages lovingly making.

The part of the manga that has been the most fascinating for me is Aoi’s late grandfather, Shiro. He’s dead from the beginning but Shiro casts a shadow over seemingly everything.

Shiro apparently had the ability to see spirits, travel between worlds and had vast undefined power. He could be a scoundrel and a trickster but he was also capable of great kindness as well. The dead grandad is the most complex character in the entire work.

And he’s the reason everything happens. Not only did he promise Aoi’s hand in marriage, he’s the one who taught her how to cook. And her mastery of the kitchen is literally a super power since apparently her spiritual energy is a part of it.

Kukariyo isn’t flawless but it does stick in my head.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Playing chess with a second grader

I recently learned that our son has been learning about Chess in one of his classes. And after he learned that I learned, he asked to play a game with me.

He has the patience of an eight-year-old so I didn’t know how it would go. While I had to correct him several times (pawns and knights were particularly confusing for him) and I went so easy on him that even he could tell, we actually got through the game.

I won’t lie. I’d rather it be Go but it’s easier for me to see why Chess works better for young ones now.

Beyond the fact that the scale of Chess is much smaller than Go ( 64 spaces compared to 361 spaces and 32 pieces compared to theoretically 361 stones (I am pretty sure you can’t legally filled an entire Go board but I’m prepared to be proven wrong)), it’s easier to see the narrative of Chess than Go. Yes, the narrative of Go is much richer but it’s more abstract.

Each Chess piece having its own type of movement and it’s own name may have helped our son understand the flow of the game. I’m seriously wondering if Hive would be a good game to try out with him.

I don’t know if he’s going to ask for another game of Chess but I’m glad that we got this game in.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Many guys and ADORABLE velociraptors

After years of seeing commented on, I finally looked at and binged the web comic Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. The title had turned me off but I found out that most of its humor comes from deconstructing toxic masculinity.

It’s about a temp agency whose job is to reintegrate ludicrously macho men back into society. And by ludicrously macho men, we mean characters from video games, movies and comic books. And, yes, I have to look up a lot of stuff to get some of the jokes.

When I do get the jokes, the comic is funny. And Commander Badass is actually an interesting reconstruction of the macho man. (He can be a loving father and sensitive partner AND perform brutal acts of violence.) BUT what won me over were the velociraptors.

Picture fat, fluffy chickens with teeth. 


The velociraptors don’t show up often but a little goes a long ways. They are so ridiculously cute that I _refuse_ to look for plush ones on Etsy because I know they must be there and I don’t know if I could resist them.

If I was asked to show one comic strip that explain why I binged this web comic, it would be the one where the velociraptors needed hugs on the Fourth of July because fireworks are scary.

Manly Guys Doing Manly Things has been on hiatus since 2018 so it’s probably not coming back. But it gave us the most cuddly velociraptors ever so it did what ir needed to do.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Old Man and the Iceberg

 I promised myself that I would try to read more stuff this year that was challenging and actually made me think. I also have to balance that with time management so I’m gravitating to shorter works. Which is why I reread Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea.

Yup, another book that is a staple for high school book reports.

Is it possible to spoil The Old Man and The Sea? Well, just in case:




The book is about an old fisherman’s last great struggle bringing in a giant marlin, only to have sharks eat it before he can bring it back to shore. It’s one of the classic examples of Man versus Environment, unless you choose to interpret it as Man versus Himself.

As I read it, I couldn’t decide the book was holding up Santiago for his struggles against adversity and loss or if it was condemning those choices that led to him probably dying as the book ends. Which pretty much sums up Hemingway pretty well.

Reading about the book after I read it, I found that Hemingway himself had coined the Iceberg Theory of writing. That almost everything, particularly the things that the author knows, should be hidden, left out. The meaning of a work should be left for the reader to figure out.

Which is why Hemingway Scholarship is its own industry. When everything is up for interpretation, every interpretation can be pursued.

That said, I don’t belong to the school of thought that Hemingway was a lazy author or a bad author. Relentlessly shaving a work down to a theoretical minimum and still have it be engaging is an impressive feat. And frankly, it’s not as minimalist as people who don’t read Hemingway say it is. The Old Man and The Sea may be about an old guy, a boat and a fish and not much else but Santiago has a rich inner dialogue.

Reading about the publication of the book, I read that The Old Man and The Sea was the last major work that Hemmingway published before his death. It’s also apparently the book that revived and sealed his literary reputation. And, boy, it’s tempting to read the book as a metaphor for that point in his career. Which is definitely an option but the open nature of the work makes that only one of many interpretations.

Which just goes back to the Iceberg Theory. The more I look at the book, the more I come back to the idea that there cannot be any one right answer. Rereading The Old Man and The Sea made me think more about Hemmingway than the book.

Post Script: 

While reading about Hemmingway, I found out he really was a champion fisherman. And that he kept a tommy gun on his boat to shoot any sharks that got near his catches. That might actually be an idea that is viable but damn.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Mario Maker 2 is an art studio

Our son likes to create his own goals and personal narratives in video games.

Enter Mario Maker 2.

Mario Maker is a virtual construction set that lets you build your very own platformer levels for Nintendo’s mascot to go through. More than that, it has a variety of different art settings so you can live as Mario through the ages.

Man but this thing was made with our child in mind.

One of my earliest computer game experiences was Bill Budge’s Pinball Construction Set. And, to be honest, I suspect that is a game/tool box/experience that would still hold up today. And the Mario Maker series is exactly like it for Super Mario games.

There is a story-mode that also serves as a tutorial for the frankly ridiculous number of tools that you have at your disposal. As opposed to Mario having to rescue Princess Peach for the upteenth time, he is earning money to rebuild her castle after it accidentally gets destroyed. Which I think is an adorable concept.

But our son isn’t interested in the campaign mode. He’s interested in creating what are more like art instillations than more functional levels. Which is absolutely wonderful. It turns Mario into a pure act of creativity. Whenever we get a new video game, there’s always the question if it will be good for us, Mario Maker 2 has quickly proven to be good for us.

I already consider video games to be an art form but Mario Maker 2 is an art studio.

(And yes, you can share designs via the internet but we’re not having our son share stuff with strangers on the internet. Says the guy whose positing this to strangers on the internet lol)

Friday, May 6, 2022

Love Letter as a classroom game

 There are a couple of classes that I sometimes sub for where board games can be used for learning purposes. And, I honestly have more than enough material to last until the end of the school year, I still keep thinking about even more stuff.

And if part of the lesson is having the kids figure things out for themselves, having components that help teach the rules is something to look for.

One game that I have already been discussing using is Cunning Folk, the game that got me interested in Button Shy (and that’s an interest that has been very good for me. Button Shy is awesome for the casual PnPer) yYou can’t learn the game just by looking at the cards but you can learn a lot.

But another game that fits my needs (relatively short playing time, informative components, easy to learn) is Love Letter. That’s a game that you can practically learn just from the cards.

The individual  decisions the kids would get to make are very simple. Two cards per turn and every card tells you just what it does. But every decision affects the game and you have to pay attention to what everyone else is doing. There’s a very small jump between learning the rules and making critical decisions.

I am reminded why Love Letter was a watershed event. It channels interaction and decisions is tiny, focused format. I don’t know if I will ever have the chance to use it in the class room but I am confident it would work there.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

A grab bag of literature comments

While I like to write about what I’m reading or watching, this is going to be a catch all of stuff that I didn’t feel like writing a full individual blog entry of.

The God Engines by John Scalzi

This novella is about an galactic empire whose spaceships are powered by literally torturing gods. Man, you cannot escape War Hammer 40,000, no matter how hard you try.

I’m honestly not sure what my final opinion about the story is but I have to say that Scalzi never backs off from his premise and relentlessly escalates.

Lady Knight by Tamara Pierce

Protector of the Small is the first series I’ve read by Tamara Pierce. And, of course I started in the middle of her Tortall books. Well, it convinced me to read more Tamara Pierce. Maybe even go back to the beginning lol

Amusingly enough, I didn’t realize how much the series kept building on Kel being a defender of the weak and down trodden until she was openly referred to as the Protector of the Small when she was rescuing a refugee camp’s worth of kids.

The theme and arc of the entire series is in the name :)

Soft & Cuddly by Jarett Kobek

I keep Boss Battle books on my devices so I have ‘safe’ reading material when I’m at work and around kids. Not so much with this one. Soft & Cuddly only spends one chapter on the title game and the rest is a bitter, angry history of England’s early micro computer industry. Clearly biased, very informative and pretty interesting.

Moon Knight - episode 5

Man, this is the episode that we were waiting for, when Moon Knight finally hit its stride. I am fully expecting a cliff hanger ending and the promise of another a season at the end of the season.

I realized for the first time that, as someone who first read Moon Knight in 1981, I went in with certain basic assumptions. Until this episode, it never occurred to me that there could be a question of who the original personality was.

Dragonbreath Book 11: The Frozen Menace

The last book in the series. Our son wanted to stop three chapters from the end. I wonder if he just doesn’t want Dragonbreath to end. I wanted to find out what happened so I finished it by myself.

While the series ends on an open note for more books, The Frozen Menace feels like an ending point. Danny achieves some character development that has been in the works since book one and the last paragraph is about how good going home is.

This was a good series for our family.

Monday, May 2, 2022

My April Gaming

 April ended up being a busier month for gaming than I expected. It was still a busy month for life but some gaming fit in.

As I’ve written about elsewhere, I had a chance to run a class of fifth graders through 13 Sheep. We’ve since then discussed trying out Pandemic: Hot Zone and Cunning Folk in the classroom as well.

It’s certainly a different way of using gaming than I’m used to.

I also spent some time with the third playtest version of Palm Laboratory. I don’t want to write about the game until it’s actually published but it is definitely more than a reskin of Palm Island.

And I learned a couple Roll and Writes.

Dice BBQ is from the 11th Roll ans Write contest and is themed around Argentinian barbecues. The game uses one of the most basic formats of R&W. Roll dice and write numbers in boxes.  You get to change a die once. Cook steaks, pour wine, make salads, lose points with smoke.

Dice BBQ made me happy. I wasn’t sure I’d be trying any new games in April. Dice BBQ was something I could print out one page and learn in a few minutes. It is very simple and doesn’t do anything new but the pieces do come together nicely. The artwork looking like it’s from a High Lights magazine really helps. I don’t think it has much replay value but I had fun.

Daddy Issues… Interesting game and I hate the name. We live in a world where you can’t count on anyone getting or appreciating comedic irony.

You play the dad who went out one day for cigarettes and never came back. It turns out you got lost and ended up fighting rabid dogs, zombies and werewolves.

The game is actually a set of tables that you roll on to draw a map and generate encounters. It very much feels like a Fighting Fantasy adventure since you have to teach health and inventory.

I am fascinated by Daddy Issues. I like the theme, even if I don’t like the name. It’s amusing and quirky. And I have enjoyed game book experiences. 

BUT I rolled up a store where I could buy cigarettes almost immediately in my first two games. The random factors, both for long a game might last as well as how difficult it can be, are definitely issues.

I want to play Daddy Issues some more so I can fully experience the game, give it a proper review. I have to see how the good parts of the game weigh out against the bad parts.

Looking back, April worked out pretty well for gaming.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

My April PnP

 Happy May Day to all the Morris Dancers out there and everyone else too.

April ended up having more crafting than I expected. This is what I made:

13 Sheep
Coin Age (Oz map)
Palm Laboratory (playtest v.03)
Pandemic Hot Zone: US version

I honestly just planned on making Grove in April because work has kept me so busy. 

Then, discussions with teachers led to the decision to make a copy of Pandemic: Hotzone for classroom use. (Which also made me find a convenient place to make color prints) 

If we are lucky, we will get to use it once before summer break. But that just having a chance made it worth making.

I don’t know if May will have another decision like that but I’m glad for this one.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Yoshi’s world is beautiful

 After my wife finished Kirby and the Forgotten Land, we needed more cute video games in our lives. So she found the older title of Yoshi’s Crafted World.

Sweet Zelda, Yoshi’s Crafted World makes Kirby seem like Call of Duty!

I have a weird opinion of Yoshi, Mario’s dinosaur buddy. I think he’s a great character and an adorable design. But ever since I found out he exists, he has always felt like his own thing who just happens to be in Mario games. 

Mario doesn’t seem to show up in the crafted world so that just reinforces my view :D

Plot: Baby Bowser broke the magical Sundream Stone and the Yoshi’s have to go through platformer levels to put it back together. No, it’s not Shakespeare.

But, as someone who’s just watching the game, what is incredibly striking is the setting. Yoshi is traveling through a wonder land of kindergarten  crafts. If the kindergartners were very talented and had access to infinite recyclables.

The folks behind Yoshi’s Crafted World went all in on their design aesthetic. I understand an earlier game was a yarn world so this is clearly part of the Yoshi brand. The crafted elements are so fully realized that I have to assume they made real models in order to code them. And you can replay levels from the other direction so each element had to be fully rendered from both sides.

I may not end up playing Yoshi’s Crafted World but I am really enjoying seeing it. I can understand why some folks make money playing video games for other people to watch. This way, you can appreciate the artwork that went into creating the game. The lighthearted whimsy of Yoshi makes Animal Crossing look like Silent Hill.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

So that’s why the kids like Demon Slayer

 After I kept seeing multiple students reading Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (and I’m going to call it just Demon Slayer from here on out), I finally asked one what was so special about the manga. I was told that they really liked the character development.

So I got the first few volumes out of the public library so I could read it for myself. (As someone who is old enough to remember when the United States was given Mazinger Z as Tranzor Z and when Robotech was actually a good thing, I think we live in an age of wonder as far as manga and anime is concerned)

Here’s the one sentence pitch: After a demon ravages a boy’s family, the boy devotes himself to slaying demons and restoring his demonic sister’s humanity.

So, the actual plot isn’t that unusual. Tanjiro and his true companions fight the monster of the week. New powers show up as necessary. If you’ve read any Shonen stuff, it’s familiar.

However, I found the character of Tanjiro to be unlike what I was used to in Shonen heroes. To be fair, I’m a dabbler and far from up to date on developments. But I’m used to hot-blooded idiots or cynical anti-heroes. 

Tanjiro, on the other hand, is very sensitive and empathetic. I’m fact, his sensitivity helps fuel his fantastical sword fighting.  He mourns for demons’ intrinsic tragedies. (He still slays them on any day ending in Y, of course)

It is very easy for me to see why some students would really take to Tanjiro. He is a character that they can relate to and has traits they probably aspire to.

(All that said, the fact that Nezuko, the most significant female character, has been reduced to a child mentally and has to wear a bamboo gag feels problematic for me, no matter the story justification)

Monday, April 25, 2022

Why I try to stay up to date on design contests

 One thing that has changed in my experiences with design contests as that I have to make sure I download any files I want to look at before the contest is over.

That’s because more and more often, files get taken done so the designer can pursue monetizing their game one way or another. And, while I’m out for all the free files I can get my grubby little hands on., I can’t complain :D

It is their intellectual property after all. And getting published has to be  the dream of most game designers. And, while I might have to pay Kris attention to contest dates, I think the overall quality of the games is going up, which makes paying attention worth it.

Looking back, the first design contest I seriously looked at was the 2015 18-Card Contest. A format that I don’t even think exists any more. And I’d say there has been noticeable shifts in the overall PnP culture since then.

I think straight up digitally selling PnP files has become a stronger business model. And in particular, Roll and Write PnPs have gotten bigger market share. Don’t get me wrong, PnP is still a niche but it has grown as a niche.

When I first looked at PnP at all (which was longer ago than 2015), my vague memories were that that a lot of what was for sale was war games and 18XX kits. Either one of those is a big crafting production. 

Compared to that, a lot of Roll and Writes are print out a sheet and add dice. I could be entirely wrong but I feel PnP has attracted a more casual audience.

And since I’m more of a casual audience member, that works for me.

Friday, April 22, 2022

13 Sheep in the classroom

 I had the opportunity to teach a fifth grade class 13 Sheep and run through a couple games of it with them. And I took that opportunity because I love teaching games :)

Honestly, unless it’s built into the syllabus, there’s not much call for teaching board games as a substitute teacher. Keeping the kids focused and on task is the job. And if games get to be on the lesson plan, they need to be for education, not distraction. 

Trust me, I haven’t seen a class yet that needs help being distracted.

13 Sheep is one of the simplest Roll and Write games that I know of that I still think offers interesting choices. It also follows the Take it Easy paradigm of everyone doing their own thing on their own board. That meant I could have an entire class room playing the same game at the same time.

While I supplied the game and the teaching, the teacher who I was helping supplied the structure. In addition to critical thinking, which 13 Sheep definitely has going on, he wanted the kids to look at emergent behavior. Really, more their own behavior than anything else :)

This involved having them examine the game sheet before telling them any of the rules. This also involved playing more than one game (which wasn’t hard, even under the circumstances) and unpacking what they learned from each game.

Honestly, I probably learned more than the kids from the experience. Obviously, there are some games that have an obvious educational slant. The 10 Days series reaching geography as one obvious example. However, I already thought that using games to help critical thinking and judgement was a good idea. And this one session helped me consider how to approach that.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Do they still teach Jonathan Livingston Seagull?

 Johnathan Livingston Seagull fits into a category of books that I think of as ‘the lazy high school book report book’

That’s really because it’s such a short work that still qualifies as a classic. The Great Gatsby and Anthem and the Pearl fit the same bill. Amusingly, as a grown up, this category of books is tempting again due to time management.

My earliest memories of JLS isn’t actually of the book. My first exposure came from a narrated summary with a set of stills that I watched in middle school. That same series also included Contents of a Dead Man’s Pocket and By the Waters of Babylon. I can’t seem to find a reference to this format.  I guess it has faded into the mists of time and education.

JLS is the story of a sea gull whose love of flying transcends his need for social norms. Indeed, it leads to transcending to a higher plane of existence. Which happens about a quarter of the way through the book so I’m not spoiling much.

In a story whose whole point is metaphysical, JLS has some grounded touches that are almost jarring. In particular, the technical aspects of avian flight gets a surprising amount of attention.  But Richard Bach was a flight instructor so it makes sense.

Compared to other lazy book report books, JLS is less obviously challenging. Jonathan resolves conflict by basically ignoring it, making it hard to remember that there actually is any conflict. The book may be about pantheism or it may be about the triumph of the individual over conformity or it might just be about being yourself. There’s options for kids’ book reports.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a feel good parable. Which isn’t a condemnation. When folks say true art has to be angsty and life has to be serious, creating a feel good parable isn’t easy.

Post Script: 

While doing the research for this blog, I learned that Richard Bach added a fourth section to the book, one that he apparently had written back in the 70s. It’s set a thousand years after Jonathan’s time, when seagulls revere his teaching but don’t actually fly. But there are those who still want to fly.

Il’ll have to find a copy sometime.

Monday, April 18, 2022

MCU and the many faces of Moon Knight

 As of me writing this, Disney+ is now halfway through their MCU version of Moon Knight. And it is abundantly clear that,’even more so than WandaVision, I’m going to have to actually see it all the way through to see what they are actually trying to do.

I haven’t been a regular Marvel Comics reader for a long time. Pretty much entirely due to logistics as opposed to lack of interest. I do like grabbing the odd graphic over from the library every now and then. I did read a fair chunk of Moon Knight’s first couple decades of existence but I don’t know what Marvel has done with the character lately.

Moon Knight is very much a writers’ hero because he’s never been popular enough for there to be a definitive version. Writers have historically been able to be flexible about how they depict the character.

I’ve often heard Moon Knight described as what if Batman was definitively an insane jerk. And I don’t think that’s unfair, even if it skips over a lot of the nuance. I do think Moon Knight is a very Bronze Age creation. He’s always veered towards gritty and street level with possible supernatural elements.

The MCU Moon Knight is definitely gritty but veers away from being street level. Instead, it uses psychological horror to take the story to more global settings and threats. Moon Knight and their different personalities are wandering through a half-lit gallery of ghosts and gods.

I will say that the MCU version SEEMS to have definitive supernatural elements. (Hey, there is still room to pull the rug out from under our feet in that regards, although I’m not expecting it) While I personally like it nebulous whether or not Moon Knight has some sort of mystic abilities or if he’s delusional but the tv show needs to stand on its own virtues, not my preferences.

On the positive side, Moon Knigjt has kept me interested. On the down side, I haven’t found the characters terribly sympathetic or empathetic. Which isn’t required but is something expect with super heroes. (Of course, you can argue that Moon Knight isn’t a super _hero_)

Friday, April 15, 2022

Okay, Mario doesn’t work in D&D

 One of the dangers of years of playing D&D (or probably a bunch of other games) is the urge to figure out what the class and level of a fictional character would be. I remember watching Brotherhood of the Wolf with gaming buddies and we were constantly adjusting our stats of Fronsac as we watched.

Of course, TSR was as bad as any of us. An early column of Dragon Magazine called Giants in the Earth was literally just statting out whatever fictional characters they thought they could get away with. (No Lord of the Rings because the Tolkien estate was known to be litigious but I did find out about Karl Wagner’s Kane because of it)

For the most part, I’ve grown out of this tendency. But I’ve found myself thinking about how D&D would interpret Mario.

Since he jumps around and kills his enemies by landing on them unarmed, he’s clearly a monk. End of story. That’s not why the Shaolin plumber fascinates me as a D&D concept.

No, it’s the fact that Mario has been in literally hundreds of games. The guy has to have crazy experience points and shot past epic levels long ago. That’s the only explanation for why a plumber monk has taken the time to devote skill points to go kart piloting.

Obviously a first edition Mario just has to walk into the same room as the Grand Master of Flowers and he’d automatically get the title. Mario is the Perry Rhodan of video game heroes. (Yes, that means I’m telling you all I know about Perry Rhodan is that he’s been in over 400 books)

And yes, this whole train of thought is nonsense. Mario has no relationship to Dungeons and Dragons and makes no sense in the context of it. His abilities and limitations are defined by the technology used to implement him and the challenges the designers have him overcome. He can wrestle a turtle dragon into submission but an armless mushroom goblin can kill him with one touch. No edition of Dungeons and Dragons can justify that.

What this entire exercise actually shows is one more example of human natures desperate tendency to explain things and explain them in a format we can claim expertise in.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Popular histories of video games?

 Thanks to Humble Bundle, I have discovered a publisher called Boss Fight Books that specializes in popular histories of video games.

Popular history, according to my family, is when you still use facts, sources and interviews but simplify and flatten things into order to create a narrative. And probably sanitize things. That definition might say more about my family than the concept of popular history :P

Boss Fight Books has each book be about a specific video game. More than that, if I understand it correctly, the authors got to pick what the game they wrote about. And it’s usually clearly been a game that was meaningful to the author.

That being said, having the bias completely out in the open makes it more acceptable to me. I don’t view it as propaganda but as fan testimony.

I’ve been reading the books like they are the literary popcorn. They are very light and fluffy. And I’ve been wondering what book would make me feel like blogging about the publisher.

It turns out that it’s the book about NBA Jam called NBA Jam. A wildly successful and influential video game that I never heard of about a subject I’m not really interested in.

(I think basketball is an AMAZING game for hobby and recreation, even though I am beyond abysmal at it. It works perfectly indoors and outdoors and is easily adapted to the half court. But I think sports work better as activities than as entertainment)

And I now know how BOOMSHAKALAKA became a part of global vocabulary.

But the book was actually more about the people who designed the game (particularly Mark Turmell) and the last days of Midway Games. (A history of Mortal Kombat would probably cover the exact same ground as far as Midway’s history is concerned)

And it kept me interested and entertained. Many of the books (not all of them) just use video games to frame the lives of their creators and the fortunes of their publishers. NBA Jam does that in spades. Quite frankly, it was framed like a classic tragedy with a video game back drop.

As I’ve already mentioned, the Boss Battle Books books are written by fans, push the narrative and polish the rough edges. However, they are entertaining and you will still end up learning something.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Musings about optimal play

I’ve brought up the concept of optimal play, recently. Which brings up two points: Is it desirable and is it possible?

What is optimal play? I’m going with the act of consistently making decisions that have the greatest likelihood of resulting in the destined outcome. Which is probably winning the game, since we are talking about gaming, but not necessarily.

Frankly, I think that’s a more nuanced definition than ‘Making the best moves to win’

When I think of optimal play as a concept, I often think of a scene from the manga/anime Hikaru no Go, which proves that the game of Go is more thrilling than a light sabre duel over a pit filled with shogoth. When Touya is forced to play three games simultaneously with his back turned, his joseki is strong enough that he can pull it off.

Joseki, as I understand it, is the equivalent of Chess opening moves but involve a lot more moves and deal with smaller percentages of the board. Because a Go board is a HUGE piece of board game real estate. The Hikaru no Go example isn’t realistic but it does give an example of how understanding a game leads to optimal play.

Go may be the perfect example of a game for optimal play. Perfect information and no random elements. Go is all about the skill and Go has been researched for centuries with no final conclusion in sight.

With most other games, I think there are three elements that make me question optimal play as a viable concept. Random elements. Multiple paths to victory. Variable desired results. (Which is not the same as multiple paths to victories but can be related)

Random factors are the least important element. I mean, seeing as how most games have random factors, they are just something you have to factor in. Optimal play doesn’t mean a game is solved. Unless a game is solved. Then it’s not a game anymore. It’s a puzzle.

And while winning is kind of the core concept for most games, the nature of winning can be more complicated. There may be more than one way to win. And interactions with everyone else at the table can get affect how and what you do.

Ultimately, I think optimal play is a loaded term. I’m not saying that folks shouldn’t do their best to play their best. However, as much as games are about winning and losing, the process and experience just isn’t that binary. 

Friday, April 8, 2022

Rat Hot keeps a space in the back of my mind

 I haven’t played Rat Hot that much but it’s one that I find myself referring back to a lot in my head.

That’s because it was either the first tile laying game I played where the tiles were allowed to overlap or it was the first good one I played. Anyway, it made an impression.

The game has thick, chunky tiles that are three by one so it’s like you are playing with itty bitty planks. I’ve seen one PnP file for the game that’s designed to turn a Jenga set into a Rat Hot set. 

Which actually isn’t a crazy idea. One of the placement rules is that, while you can stack tiles in top of each other, you can’t have gaps underneath. Using Jenga tiles would definitely help make that an easy rule to track.

But, in all honestly, what makes Rat Hot stay stuck in my head is the sudden death rules. If you end your turn with three rats of your color exposed, you lose. Good day, sir, you get nothing. To be honest, if memory serves me correctly, it takes either bad luck or bad play for it to actually happen. BUT it does mean you can make moves that your opponent has to react to. In Go terms, atari. (As opposed to in video game terms where Atari means something quite different)

But, as I mentioned, for me, this was one of the first times I saw overlapping tiles. Since then, I have seen that mechanic enough that it’s not even remotely novel. And I am absolutely sure it wasn’t the first use of it either.

I also don’t think that Rat Hot represents an innovation point in game design. I’m pretty sure games like Micro Rome or Hanging Gardens would exist without it. I do wonder if it influenced  HUE from the Pack O Game series.

Rat Hot isn’t one of my favorite Michael Schacht games. It doesn’t even make it into my top ten of his games. But it has survidd many purges and stayed in my collection.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

I wow t let optimal play ruin my Catan

To gamers of a certain age, Catan is ubiquitous with entering the hobby. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I think the options have grown so much greater that no single game draws people in.

(I do suspect that Dungeons and Dragons still holds that place for RPGs. But with the sheer number of exceptions and loopholes baked into every edition, after you’ve played D&D, you’re ready to take on almost every other system. It’s a useful starting point) 

I have met people who put Catan on a pedestal and people who have nothing but disdain for it. I’m closer to the first group but I try not to have my glasses too rosé colored. (And apparently the game continues to sell just fine)

A big reason that I hold that Catan still hold up is that it does such a good job keeping all the players engaged and active in the game. The trading is intrinsic part of player interaction.


I’ve been told by multiple competitive players that tournament-level players in Europe almost never trade. That they consider trading to be a very weak, desperation move.

So… am I wrong? Is what I feel is one of Catan’s strongest points contrary to optimal play?

Well, I’m prepared to accept that that is a reasonable argument. But I’m going to play the social card. 

Catan is a family-weight game for a family audience. And under those circumstances and conditions, trading and interaction is good. So there.

I’ll save the optimal play for if I ever get back into Go.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

.5 more cents about Reiner Knizia

 I recently commented on how Reiner Knizia slipped off the top 100 games and how Tigris and Euphrates then climbed back up. Probably due to the uproar of it falling off the top 100.

Which reminded me that, while I greatly respect Tigris and Euphrates, it’s not my favorite Knizia game. That would be Ingenious. Which, to be fair, uses the same scoring system that Knizia used oin Tigris and Euphrates.

As I thought about it, I realized that there are a lot of Knizia games I would rather play than Tigris and Euphrates. Off the top of my head, they include Ra, Through the Desert, Modern Art, Money, Lost Cities, Samurai, Blue Moon City and High Society. The list is actually keeps on going but you get the idea.

There are two things I noticed about these games. One, almost all of them are a lot shorter than Tigris and Euphrates. Right now, forty-five minutes is my idea of a long game :D 

The other is that these are all older Knizia games.  Which ties back into having a limited time budget. 

That said, I bet I’d enjoy his newer stuff.

Post script:

I also realized that Money, High Society, and Through the Desert have all been go to games for me to take to conventions and other gaming events. Short, easy to teach and almost always engaging enough that people want multiple plays. I’ve seen other folks use Modern Art and Samurai in the same way. Knizia has a knack for making very accessible games. (Although Stefan Dora’s For Sale is the absolute best game I’ve found for this)

Monday, April 4, 2022

My March Gaming

When I looked back at February, I was surprised at how much gaming I got in since it was a busy month. Well, March ended up being a month where gaming took a back seat. Knew there were going to be some.

I only learned two games in March and they were both very, very light games from contests. Rolling Pins from the 10th Roll and Write Contest and Ceramicus from the 2022 9-Card Contest.

Rolling Pins, which was my prerequisite Roll and Write for the month, adds a bowling theme to Shut the Box. Which I think is a clever and effective idea but, in all honestly, a good portion of the enjoyment of Shut the Box is the physical manipulation of the box. 

Ceramicus is basically a nine-card Spot Ot. Each card has five patterns and any two cards will share one symbol. So it’s a speed matching game. I actually got several plays out of it but nine cards isn’t enough for variety. 

Both Rolling Pins and Ceramicus are examples of mechanically solid ideas that, well, don’t have enough for a lot of play. That said, I can see Ceramicus being a handy wallet game for waiting in the car.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to do much gaming stuff in April. Still, even a little bit is good.

Friday, April 1, 2022

My March PnP

Time to write about my PnP projects from March. This is what I made made last month:

Bury Me in the Rift

Apex Barrel (2021 9-Card Characters) 

Stunt Kites

Ceramicus (2022 9-Card Contest)

Pocket Aquarium 

My ‘big’ projects for the month were Stunt Kites and Pocket Aquarium. At 18 cards each, they were tied for size. I bought both of them from PnP Arcade. I have to admit that the themes were what got me interested in both of them.

I have had Bury Me in the Rift (original nine card version) and Apex Barrel printed out for months. I just wanted to clear them out. And Ceramicus just looked cute.

My spare time is now at a point where I have to manage it carefully to get in crafting time. I am glad with how my life has become busy. At the same time, taking a little time each month to craft is emotionally and mentally rewarding.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

My two cents on Knizia and rankings

 There was a recent thread on Board Game Geek that game designer Reiner Knizia no longer has a game in the top 100 games in the BGG ranked listing.

As a Knizia fan, I had a moment of sadness, followed by apathy. There’s a touch of ‘passing of an era’ but there’s also quite a bit of ‘shrug’ I’m pretty sure Doctor Knizia is still laughing all the way to the bank.

First of all (and I’m sure this is already obsolete information), there are at least 125,600 games in the BGG database. A hundred games isn’t even one percent of those games, as many people pointed out.  Heck, he’s still in the top 1%.

Second of all, the rankings on Board Game Geek not only represent a sliver of the general gaming population, I’m pretty sure it represents only a fraction of their active users. It represents a niche. And I say that knowing I see one member of that niche in the mirror every day.

All of that said, I still think the ranking are very useful. Sure, there are biases but it’s still a LOT more useful than having no kind of rating system at all. I think you just have to use the system as the start of the conversation, not the final word.

Part of the discussion in the thread discussed other ways of organizing and ranking games to ‘correct’ the system. I’m pretty sure that most of these systems have their own biases and some are probably designed to get desired results :D

So. Start of the conversation. Not the final word.

Knizia and his games aren’t going anywhere. Tons of them are still In print, getting bought and getting played. His influence is still getting felt.

I also notice that, as of me writing this, Tigris and Euphrates is back on the top one hundred. Probably entirely due to the thread above. I’m sure there will be further adjustments.

Post Script:
(Stuff that didn’t fit into the main idea of what I was writing)

There’s a concept on TVTropes  called ‘Seinfeld’ is unfunny. The idea is that so many works have copied Seinfeld that folks don’t realize how innovative it was. I saw comments about how Knizia created generic German family games which made me laugh since he helped define the modern German family game. (Along with Teuber and Kramer and Moon, among others)