Monday, February 28, 2022

Harry Turtledove is like Doctor Who only with less Daleks

 I’m going to make a wonderfully broad statement. There are two flavors of alternate history stories: ones that ask wouldn’t it be fun if X happened and ones that ask what would have really happened if X had happened.

Alternate Generals is an anthology of stories that fall squarely into the second camp. It was edited by Harry Turtledove, a guy who must be able to see twelve timelines at once. Seriously, the guy probably has to remind himself which reality he’s in when he wakes up in the morning.

As the title completely spells out, Alternate Generals contains alternate history stories centered around military figures through history. What if Sun Tzu ended up in Persia? What if Joshua Chamberlain fought for the south? What if Napoleon had become a catholic priest?

Two things that all the stories have in common is excellent quality (Harry Turtledove really did well as an editor) and having very few fantastic elements. The closest there to fantastic are two stories where Eisenhower and Jan Smuts have visions but you could explain those as hallucinations. Oh and Boudicca having magical powers.

In fact, several times during reading Alternate  Generals, I had to stop and go look stuff up to figure out what was different than recorded history. The book was educational for me. I know Alternate History is usually considered a sub-section of Science Fiction but the only difference between most of these stories and non-genre specific fiction is that it was about famous people.

Alternate Generals doesn’t have a lot of happy stories in it. But it is chock full of well written stories. Turtledove edited two more volumes of Alternate Generals and I will probably look into them.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Ukiyo: Clever use of familiar ideas

 Ukiyo is an 18-card tile laying game that brings absolutely nothing new to the table but it packages all its familiar ideas really well. More than that, it has both a solid multi-player and solitaire mode.

It’s actually a 16-card micro game since two of the cards are player aids. The actual cards you play with each have a two by three grid of symbols and a goal. (The four symbols are origami crane, cherry blossom, butterfly and acorn. Ukiyo has an aesthetic and it sticks to it)

The goals are different patterns, ranging from just having the  entire grid full to having a three by three square of acorns. They are numbered and the higher the number, the harder the goal. Which serves as a tie breaker in the multiplayer mode.

In either mode, the placement rules are the same. The symbols have to be within a six by six grid. Beyond that, cards can overlap and cover each other up all you want. 

In multiplayer mode, everyone gets a hand of cards with the size of the hand depending on the number of players. Your last card, instead of being played, is your goal. (If no one fulfills their goal, you then place that card to try and make your goal)

I first came across the mechanic, that your last card serves as your winning condition, in HUE from Pack O Games. I really like it. It helps remove any player order bias and makes games more tense.

For solitaire the play, Ukiyo has twenty sets of three to four goals, broken down into blocks of difficulty.  You take those cards out, shuffle the rest and then play one card at time, trying to end up with a grid that fulfills all of the goals.

Since each shuffle creates a new puzzle, there’s a lot of replay value built in. And the brutal level puzzles are actually brutal.

As I said at the start, Ukiyo doesn’t break any new ground. But implementation counts more than innovation (Is the game actually fun to play?) and Ukiyo does a great job there. It’s easy to understand but still challenging with a solid decision tree and plenty of replay value.

Some micro games feel like bigger games in little packaging. Not Ukiyo. It feels like an 18-card game. But it’s a really good one.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Next on my delayed movie watching…

 Since I’m relatively caught up with the MCU, I decided to branch out into the DC movies and watch Birds of Prey. Because apparently, left to my own cinema tastes, I just watch superhero movies. Okay. I’m fine with that.

As I have said so often that I should get a t-shirt made, movies are not comic books (or books) and I’m cool with changes from source material if they work. Different medium, different needs. And, with a few reservations, Birds of Prey does that.

While the movie doesn’t have my favorite interpretations of Renee Montoya, Black Camary or the  Huntress (I’m old enough that I remember when the Huntress was Helena Wayne), they work in the context of thos story. Fans of Cassandra Cain have every right to have problems with this name-only version of the character, though.

But the point of the movie is Margot Robbie’s interpretation of Harley Quinn. The actual Birds of Prey are supporting characters in the movie that has their name as part of the title.

I didn’t think much of Harley Quinn in the original Suicide Squad movie (which, as a movie, I thought of even less of), feeling she was more eye candy than character. In Bird of Prey, Harley Quinn is a self-destructive train wreck, a hot mess and a generally terrible person. I wouldn’t want to be in the same zip code, let alone the same room, as this character. BUT she is interesting. This Harley Quinn is a constant source of conflict. She is an actual character.

Birds of Prey can only work if Harley Quinn is strong enough to carry the movie. And I think the movie does work. Harley Quinn is a horrible human being but she grows (but isn’t redeemed) and creates change as well as conflict. The audience can be invested in the character.

Birds of Prey isn’t a perfect superhero movie. But the tone on the movie is constant and it is both engaging and entertaining. I’d watch it again and I now feel prepped to watch the second Suicide Squad movie.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Creative Kids R&Ws part three

 Yup. Still working my way through these. Looking at them as a gamer and as a substitute teacher.

Block Craft

Despite the obvious reference to Minecraft, this is another game about drawing shapes on grids. Which is a great genre so that’s not a knock.

You have six numbered 4x4 grids that have gems and holes scattered on them. You have six numbered shapes.

Block Craft lasts eight turns. Each turn, you roll one die. You can either chose a grid that matches that number and draw any two of the  shapes on it OR you can pick a shape that matches the number and draw it on two different grids.

You get points for covering up gems, ‘mining’ then. You get bonus points for collecting every gem of a type across the six grids and for collecting every gem on a grid. There’s also a bonus for not covering any holes.

But it f you cover three or more holes in a grid, you’ve destabilized it, collapsing it. You can’t draw on it and you lose any points you’d have gotten from it.

I have to admit that I like Block Craft. The decision space is wide open. You have a lot of options and it is fun.

That said, I can see students being confused by having that many choices. I also wonder if the broad decision tree makes it too easy to do well :D


Seriously, there couldn’t have been a better name than Words?

Words is an acrostic word game. That’s where you have words interconnected like in a crossword puzzle or Scrabble. 

The player sheet is a grid with some letters already filled in and some filled in spaces. You have six categories: names, animals, food, items, colors and wild. Roll the die to get the category and write in a word.

You don’t have to make it an acrostic but you get extra points if you do. You lose three points if you can’t write in a word but it honestly takes some bad play to do that. Ten turns and you’re done.

It’s an okay word game. If you like word games, it’s a good little filler. But, as long as I’m working with kids who can spell, Words is really promising.  It’s clearly educational and acrostics are a concept that should be familiar and easy to pick up.


One thing that I really like about both Block Craft and Words is that they have broad decision trees. I play them with a room full of people, kids or otherwise, every sheet is going to look different.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Sometimes, I like to have the computer do the housework

 There are games that I play online and really enjoy but really wonder if I’d enjoy them in analog, having to actually do all the busy work with the pieces. Loco Momo is definitely one of those games.

The theme of Loco Momo is that forest animals have found a magic camera and are competing to take the best picture. The practice is you are trying to collect and sort tiles. 

I’m not going to lie, I think there’s a real disconnect between the theme and the actual game. I mean, honestly either seating arrangements for a forest animal picnic or a theme about a zoology study would make more sense.

There’s a forest board where the tiles wait to get colllected and everyone has a picture boards where you place the tile you collect. The tiles come in five different flavors of animals and four different flavors of backgrounds.

The forest board has four quadrants, each with space for four tiles. Each turn, the active player activates a tile. They all have a different movement, including standing still. You collect all the tiles that match the background of the tile you activated.

The picture board has five rows of fives and you place tiles right to left. Different combinations of tiles in different spaces are worth points and one wrong tile in the wrong space naturally reduces the point value.

Refill the forest board and it’s the next turn. Six rounds and the game is done. Most points wins.

I’m of two minds of Loco Momo. On the one hand, luck entirely determines what moves you can even make. And your best move is usually going to be obvious. Go for the move that gets you the most tiles unless you are looking for specific tiles (the f they are even available) There are decisions but they aren’t hard decisions.

On the other hand, I keep playing it on Board
Game Arena. I am engaged by the little puzzles that emerge and trying to solve them. So, I enjoy Loco Momo.

But… an online game takes five minutes at best and all the housecleaning is done automatically. I’m not sure I’d enjoy the game as much in person. (Of course, the online game doesn’t have the expansions that apparently exist)

I’ve enjoyed what I’ve gotten out of Loco Momo but I don’t know if I want more.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Should Mario Party Superstars be this much fun?

 Mario Party Superstars reinforces to me that Nintendo has refined history and nostalgia to an exact science. Using a hundred mini-games and five boards from the earliest Mario Party releases, it is asking players  to dive back into an idealized past like a Norman Rockwell video game time machine.

(That would make a great name for a Rolling Stones cover band)

And for me, it works. Mario Party Superstars has been a really fun gaming experience.

But here’s the thing. It’s only the second Mario Party game I’ve ever played and the other one is Super Mario Party, the other one for the Switch. I have zero history or emotional connection to the older games.

I don’t think this is some kind of argument that the older games are the best and you young whippersnappers don’t know what it was like back then. (You don’t know what it was like to stay up until eleven to watch a grainy Doctor Who rerun with bad reception. And I hate you because I wish _I_ didn’t know what it was like. Streaming is AWESOME) I think this proves that you’ll get quality of you cherry pick anything to an inch of its life.

Frankly, as a board game/video game hybrid Frankenstein that uses our old enemy Roll-and-Move as a primary mechanic (I still love you, Backgammon), Mario Party is an odd beast. I’m shocked that I enjoy it as much as I do. As a serious ‘game’, it’s lacking but it really makes the party part work.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Mancala needs conflict

 Between finding the PnP solitaire version and the port on Board Game Arena, I’ve had a chance to check out Fruit Picking. I’ve come to really like solitaire games  and I’ve been a fan of the Mancala family of games even before I got into designer games. And I’ve played designer games that were inspired by Mancala.

(Sadly, I haven’t played Five Tribes or Trajan, though. The loss is clearly mine)

So I should be the target demographic for Fruit Picking by a couple different criteria. However, it has consistently fallen flat for me.

Here’s the thing. Everyone has their own little Mancala board. You’re doing your own thing and the only interaction is that you are all competing for the same available cards. It is Mancala as a solitaire puzzle.

Mancala is an ancient family of games that represents a completely different paradigm than Go or Chess. And Mancala becomes a static math puzzle without an opponent fighting you and messing up all your plans.

I actually was surprised at how nonplussed I was by Fruit Picking. I mean, I normally love multi-solitaire games like Take It Easy. But I realize that the games I like have ongoing random factors that you have to cope with. After the initial set up, the cards are the only random factor. Your board is set.

For me, Fruit Picking took all the life and vibrancy out of Mancala but didn’t replace it with anything. 

Friday, February 11, 2022

Haven’t I played Wordle as Jotto?

 Enough of my family is playing Wordle that I’ve ended up playing it too.

If your family hasn’t convinced you to try Wordle, it’s Mastermind with letters. It’s basically Jotto except that it has a computer moderator and…

Uh, is there any other differences between Wordle and this 64-year-old word game? I mean, beyond the fact that Wordle is online and for one player. 

To be honest, I’ve long thought that Jotto had gotten unfairly ignored. What it lacks in flashy chrome, it makes up with rock solid mechanics. 

So, I basically think Wordle didn’t reinvent a wheel built in 1956 that rolls perfectly well.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

So, I liked the Eternals movie better than the comic books

 I am getting caught up my Marvel Ciniverse watching and just finished the Eternals the same day I’m starting this blog entry. And, like Shang Chi before it, I found myself asking the same two questions:

Did the scriptwriters ever look at the original source material?


Does that matter?

(To be fair,  neither movie was as extreme a shift from the source material as Big Hero Six. Of course, the movie version of Big Hero Six thankfully buried the comic book by virtue of being vastly better)

Before I say anything else, let me say that I think a work must take its medium into its consideration. Slavishly imitating the source material does a movie no favors.

Also, I’m going to do my best to avoid spoilers.

The Eternals were made after Kirby went back to Marvel after having what sounds to have been a miserable time at DC. You can disagree with me but they are not one of Kirby’s stronger works. For me, they just are not The New Gods.

Interestingly and purely anecdotally, when asking my comic book loving friends, only a couple others had read any Eternal comic books. If they had any exposure to the characters, it was from guest appearances or the times Eternals were part of the Avengers or Defenders. I myself only read the 80s series. I don’t know what the more recent series have been like.

And the only character who I am remotely invested in is Sersi because she is a strong, legitimately empowered woman. The movie kind of made every element of her note lowkey but it worked for the movie. (She is crazy over powered in the comics)

Honestly, I liked the movie from a plot and character-development viewpoint. The twists were pretty good. 

My problem with the movie was pacing. It went too slow, plodding even, without rewarding that slower pacing. That also meant that elements I’d have liked to seen fleshed out (the vastness of history and the nature of the Deviant) fell short changed.

I also have to say that the stingers were the only parts of the movie that felt like MCU to me. Which may not be a flaw. With 27 movies and a bunch of TV shows, the powers that be at Disney need to be able to stretch the genre.

So, I’d say it was a solid experiment and some things did click.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Our child forces us to find out about Among Us

 Our son recently became enamored with an Among Us plush, which meant that we had to find out what Among Us is.

… So, let me get this straight. It’s a video game where Mafia/Werewolf is the core mechanic?

Oh, who am I kidding? I bet it’s one of over a thousand video games that uses the hidden traitor(s) mechanic. The only reason I don’t know about any of them is because it isn’t used in Animal Crossing.

And the two minutes I spent researching Among Us via google made it clear that it wasn’t just pointing fingers and accusing each other. There is also other stuff you have to get done or lose.

Which doesn’t make it any different than the dozens of board games that also use the hidden traitor mechanic as a core concept. I’m kind of OG so Shadows Over Camelot or Battlestar Galactica is what I think of but I also know that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Still, while Mafia/Werewolf is a simple activity, it’s easy to see why it’s popular and has inspired so many more complicated games. People lie. 

When the Resistance hit it big, none of my gaming groups were into social deduction so I was a little bewildered. However, hearing about playground games of Among Us (with all the kids wanting to be invaders), it’s clear that social deduction is not going anywhere.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Creative Kids R&Ws part two

 Okay. I meant to type these little mini-reviews out in quick order. But I got distracted by other stuff I wanted to write.

Anyway, I’m sometimes a substitute teacher and I approached these games as possible classroom exercises. I almost always have acccess to the syllabus so it will never happen but that’s where I’m coming from.


Seal has you creating a path for a baby seal across a grid of ocean bubbles, getting points for catching fish and saving tangled seals while losing points from anemone and sharks. 

So, you’re drawing a line on a grid.

You roll one die. Each die has three possible line shapes, which include jumping over spaces. In the regular game, you cross off a shape once you use it. In theory (and it’s very unlikely) the game could end in four turns if you rolled the same number four times.

There’s a simpler version where you don’t cross off shapes. In the classroom, I’m more likely to teach it that way. Not to make it simpler but to encourage kids to make different lines, to make the decision tree bigger.

Honestly, Seal has a strong one-more-time feel. It is simple but it’s fun to explore the possible paths. I don’t know how much replay it has but it works for short term play.

Tetri Go

You roll a die to determine which four-square shape you ‘drop’ down into a grid. If you’ve played Tetris, you know how it works. You get points (or lose them) by covering up symbols on the board, so it’s a bit like Reiner Knizia’s FITS in that regard.

Tetri Go is terribly simple but still offers a decent decision tree. It’s honestly one of too choices for the classroom because the core concepts of the game are going to be ones that kids already know but there is still room to think.

It’s also a game I’ve taken to playing if I want to get in a quick analog game in a few minutes. It only last eight turns and you need make up your mind what you’re going for in the first turn or two  but I’ve had fun. 13 Sheep is honestly better but it’s nice to have another game in that niche.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

My January Gaming

 Last year, I started writing monthly blogs about what Roll and Write games I had learned and tried out. By the end of the year, I just switched to making it a non-specific gaming summary.

At the end of January, I thought that I had had a pretty quiet month. Work had kept me busy and I hadn’t had anything like my Dicember experience, which had sometimes been pretty manic. (Next year, I might try a variation and instead of playing a dice game every day, just learn fifteen new-to-me dice games)

To my surprise, I found I had learned two games on Boardgame Arena (Dungeon Roll and Fruit Picking), two Roll and Writes from the Creative Kids bundle (Block Crafting and Words), three playtest prototypes and two, um, just games (Waffle Hassle and Ukiyo)

I spent less time gaming in January than a lot of months. However. I feel like I used the time well, learning some interesting new stuff.

That said, there are times (and I know they will come again) when I binge on comfort food games. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

My January PnP

 January. The start of a new year and that means the start of a new year of Print and Play!

Here’s what I made in January:

(playtest prototype)
3 Triangles (contest prototype)
Handy Brawl (contest prototype)
Waffle Hassle

My big project for January and my first project for the year was a playtest prototype for a game I’m looking forward to. Quite happy about that. Good way to start the year.

I’ve also played everything that I crafted. It’s always satisfying when I can do that.

January was a good month for PnP for me.