Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Demon Slayer was worth finishing

Earlier this year, after watching enough students reading Demon Slayer, I started reading it. And I’ve now finished it.

Twenty-three volumes isn’t super long, particularly by manga standards, but it is long enough to let a story ruminate and develop. At the same time, it turned out to not be monster-of-the-week, Spider-Man-endlessly-fighting-bad-guys. At a certain point, I realized that a single story arc was emerging.

Here’s the elevator pitch:  After almost his entire family is slaughtered and his sole surviving sister becoming a demon, Tanjiro Kamado joins the Demon Slayer Corps. From there, he and his true companions slay demons.

But Demon Slayer subverts many of my expectations.







First off, Tanjiro is a grade A, all-loving hero. I’ve said that before and I’ll keep on saying it. I think that’s become more common than it used but I’m used to hot-hotted idiots or arrogant anti-heroes. Tanjiro as a sweetie is fun to me. 

Although just because he empathizes with everyone doesn’t keep him from chopping demon heads without hesitation.

However, Demon Slayer’s exploration of character development isn’t limited to just Tanjiro and his nakame. (And, yes, I only know that word thanks to One Piece) Other demon slayers and even demons get their backgrounds and motivations fleshed out. Usually when they are dying.

There’s lots of dying in Demon Slayer. And, near the end, I decided that Tanjiro, whose father died young, poverty stricken family was almost entirely slaughtered by demons and only remaining family is a demon, had one of the happiest backgrounds.

And the entire giant ensemble approach really plays in the plot and the overall theme of Demon Slayer. The demon slayer corp isn’t just about slaying random demons. They have the long term goal of killing Muzan, father of demons, which will end demon kind.

And, spoilers, they do. And while Tanjiro plays a crucial role, it takes everyone working together to do it. I was expecting a series focused on one character and got a giant, interconnected cast instead.

Demon Slayer, fun series.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Duplex, fold or glue

Here’s a boring gaming topic that’s been on my mind. Duplex versus folding versus gluing. lol

It’s a print and play topic. When I’m printing out pages of double-sided cards or tiles, I have three options, which vary depending on the layout of the page: Duplex, printing on both sides. Folding, folding the component into proper shape. Gluing two pieces together.

Honestly, gluing, if done properly, can have the best results. That allows you to have a core in between the two pieces, creating something sturdy and closer to published components.

As I’ve mentioned many times, I use a laminator for most of my projects. Which is definitely a lazy option. In some ways, it even feels like a cheat. I get a decent amount of sturdiness and quite a bit of durability with a method that is cheap and quick. 

My results aren’t as nice as homemade linen-finished cards. However, they are very functional for a lot less effort. 

I’m not a big fan of folding cards. Partially because that’s one more step but mostly because the double layer increases the amount of bubbling in the lamination process.

So, Duplex is really cool for me. Print, cut, laminate and trim. Done.

And none of this is that interesting, even for me, until I go to the local library to print stuff off via their color printer/copiers. Because, if a page is landscape, the backside gets flipped and messes up the duplex.

When that happens with our black and white printer, I can just print one side, flip the paper and do it again. They don’t let me do that at the library for some reason. So I have to sometimes glue stuff if I want it in color. 

Yeah, not an exciting topic but one that I need to remember when I’m at the library.

Friday, August 26, 2022

The imperfect world of Micro Space Empire

When I saw that someone had recreated Micro Space Empire as a set of tables, effectively making it a Roll and Write, that was when I decided I needed to try it.

Which is a fascinating statement about me. On the one hand, it speaks to my laziness. Absolutely no construction. I printed off the page and put it into a page protector so I could use a dry erase marker. So I was too lazy to print it off twice. And, on the other hand, I’m also okay with a set of tables instead of illustrated cards. Presentation is a big deal and means a lot but I can accept rough and ready minimalism.

At any rate, it’s a science fiction game about conquering worlds and adding them to your tax base. Or empire. 

Each turn consists of 1. Exploration/Conquest 2. Get resources 3. Use them resources 4. Get hit by a random event.

And, here’s what really struck me. The mechanics are very simple, very minimal. Every conflict revolves around rolling one six-sided die. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you’re looking for a coffee break game.

Every meaningful decision that you, the player, make is in the third stage. Building up military. Developing technology. Those are the only way to modify die rolls. In fact, you can pass on exploring and I think a basic strategy is passing early in the game so you can bulk up your military. Losing battles reduces your military so it’s important to bolster your military.

And I love me a tech tree. However, the tech tree in Micro Space Empire is very easy to prioritize. I honestly would say that the decisions you have to make with the tech tree are easy, even obvious.

All of those negatives aside, I enjoyed Micro Space Empire more than I expected to. And, yes, I am more forgiving of free PnP games but that’s not the only reason.

Micro Space Empire is a five-minute coffee break of a game. The simplicity in both its mechanics and its decision tree (which are very different things) becomes acceptable, even beneficial, when you only have five minutes to get the job done. I know what I want to do. Now, can I work with the one six-sided die and make it happen?

Yeah, there are a ton of five-minute coffee break games out there. I woke up one day and found I was collecting them. And there are better ones than Micro Space Empire but it does have its own way of being a 3.25X game. (The conquest really isn’t extermination) And I’d probably think even higher of it if I’d actually tried it back in 2011 when it first came out.

(Seriously, solitaire and PnP have really made strides in the last ten years)

I wouldn’t rule out actually make the playmat and the cards someday but I have at least fourteen projects already in the queue.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Fjords makes me feel old :D

Okay, Fjords has been not only reprinted but expanded? Got to admit that I did not expect that.

On the one hand, I don’t think of Fjords as being a profoundly great game. On the other hand, I would never turn down a game of Fjords :D

(If I’m reading this correctly, the major changes are raising the player count to four and the ability to shift a house once during the first part of the game. Not dramatic changes but Fjords is a simple game. Small things can be big)

My first response to seeing this was ‘Damn, I’m old.’ Because, when it came out and we were playing it, Fjords was a solid B game. And apparently, as well as being published by Grail Games, it has become a grail game.

Apparently, if you stay in a hobby long enough, you get to see regular things become classic.

Second, man, the late Franz-Benno Delonge made some great games. TransAmerica alone would be an amazing legacy. But he also made Dos Rios and Hellas and Manila. (I still haven’t played Container and I’m folding TransEuropa into TransAmerica)

He doesn’t have a huge catalog of games but there is a healthy percentage of evergreens in that catalog. As I’ve said, Fjords is a solid, even meditative game but it doesn’t even make my top three of his designs. 

Happy his work is still getting attention.

Now, when is Hellas going to get a reprint?

Monday, August 22, 2022

Is Spree Ameritrash?

Looking at James Ernst’s Spree (a game I have owned forever but never played), I found myself asking where Cheapass Games fall in the world of Ameritrash as a genre. Well, at least this Chrapass game.

I mean, Spree is thematic. It’s about burgling a mall. It’s got conflict. You are shooting at each other for crying out loud. There is take-that. You’re grabbing each other’s stuff. And it’s random.

That sure sounds like Ameritrash to me!

But if Fantasy Flight has taught me anything, it’s that chrome matters. And, even by the standards of Cheapass Games, Spree comes with less chrome than a garden rock.

(Of course, you could bling it out like no one’s business. So it’s no one’s fault but yours if there isn’t any chrome so stop blaming James Ernst!)

But I think that arguing production values define a game, rather than define its price, seems like a bad argument. The Grand Guignal experience may be a part of many Ameritrash games but I’m going to argue it’s not a requirement. Theme and interaction are more important. And Spree clearly has that going on.

I’m certainly not arguing that all Cheap Ass games are Ameritrash. James Ernst’s games fall into a lot of different categories. I suspect his design goals were fun and sales. However, some, like Spree do fit.

From what I’ve read, if you actually play Spree and can see past the production values, it’s a solid beer and pretzels game. And I’m pretty sure that the board is free to download so actually making a copy would be easy.

I still think I’d need some bling to get people to play.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Euchre is fun-damental

There’s an anecdote that, in the 1890, an Englishman wrote to an editor, asking for a game simple enough that he could teach it to his young son that would give him a taste of Whist. The editor replied he had the perfect game, Whist.

You can tell that the anecdote happened in England because if it had happened in the American Midwest, he’d have said Euchre.

I have no business being as bad at Euchre as I am. I certainly played it often enough in high school and college. But, no, I’m terrible at it. I do think it’s brilliant though.

(I also know there are a lot of flavors of Euchre floating around out there. But the only one I have really experienced is the four-player, 24-card version)

I understand that Euchre is decried as being too simple… but I’ve never actually met anyone who has said that. I would actually say that a more fair description of Euchre is not that it’s simple but bloody straightforward.

Euchre doesn’t have any funny twists or turns that modern, designer trick taking games require. And only having 24 cards makes keeping track of cards and figuring out odds not too difficult. The game has a reputation for being a game that you can play while arguing, drinking or watching TV.

At the same time, Euchre has partners. Euchre has trumps. Euchre has bidding. And, yes, I have seen trick taking games that haven’t had those elements. 

I will argue that Euchre will teach you the fundamentals of the trick taking genre, that it will build a bedrock of understanding the genre. And it is good enough for you to keep coming back to it. I have a friend who swears his grandfather was buried with a Euchre hand.

Euchre is a cultural institution. Which doesn’t guarantee a game is good but Euchre does happen to be a good game. Euchre teaches you to be a better gamer.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

What if Rick Riordan and Eddie Campbell met in a bar?

I recently read Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods and Bacchus Volume Three: Doing the Islands with Bacchus. Rick Riordan and Eddie Campbell ended up in very similar places by going in completely opposite directions.

Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods is a retelling of classic mythology in the voice of Rick Riordan’s most prominent character. So, lots of postmodern comments and teenage snark.

One touch that I found amusing is that Riordan glosses over the rape and sexual violence that is so prominent in Greek mythology by having Percy openly admit that he’s glossing over it. Percy actively  describes Zeus as a creepy sexual stalker. 

Eddie Camobell’s Bacchus/Deadface graphic novels are a bit tough to summarize. They are set in modern times about the ragged, seedy remnants of the Greek gods and legends. They are much darker and grittier than Rick Riordan, particularly when Joe Theseus shows up. (The guy is literally a walking tragedy)

Volume Three may be the lightest volume of the lot, having Bacchus who is now an ancient, one-eyed barfly bum around the Greek islands and tell stories. And many of those stories are retellings of myths. With lots of postmodern commentary and snark.

There have been times when I wonder if both their approaches are more authentic than Thomas Bullfinch. They approach the mythology as living works and the ancient Greeks are the ones who had to live with them.

Both are worth reading, although I won’t be recommending Eddie Campbell to any students. Both are also terribly well researched.

I do wonder if Rick Riordan read any Eddie Campbell.

Monday, August 15, 2022

My earliest Sandman memories

 With The Sandman having been turned into a TV series, that’s taken me down memory lane. Probably enough for two or three blogs lol

I have heard a number of folks say that there was nothing like Sandman before it came out and there hasn’t been anything like it since. Which seems pretty extreme but, at least as far as comic books are concerned, I’m not sure they are wrong.

But, I have to say, I didn’t get that impression with my first experience with it.

It was issue 7, Sound and Fury, the issue that wrapped up Morpheus’s quest for his tools and his duel with Doctor Destiny, an old Justice League villain of all things. Without any context, it didn’t make much sense. Why did the pale guy turn into some kind of God at the end?

If I had the issue before, the nightmare 24 Hours, or the issue after, the charming Sound of Her Wings, I’d have been sold. But issue 7, possibly the worse issue to start with out of the entire series.

No, I wouldn’t get interested in Sandman until I found and read the Doll’s House graphic novel. And this was back before graphic novels and collected editions became an industry standard. And this was also when they still included the Sound of Her Wings. 

Then I was hooked. I started getting every issue with #19.

And I still recommend friends who haven’t read Sandman start with Doll’s House. If they like it, they will be good for the whole ride. And if they don’t, they can be done.

Friday, August 12, 2022

A bear of very little brain rolls some dice

Winnie-the-Pooh in the Honey Heist (which I’m just going to call The Honey Heist from now on) is a Print and Play Roll and Write, one of those ones that any number of people can play as long as they have their own play sheet.

And, yes, it’s themed around the Winnie the Pooh with artwork that definitely evokes E. H. Shepherd’s art. Because a certain major corporation  has a pack of lawyers that will rip out your throat and leave your pockets empty if you use their trade marked version :D

The actual board consists of four seven-hex ‘circles’ (is there a proper term for that? Seven hex grid?) The center hex in each grid already has a number in it. You will be filling in numbers in all the other hexes over the course of the game. Also, each grid comes with one honey drop and one bee that can be worth points.

So, here’s the idea: each turn you roll two dice. One of them is Pooh’s die and you just write in that number. But, although he is a bear of very small brains, he is also a bear of huge heart, he gives the other die to one of his friends. 

Each pip is a different character from the books and has a different effect. For example, Piglet, the one pip, either copies Pooh’s die or gives you a three. Christopher Robbins , the six pip, let’s you either use a 0 or a 7.

Twelve turns. Twenty-four numbers. And you’re done.

There are four ways of scoring points. You get points for making sets of numbers or runs of numbers. And individual numbers can be part of more than one grouping. You get points for covering honey drops with low numbers and bees with high numbers. And you get points for using the same friend multiple times.

Let me get this out of the way first. The implementation of the theme is half the value of the game. Not only is the idea and art adorable, the mechanics work with the theme. Of course Pooh shares his dice. And some of the pip powers reflect their characters. Eyore subtracts value from dice, for instance.

The mechanics are interesting. Each friend power gives you two options so there are choices. There’s more going on than just rolling two dice and using those numbers. At the same time, the friend powers are specific enough that I do find them limiting.

I do wonder if luck is what really decides any given game of Honey Heist. At the same time, I also don’t think there are obvious choices. The game puzzles with you, not plays itself.

Honestly, at the end of the day, I feel like Honey Heist has decent mechanics. (How much can you really expect from 12 rounds?) But, it doesn’t just have a cute theme, it embraces it. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The fascination of Initial D

 LBack when TokyoPop was first releasing translated Manga (which was a golden age of Manga reading for me), I latched onto Initial D. I bought and read volume after volume of it. And I never could quite figure out why I enjoyed it so much.

I recently had the chance to read the first third of the series again. And I really enjoyed it a lot. And I still can’t figure out why it’s so enthralling.

Initial D is a sports manga about street racing. The cars are beautifully drawn but the people are kind of ugly. And static images of cars racing shouldn’t be exciting. It would make more sense if I was into the anime. That would bring the cars ignoring physics to life and the sound track is legendary.

I know that I’m showing my age when I say that my default  Shonen standard is Dragon Ball. (And I’m sure it says something about me that by the time it became Dragon Ball Z, I was getting bored )  The formula of the underdog coming out on top by a combination of character and last minute tricks is a familiar one. And, to be sure, with Takumi being an unbeatable underdog,  Initial D holds to that formula.

What I think makes Initial D sparkle is that the appearance of being realistic. I am far from an expert but I am sure that the techniques range from terribly impractical to utterly impossible. And, in between, Takuma should be ripping the wheels off his car and dying in a flaming wreck. But he’s not leaping into the sky and lobbing fire balls so it feels realistic.

Initial D is a well packaged piece of wish fulfillment. Takuma is driving a family car and beating street legal race cars. As the series goes on, it becomes modified beyond belief but it’s still the kind of car readers might be able to own. 

And maybe that’s why it works. Because it embraces wish fulfillment without being too obvious about it.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Genesis is a keeper after all

Genesis is relatively obscure Knizia game. I was surprised to find it in deep storage since I thought I had gotten rid of it years ago. And I was glad to see it since it’s remained stuck in my head, despite having not played it very much.

It’s one of his tile laying games. And, while the theme is all about life emerging in the deep past, the theme is completely arbitrary. While I don’t think Knizia is as guilty of paper-thin themes as he is accused of, the paint on this theme is so thin, you can see the wood grain on the other side.

It’s a tile-laying game where you roll two dice to determine what color tiles you can place. But two of the faces are wild and you can choose to ignore the dice and just place one tile of any color. When you only have three empty spaces, groups are scored by size.

It has been many years since I last played Genesis, hence the very vague rules description. I remember before I played going in with two impressions. That the board was wide open and it was going to be random since there were since there were dice.

And I remember in my first play both of those things were very wrong. The board turned into a maze of bottle necks very quickly. And 1/3 of the die rolls being wild and the ability to ignore the dice by dropping a placement really moderated the luck.

The other thing I remembered is that I enjoyed Genesis and wanted to play it more. And now I found out that I can!

Simple doesn’t always means good. But Knizia has a good track record of making simple good and Genesis is one more example.

No, it isn’t Tigris and Euphrates or Samurai or Through the Desert or Ingenious (Knizia has made a lot of games, tile laying or otherwise) I still look forward to playing Genesis again.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Wheat & Ale is an Arcadia building game

What made me pull the trigger of Wheat & Ale was that it was by Robin Jarvis. Between the Legends of Dsyx and Paper Pinball, they have given me hours of Roll and Write fun.

Wheat & Ale is billed as a Tiny Civilization Game. It’s not. Civilization games, no matter what size, have to have a big scope of time and space. I also want a tech tree but I’ll listen to arguments. Wheat & Ale is about creating an agricultural village along a river. 

It’s a Tiny Arcadia Game. And that’s just fine.

It’s one of the draw things on a grid Roll and Writes. The grid is actually a hex grid, the kind where it’s squares in a brickwork pattern. They may not be hexes but it’s a hex grid. And a line serving as that river I mentioned run through it. There’s actually two different maps and the difference is the path of the river.

The game lasts ten turns. Each turn, you roll three dice. You can do two diffeeent types of actions: build buildings or use buildings. You build by using spending a combination of dice that is equal or greater to the bullring value of the building. (Yes, it could be one die if the building is cheap enough) You activate a building by spending a die that is LESS than its activation number.

(One rule question I have is if you just get one action per turn or use all three dice as a pool for multiple actions. I prefer to the latter because it gives you more options. And makes the just build strategy I mention later less optimal)

Anything built on the river gets plus two to its production ability, tripling it. So the river is going to be central to the development of your tiny Arcadia.

And, as the title suggests, you are growing wheat and turning it into ale. That is how you turn an empty river valley into a community.

Okay, I have to admit the game does have a potential degenerate strategy. Ignore wheat and production and just build big buildings since they are worth points. It does depend on you rolling highish numbers but beating the goal of twenty points isn’t unreasonable.

But playing that way isn’t fun or interesting. I know people who will latch onto that strategy to prove the game is ‘broken’ and, more importantly, they are smarter than the designer. But that’s not my idea of fun.

You could just ignore that strategy. (It’s a solitaire game, after all) You could house rule it that you need to build the buildings in order. Houses need farms and so on. (And I’ve kind of just added a tech tree with that suggestion) OR you keep a tally of how much you’d earn in just buildings and try to beat that (I like that one)

Wheat & Ale is a very short and simple game. It’s no Roll Through the Ages and it’s not like that game is any kind of heavy. The strategies are pretty obvious and the entire game is setting yourself up for one, maybe two, big moves. 

All the same, I do like Ale & Wheat. I like that you aren’t just jotting down symbols one a grid but they actually do something. However, what really makes the game click is that it honestly is a coffee break game. Very little time, very little thought and I feel refreshed.

I think that Wheat & Ale is a game that could be built on, room to be developed to be  deeper and more complicated game, possibly even multiplayer. But it works well for a quick coffee break.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

My July gaming

When I actually looked at how many games I tried out in July, I was surprised. It wasn’t a crazy amount but it was a crazy month. (To be fair, I have a lot of crazy months)

Aquaducts was the only Print and Play game I put together in July. It’s also the only game I learned that I couldn’t play on a clipboard.

I have been playing a lot of In Hand games and Roll and Write games. And I love both those genres. But playing a tile-laying game for the first time in ages was very refreshing. I downright binged the game.

I also tried out a lot of games from Chris Anderson’s Tempus system. I am pretty sure that Tempus Infinitum is still in the prototype phase (and might not go beyond that) and was interesting but had issues. You could have setups that just don’t work.

I also played the first eight Tempus Quest episodes. Almost entirely on airplanes. The Tempus system games work well in limited spaces. No dice or cards. Just a pencil and a watch. The Tempus Quest games were better balanced than Tempus Imperium and explored what you could do when the system.

I didn’t think I was going to actually learn a Roll and Write game that actually used dice during July. Than I tried out Wheat & Ale and Rallytaire.

Wheat & Ale is about building an Arcadian community in a river valley. Very simple but I like how it isn’t just drawing stuff on a grid. There is actually a bit of engine building going on. 

And I finally have tried Rallytaire. It is like someone decided to remake Formula De as a Roll and Write that uses regular six-sided dice. For one player. I think there’s limited replay value but I love that it exists.

(I also wonder if you could revise it for multiplayer if you lived in a place where you can’t get Formula Dr)

I have no idea what August holds.

Monday, August 1, 2022

My July PnP

wasn’t sure how much crafting I’d get done in July. I knew that I would be doing a lot of traveling so there was a good chance I wouldn’t get much time for crafting and I was right.

What did I make:

A black and white copy of Aquaducts.

That’s it.

It is big enough for me to call it a ‘big’ project, which is really something big enough that a publisher would publish it. And I’ve been playing it a lot.

(I also printed out a bunch of sheets for Tempus system but that’s not crafting. There would be wiggle room if I had gone and laminated any of them but not just printing)

I think it’s safe to say I’ll be making more stuff in August.