Friday, September 22, 2023

Again, why Roll and Write?

When we lived across the country a couple months ago, I didn’t know how it would affect my gaming habits. Would I still keep on playing games and learning new games?

Well, it seems the answer is yes to both but with an even heavier focus on Roll and Writes lol

Admittedly, there are a number of reasons why Roll and Writes work well for me, particularly under more constrained circumstances.

Many (but certainly not all) are extremely solitaire friendly. Many are played as multi-player solitaires, like Take It Easy, so there’s no mechanical difference between one person playing or a lecture hall playing. It’s increasingly common for any kind of game to have a solitaire option and some are just plain solitaires.

In other words, there’s a lot of Roll and Writes I can easily play on my own while still having the actual experience of the game. 

Roll and Writes also tend to be easy to make via Print and Play. (Again, plenty of exceptions are out there) More than that, the quality of a PnP R&W sheet is a lot closer to publishing standards than, say, my homemade cards.

Roll and Writes also can take up minimal space, particularly if you use a clipboard. I have a little half-size clip board that I can use for smaller game sheets. That ends up taking up just a little more space than playing a game on my phone.

And, frankly, while Roll and Write as a game media doesn’t have doesn’t have as much potential depth as ones with moving parts, there’s a surprising amount of depth in some of them. (Not necessarily the one I casually play, of course)

I recently learned three different publushed games via Print and Play pretty much back to back: Splitter, Knaster and Trek 12. I made copies of Splitter and Knaster because, frankly, it wasn’t likely I’d find published copies. On the other hand, everything I needed to make the basic version of Trek 12 on the publisher’s website. 

Which I think was actually quite canny on their part. Because, having a chance to play the basic game of Trek 12, I am now seriously thinking about getting the full game so I can play the expedition version of the game. Demos can be very powerful tools if the games can deliver.

I found Splitter and Knaster to be solid, workmanlike games and I was happy to try them out. However, Tech 12 was next level. I really liked the different ways to manipulate numbers in it.

There are a lot of decent R&Ws out there, particularly if you’re actively looking for them. Which I obviously am. And they can definitely keep you entertained.

But then there are games that make me feel like I’ve just found a hidden gem at a convention. Trek 12 isn’t the best R&W ever but it is good enough to have that sparkle. And it’s really fun to have find that.

Roll and Writes can deliver under conditions that limit time and space and materials. And sometimes they can just plain deliver.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Stating the obvious about Railroad Ink

 As someone who enjoys both railway games and Roll and Writes, I’ve had Railroad Ink on my radar for a while. I finally bought the app so o could try it out. 

In Railway Ink, you draw paths on a grid to make connections! 

Yeah, I’ve lost track of the Roll and Writes I’ve played that have that basic framework. To be fair, one of the first games I ever picked up was Metro, which is the same exact idea with tiles.

So, what makes Railway Ink special? 

Well, quite frankly, the actual dice make a big difference. 

Most, if not all, the connection R&W games I’ve seen use a single chart to determine paths. By having multiple types of dice, Railroad Ink increases the number of path options. Well, you could have multiple tables but having specialized dice makes it a lot easier.

And almost every other connection game that I can think of has you fill in one square at a time. Railroad Ink has you fill in four at a time. Heck, five if you use one of the bonus ‘faces’.

So, by using multiple specialized dice, Railroad Ink becomes more accessible with a greater decision tree.

Oh and before you even add in any expansions, you have two different types of paths to manage. Which isn’t breaking any new ground (Rivers, Roads & Rails did it with three kinds of paths in a very simple way back in the 1960s) but it does help make the decisions interesting. (I haven’t tried any expansions yet but I am curious.)

What makes people like the Railroad Ink family? What makes it any good? Railroad Ink works by being very accessible without dumbing down the choices a connection game has you make. 

(Yes, if drawing lines on a grid is a deal breaker, Railroad Ink will never work for you)

Yes, I’m having fun with Railroad Ink. Yes, I’m thinking of getting a physical copy. Yes, I’m thinking of getting expansions.

Friday, September 15, 2023

As a campaign, Star Maps falls flat

While I first picked up the PDF version of Star Maps five or six years ago, I’ve only now decided to do some printing and try it out. At that time, I was a little confused by the rules but, after years after playing Roll and Writes, it now seems simple lol (I still had to look at rules forums to clarify a few things so the rules really do need some editing)

Star Maps was part of a line of games from Spiel Press. The idea behind Spiel Press was to make campaign Roll and Write books. Since their third product never got published, I am guessing it didn’t quite work out. (However, since it came from the guy who’s behind Button Shy and PnP Arcade, I think the big picture is doing all right)

Here’s the basic idea: each player sheet shows curving loops of stars with boxes in between the stars. There are six different stars shapes. Roll two dice and assign one to pick a star shape and write the other number in a box next to a star of that shape. When the boxes on both sides of a star are filed in, write the difference of the two numbers on the star.

There are also connections. You can forgo writing down a number and check off a connection spot. Stars in more distant lines, even if you fill them in, aren’t worth anything unless they’re connected. More than that, connections are great for dealing with horrible rolls. 

Some connections are locked. Their star has a number written in and you have to fill in the boxes with the right numbers to make that number to unlock it.

When someone can’t make a move, game ends. Star points (plus bonus points which are different on different maps) get totaled and most points wins. 

I am of two minds about Star Maps. One is about it as a game and the other is about it as a campaign.

I do like it as a game, treating each map as its own thing. You don’t have a way to manipulate dice in this format (I’ll get to that) but a game has around thirty rolls, including connections. That’s enough for luck to average out and you can make intelligent decisions.

There are special bonuses that let you manipulate dice but those are part of the campaign version of the game. You earn them for later games.

Which is my clever way of seguewaying into writing about the campaign.

The game has four different maps and I think it’s safe to say they do increase in complexity and difficulty. However, from what I can tell from the rules (which, as I mentioned, can be vague), there isn’t a step-by-step structure to the campaign. With multi-players, you track who wins and the losers get access to bonus powers. In solitaire, you have to pass a point threshold to get bonuses.

More than that, it looks like you can play the maps in any order and as often as you like. If I’m wrong, a campaign is four games with the only ongoing element being three chances to get bonus powers. I think Star Maps would have been stronger with a greater variety of maps and in-game ways to earn bonuses as you go.

I can’t help but compare Star Maps to Bargain Basement Bathysphere which came out around the same time. A free, soliatire Roll and Write campaign game with at least thirty different play sheets (I haven’t peeked ahead so I’m not sure) that keeps building on itself. Bargain Basement Bathysphere has an interconnected, developing narrative, something Star Maps lacks.

And I can’t help but wonder if the Spiel Press business model played a part in that. I have the PDF version of the book. Which contains 22 copies of each map. Which is completely unnecessary for a PDF but makes perfect sense for a physical book where you’d tear it the pages like Sid Sackson’s Beyond series from the 1970s.

The Star Maps sheets are labeled 1.1 to 1.4, indicating that more Star Maps was planned. And I do wonder if it has been produced as a PnP if it might have done better and we might have seen more of an actual campaign.

Star Maps, as a game, has enough going on to be interesting. However, I think it also fights against its publishing format to its detriment.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Lockwood & Co - a different kind of undead apocalypse

I went into Lockwood & Co by having heard of a tv series I never ended up watching and having forgotten reading the Bartimeaus Trilogy also by Jonathan Stroud. (To be fair, I read those books as they came out so it was about twenty years ago) 

The series set in an alternate England that has had a twist on the zombie apocalypse. Instead, it’s a ghost dystopia, where ghosts have become so common and dangerous that society barely able to function.

Fortunately, ghosts do have some fundamental vulnerabilities, like iron or silver or fire. And, since this is a young adult series, only children have the psychic ability to detect ghost. Thus setting up a world where child labor laws have been completely thrown out the window.

It’s some nice world building, although it does make you wonder about the world outside England and why hasn't ghost-ridden England collapsed back into the Stone Age.

Lockwood & Co is a tiny, independent agency of ghostbusters (no, they don’t use that term in the books) and every member, particularly the initial three are all extraordinary. Lockwood is a charismatic leader and a brilliant tactician. George is so brilliant he’s able to figure out the complex nature of ghost problems despite the obfuscation of the authorities. And Lucy, the narrator, has a once in maybe a generation psychic talent that is so strong she can talk to ghosts.

Which lets us have the skull, a powerful but captive ghost who is a bonus member of the crew. The skull is relentlessly snarky, deflating every situation it’s a part of. Needless to say, the skull is pure comedy gold.

Wish fulfillment can be a big part of young adult literature. (Harry Potter is a wizard. Percy Jackson is a demi-god. Holden Caulfield doesn’t belong on this list) And Lockwood & Co has plenty of it. 

Stroud balances that with the nightmarish horror of the ghost plague and a theme that carries over from the Bartimeaus Trilogy, that power, authority and money corrupt. Adults aren’t just useless but actively malicious a lot of the time.

I’m not going to go into the plot but I will say that the series isn’t a Ghost of the Week setup. There is an overarching plot that each book builds on and the fifth book is clearly the last one. 

Lockwood & Co is a good read, a fun example of world building and I’m sure it’s already an RPG system without even looking.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Is Wurfel Bingo with more stuff worth it?


I’m surprised that I’d only first heard of Knaster a few weeks ago. It seems to be an intentional sequel to Wurfel Bingo/High Score/Knister. Finding Wurfel Bingo was a watershed moment for me as a gamer. 

Like Wurfel Bingo, Knaster is a Roll and Write that follows the Take It Easy paradigm. Everyone has their own play sheet and uses the same die rolls. Which has become a pretty common design, to be fair.

Take a five-by-five grid. Roll two dice each turn. You can either write their sum in a blank square or, if you already have that number on your grid, you can circle it. The game ends when the grid is full. You get points for each circle and for having complete rows, columns and diagonals of circles.

And if that was all there was, Knaster would be boring, even tedious. However, if you complete a line with numbers and form a poker had like a straight or five of a kind, you get bonus circles you can use anywhere on the grid.

And the poker hands are what make Knaster work as a game. That mechanic gives players a little bit of control and makes number placement actually have some meaning. That mechanic is what actually creates choices.

I went into Knaster with very, very low expectations. I was expecting a Wurfel Bingo with more randomness and twice as many turns. Instead, I found a decent little game. That poker mechanic I keep harping on makes the play entertaining.

In fact, I like Knaster more than Wurfel Bingo. Which isn’t as big a component as it might sound. Wurfel Bingo was pretty cool when I first played it (Take It Easy in two dice!?) but it hasn’t aged well. Mostly because there’s so many games that have explored and expanded that design space in the last several years.

Which brings me to the real question: is Knaster actually any good?

This gives me an excuse to pull out an analogy. I’ve been wanting to use. It is a fast food hamburger of a game. You know what you’re getting, it delivers that, you enjoy it, but it’s not special. There are a lot of Roll and Writes out there. Knaster does its thing pretty well but there’s plenty of better games out there.

I am happy I’ve learned Knaster. It is going to go into rotation for me. And if you play it, it will be a pleasant little diversion. But, yeah, there’s better Roll and Writes out there, even if you just want a coffee break.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Splitter rises above mediocrity but not into greatness

 The title is pretty much the summary.

I think that it’s fairly obvious if you look at my blog, I really enjoy Roll and Writes. That’s in no small part due to they are both very PnP friendly and very solitaire friendly as a rule.

I also realized that I divide them into two basic categories: coffee break games and bigger, crunchier games. I play a lot more coffee break games but I also realize that they aren’t what I normally would pull out if I actually had an opponent.

Splitter is definitely in the coffee break category.

As a concept, Splitter is very, very, very simple. You are filling out a symmetrical shape of blocks. Each turn, you roll two dice. You fill in each number on the shape but the two numbers have to be mirrored on the shape/symmetrical to the center lines. (Same difference but pick the one that makes the most sense to you)

You score groups of numbers but _only_ is the group is the same number as its number. Five fives are worth five points for example. Four or six fives are worth nothing. There are a couple different bonuses but that’s basically the game.

There are two different boards, one of which is more complex and has a whopping two different kinds of bonuses. They both have forty-four boxes so games will always be twenty-two turns.

I think that Reiner Knizia’s Criss Cross might be simpler but Splitter is definitely incredibly minimalist.

You have more agency in Splitter than I was worried you would have. I have expected there to be none and the dice would entirely dictate the game. But building up sets and then protecting sets actually takes some work, along with luck.

That said, I don’t know if twenty-two rounds is enough for the dice to average out so you can make informed choices. There are also isn’t any way to manipulate dice to mitigate bad rolls. And one or two bad rolls can sink a game.

Those aren’t fatal flaws for the game. It is short enough that bad luck isn’t intrinsically frustrating. And the mirror placement, well, not unknown, is unusual enough to be interesting.

I’ve found Splitter more engaging than I expected and already gotten more plays out it than I thought I would. That said, I also found it very average for its niche. As someone who learns Roll and Writes to decompress, it’s nice. However, I would recommend other games, like Criss Cross or That’s Pretty Clever or Qwixx, over it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Ya Boy Kongming rocks

Sometimes I’ll read something just based on the pitch. Particularly when it comes to manga.

Ya Boy Kongming isn’t the weirdest manga I’ve ever read. I have no idea what the strangest manga or anime I’ve read or seen. After I watched an army of rabbit-cats transform into a spaceship in Tenchi Muyo!, I decided that I wouldn’t worry about limits.

Okay. Here’s the pitch for Yo Boy Kongming: legendary Chinese statesman and tactician Zhuhai Liang (courtesy name Kongming) find himself in modern Japan after his death and becomes a music agent.

It isn’t that the idea is absurd, which of course it is. It’s that it sounds banal. Like Charlemagne coming to the present and working at a fast food chain or Benjamin Franklin becoming a real estate agent. (Which he might have actually been. He did a lot of stuff) After you giggle about the idea, is there any story, any tension or drama?

In the case of Ya Boy Kongming, there actually is. Shortly after arriving in modern Japan, Kongming is so moved by the duagonist Eiko’s singing that he basically adopts her and plans on making her a world famous singer who can usher in world peace.

Which he does by becoming Batman with a constant stream of insane schemes that always become together. If a music stand wearing ancient Chinese clothes had flown through the window, Bruce would have become Kongming.

I have to confess to feeling very provincial but I have probably learned more about Romance of the Three Kingdoms from Ya Boy Kongming!

So a lot of what makes the manga fun isn’t the absurd idea but the emphasis on how wonderfully awesome Kongming is. More than that, his cunning ng plans, also trying to benefit Eiko’s rivals. Having lived one life of war, Kongming wants to live a life of peace and that means elevating everyone.

I also understand that Ya Boy Kongming actually didn’t take off until it became an anime. Which makes sense because you can’t listen to music in a manga! I am just reading it but I am also making sure to actually listen to the sings. And, speaking as an old dinosaur, if this is what the kids are listening to these days, the kids are all right.

Ya Boy Kongming has a silly concept but but pulls it off for longer stories by being fun and inventive.

Monday, September 4, 2023

My August Gaming

August was a busy month but I helped keep myself calm with Roll and Writes.

I learned:

One Card Maze  0-2 (2023 One Card Contest)
Flyswatter (2023 One Card Contest)
The Flea and the Circus (2023 One Card Contest)
Honeycomb Caverns
Railroad Ink
Star Maps

Five of the seven games are Roll and Writes. Yes, that includes one of the one card games, The Flea and the Circus. And, while Railroad Ink and Star Maps as a whole campaign might be in the hinterlands of the definition, all these games fall into the coffee break camp as opposed to, um, game night games.

This is our first full month after moving across the country and I wasn’t sure how gaming would fit in with our new lives. Well, it looks like Roll and Write games continue to be part of my decompression regiment.

As for the games themselves, Railroad Ink was the best of the lot but I pretty much expected that. It has a pretty solid reputation. The game that surprised me the most was Splitter. I honestly expected it to be terrible but I had fun with it.

I don’t know what the future holds but August indicates it will include Roll and Writes.

Friday, September 1, 2023

My August PnP

August, as predicted and as honestly is usually the case, was a busy month without much time for making PnP projects. Truth to tell, I did all my PnP crafting on August 1 to make sure I got some in and, indeed, that was all I did. Still, it was a good time.

I made:

One Card Maze  0-2 (2023 One Card Contest)
Flyswatter (2023 One Card Contest)
The Flea and the Circus (2023 One Card Contest)
Chrono Caverns (2023 One Card Contest)
Ancient Realms (demo)

My ‘big’ project for August was the demo version of Ancient Realms. I backed it and have the final version with the first expansion but I printed out the demo months ago so I made that.

I made some games from this year’s One Card Contest really so I could make something from start to finish in one sitting. I also tried out most of those games. None of them were memorable but none of them were terrible either. Of course, being terrible can make games memorable lol

I actually spent more time in August printing out roll and writes and putting them in file protectors. (I don’t consider a R&W a PnP project  unless I laminate it m, making it a more permanent artifact)

And if I only craft one day in September, that’s okay if it’s a good day.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

I hope I am being too mean to In This World

 One of my most important RPG experiences in the past ten years has been Microscope by Ben Robbins. Part of that is because almost all of my RPG gaming during that time has been long distance and Microscope was wonderful in a play-by-email format.

So, when I saw that Ben Robbins had another project, In This World, I backed that Kickstarter. While the final product hasn’t been produced, I have gone through the early-release base rules and I have to admit that I have been underwhelmed.

I won’t go over the actual rules since that would actually be giving away the game. But you go around the table, round robin, building worlds. The twist is that you take a basic concept and subvert some of its basic tenets. (In this world, dragons are plants BUT they still eat princesses)

And before I get critical, I had to say that is a terrific concept. Easy to understand and implement while still open to lots of possibilities.

So here’s where I felt In This Word fell short, albeit possibly only in the basic, early release rules. At the end of the game, you will have some worlds that are laid out as bullet points.

That’s where other games like Kingdom or Microscope or The Quiet Year begin.

I do love me a world building game but part of the experience is doing something with the world. Building up on the initial idea. Seriously fleshing things out. Roleplaying scenes in the world. In This World feels like setting up for a game of Microscope. In This World feels like something I’d find in an anthology, not as a standalone product. 

And, yes, I’m being incredibly unfair. The final product, with all its bells and whistles, could and hopefully will assuage all my fears.

I sincerely hope the finished product proves my fears entirely wrong.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Where I show I am a dinosaur

 I once heard an NPR music critic say the golden age of music is whenever you were twelve. 

And when I was going through my collection, deciding what to keep while trying to purge as much as possible, I was pretty sure that anyone could tell I discovered boars games during the early to mid 2000s. Not necessarily the games from that era but their aesthetic.
Oliver Kiley’s classification of games ( has German Family and Eurogame as two separate design schools. (Yeah, I know both get lumped together as Euros) And the games that I kept definitely show a preference for German Family games. (That said, every single design school that Kiley lists shows up in my collection, even after the heavy purge.)

Catan had been around for close to ten years when I got into the hobby but it was still an environment that was reacting and responding to Catan. Lots of engagement but not violent conflict. Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico and Ticket to Ride were major tent poles for the hobby. Games I still really like and think continue to hold up and deliver.

But, but, but, just because when I got into designer board games helped define my tastes in board games doesn’t mean I think that designs peaked then. I think that game design has improved over the last 20 years, and the classics that hold up are more outliers than representative.

Sturgeon’s law still applies. Developing a microscopic species for technological development always gets out of hand. No, wait. His other law: 90% of EVERYthing is crud. There are a lot of games out there that aren’t worth your time.

However, due to a number of factors, I do think we have seen a rise in refinement and innovation. 

I don’t think of twenty years ago as a particularly golden age for board games. There are have been a lot of golden ages. But I do think it helped encourage elements that I want to see in games lol

While I appreciate direct conflict and story telling and puzzle solving, my introduction to designer board games definitely gave me a predilection towards more social interaction. And, yes, I know I am a huge proponent for true multi-player solitaire games but that’s because I can play them solitaire and get still get the proper experience. (Not that I haven’t had extremely social games of Take It Easy with people swearing at the tiles)

I don’t think there has been a bad time to get into gaming in the past fifty or sixty years. 

Friday, August 25, 2023

Hey, I finally saw the third Guardians movie

 It took me five months to finally watch Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3, which for me is actually watching a movie quite close to its release. (I am much more of a reader than a viewer) I managed to be relatively spoiler free so it definitely manages to surprise me at times.

I’ll try to limit the spoilers but I do feel like commenting on the movie.

The Guardians of the Galaxy films manage to both denser and wackier than the rest of the MCU movies but, at the same time, manages to get in possibly the most emotional gut punches in there franchise l. In no small part because the Guardians fully embrace Tolstoy’s ‘every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’

(No, I don’t know what the second sentence in Anne Karenina is)

I think that the second movie has the best balance of comedy and tragedy. The third one leans heavily into the tragic side. Which isn’t inappropriate but definitely makes this the darkest movie in the trilogy. Maybe the the MCU which also had Thanos kill half of all life.

Okay, I want to just jot down some bullet point reactions but first:





  • While I knew the movie would feature Rocket, I hadn’t expected it to be centered around him. But I’ve liked the character since the 80s so it’s cool. And, story wise, it works.
  • Peter Quill’s arc wasn’t about him getting the girl but growing up. I like that he isn’t wish fulfillment but is used to address the issues of being a man-child.
  • I hadn’t been a fan of the MCU Mantis. The comic version can go toe-to-toe with Thor and is always the adult in the room. In this movie, though, she clearly shows herself to be physically tough and very insightful so I was happier.
  • Holy cow. The comic High Evolutionary is a borderline hero while this one was incredibly vile and reprehensible. Possibly the pettiest and nastiest villain of the MCU. 
  • Okay. We still haven’t gotten Moondragon in the MCU. I’ll wait.

I am far from the only person who has felt that the MCU has struggled to find its voice post-Endgame. Which, to be fair, is unique as the culmination of a 23-movie arc.

But Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3 succeeds because it makes part of being its own trilogy more important than being part of the greater MCU. It already had a voice so it could keep on exploring its theme of unhappy families.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Archie continues to bewilder me

I’m about eight years late to the party but I picked up and read Archie Comics’ Road to Riverdale. It was a sampler for their New Riverdale line, the first issues of five of the books. And it obviously was done to help promote the Riverdale TV show. (Which I have never watched but I understand critics love to savage it)

I had heard of the New Riverdale line, a reimagining of Archie and his world with more realistic artwork and more continuity-based storylines. And, while not inappropriate, aimed at an older audience.

And it wasn’t quite what I expected. As opposed to being Archie as a serious drama (which isn’t actually unknown), it was more of a denser, wackier look but with a heavy emphasis on character development. Honestly, it felt like a post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer Archie, self aware but room for feels.

I find Archie weird. Before I was old enough to not be embarrassed to read it, I thought of Archie as simplistic, repetitive and reactionary. And, frankly, a lot of that is true. Archie has been going since the 1940s and has been almost always aimed at a younger audience.

At the same time, Archie has been constantly reinventing itself. I don’t even know if Archie Comics itself knows how creators have worked on the franchise. And it’s been addressing social issues for decades.

What muddies the water is the fact that they are constantly reprinting stuff from all over their catalog. So you can find different messages, sometimes in the same magazine.

To be fair, you can point to any long running franchise. Batman has been many things. However, Bruce and his merry band of vigilantes have been allowed to change and adjust. The lack of continuity and constant reprints means Archie Comics  keeps the values dissonance constantly churning. There is good stuff but they keep burying it.

Which might be part of the point of New Riverdale.

Heck, it got me to read the first volume of Archie. Which I did enjoy but found almost bipolar. We have moments like Archie’s bumbling destroying the entire Lodge mansion contrasted with Betty’s angry tears at Archie freaking out over her makeover.

From what I understand, the New Riverdale has ended. Perhaps that has to happen. When you actually create a story where the characters develop and change, endings make sense.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Rustling Leaves is a Currier and Ives game

Rustling Leaves had been on my radar for a while, seeing as how it is a Roll and Write game available as an app.  So, when most of our stuff was in boxes, picking it up was a natural move.

Short version: it’s a good little game and a very nice addition to my gaming tool box. 

Still pretty short version: Rustling Leaves  consists of a grid of pastoral images. You roll two dice and use those numbers to draw boxes and check off one type of symbol per box. Lots of different scoring combinations. And a particularly clever touch: each player decides when they end their game. 

Okay, let’s get a little more detailed.

I have heard Rustling Leavea described as actually being four games since there are four different maps, one for each season. I think that’s a bit of a stretch since the core mechanics of rolling and drawing boxes remains the same. That being said, each one has its own scoring conditions and plays very distinctly.

More than that, for a game that is just drawing boxes, the theming is strong. Each season has symbols and themed scoring around those symbols that reflect the season. I particularly like how the river is treated differently in each season. You lose a point for a box crossing it in the spring. It is dried up and has no effect in the summer. It’s flooded and boxes can’t cross it in the fall. And it’s frozen and gets you a bonus point in the winter.

Most Roll and Writes with grids have you draw symbols or lines or Tetris-style shapes. I can’t remember playing one that had you enclose stuff in boxes. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have played one before but Rustling Leaves is clearly the only memorable one lol

It’s obvious that I like Rustling Leaves. Let’s talk about why.

Between multiple starting points, random die rolls and four different maps, the game has a lot of replay value. And since you have to choose one symbol per box, the game offers a lot of choices, particularly for the relatively small number of turns.

Being able to decide when you end the game creates a game of chicken for you, adds tension to the mix. You get six chances to not use a roll but that comes with penalty points. And some maps have negative symbols that you don’t want to box in. Choosing when to end your game is a big part of the game.

And I know I’ve already mentioned it but in a game that is so abstract, the theming is very strong. More than that, it is very soothing. I use games for decompression, particularly solitaire Roll and Writes. The woodland theming is perfect for that.

Rustling Leaves does have some issues. Larger rolls will eat up the map quickly, leading to shorter, more frustrating games. That isn’t a big deal with the app but playing with a physical copy, particularly if you don’t laminate the maps, would be aggravating. And if you don’t like multi-player solitaires, there’s nothing here for you.

Rustling Leaves has been a really nice addition to my digital library, particularly when I need to mentally get away to the woods.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Honeycomb Cavern does its job as a pleasant diversion

 Honeycomb Cavern is the latest game I’ve tried by Alexander Shen.

The theme is that Shen’s reoccurring character Sadie Cat, an adventuring dog with a cat’s tail, has fallen into a collapsing cavern. Fire breathing statues keep her from just walking straight out so she must zig zag her way to freedom.

In practice, it’s a Roll and Write where you are drawing a line on a hexagonal grid. You know, one that looks like a honeycomb.

Three dice get rolled. One die is the direction and you move the difference of the other two. You can’t cross the line but you get three jumps which let you move three hexes in any direction without drawing a line.

Roll two of a kind so you only have two numbers to work with? Pick one for direction and the other for movement. Three of a kind? You get a free jump.

Now, reaching the edge and ending the game is extremely easy. But your real goal is to earn points. Each hex is worth zero to four points. Now you have a reason to stay on the board for as many moves as possible.

I’ve found that Alexander Shen has a real knack for making casual, coffee-break length games and puzzles. Honeycomb Cavern is from 2017 and proves that Shen has been good at this for a while. The game looks like it’s about escaping but it’s about pushing your luck. How greedy can you be without trapping yourself? It’s a nice solitaire but it’s real strength is as a multi-player, trying to beat everyone else at the table/

I have found Shen’s games and puzzles to be a very good way to decompress and Honeycomb Cavern fits right in. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

My inner game snob can’t beat Treehouse

One game, or really a game system, that was never in danger of being purged from my collection is IceHouse/Treehouse/Looney Pyramids. Yes, back in my day, we bought pyramids in sets of fifteen in tubes that didn’t come with any rules!

I feel a very important milestone in the system’s history was Treehouse. While boxes sets had existed before (I have copies of Ice Towers and the original Zendo and I understand one of the earliest releases was The Martian Chess Set), Treehouse was an accessible, low price point entry into the system.

Looking back, one of the last times I really wrote about Treehouse was ten years ago. Where I dismissed it as too light and random while also admitting that I played the heck out of it with a wide variety of places and people. Man, I can be a game snob!

Some years in between, I was at a convention where I met James Ernest of Cheapass fame, which was the same convention where I learned he was a real person. He commented on how some designers were surprised that there was a market for a family of pub games like Pairs. (He said this in a tone that clearly said that some people need to get out more)

That comment has stuck with me. Moving away from my old group in Illinois that focused on new and increasingly complex games made me realize that there was a world of causal games and gaming out there that was clearly doing well enough to be profitable. A world of gaming that had more people in it than the insular gaming world I’d been living in.

And Treehouse totally fits in that paradigm, part of the world of casual gamers and family games and pub games. Heck, all the pieces are waterproof and a game doesn’t take up a lot of space so it checks off some important pub game boxes. And it works very well for all kinds of audiences.

While I think that the earlier pyramid games Volcano and Zendo have aged well and are brilliant (particularly Zendo), Treehouse was a more accessible entry point. A ine tube game for everyone.I believe it helped the pyramid brand grow.

I ought to get it out again.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Postcards of war

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve found Battle Card Market Garden an interesting little work. The game really plays itself but it’s an interesting to show Operation Marker Garden on a post card.

Looking into it a bit more, I quickly learned it was from the Postcards From the Front game design jam. (Not a contest!)  ( It’s a collection of almost fifty postcard war games. They range from small scale hex-and-chit games to much more abstract interpretations of conflict.

While I am not really a war gamer by any stretch of the imagination, I still find this collection fascinating. Honestly , that’s just because the printing effort is one page per game and many of them are either solitaire or have solitaire options. 

I can’t decide if my interest in these small scale games is a compliment or an insult to war gaming. War gaming’s roots are in historical simulation and I assume post card games fall short of war college standard.

But I also have to admit that I’m not being fair to postcard games. Tactics and Strategy Magazine has been including a complete war game since 1967. And magazine inserts are clearly a step between World in Flames and postcard games.

Looking back, the first time I heard about postcard war games was Postcard From The Revolution, which came out in 2004. As a format, it may not have taken the world by storm but it’s stuck around for at least twenty years.

More than that, many of both the postcard games from the jam and other places I’ve seen are focused around specific historical events. Heck, one of the non-historic games about ants and termites was designed by an entomologist.

In short, if an educational component is something you are looking for in a war game, this jam has that. I have learned about the Great Emu War of 1932. I learned that Jose Garcia saved the Alhambra from being blown up. I found out Germans impulsively sacked Rome in 1527. Even if I never play any of the games, I’m learning stuff.

I don’t know if I will play any games from the Postcards from the Front jam but I have gotten plenty out of looking at it.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Dabbling with one-card games

In order to ease myself back into the mindset of both making PnP projects and learning PnP games, I made a few of the simplest entries in this year’s One Card Contest: Flyswatter, The Flea and the Circus, One Card Maze. None of them feel like I could get an entire blog out of them but I’ll throw them together as a pack. 


Pick one of three different cards that each have ten flies and three fireflies in different patterns . Flip the card up in the air and catch it between your hands. Every fly you cover is a point but if you cover all the fireflies you get nothing.

Was this designed as a drinking game?

I don’t even mean that a knock. I found even catching the card to be tricky. I don’t know how much skill as far as earning points can come into it.

But I can see it being fun with drunk people.
Maybe not for drunk people but definitely fun with drunk people.

The Flea and the Circus

It’s a Roll and Write where you draw a line across a minuscule grid. Roll a six-sided die, draw a line that many spaces. You get points by drawing over tickets and you win by reaching the far corner of the grid. Ending on dogs can let you teleport.

The Flea and the Circus occupies the same space for me as 13 Sheep and Blankout.  Very short and simple Roll and Writes that work well for when I am either time strapped or brain dead. And, yes, they get more use than I care to admit.

That said, The Flea and the Circus doesn’t have the decision space those two games have. In fact, bad rolls can easily make sure you can’t make it to the far edge. 13 Sheep manages to take that tiny design space and be a good game. 

It will still get added to the folder for now for variety’s sake.

One Card Maze

Honestly, One Card Maze is what made me decide to do this little exercise. It does come with this caveat: it is most certainly not a game. It is a puzzle.

It’s a card-sized maze that double sided and part of the gimmick is that you flip the card and special spaces let you reorient the card to unlock gates. 

And it is impossible for me not to compare One Card Maze to Thin Cube/Flipuzzles from the 2021 contest. And the Flipuzzle family wins that comparison. They offer more variety and trickiness, hands down.

The one thing One Card Puzzle does better is being casual. I can sometimes struggle to track where I am in a Flipuzzle. It’s much easier with One Card Puzzle. Mind you, that also makes them simpler to solve and remember the solutions.

I still signed up for their mailing list and have looked at the other two mazes available. My one disappointment is that there hasn’t been an additional mechanic added to the spin room and orientation locks. Still, I want to see what else they can do.

Honestly, none of these games/puzzles set me on fire. However, it was a fun exercise.