Sunday, December 31, 2023

Looking back at 2023

2023 was a year of changes for us. Moving across the country, me starting a new job, our son starting in a new school. 

What it wasn’t was a big year of gaming for me. Particularly the second half of the year when all those big life changes kicked in. Time, space, supplies, concentration, those were all resources I need to use on non-gaming priorities.

Even online turn-based gaming dried up for me. That ended up feeling more like a chore than fun. That said, I do think turn-based okay takes a different kind of mental energy than live gaming. You have to get yourself back up to speed every turn.

That said, Print and Play solitaire Roll ans Writes kept me gaming the second half of the year. Minimal resources to be able to play. A clipboard, a dry erase marker and either some dice or a die roller on a device and I am good to go. Highlights included learning the rest of Dark Imp’s playmat games and the Legends of Dsyx series. 

Digital board gaming has long been part of my gaming life. BSW was a big part of playing games that weren’t Dungeons and Dragons or other RPGs. But there really is something about using physical components. And clipboards and paper check that box.

It was also the year that I really got into Alexander Shen as a designer. I’ll be honest, in a year when I would have had more recreational time, that wouldn’t have happened. But Shen’s coffee-break weight games and puzzles were amazing for this year. I learned ten different games and puzzles from him and I know I’ll learn more in 2024.

Highpoints of the games I learned include Jump Drive (but only soliatire campalign mode), Trek 12 and The Magus.

2023 also saw me rediscover One Piece and actually sit down and read some Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. You know, along with a metric ton of other manga. I also discovered BattleTech fiction existed. Which is really the equivalent of fast food in fiction form but some interesting authors did get their start there.

I don’t think 2024 wkll be a game heavy year but I do think it will be heavier than 2023.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Taking a break from saving the world to grow up

Almost immediately after I finished rereading The Heroes of Olympus series, I read the Chalice of the Gods, the first in a new Percy Jackson trilogy. This wasn’t actually intentional. I had put a hold on the book a few months ago and the timing was just a funny coincidence.

That being said, holy Poisdien, what a contrast,






Seriously, I’m going to be taking about the ending




The book is less than a year old, stop now if you don’t want it spoiled



And I thought that the Trials of Apollo were a big shift from the Heroes of Olympus, the Chalice of the Gods is almost the diametric opposite of Heroes. While Heroes is a globe-trotting epic with the biggest cast of any of Riordan’s series, Chalice never leaves New York state (other than Poseidon’s undersea castle) and goes back to just Percy, Annabelle and Grover.

However, Chalice isn’t just some sort of return to form. Instead, with the conflict being Percy getting divine reference letters so he can go to New Rome University with Annabelle, it’s a more reflective work. It’s less a callback and more a mediation of how Percy and company are becoming grownups.

This comes to a blatant but surprisingly satisfying point when Percy has to wrestle with Geras, the god of old age. Percy can’t win but he is able to resolve the conflict by accepting the inevitability of growing old, with the implied goal dying havinbfg lived a full life.

The smaller scale of Chalice, Percy working on becoming a grownup instead of saving the world, was charming and effective. Instead of going bigger, Riordan reminds us why we care about Percy and his friends. 

There are still two more books scheduled to address Percy’s quest for letters of recommendation. There’s still time for the entire world to be in danger. But I’m hoping it stays cozy.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Delving into the French history of science fiction

The Xipéhuz by JH Rosny is a novella from 1888 that may be the first example of the starfish alien, beings completely unrelatable for human beings. 

And, as someone who has loved by Lovecraftian horror and science fiction since I was in the single digits, I have to ask ‘Why did I only hear about this story?!’

The reason is actually pretty simple. It’s a French story and if your name wasn’t Jules Verne, your nineteenth century science fiction wasn’t going to get translated into English.

The Xipéhuz  tells the story of prehistoric man encounter tbe mysterious Xipéhuz and fighting a genicidal war against each other. I want to note that, while I did call them aliens, the story doesn’t give any kind of origin for the Xipéhuz. They could be aliens or a native Earth species or magical fay for all the story tells us.

Not going to lie, as far as actual plot goes, it’s pretty simple. What is actually interesting is the biology of the Xipéhuz, as described by a prehistoric Einstein.

They sre neither animal or vegetable (silicon is a pillar theory but not verified in the story) that change forms from cones and columns and sheets. They can fire some kind of heat beams from apertures which are also their ownly weaknesses. And they reproduce by forming a gas that coalesces into a solid.

I am glad that I discovered that tbe Xipéhuz exists. It’s a fascinating look at the origins of science fiction.  

Friday, December 22, 2023

Titans wraps up Dsyx for me

With Titans of Dsyx, I have now played every game in the Legends of Dsyx series.  And, while I didn’t save the best for last, it was a pretty good one.

(Hall of the Dwarven King is still tops)

In Titans, you are filling in one of those grids that are marked out like a brick wall so it’s really a hex grid, even though the sections are squares. There’s also a table of map features. You start by rolling a die and drawing that map feature anywhere on the grid.

Here’s the deal: each turn, you roll three dice. One die will be the direction you move from the last thing you drew. Another die will be how many spaces you move. That other die, using the table, that will be what you draw. Twenty turns and you’re done.

So what’s the clever bit, you ask. Glad you asked.  That would be terraforming. Almost every map feature gets upgraded when drawn next to another map feature, usually itself. If you’d draw a tree next to a tree, you draw a forest instead. Grassland by a lake, that becomes a town. And there’s a third tier of map features, like castles and volcanos that are worth the real points.

And there’s a couple event tables. After you build a town or an arch, you roll for an event that will add or remove map features.

If your turn is impossible to complete, you cross out a map feature  and redraw it anywhere that’s blank.

After you are done, figure out how many points your completed map is worth. Since this is beat your best score’, you are really playing for the experience of making a nifty map. Fortunately, that’s a good experience.

I quite enjoyed Titans of Dsyx. Yeah, the random number generator goes can completely destroy your plans and sometimes having to erase and redraw is a mixed blessing in disguise. However, the goal of trying to build bigger and better things is clear and easy to understand. And making a portal or a world tree is very satisfying.

A couple years after he made Titans of Dsyx, Robin Gibson made a couple of similar games, Wheat & Ale and Timber & Fur. While not Dsyx games, they are filling in a hex grid with  symbols. They are simpler and a lot less random. And, frankly, I like Titans better. It is bigger and crazier, even if it harder to make a plan come together. It’s just a wilder, deeper ride.

When I first started looking at the Legends of Dsyx four years ago (Cthulhu on a moped, was it really that long ago!?),  I felt like Robin Gibson was trying to cram entire box-sized game on one side of a piece  of paper, rules and all. Designers keep on pushing the boundaries of what you can do with Roll and Write medium. (We have come a long way from Kismet being cool for adding color to Yahtzee) but the Legends of Dsyx are still some interesting experiments.

Now that I’ve learned them all… time to go back and revisit the ones I haven’t played in a while.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Apropos of gaming with non-gamers

 Apropos of Movies is a game I hadn’t heard of until I saw it on PnP Arcade’s Black Friday sale. Which is slightly surprising because I tend to at least look at what Button Shy is doing. (If PnP micro games are of any interest to you, Button Shy is your jam)

Apropos of Movies is an 18-card party/social/trivia game that can be played solitaire. It pulls off the later by being a cooperative game that you are playing against a timer. The timer is the bad guy.

Sixteen of the cards are movie elements and the other two cards are a ‘Must Have’ and ‘Must Not Have’ 

Set down the ‘Must Have’ and ‘Must Not Have’ cards. You’ll be forming rows of cards beside them. Set the timer. Now, draw the first card and put it in the Must Have row. Figure out a move that fits. Draw the next card. If the first movie has that element, the second card goes in the Must Have row. If it doesn’t, put it in the Kust Not Have row. Now,’figure out a movie with the new restrictions.

And so it goes.

The game ends when you’ve either successfully played five to seven cards or the timer goes off. You lose if the timer goes off. 

Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the mission statement of Apropos of Movies was ‘Make a game to play while waiting for your food at a restaurant… that you have to play with non-gamers’ Because, if that is the one thing this game is supposed to do, it delivers. Trivia/Party games aren’t really my jam but I _know_ people would eat Apropos of Movies alive and without ketchup.

I do like how you have to come up with your own answers. The game just supplies you with the questions. That means, with maybe a house rule or two, you could get a lot of mileage out of it.

If I am packing one social game for a trip, it’s going to be Flipword. But if I want to throw in a second game, Apropos of Movies is a good backup choice.

I have learned that there is another game in the Apropos family that is about boardgames. I’ve gotten the PDF files for that but I have a feeling that will actually be one I will end up playing solitaire.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

The flaws of Heroes of Olympus

 I originally read Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series as it came out. At the time, it struck me as the strongest young adult writing he had done. I decided to reread the series and found that I both agreed and disagreed with my younger self lol

I initially approached the series as a sharp contrast to Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Since then, I have read a number of his other young adult books (because they were written afterward the Heroes of Olympus lol) and I now feel the series is a sharp contrast to all his young adult work. 

The big, obvious difference is going from first person to limited third person. There are still point of view characters, nine of them in fact. Which is a big jump from the Kane Chronicles having two narrators. (Still nothing compared to George RR Martin) Among other things, having it be third person, heightens the tension since you generally assume the narrator is going to survive. It also makes it easier to keep track of who the point of view character is.

In fact, the Heroes of Olympus is a constant study of contrasts. Every character has at least one other character that they are a foil to.  Percy Jackson and Jason Grace may be the most obvious but they are far from the only ones. Indeed, the Giants of the Gia are each assigned a Greek God that they are the nemesis of. (My personal favorite contrasts are the satyrs Grover and Coach Hedge)

Spoilers time







The Heroes of Olympus has an Empire Strikes Back problem. The House of Hades, which could be subtitled ‘Percy and Annabeth Go to Hell’ is one of Riordan’s strongest books. Arguably his strongest. 

And it’s the second to last book.

As I went into rereading the Blood of Olympus, I realized how little I remembered of it. The House of Hades completely overshadows it. It’s still a fun read. I particularly enjoyed the Nico and Reyna chapters, which I forgot existed. 

The Heroes of Olympus is the most epic of Riordan’s young adult world. Since the world ending is  usually the stake so that’s saying something. And that made the fact that Riordan didn’t stick the landing all the more rougher. 

(I noticed that Heroes actually is structured like The Lord of the Rings in that the heroes are gathered, the fellowship is formed and then broken apart. But the last book is like Frodo and Samwise for back and become supporting characters)

One telling. difference between the House of Hades and the Blood of Olympus is in their approach to heroic sacrifice. In the former, Bob and Damasen hold the line at the gates of death and we can only assume they die. (I believe that gets revisited in The Sun and the Star but I haven’t read that and there’s a big gap between books) In the Blood of Olympus, Leo’s sacrifice is immediately undone by a clever, Ocean’s Eleven-style cunning plan. There just isn’t any weight to it in comparison.

I do feel like The Trials of Apollo feels like a course correction by Riordan. Not only by going back to first person but in a more focused story with a stronger focus on character and character development.

I have revised my opinion of the Heroes of Olympus but the House of Hades totally justifies the series existence.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Going back to Micro Rome

When I was recently looking at Micro Rome, I found out that it had gotten published some time in 2023. While the end goal of a lot of PnP games is to get published, that’s still pretty good for a game that originally showed in 2014.

(Every time I see a Print and Play game that I’ve played get published, I have to remind myself that I’m not an early adapter. I’m a Guiana pig. Which is actually more useful to the board game ecology)

My first rounds of Micro Rome were five or so years back, when my PnP interests were dovetailing with exploring solitaire games. Micro Rome wasn’t the game that changed my outlook in solitaire and PnP (that would be Autumn) but it was part of that initial game exploration.

Micro Rome is a tile-laying game that is themed around building Rome but is really about grouping symbols. One of the clever bits is that each card has to cover up at least three squares that have already been placed. And, oh yes, there are other restrictions. Buildings must be totally covered and water can never be covered.

Going back to it, Micro Rome feels smaller and simpler than I remember it. When I first played it, it was a step up in complexity from what I had been looking at. In the years since then, I’ve seen a lot more micro games. Orchard and its family, for example, I think are deeper and more interesting.

And, while I was always aware that only two out of the seven methods of scoring, could let you achieve the winning score, it feels more striking that the other methods feel divorced from them. I can definitely understand where the game is coming from a design standpoint, but it still seems awkward.

That being said, Micro Rome is a fun game. The mechanics do hold up and force you to make decisions, some of which you will regret later. I particularly like that scoring 41 points defines winning, not beating your earlier scores. And while that doesn’t seem as hard as it was five years ago, it still isn’t easy.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Parry games and creating your own content

A few years back, I found a nine-card PnP game called Cryptic that was a party/social game. At the time, I found the idea of a game like that fascinating, a party game broken down into nine components.

(Which is kind of odd, since charades has probably been around since time and memorial and doesn’t require any components at all)

Since then, I’ve played other games that at least can be party/social games like Word Chain and Flipword and, more recently, the Apropos family of games, that are all also micro games. All of which were better than Cryptic, by the way. 

I realize that a lot of the party games from my childhood had a lot of content. Games like Facts in Five or Pictionary or Cranium or, in particular, Trivial Pursuit came with buckets of cards. Plenty of more modern party games like Dixit or Wits and Wagers or Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity also come with tons of cards.

And, while there have always been tons of party/social games that don’t require five pounds of cards, it was still part of my concept of how they work. (No, it’s not rational)

What I noticed with Word Chain is that the tiny handful of cards create a framework. You’d have to add the content yourself. And the same can be said for Flipword or the Apropos family.

And I quite like this. Having to actually add the content yourself to a party/social game forces you to be clever and to reach into your reference pools. Which is the complete opposite of Apples to Apples, which gift wraps the thinking for you.

And, no, clearly these recent games didn’t introduce the idea of supplying all the content yourself. Not by a long shot. Charades, which I keep on coming back to, can be played that way. Really, adding a stack of questions or topics is actually quite new in the grand scheme of things.

I’m not too big on party games, although I definitely see their value. But I do like being forced to be clever.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Secondhand Dave the Diver

While I haven’t played Dave the Diver myself, I have watched my wife play through the game. Which is how it works in our home, really. I focus on tabletop and she focuses on video games. And from an outsider’s viewpoint, Dave the Diver is a pearl of a game (rimshot)

In Dave the Diver, you take on the role of the eponymous diver, a pudgy guy whose chief characteristic is just how sweet he is. Seriously, Dave is prepared to help out anyone and everyone.

After a magical spot of the ocean where fish from every biome spawn is found, Dave is cajoled in to catch fish for a sushi restaurant. A restaurant that he then has to run. The main beats of the game are beautiful dives to hunt for fish and a restaurant management simulator. Along the way, Dave also discovers lost civilizations, uncovers corporate conspiracies and battle legendary monsters. Also, he plays a bunch of mini-games.

Oh, and it’s look is a love letter to retro gaming.

And the amazing thing about Dave the Diver is that it pulls it off. The wacky hodgepodge of gameplay mechanics interlock and compliment each other. I think the story is fun, engaging and occasionally touching. And Dave is the kind of lovable hero you either want to be or want to know.

It’s certainly not flawless. The controls can be clunky, to judge by the complaints I’ve heard. And some of the mini-games seem a little forced. Like bolting on one more thing into the kitchen range.

But, at the end of the day, Dave the Diver just radiates cheerful, silly fun. It is an escapist journey into a world of sushi and adventure.

Monday, December 4, 2023

My Gaming November

 I didn’t do a ton of gaming in November. Actually, it was easily my least game-oriented month so far this far year. However, I did check some things off that I had been meaning to learn.

I learned:
Tiny Stories (journaling RPG)
Derelict Dirigible 
Beetle Get!
The Magus (journaling RPG)

Derelict Dirigible has been on the stack for a while since I’ve been meaning to learn all of the Legend of Dsyx games. While not without issues, it was better than I feared it would be. And now I just have one more Dsyx game to learn. Then, I’ll go back and revisit some of them lol

But the Magus was my big game for November. I’ve been sitting on it for a year, waiting to celebrate NaNoWriMo with it. (No, I didn’t write 50,000 words with it. I bet you could though)

The Magus has a tighter structure and more mechanics than other journaling games I have tried. That increase in complexity is rewarded by pushing you towards richer story telling. I played it as a campaign and I would do it again.

November was really busy but the gaming moments helped me through.

Friday, December 1, 2023

My November PnP

 November ended up being a very busy month and one where print-and-play projects just didn’t make the schedule. However I like to try and make something every month so I made one game:

Pope or Nope

It’s been ok the ‘To Do’ list for a while. I printed out the sheets and cut and laminated them in 2019 or 2020. Probably 2020.

It’s a bit of a trick taking/climbing game and a bit of a take that game themed around picking the next pope. Honestly, the theme is probably strongest element of the game.

Even when I initially printed in out, I knew that my focus for PnP had shifted to solitaire. Truth to tell, with the exception of Roll and Writes where you just print out the player sheet so it’s just like a published version, it’s hard to get folks to play with homemade components. And even after purging hundreds of games while packing for our recent live, I still have more than enough games to play with my family.

So I know the copy of Pope or Nope I made last month probably won’t get played. However, it did get it off the stack of incomplete projects. And I have a pile of games I’m meaning to learn so it’s not taking the place of a game I would want to play immediately.

All that said, I’m hoping to do better in December.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Magus is a crunchy journaling game

Last year, I learned seven different journaling RPGs to observe NaNoWriMo. This year, I learned two and one of them was really research for the other one. Part of that was because work was insane but also part of this change was I played The Magus by momatoes.

The Magus is a long form soliatire journaling  RPG where you discover and describe the rise and fall of a powerful wizard.  It has more crunch than any other journaling game I’ve played. And the emotional content is heavy. Words like Byronesque and Gothic come to mind in a non-ironic way.

And, when I say that Magus is crunchy, I mean in comparison to other journaling games. It’s a rule light system by RPG standards. You stat out your wizard but they are very narrative driven stats. 

The Magus is played out as a series of scenes which comes in two and a half flavors. The primary types of scenes are Bonds and Spells with Reflections working as pauses for you to assess where the story is at.

The balance of the game is between your relationships with other people and your quest for power. Around half of the game is spent developing bonds with other people and sometimes you need to burn those bonds in an ugly way to gain power.

Like other journaling games I’ve played, the Magus is driven by prompts. And you can write as much as you want with any given prompt. With that being said, I felt that each scene in the Magus was started off big and was easily able to be its own session. 

And having a crunchier, more mechanical structure meant that the consequences felt more reinforced and stronger. Failure, and the game is weighted towards failure, resonates for the rest of the game.

The game hits some heavy notes. Solitude. Betrayal. Sacrifice. Loss. And magic in the game reflects that. While you will define exactly how magic works, it isn’t magic missiles or rabbits out of hats. Spells are big, disturbing phenomena and can cause game-ending global catastrophes if you fail badly enough.

The game ends when you have completed seven scenes, decided that the cost is too great and retire or destroy the world.

For my play through, which ended up spanning most of November, I stuck to the procedural tables. The rules allow you to come up with your own ideas but I wanted to try the basic settings.

I decided to retire after four scenes and one reflection. I ended up focusing on the bonds and it became clear that preserving those was a bigger priority for my wizard than gaining more power. When I play it again, I will probably chase Byronic tragedy more. 

The Magus is a very solid work. It gives you a very strong theme ans structure while also giving you a lot of room for your own creativity. I was worried the crunchier mechanics would be restrictive. Instead, they increased the stakes without getting in the way.

I  impressed and happy with what the Magus does. It pushes beyond the idea of ‘just write something’ while preserving the writing.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Making dirigibles out of dice rolls

 It’s been over a year since I last looked at the Legends of Dsyx series. Which actually surprises me a bit, since I think it’s an interesting exploration of both Print and Play and Roll and Write. 

The Legends of Dsyx is a series of twelve games that are simultaneously one page, rules and all, while really pushing the envelope about what you can do with Roll and Write. Seriously, I get the sense that Robin Jarvis was trying to create ‘big’ games in a very small design space. 

And when I first ran across them, I was fascinated. It was relatively early in my exploration of Roll and Writes and the Legends of Dsyx were part of my realization that Roll and Writes could go well beyond just writing down numbers. 

Those ideas now seem old hat but they were pretty wild to me at the time.

All that said, the Legends of Dsyx are a mixed bag. Some are very solid. Hall of the Dwarven King is a hidden gem of a game. But some of them feel half-finished. I think some of them genuinely suffer from the one-page format.

So, I tried out Derelict Dirigible. How did it measure up?

Dsyx is a kitchen-sink fantasy universe that is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Derelict Dirigible is about gnomes building airships out of salvaged junk. Clearly, Dragonlance casts a long shadow.

Derelict Dirigible last fifteen turns and each turn has three parts. Salvage, where you roll dice to get materials. Building, wheee you spend materials to add parts to your airship. You actually draw the part on a blueprint grid, creating an increasingly complex dirigible as the game goes on. Adventure. There’s a list of adventures with lift and speed requirements. Meet the requirements and you check it off for points and improvements to your scavenging.

Derelict Dirigible feels like it is 75% there. The designing and building of your airship, which is where most of the actual gameplay is, is good. It requires some real planning and decision making. Every part has trade offs. Boilers, for instance, are necessary for powering props but weigh your airship down and require coal.

Adventures, on the other hand, feel like a missed opportunity. Adventures are just a checklist. You build an airship and then you just see if it’s up to spec. And this is where the one page restriction really shows. Having additional pages devoted to adventures, giving them narrative weight and gameplay would add a lot and make sense with the idea of the game.

Honestly, I enjoyed Derelict Dirigible on the strength of the airship building alone. I do want to return to it and work on making better dirigibles. But I also think it could have been a lot more.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Digging up beetles for fun and points

Beetle Get! is a Flip-and-Write solitaire by Alexander Shen, a hidden gem of a PnP designer. You try and score points with a shifting tableau of beetle cards.

Shen describes Beetle Get! as a Flip-and-Score game, as opposed to a Flip-and-Write game. Which isn’t an unfair description but no one calls Yahtzee or Qwixx as Roll-and-Score games so I’m still holding to Flip-and-Write.

BG (because typing an exclamation mark every time annoys me) consists of a tiny deck of beetle cards, a tiny deck of shovel cards and a player sheet. 

Here’s the basic idea. You deal out the beetle cards face down in a three-by-three grid and then flip over any four of them. The shovel deck consists of card patterns (horizontal, diagonal and vertical lines) Each turn, you draw two. Pick one to score and put the other one on the bottom of the deck. The beetle cards are numbered one to five and you score the sum of the line you chose.

And here’s where the clever bit comes in. You flip over all the cards in the shape you scored. You then pick a column or row and shift in over one space. The card that gets pushed out of the grid goes back on the other side. If you’ve ever played Labyrinth, you get the idea.

Time for another round.

A couple of other tidbits. You also check off sets of beetle cards for bonus points and there’s a beetle juice card in the shovel deck that let you flip over a card.

When you’re through the shovel deck, that’s game and you count up your points.

One touch I want to note is that there’s only one five card. Finding it and scoring it is essential to a higher score. Not only does it add five points to a line, you need to check it off to complete sets for bonus points.

I haven’t played a lot of Flip-and-Writes. I think the idea ia brilliant and has a lot of potential but it’s also a lot easier and less time consuming to make Roll-and-Writes from a PnP standpoint. That said, playing with a sliding puzzle of cards does feel unusual. (Shifting Stones from Gamewright does have a similar idea)

On the downside, BG has a fairly obvious core strategy. Find the five card and maximize it as much as possible.

On the upside, BG offers a lot of control and decisions, with room for planning ahead. Which might lead to games being too easy but that isn’t the worst flaw in a game that takes five or so minutes.

Alexander Shen has a knack for really nailing coffee break games and Beetle Get! is one of the better ones.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Beyond Bloom explores the low fantasy space

During one of my innumerable trips down rabbit holes on TV Tropes, I found out about a web comic called Beyond Bloom, a low fantasy about two flowers who have become people.

Beyond Bloom seems to be an obscure webcomic so I figured I’d do my small part to spread the word.

Beyond Bloom begins when a nice young man named Yokiro encounters Tatsuma and Sikue, two magical girls who are actually evolved flowers with magical powers. Tatsumi is poisonous and Sikue is the antidote. He decides to wander around the wilderness with them.

If there is one thing I would say that about Beyond Bloom is how cozy and small it feels, at least in the six chapters that we have so far. Our protagonists aren’t in any crazy epic quest. Magic and other supernatural stuff is rare to the point of almost not existing. All the supernatural stuff seems to have been created by the same person.

When Beyond Bloom says it is low fantasy, it commits to it.  There’s clearly a lot more going on (a dragon shows up at one pout!) but it is taking its time to get there. It’s like the first part of the Fellowship of the Ring where it’s just the hobbits leaving the shire.

And the characters are genuinely sweet. Yokiro and Sikue are both adorable. Tatsuma has a temper and can be a jerk but does care deep down. I have a feeling that if Beyond Bloom gets mainstream, she’ll be the most popular character.

I’ve discovered a lot of media via TV Tropes and Beyond Bloom is a fun addition to that list. Reading it has been a pleasant journey with characters who I want to follow.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Tiny Stories Play Through

 Tiny Stories v1

11/5/23 play through

Bernard is a hard boiled detective who also happens to be a six-foot tall bipedal mouse. He always dresses like Sherlock Holmes. He is quite partial to Angel food cake.

More than anything else, he wants to have a classic parlor scene. You know, where you gather all the suspects in one place and explain who done it. Unfortunately, his city  of New Durham has been invaded by giant, three-headed lizards. The desperate struggle for survival takes precedent over cozy mysteries.

The lizards have recently developed or revealed their ability to breathe fire. The entire neighborhood where Bernard’s office is is in fire. The people he knows and deals with on a day to day basis are in danger. If Bernard doesn’t do something, people are going to die.

Bernard was going over his latest case files in his office with a mug of hot chocolate when he noticed the room was on fire. Mrs. Kadence and her daughters were screaming in terror on the floor below.

Well, we can’t have that.

Noting that the hallway was nothing but a wall of flames, Bernard knew he had to stomp on that loose floorboard to break a hole in the floor to reach Mrs Kadence and her family and then use his trusy crowbar to break open the window the landlord had painted shut and go down the fire escape.

Roll - a completely unexpected result happens!

Smashing the loose board broke a sygil that a Wizard had carved on the other side back in the early 1950s. That released a giant, dimorphous dragon. The dragon used its vast, circular wings to carry everyone in the burning building to the lake countries three counties over. 

Well, this wasn’t what Bernard saw coming.
He was annoyed while everyone else milled around, confused.

And judging by the newspaper articles he had read, Bernard knew they were safe from the giant three-headed lizards, they now had to worry about the cyborg land octopuses that had taken over the lake country.

While Bernard and his neighbors no longer had to worry about being in a burning building, they did have a legion of cyborg land octopuses coming for them on their electro hovercrafts.

But, if Bernard threw the cricket ball he had in his pocket at just the right place, he could create an avalanche that would distract the cyborg land octopuses long enough for him to lead the group into the caverns below the lake country, to the land of the naked mole rat people where they would be safe.

Roll - The action fails but opens a new opportunity 

While Bernard completely failed to cause an avalanche, his action revealed that the cyborg land octopuses were abject cricket lovers. They immediately set up wickets and the refugees from New Durham played against the cyborg land octopuses.

Two weeks later, they finished the game. By then, everyone was fast friends and the naked mole rat men had shown up to cater the event. The cyborg land octopuses were now eager to help defeat the three-headed giant lizards who could breathe fire so a proper cricket league could be formed.

All in all, Bernard was happy with this outcome. Still, he longed for a simple murder to solve.

The End

Friday, November 17, 2023

Thoughts on a tiny story game

 While I looked at some non-solitaire games by momentoes, I also wanted to try one their shorter form games as a solitaire. Tiny Stories, which is a journaling game for one or more people, for that bill. Plus, November is my journaling game month.

There are actually three distinct versions of Tiny Stories, version 1 multiplayer, version 1 solo and version 2. They all provide prompts to let you create a story. Probably a tiny one. But there are some definite differences between them. Enough to make them distinct from each other.

Version 1, in either form, front loads the experience with a bunch of prompts to define the  protagonist and their situation. A lot of the overall structure is going be defined before you actually start to play. In multiplayer, players are randomly determined to narrate elements. In solo, you randomly roll to determine outcomes.

In Version 2, the prompts are more focused on the narrative beats. The second version has more of a focus on the structure of story. It also has a mechanic that isn’t in version one, the luck coin. There’s a good luck and a bad luck side and you flip it over every time stakes escalate or are resolved.

I am of two minds about the Tiny Stories system overall.

On the one hand, it is completely themeless. I personally think that having a theme, particularly in a pick up and play journaling game, goes along way towards helping you focus the story you create. People haven’t created a whole bunch nif hacks for Alone Among the Stars just because they like the mechanics but because it’s easy to apply a variety of themes to it.

On the other hand, I think that Tiny Stories does a really good job, creating a framework for stories. It creates a structure that goes above and beyond telling you to just write something.

For the record, I think the first version is better for solitary play, but I think the second version will lead to better multiplayer play.

Tiny Stories isn’t firing Alone Among the Stars for me but I think it’s a decent option for a quick journaling game.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Reactions to a couple trailers

On the same day, I saw trailers for a sequel to Pixar’s Inside Out and a live-action remake of Avatar the Last Airbender. Which just reinforces that big money media creators don’t want to take risks on original ideas.

But those trailers struck me because they are both important intellectual properties for me.

I am prepared that Inside Out is the most meaningful movie Pixar has made. While it had a fantastic way of expressing the BET (Basic Emotions Theory) model, it doesn’t actually have any fantastic elements. The emotion characters and the mental landscape are just a narrative way to describe the protagonist’s emotional journey.

When we were getting ready to move across the country, I made sure our son watched Inside Out so it would be part of his mental reference pool. I didn’t tell him why because that would have made it ‘work’ to him. It still resonated with him.

And the trailer made it clear the sequel was adding more emotions, which messes with the BET model. (To be fair,  they didn’t use surprise. And to be even more fair, most of what I know about the BET model comes from a children’s science show I watched with my son) 

That said, Pixar proved me wrong when I thought a sequel to Toy Story couldn’t work so I have hope.

The Great Divide, the eleventh episode of Avatar the Last Airbender, is a train wreck. It has the characters acting out of character, involves a conflict which has nothing to to do with the overall series with dislikable characters and is anvilicious without being effective.

It is the only bad episode in the entire series.

While it’s not my favorite series, Avatar the Last Airbender was excellent in its animation, its voice acting and its writing. I love Doctor Who (THAT is my favorite series) but it has had plenty of stinkers. (I still argue Delta and the Bannerman has to be judged as a weird experiment and not by regular standards)

Actually, if it wasn’t for the amazing reinterpretation of One Piece, I’d have no hopes at all for the live action Avatar, just because One Piece proved it could be done.

But if both new works are trash, that doesn’t invalidate the original works.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Finding out how bizarre Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is

 For years upon years, I have heard of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. It is an incredibly long running and ridiculously influential manga about the generations of the Jostar family and their relentless battles against evil.

Well, I’m finally reading some of it.

I’ve been reading the seventh arc, Steel Ball Run. I chose Steel Ball Run for three reasons. First, it was a continuity reset so a good jumping on point. Two, at least in the United States, it is regarded as one of the best arcs. And, three, it’s what the library had.

If Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is known for one thing in particular, it’s for the concept of stands. Added in the third arc (so it took years to make it into the series), it’s basically the idea that you have an entity that you can manifest that has super powers. You can order it around but you’re still a squishy human being. So, it’s the basically Negative Man from the 60s Doom Patrol taken to nth level. 

And, at least by Steel Ball Run, stands were definitely getting bizarre. Have your fingernails spin and shoot off like bullets is a relatively mundane one. This isn’t Jojo’s Justice League. There’s a lot of both imagination and disturbed ideas in the stands.

Steel Ball Run is about a horse race across the United States 1890. Except that the race, which involved hundreds of riders, is actually the cover for a search for the parts of a mummified body that is very strongly implied to be Jesus Christ.

I can’t believe I typed that sentence and it wasn’t about a Call of Cthulhu campaign.

The Jojo of this generation is Johnny Jostar, a paraplegic jockey. After he got a hint of the weird mystic stuff that was going on, he joined the race hoping to find a way to walk again. And he is very much an anti-hero. I don’t mean an anti-hero like Wolverine or the Punisher. I mean like Willy Loman from the Death of a Salesman. 

I’m only a third of the way through the Steel Ball Run but I can see the appeal of the series. A high concept plot, profoundly weird powers and deeply flawed and struggling characters.

I do t know if I will read any other arcs of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (because there’s so much) but I want to see the end of the Steel Ball Run.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Looking at a couple tiny RPGs

I have been looking at the Magus by momatoes as a journaling game for November and I decided to look at what else they had written. The first couple games I looked at were Mint & Minotaur and Rock Paper Scissors Duet.

Mint & Minotaur is a universal system. More than that, it’s really a FUDGE variant that uses a coin flip instead of dice. Which should mechanically work just fine but doesn’t inspire me. 

That’s the thing about universal systems. They tell you how to resolve a conflict but they don’t give you a world to play in, an inspiration to create a story with. No one fell in love with GIURPS because it was a universal system. They fall in love with it because of its vast library of setting books.

At the same time, Mint & Minotaur has some whimsical touches that make me go hmmmmm. One aspect of a character is their fondest memory. Too manu successs will have negative side effects. There’s a very narrative driven leveling system.

If you want an RPG you can fit in your pocket, I’m still going with the first edition of Name of God, which consists of four cards and no other components and is dropping with theme and narrative concept. But I can see Mint & Minotaur working as a dreamy, slice of life game.

Rock Paper Scissors Duet is a two-player game about a relationship. You define the relationship and then play Rock Paper Scissors until one person wins three times. Each round is a beat in the relationship with the winning symbol defining what the event is about.

I actually find this more interesting and, quite frankly, more brilliant than Mint & Minotaur. It’s simpler and also doesn’t have a setting  but it creates a very specific story structure and theme.

I can see Rick Paper Scissors Duet creating some interesting stories.

And, as I slowly play through a Magus Campaign, I can see how all three games were made by the same person.

Friday, November 3, 2023

My October Gaming

As has just become standard operating procedure, October was a crazy month and learning new games was not even remotely a priority. Still, I did learn a couple.

I learned:
Quests Over Coffee: Danger Room
Take What You Mine

Both are Alexander Shen designs. Shen’s designs tend to be good for giving me something I can handle when I’m dealing with a lot of other stuff while still being good.

I’ve already written about both games. Danger Room works mechanically but just isn’t interesting. (I suspect I’ll have the opposite opinion of Shen’s A Day On The Lake) Take What You Mine, on the other hand, did just enough with very little to make me add it into my regular game rotation. And served as my token Roll and Write game learned in October.

One again, Alexander Shen’s designs have worked for me when I needed them to.

I have a feeling I’ll be learning more of them in November.