Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Network Effect explores AIs bickering like an old married couple and it’s wonderful

I was curious to see where Martha Wells would take the Murderbot Diaries with the fifth book, Network Effect. The first four novellas form an arc that could described as Murderbot Finds a Family.

(The Murderbot Diaries has a starships and lasers setting run by Cyberpunk megacorps who treat their employees the way the Imperium of Man from WH40K. Sentient machines like Murderbot have the basic social standing of pocket lint)

Network Effect, the first full length novel, could described as Murderbot Finds Love. Or, more accurately, Murderbot Finally Acknowledges Love.

I have written about the Murderbot Diaries before and I still hold that it is an in-depth character study clever disguised as an action adventure story. Murderbot is one cape shy of being a superhero but also struggles with crippling social anxiety and a trauma-filled past.

One review pointed out something that I hadn’t considered. Murderbot isn’t a some kind of assassin or soldier cyborg/robot/construct. It is specifically a security construct, a body guard. So it’s devotion and fierce protectiveness for the people it cares about makes perfect sense.

Network Effect brings back Perihelion/Asshole Research Transport. ART was already established as one of Murderbot’s most important relationships. It helped Murderbot transition to being non-factory model and gave Murderbot constant, if snarky, support. Their relationship is the center of Network Effect.

The book also continues the pattern of having Murderbot interact and react to dealing with other AIs. In this case, we get two characters who are effectively alternate Murderbots. More details would be too many spoilers but they are hilariously designated 2 and 3.

While 2 is the more important (and interesting) contrast to Murderbot, I find the idea of 3 being what Murderbot would be like without its traumatic past fascinating. When asked what it wants if it could have free will, it wants to help. 3 is a silver age hero to Murderbot’s hitter bronze age hero. (Murderbot is not an anti-hero. It may be snarky and fragile but it’s totally a hero)

Network Effect continues the series journey of being about emotional growth couched in a science fiction setting that allowed a comfortable distance for the readers.

Monday, March 27, 2023

At the Helm totally clicks

This is just my very first impressions of At the Helm. I have a feeling I will be revisiting the game again, particularly after I try out the first two expansions.

At the Helm is a solitaire deck builder that, in its base form, consists of eighteen cards. It’s themed around the era of tall ships, which is definitely evocative. (I can’t decide if I blame that on Moby Dick or Treasure Island or Horacio Hornblower)

If you’re familiar with deck builders (quite frankly, even just Dominion), At the Helm pretty quickly makes sense. You have a starting deck of five very basic cards with a marketplace of eight more advanced cards. In addition, there are four double-sided goal cards and a captain card which is just a place to track life points. (I guess you could replace it with a d8)

I know it’s a bit of a stretch but you can say the game has five currencies or resources. Which seems like that should be too many but it works. You spend gold, sail, damage and hearts to complete different goals. You also spend gold to buy market cards (every card costs one gold, which is a surprisingly effective simplification) and spend hearts to heal damage. 

The marketplace also serves as a resource, not just as a place to get cards but as a resource to manage. Randomly deal out the eight cards in two rows of four. When you need to shuffle the deck, you add a card from the bottom row to your deck. If there’s a card above it, it drops down. If you can’t add a card, you lose. It’s a timer and it makes the order you deal out the cards matter.

I’ve only played the base game and used the easiest goals. Even then, At the Helm is still both interesting and challenging. I not be only have more goals to work through, I have two expansions. (And neither of them have more goals so I am sure there are more expansions to come)

At the Helm creates a legitimate deck building experience with just eighteen cards. I don’t think it has the replay value of Friday (which I’ve been playing off and on for more than ten years) but it still have a lot of replay.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Well, at least Betta has pretty fish

 First off, I have to admit that one of Betta’s biggest draws for me was the theme. I like betta fish and we’ve owned more than one over the years. (Not at the same time, of course. The little colorful thugs will literally murder each other)

Second, I’ve only played it on Board Game Arena. Since it depends on transparent cards/tiles, I have no idea how well it physically works. (I had assumed that it was transparent cards like Gloom. Looking at pictures, it looks like the empty spaces are just cut out, making floppy cards. I really don’t like that)

The theme behind Betta is that you are creating a betta display at a pet store. What you are actually doing is  rearranging three-by-three grids with images of different colored betta fish.

Each card or tile is a three-by-three grid with mostly empty spaces and two to three different colored fish. At the start of the game, pattern cards are randomly drawn. You are layering cards to try and duplicate the patterns. You get points for both duplicating patterns and for your largest group of fish per pattern at the end.

It’s not bad but around the same time as I learned Betta, I learned Shifting Stones, another pattern/puzzle game. And Shifting Stones is better than Betta in almost every level. You have more control and make more deliberate changes in Shifting Stones.

The decisions in Betta feel simple and (thanks to luck of the draw) limited. I feel like I can make plans for the long game but then depend on luck for anything beyond two moves to work.

Betta’s biggest draw for me is the fact that I can casually play it online. That and I like the images of betta males. (Those are ones with the colorful, feathery fins) And I have to admit that that is enough for me to occasionally play it. 

But unless I was talking to someone who really loved fish, I’d recommend another game.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Six Billion Demons? Now that’s a lot of demons

Kill Six Billion Demons is…

… Very dense

… a web comic turned graphic novel series

…An awful lot of demons 

… what Planescape would look like if it had been designed by Hunter S. Thompson after he converted simultaneously to Roman Catholicism and Hinduism while on a legendary amount of mescaline 

… a parable about how who you are, who you want to be and who you can become might have nothing to do with each other 

… the story of a possibly ordinary young woman and barista named Allison who was given the key of kings and pulled into a multiverse of angels and demons and tons of intrigue 

Kill Six Billion Demons isn’t the easiest thing to explain but it does have some impressive and intricate artwork, some stone crazy world building and an interesting exploration of character development.

I have finished the third volume, knowing I will read the next volume, then read the unpublished pages online, and then be annoyed when there isn’t more.

And I am glad Image published the first four volumes because Allison really doesn’t have agency until the second volume. It helped to have that first chunk all in one place.

Allison is sympathetic but also very flawed and damaged and prone to impulsively making bad decisions. Start an apocalypse bad decisions. And she’s surrounded by companions who match that description. (Cio, a devil who writes fan fiction to try and control her worst impulses, is a standout example) I honestly wonder if any of them will actually survive the full story, including Allison.

While the story is initially framed around Allison trying to rescue her sort-of boyfriend who was kidnapped when she was given the key, it is really about her finding her place in a decadent and decaying world where good is dead. Particularly since she’s kind of inherited god’s power.

Kill Six Billion Demons is a slow burn but worth it.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Shifting Stones is very niche but it does its niche well

Shifting Stones is a puzzle game where, if you’re playing it right, the puzzle will be constantly evolving. Of course, if you make poor moves, you create a snarled mess :)

The board is actually nine double-sided tiles in a three-by-three grid. You have cards that show specific patterns of tiles. You can either use cards to score points by matching patterns or discard them to shift tiles around. You can either flip tiles or swap two adjacent tiles.

In many ways, Shifting Stones takes a sliding tiles puzzle and expands on the concept. In particular, you get a third dimension by having the tiles be double-sided.

I feel comfortably saying that, from a mechanical angle, Shifting Stones is a good game. While there is nothing innovative about it, it takes familiar ideas and ties them together into a very playable package.
The real question is: do you want to play it? You have to enjoy abstract games. You have to enjoy puzzles. You have to enjoy methodically planning things out. And if you don’t any enjoy every single one of those things, you will not enjoy Shifting Stones.

And I’ll be honest, there are plenty of times when I am not in the mood for those things. I definitely have to be in the mood for Shifting Stones. However, I think that it is a game that will work a family audience, a casual audience, that wouldn’t be interested in a lot of other games.

I learned it on Board Game Arena and, to be brutally honest, it is one of the few games I’ve learned there that I would think about getting an analog version. There are a lot of people who are not going to enjoy Shifting Stones but those who are in its niche will really like it. Yes, you can say that about almost any game but I think you can say it even more so for this one.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Hydroracers disappoints me

I’ve been poking around board Game Arena for quick little distractions lately. (At some point, I should find the time to learn some more complex games there) And some of the games have been pretty nifty.

Hydroracers, though, fell pretty flat for me.

It’s a card-driven racing game. (You’re flying sea planes but, honestly, I didn’t feel like it was any different than race cars. As opposed to Snow Trails, where having two different dogs is essential to the mechanics and the theme) Play cards with numbers on them to move that many spaces. 

You also get to place bets during the race and there are push-your-luck rules for damaging your plane due to things like tight turns or collisions. 

If you have played any of Wolfgang Kramer’s auto racing games (like Downthrust or Top Race or Daytona 500), it’s impossible not to compare them Hydroracers. It also made me think of Ave Caesar. And Hydroracers falls short of any of them.

There are a number of reasons. But the biggest one and the one I’m going to harp on is the track. It is too simple in every way.  

For one thing, it is too small. And by that, I mean there aren’t enough spaces. It only takes a few rounds to do a lap. And I played on every available map and they all suffered from this problem. Which is actually ironic since the historic race course was over 280 kilometers.

There is also only one lane on the track. That means there’s no jockeying about for position. And, while the whole track is technically a bottle neck, there is no penalty to passing another plane. If you would land on an occupied space, you go to space ahead and push-your-luck for damage.

While Hydroracers is technically more complex than Ave Caesar, Ave Caesar has a longer course with actual bottle necks and reasons to fight for lanes. That makes the actual play of the game deeper.

I was shocked when I saw pictures of the published version of the game. Since it feels so small, I was shocked at how physically big the game is. It feels like a micro game but it takes up a table.

I try and look at the positives of a game but Hydroracers takes an interesting historical event and an engaging genre and removes so much of what makes either element interesting.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Dorrington, forgotten deconstructed detective

Arthur Morrison is one of those forgotten authors who was a fairly big deal in their day. While he’s most famous for writing poverty novels, it’s his mystery work that I’ve actually looked at.

His most successful detective was Martin Hewitt, who can be best described as a blue collar Sherlock Holmes. He was even published in the Strand and illustrated by Sidney Paget, just like Holmes. According to my notes, I’ve read all the Martin Hewitt stories but I don't remember them at all.
What I do remember is another of Morrison’s detectives, Horace Dorrington. While he is the subject of an anthology, the Dorrington Deed-box, I came across one of the stories in a general  anthology. Which was possibly the best was to find Dorrington.

Because I went in assuming he was just another bland Holmes clone. So it was a shock when Dorrington turned out to be a complete scoundrel, a cheerful sociopath and a worse piece of work than the criminals he goes after. Which would have been obvious if I’d read the anthology since the first linked story clearly lays that out. But it was quite the twist to see him solve a case and immediately start blackmailing the crook.

And to make it clear, Dorrington isn’t an anti-hero who is willing to break the law and do nasty things  to make things right. No, he steals and lies and murders to line his own pockets. He is flat out villain protagonist. I don’t see even the most deconstructed Holmes uncovering a murderer and putting them on the payroll to kill for him.

Dorrington was quite ahead of his time and probably a testament to Morrison’s outlook on humanity. He also wasn’t apparently very successful since it looks like the book was never reprinted. 

So I don’t think Dorrington actually influenced later works because I’m assuming none of the Black Mask authors read it. And, as I already mentioned, hard boiled detectives can be flawed, misogynistic sociopaths but we are supposed to view them as the heroes we are supposed to empathize with. Dorrington is clearly a complete rotter.

Of course, it’s now freely Project Gutenberg ( and a couple of the stories were adapted by ITV in the 70s. The stories aren’t lost masterpieces. Even calling them diamonds in the rough might be a stretch. But the Dorrington Deed-box is a fascinating read.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Convenience versus quality

Have mixed feelings about Potato Tomato Carrot. On the one hand, I know it’s a bland little game that doesn’t do anything new. On the other hand, I found it terribly convenient.

Potato Tomato Carrot is a print and play solitaire game that I downloaded for free from PnP Arcade. The whole thing is nineteen tiles, including three marker tiles and a tile serving a score track, and fits on one piece of paper.

Fifteen of the tiles are what you actually play the game with. Each one has one to three symbols on it (potatoes, tomatoes and carrots, naturally) and they are divided with diagonal lines so every edge clearly belongs to a specific produce.

Draw a tile, place it so it matches edges. Get a point for each edge that  matches. So far, nothing remotely new in the world of tile-laying games.

The twist is the market tiles. Randomly draw one at the start. Then, when you reach ten points, you reveal the other two. The order you reveal them will determine endgame scoring. You score the largest group of each produce. One, two or three points per symbol depending on when you reveal the market cards.

So we’re not talking about that much of a twist. And the decisions aren’t that tough to make. And, frankly, I’ve found that your end scores don’t have that wide spread. Potato Tomato Carrot doesn’t bring a lot to the table.

With all that said, I do churn through a lot of tiny micro solitaire games. Potato Tomato Carrot took no effort to dash off. And it has come in handy as a lunch game when I only have ten minutes to eat lunch. There’s almost nothing to it but I’m getting some mileage out of it.

But, if you only want to make only one one-sheet tile game, go for Micropul from 2004. It is nearly twenty years old and it holds up amazingly well. It’s got hand management on top of interesting tile-laying decisions and will support two-players as well as solitaire. Micropul is great.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Spell Write: a game of teeny tiny words

Earlier this year, I played inTENse from Q4ia and I found it disappointing. Now I’ve tried another game I got from Q4ia, Spell Write.

Short version in case you don’t want to read the rest of this: I found Spell Write to be a significantly stronger game. Which is kind of funny since I seek out number games like imTENse more than I do word games.

Spell Write is a PnP RnW word game. You are filling in a four by four grid with letters and you get the letters off of a six by six matrix. Yeah, you roll two dice each turn.

The word grid has some special squares. Two black squares you can’t write in. Bonuses squares that give you more flexibility in the letter matrix. Bonus squares that will give you an extra point. 

Spell Write is a very simple word game that has very basic bonuses and you are only building two -to-four letter words. But here’s the thing. That’s all it needs to be. All the elements form together in a way that both makes sense and works.

I have played a few different Roll and Write word games over the last year. Words by Radoslaw Ignatow. Lingo Land from Dark Imp. Probably some that didn’t make enough of an impression for me to remember them. Interestingly enough, the ones I remember are pretty distinct, which is going to include Spell Write.

Spell Write isn’t the best RnW word game I’ve played. Honestly, that’s still Lingo Land. But if I want to play a game about tiny words, it’s good.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Hatchet:a book about how much luck it takes to not die

I had been told that Hatchet by Gary Paulsen had helped get kids into reading. I’d never heard of it myself but I see it won a Newberry Honor in 1988. Which, looking up how the Newberry award works, means it was actually the runner-up. Still, good show.

Okay. Here’s the elevator pitch. 13-year-old Brian Robeson, after surviving a plane crash, has to learn how to survive on his own in the Canadian wilderness. Oh, the book is called Hatchet because his only tool is a hatchet his divorced mom gave him.

If there is one word I would use to describe Hatchet, it is visceral. The book repeatedly pulls no punches about how much dumb luck Brian needs to just not be dead. Mosquitos, sunburn, starvation, food poisoning, a moose attack, Brian goes through a lot of lovingly detailed trauma.

I want to call particular attention to the pilot’s heart attack at the beginning of the book. It’s more graphic than I’d expect from a book for grown ups. For a book aimed at kids, it’s downright shocking.

I felt like Paulsen looked at all the romantic survival stories from the Coral Island to My Side of the Mountain and said that it was all rubbish. It seemed to me like he shucked all the fantasy out of the idea and showed how awful it would be. 

Mind you, I don’t think Paulsen himself would agree with me. From what I can tell, reading about him after I finished the book, he was a luddite. Well, if you use the death of the author school of thought, the reader is allowed to put their own spin on a work.

Regardless, the book does a good job giving you a picture of a teenager trying very hard not to die. And I’d like to think that no one is enough of a sociopath not to find that compelling. (Oh, I know that’s not the case. But I’d like to think it is)

Hatchet is a short read and, as far as the language is concerned, is easy to read.  But it is successfully intense.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Could Baby Dinosaur Rescue fire Candy Land?

Baby Dinosaur Rescue is a game that is clearly designed for a pre-literate audience. 

It is a cooperative game where everyone is trying to move three to five baby dinosaurs along a track to get them to safety. In this particular case, safety means the end of the track. You move a pawn by playing a card and moving it to the next open spot that matches that card’s symptom. Yes, that means you get to jump over occupied spaces. Which is pretty much the point of the game.

There’s also a lava track. There are lava cards. When they are drawn, you immediately move the lava token down the lava track. If the lava reaches the end of its track before all the baby dinosaurs are safe, the game is lost. We won’t think about what the lava does to the baby dinosaurs.

The game that immediately comes to mind is Cartagena, although Baby Dinosaur Rescue also reminds me of Lotus Moon. But the game you really need to compare it to is Candy Land.

Because Baby Dinosaur Rescue isn’t just a kid game. It’s one that’s aimed at the very youngest gamers. I wouldn’t even recommend it for someone as old as seven. But if you compare it to Candy Land or Don’t Spill the Beans or even Rivers, Roads & Rails, there’s more choices, more game going on.

I think if a child see you skip over occupied spaces, leapfrogging down the track, that’s when you’ll know if they will like it or not. If you can sell them with that, you’re golden.

What I want to know is why is in Board Game Arena? That’s where I learned and played it and I find it hard to believe that anyone has their toddler playing games on BGA.

I honestly think even a first grader will get bored by Baby Dinosaur Rescue. But it’s worth a try for toddlers.

Friday, March 3, 2023

My February Gaming

I feel like February, from a gaming standpoint, was almost housekeeping for me. A good chunk of the games I learned were Roll and Writes that I’d thought about learning during Dicember.

I learned :
Haunt the Block
Sudoku Rush
Tricky Treats 
Shifting Stones
Baby Dinosaur Rescue

inTENse, Haunt the Block, Sudoku Rush and Tricky Treats were games on my short list for observing Dicember. And I was not going to wait eleven months to try them lol I’ll definitely play more Tricky Treats and Sudoku Rush is quite likely to come out again. 

Worder, while a decent enough word game, interests me as a word game that I think I can finally make work in the classroom. I feel like it was designed with a whiteboard in mind.

Near the end of the month, I poked at Board Game Arena. Shifting Stones is a game I want to revisit until I see the ‘aha’ moments. While I see why and how Baby Dinosaur Descue works as a toddler game, I have no idea why it’s on BGA, not a place four-year-olds game. Unless they do and I don’t know if.

More gaming than I expected, really.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

My February PnP


There was one day in February where I sat down and said: I am crafting. That included projects that had been 3/4 done and new projects. Get enough done to feel caught up. (You know, caught up on something that no one is holding me accountable for and I have stacks of completed projects I haven’t played)

This is what I made:

At the Helm
/Lazzarette expansion
/Port Almalga expansion 
Labyrinth Runner 
Easy Come, Easy Go (low ink Star Wars version)
Spell Write
White Rabbit Dice Solitaire (one card rules)
Fire Pot (one card game)
Criss Cross
Wreck and Write
13 Sheep
Catan Dice
Raiders of the Idle Marsh (2022 Solitaire Contest)

My ‘big’ project was At the Helm with its first two expansions.(I won’t be surprised if there are more expansions down the line) I now have to find the time to play it but it looks very interesting. Worder was actually part of that decision since I was looking at my Button Shy files.

I had printed and laminated Raiders of the Idle Marsh a while back but hadn’t found the time to prioritize trimming it over other projects. A lot of the of smaller projects were actually me using the extra space on the laminating folders so they didn’t go to waste (But I did actually want to make Fire Pot since I like hot pot restaurants lol)

I didn’t remember laminating the fan made Star Wars Easy Come, Easy Go. I don’t actually have a use for it. I have a copy of the published game and using regular dice as 0-5 dice isn’t very intuitive. But I was trying to clear some backlog.

I don’t know if I will have another day like that in March. For one thing, I need to actually play some of this stuff!

Monday, February 27, 2023

One last stab at Ghosts Love Candy Too Roll and Fright

Ghosts Love Candy Too Roll and Fright is a collection of three Roll and Write games themed around friendly ghosts and trick or treaters. I think they started life as stretch goals for a Kickstarter campaign. I waffled about writing about it as one or three blogs but each game is its own thing and I’ve devoted blogs to slighter games. 

All three games have charming, kid friendly artwork that I’m sure is from the Ghosts Love Candy Too card game. They are also all multi-player solitaire which means they play one to how-many-you-got.

Tricky Treats is the longest and most complex game in the set. Not that is saying much. All three games are light and casual.

It also actually comes the closest to the theme of the original card game. You are not just trying to steal candy from kids, you also want to avoid scaring them away. Kids who run away screaming from ghosts are kids you can’t steal candy from.

The main part of the player sheet is six kids. Each kid has a six space candy track (each space marked with a different kind of candy and a die pip) and a die number with a scare track. The candy tracks are also grouped in groups of two or three spaces. Completing a group gives you either a bonus or a special power.

Here’s the deal. Someone rolls two dice. Everyone picks a die to check of a candy space that matches that die and the other die for a scare track for that number’s kid.

If you fill up a scare track, you can no longer use that kid’s candy track and you’ll lose points for it at the end of the game. You still get any special powers you unlock. And you can still use that number for a scare die, getting a free pass on scaring kids that round.

If you roll doubles, you get to check off any candy space and don’t have to scare any kids. Honestly, that’s a big deal. Rolling doubles makes a huge difference.

After sixteen rounds, most points wins. Unless you’re playing solitaire. Then, just enjoy the experience.

(And, yes, I’ve left off all the ways you can get bonus actions and what the special powers. I’m not completely taking the place of a rule book)

You can’t help but compare Tricky Treats to Haunt the Block and Boogaloo. Just the fact that you had to use both dice instead of picking one of them added some oomph to the whole experience. 

I also felt like the special powers in Tricky Treats were more central to the overall game. You could go in, planning on which powers you’d want to focus on. There is room for planning and more than one plan.

On the downside, the inevitable running low on choices felt more like a design necessity rather than a feature. I didn’t care for Haunt the Block but running low on choices felt like a more organic part of the game play.

Okay. I felt that Tricky Treats had some limitations but I had fun with it. While I think I will get more mileage out of Boogaloo (I think it will work well in the classroom), I think Tricky Treats is more ambitious and interesting.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Even more about Ghosts Love Candy Too Roll and Fright

Ghosts Love Candy Too Roll and Fright is a collection of three Roll and Write games themed around friendly ghosts and trick or treaters. I think they started life as stretch goals for a Kickstarter campaign. I waffled about writing about it as one or three blogs but each game is its own thing and I’ve devoted blogs to slighter games. 

All three games have charming, kid friendly artwork that I’m sure is from the Ghosts Love Candy Too card game. They are also all multi-player solitaire which means they play one to how-many-you-got. Oh and the designer is Danny Devine, who has a solid track record.

Haunt the Block was the second of the games that I tried and, theoretically the second most complicated. 

The main feature of the player sheet is a rectangular track of 42 spaces. The spaces are either candy spaces or kid spaces. Four of the candy spaces are marked with ghosts and are the starting spaces. The space inside the track is where you keep track of candy and bonuses.

Here’s how it goes: pick any of the start spaces and write a 1 there. Someone rolls two dice. Everyone picks one of the dice, moves that many spaces and writes down 2. Keep on going until the number 31.

Candy spaces will give you candy. That will give you points and stars, which can be used to add or subtract from dice. Kids? They give you specific powers, either to help you get points or dice manipulation.

IF you can’t move to an empty space, you have to cross off a type of candy and earn zero points for it. You then write the current number on any empty candy spot.

After 31 turns, most points wins.

So… Haunt the Block is essentially a soliatire Roll and Move as well as a Roll and Write. Roll and Move can be an iffy mechanic to begin with (Sorry, Backgammon) but add soliatire to the mix? 

Mind you, I have seen some games that pull that combination off. Grunts is one and Bank or Bust from Dark Imp does it as well. But the game that Haunt the Block reminded me of the most is Doggy Race from the Creative Kids collection.

And Haunt the Block has the same core problem as that game. Two dice on a Roll and Move with what is effectively one pawn is too narrow a decision tree. Haunt the Block does have a variety of dice manipulation, which definitely helps. But the choices just aren’t enough making you feel like the dice aren’t railroading you.

Haunt the Block has some nice touches but they don’t overcome the issues with the core mechanic. It is my least favorite game of the three by far and not one I’d use in the classroom or for causal play.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Ghosts Love Candy Too Roll and Fright part 1

Ghosts Love Candy Too Roll and Fright is a collection of three Roll and Write games themed around friendly ghosts and trick or treaters. I think they started life as stretch goals for a Kickstarter campaign. I waffled about writing about it as one or three blogs but each game is its own thing and I’ve devoted blogs to slighter games. 

All three games have charming, kid friendly artwork that I’m sure is from the Ghosts Love Candy Too card game. They are also all multi-player solitaire which means they play one to how-many-you-got.

Boogaloo was the first game of the three I tried. It’s the shortest and, in principle, the simplest.

The main part of the player sheet is a three by four grid of trick or treaters. Each square, in addition to a funny picture of a kid in a costume, has a die pip, a symbol and three candy check boxes . Twelve kids so each number on a die appears twice. The rest of the play sheet is where you track your candy and bonuses.

Here’s the core mechanic of the game: someone rolls two dice. Everyone picks a die and checks off one of the candy check boxes that match that die. (That’s how you collect candy)

But here’s the clever bit. You get bonuses for collecting sets of candy, completely filling in a kid’s candy check boxes and completing lines on the grid. You get either Full Sized Candy Bars (worth five points) or stars that let you immediately check off any candy check box.

So gameplay is really about setting up cascading star moves. That’s where the real decision tree is. After thirteen turns, which include multiple actions, most points wins. Or, you know, you try to beat your best score.

The game that Boogaloo really reminds me of is Tanuki Matsuri. Now that is a game that is all about cascading special actions. And Tanuki Matsuri is the better game. Boogaloo has only one special action.

However, taken on its own merits, Boogaloo is nice. The brevity means the simplicity doesn’t outstay its welcome. Trying to set up good cascades is fun. And, perhaps most importantly, Boogaloo is easy to teach with charming artwork and intuitive iconography.

Boogaloo has seen repeat play for me. And, if I need a game for a classroom or casual environment next October, it is a definite contender.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

What if you made a crossword puzzle but left off most of the letters?

Worder is a nine-card word game, which is a bigger genre than I used to think. It’s by Jason Tagnire, who is the guy behind Button Shy and PnP Arcade. So he’s had quite an effect on my gaming life lol

Worder consists of nine cards, each with a letter on it. (The letters are T, S, L, N, M, C, R, H and D) They each have a numeric value so you can’t just make a copy of the game from some index cards and a sharpie from my description.

At the start of the game, you deal out one card as a restriction. Every word in the game has to have that letter or none of the words can have it. Make up your mind which way it’s going to be at the start.

Randomly draw a card. Come up with a word that features that letter. The next card you draw has to go either to the right or below a cars already in play. The word you come up with not only has to have all the letters in the column or row, they have to be in the same order. (Yes, other letters can be in between them)

The game either ends when you can’t come up with a word or you’ve used all the cards. Your score is the longest row times the longest column, plus the bonus for the restricted letter.

I initially thought it was designed as a solitaire  game but it can be a multiplayer cooperative game. The rules say 1+ so the more fhe merrier.

I have to admit that I had low expectations going into Worder. I’ve played other word games where you have to fill in the extra letters and I haven’t cared for them. But I found the puzzle of Worder more engaging than I expected. Paring the game down to a few commonly used consonants cuts out a lot of fiddliness. 

The biggest mechanical weakness of the Worder is that I found is the scoring. The bonus points for the restriction can range from one to seven points. That’s a big enough swing that it reduces the value of comparing games’ scores. But if you’re playing Worder, it’s for the challenge and puzzle of using the whole deck. So, not a huge deal.

The actual question is I have for Worder is would I rather play it rather than Flipword by R. Teuber, which has been my preferred nine-card word game. More than that, would I choose to introduce people to Worder rather than Flipword? And, no, Flipword wins. I’ve introduced it to teachers and used it as a gift. It remains my gold standard. 

One advantage that Worder does have is that it would be easy to have a class play it using a black board or a white board. Not going to lie. That’s actually a big plus for Worder.

Worder is a downright decent word puzzle. Not the strongest in the game department but strong in the puzzle side. Not my first choice for tiny word games but one I’ll play.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Sumikko Gurashi movie is a cuddly bedtime story

Sumikko Gurashi is a Japanese franchise whose primary goal is to sell stationary. But it is also a set of adorable cartoon animals that look like they are all shaped like dumplings. 

The name roughly translates to ‘life in the corner’. I assumed that had some kind of melancholy, depression vibe. Instead, it’s the idea of cuddling up in a corner and feeling safe. It’s actually a reassuring vision.

The most frequently merchandised characters include a polar bear who wants to be warm, a green penguin who isn’t sure he’s actually a penguin, an anxious cat, a dinosaur pretending to be a lizard to dodge scientists, and a leftover pork cutlet who wants to be eaten. I don’t really get that last one.

Our household quite likes Sumikko Gurashi but we hadn’t really looked into any of narrative media. But we took the jump and watched Sumikko Garoshi the Movie - The Pop-Up Book and the Secret Child.

In the movie, the characters are pulled into magical pop-up book at their local coffee shop and become parts of the stories. The stories include the legend of Peach Boy, the Little Mermaid, the Little Match Girl, Little Red Riding Hood and Arabian Nights. Yeah, just Arabian Nights. They also meet a baby bird who has no idea what story he should be in or where he belongs.

The movie is very sweet and gentle, despite having more drama and pathos than I was expecting. The characters are trapped after all so there is an actual danger. And the baby bird’s sense of loneliness and isolation is the centerpiece of the movie.

Of course, the characters are deeply invested in the baby bird’s plight. Penguin? is our son’s favorite Sumikko Gurashi character so them bonding with the baby bird over identity issues worked particularly well for us.

The Pop-Up Book and the Secret Child was better than we expected. In fact, it embodied we like Sumikko Gurashi. Gentle and suitable for small children but not condescending. 

Monday, February 13, 2023

You already know what Sudoku Rush is about

When I looked at Sudoku Rush, the first question that I had to ask myself was ‘Why wasn’t this already a game?’

Seriously. It’s a speed Sudoku game that uses six-sided dice. It’s such a simple idea that it feels like it should be obvious. It probably takes half a minute to learn. You have probably figured out the rules already.

You’ve got a six-by-six grid that’s broken down into nine four-by-four boxes. Everyone has their own three dice. No turns. Roll dice. Either write down all three numbers or none of them. Repeat.

In a multi-player game, the game ends when someone calls time, either because they’ve filled their grid or they feel their grid is as good as it’s going to get. In a solitaire game, you set a timer.

You get two points for each row or column that doesn’t have a duplicate  number. You get one point for each block that don’t have a duplicate number. High score wins or try to bear your best score.

I first looked at the game back in 2019 when it was part of the first BGG Roll and Write Design contest. I finally tried it out now. And, both times, it seemed like such a simple, obvious idea. It did get second place in the contest, which does mean simple and obvious can mean very playable.

Honestly, for me, Sudoku Rush isn’t a great game. In fact, the gimmick of the game being real time is what saves it for me. The time pressure makes the game engaging, enough for me to think about keeping the game in rotation.

That said, there’s definitely an audience for Sudoku Rush. The concept makes sense, the mechanics work and you know if you want in from the title alone.

Sudoku Rush is beyond dedicated to being exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a game where the fact that it takes less than five minutes isn’t a feature, it’s the whole point. 

Friday, February 10, 2023

Why not the Three Musketeers?

I picked up a recent bundle QAGS (the Quick Ass Game System) primarily because I am interesting in Hobomancy. However, that isn't going to keep me from looking at the other games in the system. Incidentally, QAGS has reinforced the idea to me that the biggest building block of an RPG is the story and setting and the mechanics draw my attention the most I when they get in the way of those two things. QAGS looks like a perfectly functional system but I am actually invested in what I can get out of the setting books.

All for One is a game about playing in the spirit of Alexandre Dumas's D'Artagnan novels. You know, the Three Musketeers.

I think Philip Jose Farmer wrote that D'Artagnan was the first pulp hero. That's a fun argument to have but the fact that you can even have that argument speaks to the influence and importance of these stories. Let's face it, swashbuckling is always fun.

And yet, I have never played an RPG that is based on the Three Musketeers. And I can't think of one. I am 100% positive that there are plenty of them but they haven't made an impression on me or any of the groups I've played with. And I think there are a couple reasons for that.

It's set in the real world so you lose the fantastic, escapist elements that you find in just about every setting. (Not that Dumas was writing anything that was _actually_ realistic) And, part of the part and parcel of that is that everyone is kind of the same class. What sets D'Artnagnan and Athos and Porthos and Aramis apart from each other is their personalities. And the plots of their adventures are less straight forward action and more intrigue.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these elements. I have been in one-class campaigns and intrigue is what you graduate up to when you get tired of dungeon crawls. But playing a game in the style of the Three Musketeers is not what most people are going to get into as pre-adolescents.

I will be thrilled to find out I am wrong and there's a thriving community of Three Musketeers campaigns out there I just don't know about.

All of that said, All For One was a good read. The authors actually spent more time discussing what the actual history was like. And that was the part that I really sank my teeth into. I do think it could have used more meat when it came to developing adventures for players.

I don't think I will play in or run an adventure based on the Three Musketeers or the Man in the Iron Mask. But I did enjoy reading about France in the 1600s.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

No Chainsaw Man in class

I saw students reading Chainsaw Man so I got the manga out of the library. Now that I’ve read the Public Safety Arc (volumes one through eleven), I tell kids to put Chainsaw Man away since it’s not appropriate for middle school.

The world of Chainsaw Man is one where devils are the manifestations of fears . They do horrible things to people so there are freelance and government devil hunters to try and keep the world from completely falling apart.

Denji is a destitute, miserable kid who ends up with the chainsaw devil as his heart, giving him profoundly disturbing chainsaw powers. (They were really good friends and the chainsaw devil wanted him to be happy. Did I mention this is a weird series?) From the, we watch Denji become a government sanctioned devil fighter and try to grow as a person.

Denji is emotionally stunted, id-driven idiot manchild. Which, given his abusive, traumatized past, is actually pretty reasonable. I have read arguments that his is a deconstruction of the idiot Shonen hero (No offense, Luffy. We all love you) I can see that but I also view Chainsaw man as more pure horror than Shonen.

(I’ve also read arguments that Denji and Power’s relationship is not romantic but brother-sister. Instead, I found it to be the only romantic relationship in the work. Two horrible people who are also horribly dysfunctional learning to care for and about each other. It’s not pretty but it’s sincere.)

I am half tempted to watch the anime since it was sometimes hard to figure out exactly how some extreme acts of violence work. At the same time, as the series goes on, I honestly think we are looking less at action sequences than art installations created by a hungover Salvidor Dahli who had to work with an abbatoir for materials. 

Which sounds like a critical but it is a heartfelt compliment. The imagery of Chainsaw Man is disturbing (as is the writing) but it has an aesthetic beyond just trying to make you throw up.

I will ask children not to read Chainsaw Man while actually on school grounds but I don’t knock them for reading it. 

Monday, February 6, 2023

inTense is a study in flaws

I’ve been getting back into my backlog of games and Roll and Write in general. inTENse felt like a low key place to start.

The core of inTense is very simple. You have a four-by-four grid. You are filling it with numbers by rolling two dice at a time. Your goal is to make sums of ten.

But there’s a pile of extra details.

First of all, it’s a rolling challenge. After you add a number in a square, THEN you see if you’ve made a sum of ten. I’m used to assessing a board at the end of the game but it doesn’t really work that way in inTENse. Well, I guess you could do it that way but it would actually be harder.

Then there are four different ways of getting bonus points. At the start, each player rolls one first. That number is their bonus number. Get an extra point when you make a ten with it. Each player outlines two boxes, partially determined by a die roll. If they add up to ten at the end of the game, that’s bonus points. Add little numbers to four boxes and get extra points if they match the numbers you write during the game. And there is a four box track. You can enter numbers there and get (you guessed it) bonus points for making sets or runs.

inTENse is a ten minute bag stuffed with complexities. It’s like a house where the additions dramatically exceed the original house.  

From what I can tell, focusing on the bonuses is a more reliable way to get points than the base game play. And while you can plan ahead to focus on bonuses, I wouldn’t honestly say the complexity results in depth. The game doesn’t have a theme or an overriding mechanic to tie it all together.

While it isn’t unpleasant, I would say that inTENsense is more interesting than fun. The game hold together but the design choices feel arbitrary. 

One place it would be interesting to try would be the classroom. Not just for the math but an exercise into critical thinking.

Friday, February 3, 2023

My January gaming

After learning perhaps too many games in December (Artisans of the Taj Mahal may have not gotten a fair shake from me), I didn’t focus on learning games in January.

The only game I really sat down and learned was Qwinto. Which was a pretty darn good game if I was just going to learn one game. You might think making a brutally simple game that’s actually good wouldn’t be hard but I’ve seen enough failures that seeing a gem like Qwinto is cool.

I did do a couple plays of the online version of Clever 4Ever but I honestly don’t grok it yet so I don’t know if that counts as learning it.

One game I decided to retry from December was Palatial from Dark Imp. It’s a very simple game, one that I wondered might be too simple. However, the fact that it has a very narrow margin of error (30 is the theoretical maximum score but it’s incredibly unlikely to score that) kept me going back. 

I have also been binging Bandada. I feel like the depth to brevity ratio is really rewarding. Just four rounds but the decisions are good.

I have a feeling I’ll be learning more games in February. I literally have a stack of Roll and Writes that were on my maybe list for Dicember. Which I do want to learn.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

My January PnP

 January wasn’t a crazy month for PnP crafting for me. However, I did get a few things done:

Count of Nine Estates
Labyrinth Runner (low ink)
King of the Gauntlet (final contest version)

Count of Nine Eatstes was my ‘big project’ for the month. I quite like the original Count of Nine design. I think it does a really good job being a ‘Euro’ style game with nine cards and no other components. However, only nine cards made gameplay repetitive. I am curious to see how the expanded version game plays.

I normally order Amazon basic laminating pouches but they were out of stock so I ordered some Nuova ones. I made Palatial and Labyrinth Runner to see if there was any difference between the brands. (I also wore out my last set of Labyrinth Runner cards)

Despite both heing 3 millimeter pouches, I feel like Nuova’s pouches feel a little thinner, making the cards feel more bendy. I still don’t know if they could handle a riffle shuffle but I would be reluctant to do that with double-layered modge podged cards. 

Honestly, I use a black-and-white printer, copy paper, and a laminator to make my print-and-play projects. I make cheap, disposable copies. I get a good return for my material cost investment There isn’t a meaningful or particularly functional difference between the two laminating pouches.

Oh, and I made King of the Gauntlet just because I had printed and cut it months ago lol

Monday, January 30, 2023

Bandada is so very bingeable

I have seen tne files for a few different versions of Bandada and now I’ve finally played the game. And, having played the game, have kept playing the game over and over :D  

You are trying to photograph exotic birds by attracting them with different kinds of food. You do this by drafting cards and manipulating dice. 
It’s a print-and-play game consisting of twelve bird cards, six secret bonus cards, twelve dice and three tokens. Each bird, in addition to pretty artwork, has a specific form of dice manipulation, scoring conditions and a score for the automata for the solitaire play.

Okay. Here’s the basic idea: you have four black dice (insects), four blue dice (berries) and four yellow dice (nuts) Actually, since you are putting them in three rows, you could actually use any twelve dice as long as you remember which row is which. At the start of the game, you roll them all and put them in rows.

You then deal out two or three bird cards for drafting. When you take the card, you then have to perform the dice manipulation immediately. You add or subtract value or reroll or flip dice. And the cards specify which color dice you manipulate. 

And every card has a specific scoring conditions. Like getting a point for every black die that is odd. You score those points.

Do that four times. And here’s the thing. The scoring is cumulative. That first card you take, you will end up scoring it four times.

If you are playing the game solitaire, the numbers on the cards you don’t take are the score you have to beat to win the game. Which I really like. I prefer solitaire games that have win/lose conditions more than beat your best score.

I’ve only played Bandada solitaire. And, even though I have made a copy, I’ve only played it on Board Game Arena.

And having BGA take care of all the housekeeping definitely helps me play Bandada over and over again. The game only lasts four turns. Set up and housekeeping could take longer than actual play.

What really makes Bandada actually worth more than couple plays is the initial dice roll.  The interesting part of the game isn’t how you manipulate the dice. It’s the dice you are stuck having to manipulate that create the real puzzle.

I’ve played a _lot_ of miicro games over the last few years for a variety of reasons. Bandada, lasting only four turns but containing some solid number crunching, still stands out.