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.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Artisans of the Taj Mahal isn’t bad enough lol

I have to admit that this is the third time I’ve tried to write about Artisans of the Tak Mahal.

Artisans of the Tak Mahal is a coffee break weight Roll and Write. The player sheet has a picture of the Tai Mahal broken into six zones. Each zone has one or more architectural features. Each feature has different requirements for what numbers go in it if it’s going to score any points.

Every turn , two dice get rolled. Everyone picks one die for a zone and the other for the number they write in. There are clouds you can check off to modify die rolls but you also needs clouds to water plants.

Most points wins.

Okay. Here’s why I’ve been struggling with Artisans of the Taj Mahal. It is a solid B coffee break game. Easy to learn. Decent decisions. And the theme actually ties in to gameplay. Well, the theme goes in pretty well for a ten minute game. It was free download and I just had to print out and laminate one page.

But there are so many Roll and Writes that I could say the exact same thing about.

Roll and Writes had already been doing well when CoVid lockdown hit. Then games that were super easy to PnP and you could play via video conferencing became a big deal and probably saved some folks sanity. The genre exploded.

It didn’t help that I played it while observing Dicember. I tried a lot of Roll and Writes last month and some of them were definitely worse than Artisans of the Taj Mahal. But they made more of an impact on me, probably because I had to think about their flaws. 

I’ll probably get at least ten good plays out of Artisans, figuring out what would be the optimal strategies. And I do like how the theme actually is actually worked into the game. It’s worth the investment of time and pondering. But there are a lot of solid B Roll and Writes out there.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Murderbot Diaries:Character growth disguised as a thriller

If it wasn’t for the fact that the Murderbot Diaries have a very clear and genuine character arc running through them, I would say that the author Martha Wells is being a troll. 

The covers all feature images of the title character decked in armor that wouldn’t be out of place in Halo with a faceless helmet. And the title character is called Murderbot for crying out loud. The expectation is an action-driven series.

And while there is plenty of action and Murderbot is great at combat, that isn’t the driving point of the series. As well as being really good at fighting and various combat situations, Murderbot is also emotionally damaged, has high social anxiety and uses soap operas as a coping mechanism. 

And, in literally the first scene of the first book, Murderbot opens its visor to reveal its cloned human face, establishing it even has a face. That one scene alone completely subverted my expectations.  

(I will note that Wells gives Murderbot a very specific traumatic event that causes it to break its restraining bolt/governing unit so it has free will and has left it in an emotionally fragile state. Won’t spoil it. Read the series for yourself.)

Part of what attracted my interest in the series in the first place was that I read that is was a science fiction metaphor for transitioning. Murderbot doesn’t have a gender but it is transitioning to its own person.

Reading the first book, I felt that that might be a stretch. Then, when the second book dealt with body adjustment and social-emotional adjustment, I could see that this was authorial intent. 

This ain’t the Bicentennial Man. This isn’t about becoming human. It’s about Murderbot becoming their own thing, not what society tells them to be.

The series is also pretty funny. 

I’m four books in and I’m going to read this series to the end.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Wow. Grove is good.

Orchard the Nine Card Solitaire was one of those games that was a milestone for me. It still holds out as one of the best nine-card games I’ve seen and the game that proved to me that you can make a tile-laying game out of nine cards that’s actually good.

Grove is its sequel (is that the right term?) and darned if it doesn’t improve on the design. (And there’s another game in the series called Forage. I will have to try that one soon)

While it’s also called a nine-card game, Grove is really an 18 card game. You just use only nine cards at a time in the basic game.  

Like Orchard, Grove is a tile-laying game where you are overlapping the cards. Each card has six spaces. Each space will a lemon tree, an orange tree, a lime tree or be empty.  Trees will have one or two fruit. 

You are stacking like fruits on like fruits. In this case, you are counting how many fruits are in each stack and you track each number with a die. Empty spaces can cover any square but any dice on empty spaces are worthless at the end of the game.

You also have a wheelbarrow token that lets you super stack one space for every points and a squirrel token that lets you break the like-on-like rule but it costs you points.

The basic version of Grove takes the rules of Orchard and gives you ways to work around or with the restrictions.

But, oh, there are advanced rules.

The back of each card is a recipe. That means it has a rule for scoring bonus points and a target number. You know how the Sprawlopolis family works? Same idea. Deal out two recipes in addition to the nine cards you’ll be stacking. They give you two more ways of getting points. The target numbers get added together and that’s the score you need to beat to win.

And the recipes are a total game changer for me. I don’t mind just heating my own score but having an actual win-lose condition is more fun im a solitaire game. I’m trying to beat the game as well as my past self.

I hate to say that I like Grove so much more than Orchard… but I do. Orchard was a big deal for me. It is an amazing use of nime cards (or eighteen when the cards are one-sided) Orchard is all about tight restrictions. Grove lets you wiggle around the restrictions but you need the experience of Orchard to appreciate that. And the recipe cards are the bomb.

Grove is really good and when I play it, I want to immediately play it again.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Riordan tweaks his formula

Last year, I realized that I hadn't read Rick Riordan's Trials of Apollo. I'd been waiting until all five books had come out and hadn't noticed that had happened back in 2020. Well, I was pretty distracted into 2020.

With that said, I had doubts about the series. While I have enjoyed everything I've read by Riodan (and really hope our son gets into his writing), the Trials of Apollo broke too many of the paradigms of his work. Riordan's mythic books are urban fantasies where the ancient gods are real and the heroes are their children. If there's one thing a lot of the ancient gods were good at doing, it was having lots of kids.

The Trials of Apollo turns that idea on its head. Instead, the narrator and main character is actually one of those ancient gods, Apollo of the Greek and Roman pantheons. Admittedly, he's been punished by his father into being a mortal teenager so it's not that far off the formula. Still, I had to ask if it was really going to work.

Instead, I found the answer was it really worked. I don't think the series has the strongest plot of the mythic books but I do think it has some of the strongest writing. And, no, I'm not going to go into the plot. If you're interested, get the books out of the library the way I did.

Here's the thing. In most of the mythic series, the protagonist or protagonists are newcomers to the mysterious and magical other world that provides the fantasy elements of urban fantasy, Thus, they have to have lots of stuff explained to them and they have to ask lots of questions. It's a tried and true way of world building. but the Trials of Apollo are the third series Riordan has built around Greek and Roman mythology. If you're reading the Trials of Apollo, you've read Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus. Or you like picking up random books in the middle of a series. Hey, you be you.

So, the reader doesn't need to be introduced to the setting. Individual myths or historical events, yes. But how the setting works? No.

Instead, we have Apollo, who is both a complete space cadet as well as an ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’ man, So he can be an endless barrel of exposition… when he doesn’t get distracted.

Apollo is also waaaaay more flawed than Percy Jackson. Or Annabeth Chase. Or Carter and Sadie Kane. Or Magnus Chase. Or- well, you get the idea. He starts off as a selfish jerk and many of the antagonists have justifiable reasons to hate him. He has a lot of growing to do.

(Amusingly, in his cameos, Percy Jackson seems to have outgrown going on adventures)

I will argue that the actual plot is a step down from being as epic as The Heroes of Olympus. And that’s because there is more of a focus on Apollo’s character growth. It is a different kind of story. 

So, The Trials of Apollo is Riordan doing something different. Which turned out to be really cool.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Another serving of Murder Hobo

Well, Murder Hobo went back on the menu. I just discovered the RPG Hobomancer exists (which sounds like Manly Wade Wellman’s Silvee John stories the RPG (and a tiny bit of research showed that they were a big influence on the game) But, you say the word hobo to your gaming friends and Murder Hobo become the topic at hand.

Which led me to ask: Is Conan a murder hobo? What about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser? How about Aragorn and Gandalf? And what about Robin Hood?

It was immediately pointed out to me that I missed the fundamental point of a Murder Hobo. It isn’t that they have no fixed abode or that they solve all their problems with violence. It’s that killing things is as far as their characterization goes. (I was also told shame on me for labeling Robin Hood a Murder Hobo)

Frank Castle, the Punisher, pretty much just exists to violently kill criminals. But the fact that he does have a motivation, that he has a reason to be a murder machine, is what makes him good for more than one story. He isn’t a Murder Hobo even though I think he sometimes live in a van.

But here’s the thing. When you’re a preadolescent first reading Howard or Lieber or any given Punisher comic, what you get out of it is that they make violence cool and seemingly without consequence.  And you take that to your first RPG games. So, when you simplify the  sword and sorcery genre, you get Murder Hobos.

First Edition had characters get strongholds (appropriately themed for their class) when they got high enough level. When I was eight, that seemed a terrible waste. I have to look after a church when my cleric could be in a dungeon? Now that I’m not eight, I realize that there’s a wealth of story telling and character development in becoming landed.

And, if you are looking for an iconic medieval European fantasy concept that doesn’t involve being a Murder Hobo, you don’t have to look any further than King Arthur and the knights of the round table. It can still be a dungeon crawl-based campaign, just have the dungeons be quests.

Being a Murder Hobo doesn’t just mean walking the earth and killing things. For many gaming systems, that’s the default mode. It means doing it with no back story and no motive.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Sabotage the Raj doesn’t fill its space

Sabotage the Raj is so one of those Roll and Writes that’s also a board game that I wouldn’t be surprised if it started out as a straight board game.

For me, discovering Roll and Writes could make use of graphic space as space, have a board as an active part of the game, was a revelation. (Welcome to Dino World was a big part of the discovery) No, a piece of paper and pencil cannot take the place of cards, pawns and tokens… but they can closer than I had thought.
Sabotage the Rai is about India rebelling against British colonial rule. The actual board is actually ten interconnected boxes. Each box is connected to two or three other boxes and has a price inside of rebellion, money and/or weapons.
Each turn, you roll four dice and allocate them between influence, rebellion , money and weapons. Next, you roll a fifth die for the British response and subtract that amount between the four resources.

Then you spend them. Influence is actually movement. The paths between boxes cost two to four points of influence to move on. As I mentioned, each box has a price of made up of two to three of the other resources. Spend them and you free that area from British rule.

The game lasts eight rounds and you need to free six areas to win the game.

So here’s the thing. The margin you need to win the game is so tight that just getting low average die rolls are an enough to sink you. And that’s before the British response roll. I’m not saying the dice tell you what to do. I’m saying the dice can strongly tell you what you can’t do.

You can choose not to reroll a die and each area you conquer gets you a bonus unit of any resource you choose. So there are some ways to manage luck  But they aren’t enough to overcome more than maybe one bad turn.

And here’s the actual question: does this make Sabotage the Raj a bad game?

On the one hand, random chance can completely determine whether or not you win or lose. Yes, you do have to make good choices to win at all hit the dice can override your good choices.

On the other hand, I got the game for free from Print and Play Arcade. It takes maybe ten minutes to play and I literally just grabbed dice that were lying on the shelf.

If I paid real money for Sabotage the Raj or if it took even a half hour, these issues would be absolute deal breakers. For a free game that takes ten minutes, it’s more forgivable. Sabotage the Raj is a board game-flavored distraction.

The version I got is marked version 1.0 I honestly wonder if the game is still being further developed and refined. Because I feel like there is the start of a promising game here but we aren’t there yet. 

Friday, January 13, 2023

The strange shape of Pencils and Powers

Pencils and Powers is a solitaire Roll and Write that's about managing a dungeon crawl. Which is a theme that has been covered so much over the years that it's amazing that it hasn't become a dead horse. There is just something simple and rich about it. Go into a limited area for the purpose of fighting and looting. Thats simple. But the details within that idea? The variety never seems to end. 

Indeed, even in just the Roll and Write genre, there are a lot of dungeon crawls. One of my first experiences with Print and Play games was Delve the Dice Game which slapped a Dungeons and Dragons theme onto a Yahtzee engine. Pencils and Powers, though, is a very different beast than Yahtzee. 
Here's the narrative part of the game: You play the role of an adventuring party of four heroes. You are going down into a dungeon that has five major monsters and one boss monster. Explore the dungeon, find gold and magic items and kill the monsters.

And here's the crunch, the mechanics. The game sheet has a grid of the dungeon and two tables. One for monsters and one for treasure. (Oh, there's other stuff on the sheet but, for the purpose if the nitty gritty, these three things are the core of the game) You'll assign a number for each monster and for each collection of treasure.

Each turn, you roll three dice. You assign one to mapping the grid, one to improving a monster (either hit points or damage) and one to improve a treasure cache.

You map out the dungeon by drawing in polynomial shapes from a table. You can't fight a monster until you connect their room with the entrance. Which has the rather interesting effect that you aren't actually moving the adventurers through the dungeon. You are just establishing access to rooms. It's kind of like you are mapping out an apartment building with monsters for residents.

You need to balance out which monsters you improve with which treasure caches you work on. On the one hand, you don't want the monsters to get too powerful. On the other hand, you need money for rerolls and leveling up, as well as magic items to help in combat. And you need the key to the boss monster's apartment. 

(Combat is roll a die and add any modifiers from magic items and character powers. Monsters have to be taken out in one shot and they always get a swing in, even if you kill them. Combat is honestly the simplest element of the game)

Pencils and Powers is a game that I think is very well designed. Dividing up the three die rolls is a really solid mechanic and the balancing act you have to do requires real choices.

But I wasn't really captivated by it. I literally kept putting it down to play other games or do other things. I eventually finished the starter dungeon and killed all the monsters but the game just didn't click for me. I definitely found the game to be well designed and, having played way more D&D than is healthy, I can get behind a dungeon crawl. Pencils and Pencils, though, didn't engage me.

That said, Pencils and Powers has several dungeons, each with their own set of adventurers and monsters. I will give it another go at some point, simply because the design is clever enough to deserve another try.   

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Scarlet/Violet opens up Pokémon

Last year, I watched my wife play Pokeman Arceus. (Yes, I know the full name is longer than that but I've never heard anyone actually call it anything but Pokeman Arceus) At the time, it struck me as an ambitious experiment. It did a number of interesting things but it fell short in a number of ways. In particular, it clearly started poking at the idea of an open world, sandbox Pokeman game but it didn't make it all the way.

Now I've been watching my wife play Pokeman Violet and, quite frankly, it delivers on what we both hoped Arceus would be. It's still not a perfect Pokeman game and it's still not a perfect open world sandbox but it comes a whole lot closer. (Frankly, I don't think there can be a perfect Pokeman game. I think that the whole point is eternally finding new spins on catching super-powered monsters for cage matches)  

In Arceus, you didn't actually have an open world. You had patches of open space. And, more subtly and more importantly, there was a linear story structure.

There is an overarching story to Scarlet/Violet. However, in addition to having a legit open world map, you have eighteen individual steps/adventures to open the endgame. However, you can do those steps in any order you choose. We are pretty sure there is an ideal order but you don't have to follow it. More than that, there are a lot of side quests, some of them the size of the 'story' adventures. You don't need to do them to complete the story. And that also means that there is plenty to do after you complete the storyline, which is one of the hallmarks of an open world, sandbox game.

There are elements that Arceus had that I liked that aren't in Scarlet/Violet. In that game, Pokeman could actually attack the player. It brought the idea of being in a world full of wild animals that had incredible superpowers to a whole new sharpness. I mean, if I lived in a Pokeman world, I'd be scared to go outside. But I can see how that might mess with gameplay and the tradition of having your superpowered monsters do all the heavy lifting.

If you don't like Pokeman or don't care about Pokeman, Scarlet/Violet won't change that. However, it takes the formula of gym battles and hunting in the tall grass and makes in shiny and new.

Monday, January 9, 2023

The Blob That made for a good roll and write

The Blob That Ate The City is a roll and write game is a game where you roll dice to determine a Tetris-style shape that you draw onto a grid and try to cover up map features.   

Honestly, I have lost track of the number of Roll and Writes that have that as a core mechanic. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good mechanic but it’s hard to stand out in an ever increasing field.

But Blob et al manages to do it. After you use a shape, you then add more squares to that shape. The Tetris shapes you are using are constantly growing and changing through the game.
Here’s how it works. You actually have two grids: the cityscape that the blob will be eating and a grid broken down into six blocks with a starting shape in the middle of each block. Each turn, you roll two dice. One dice will be the shape you draw in on the cityscape, trying to cover up stuff for points. The other dice will show you the two-to-three block shape that you add to that shape at the end of the round. 

And remember how the shapes are all on the same grid? You can extend a shape until it merges with another one. At that point, either number uses that same big shape.

It’s not all fun and games (well, actually it is) You can rotate or reflect the shapes. Which does make it easier when you have weird, cumbersome shapes to fill in.  And while expanding the shapes is fun, actually fitting them into the cityscape becomes increasingly tricky.

Blob et al takes some very basic ideas everyone has already seen a dozen times and makes something actually different with some interesting choices going on. And it definitely captures the idea of a blob monster growing and eating a city lol

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Okay, a brief look at my 2022

At this point, I know I’m supposed to write some sort of year end recap. It’s a social obligation.

However, 2022 was dominated by a lot of professional changes. My recreational time and, more importantly, my recreational focus was a lot smaller than it has been.

Reading took the least hit, honestly. I read more shorter novels and anthologies but I’d say I read as much as ever. Just smaller bites :) It has been the year that I started reading Tamara Pierce. I also reading the very amusing Dragonbreath and Please Don’t Tell My Parents series.

What probably took the biggest hit was my Print and Play crafting. In particular, making things from design contests. A lot of what I made this year were games I got from PnPArcade and similar sources.

Oh, I still downloaded as many contest files as I could. And I did try out some entries from Roll and Write design contests because many of those are print and put into a page protector.

Highlights of my game learning included Aquaducts and Bandada, both soliatire games that I found very easy to play over and over again. I also enjoyed playing most of the Tempus Quest campaign. I think the Tempus games may be solvable but the experience is just very interesting.

I also have high hopes for both Fishing Lessons, Death Valley and Grove but I need to play all of them more to really nail down my opinion.

In short, I didn’t play nearly as much weird, experimental stuff, which is one of the draws of PnP. But I did try and make good use of what recreational time I had.

Monday, January 2, 2023

My December Gaming

My December gaming was largely driven by Dicember, essentially the celebration of dice games.

I kept a geek list of what I played, along with some commentary about the games. Instead of rehashing the list, here’s the link:

With that said, Dicember was a fun excuse to revisit games I hadn’t played in a while and learn a bunch of new games. Here’s what I learned during December:

Timber & Fur

Bank or Bust

White Rabbit Dice Solitaire 


The Blob That Ate the City

Lingo Land

Paper Pinball: Space Marines Vs Dragons

Grove the Nine Card Solitaire Game 

Pencils and Powers

Sabotage the Raj

Invasion: Solo Adventure 

Sack Stuffer

Daily Dungeon

Artisans is the Taj Mahal


Beach Life


Super Skill Pinball: Carniball

Yeah, there’s only one non-dice game in the lot, Invasion. And Dicember pushed me to get around to trying a number of games I’d been meaning to learn.

Heck, I achieved the baseline goal of playing fifteen different dice just with games that were new to me. Something I had specifically decided not to do lol. (Buying a bunch of Roll ans Writes at PnPArcade’s Black Friday sale helped)

The best game I learned out of the lot would be Grove. It built on the core concepts of Orchard to give us something with more elbow room. But Bandada is the game I’ve found most bingeable.

2022 was a busy, crazy year and Dicember was a heck of a way to close out my gaming portion of it.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

My December Print and Play

December ended up being a little more Print and Play crafting heavy than I was expecting. A little of that was due to gifting but a lot of it was crafting a project I’ve been wanting to get around to.

I made:
13 Sheep
Food Chain Island
-Friendly Waters
-Tough Skies
-Lost Beasts
-Legendary Creatures
Forage: The Nine Card Solitaire Game

I gave away my travel copy of Flipword to a librarian so I wanted to make a new copy. And I made copies of 13 Sheep to include in Christmas cards.

But my big project was making a high definition copy of Food Chain Island and all the expansions (that have come out so far) I have made the demo copy (twice) and played it a lot so I decided it was time to make a full version. 

I used the backs from Friendly Waters to give the Shark and Whale water animal backs. Yes, they are in black and white but the patterns are still different.

I hadn’t been planning on making Forage but I enjoyed Grove so much I wanted to make the next game in the series. I’m hoping to try it out in January.