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