Friday, March 31, 2023

Go Goa is vacation planning the R&W

Go Goa is a Roll-and-Write about planning a vacation in Goa, a coastal state of India. While I didn’t find it particularly challenging, I did think it actually evoked the feeling of a vacation evem though it’s just a hex grid.

Here’s the basic pitch. You’re drawing a line on a grid map of Goa that has thirty different tourist locations. Each turn, three dice are rolled. One will be what direction you will go in. One will determine how many hexes you go. The last one determines if you can change directions one or two times.
Rolling dice to figure out what direction you are going. Why does that seem familiar? Oh yeah. Avalon Hill’s Outdoor Survival used that. You know, the game whose infamous first scenario was really seeing how long it took you to die from thirst, starvation or exposure.

Honestly, the fact that you can change directions at least once a turn makes a huge difference. I’m fact, it makes the game possibly too easy. But I still have flashbacks of all the deaths from Outdoor Surivial so I’ll take it.

You have to stop on a tourist hex for it to count. No just passing through. You get points just for landing on one. You also get points for collecting sets of the same type of tourist hex and collecting sets of one of each type. You also get points for completing itinerary cards and bonus points for reaching Dudshagar, the most distant point on the map.

Okay. I found that a fairly basic strategy of making sure I ended every turn on a tourist hex and priorized completing the itinerary cards reliably gave me a high score. And because I could always make at least one turn, it would take really bad dice and particularly poor decisions for me not to pull that off.

So I don’t find Go Goa to be very challenging as a game. However, I think it does work as a casual gaming experience. If you are looking for a rough puzzle, Go Goa doesn’t deliver. If you’re looking for R&W vacation, I think it pulls that off.

Now, I’ve only played it on Board Game Arena and I’ve only played it solitaire. In multiplayer, each turn has an active player who locks a die for direction just for themselves. But the ability to turn makes picking a distance dice the most important choice so I don’t know how big a deal locking people out of a direction is.

Go Goa isn’t a brilliant game but I do think it makes really good use of its theme, enough to be engaging.

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!