Friday, April 28, 2023

My brain and my gut argue about Numbsters

Numbsters is a solitaire micro game that’s built around the old joke that Seven ate Nine.

The game consists of eighteen cards that are numbered one through eighteen. It’s sort of an In Hand game since all of the active cards are held splayed in your hand. (You still need a draw deck and a discard pile but there are ways of dealing with that and keeping everything in your hands)

The eight card is the mouth card. The basic mechanic of the game is that, if the eight is in between two cards that are in sequence, the larger card can be discarded. One could eat two, thirteen could eat fourteen, etc.

Ah, but there’s a clever bit. Every card other than the eight has a special power that gives you other ways for cards to eat each other. And whatever card is on top of the active cards, that’s the special power you get to use.

Each turn, you draw a card from the draw pile. You can then move one card or swap two cards. Then, you have to eat a card, discarding it.

You win if you eat sixteen cards and the eight is not on top of the active cards. You lose if the eight ever on top or you can’t eat a card.

I’m of two minds of Numbsters.

On the one hand, it hasn’t zinged for me. I keep meaning to play it more and just haven’t gotten around to it. Part of me feels like I could really like it if I give it enough of a chance but I haven’t worked up the energy to do that.

On the sugar-coated side, I think that it’s mechanically really well designed and I think it’s a brilliant use of theme. From the game-as-art form standpoint, I think Numbsters does a great job.

So, my brain thinks Numbsters should be good but my gut isn’t convinced.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

… What did I just read?

After reading Campfire Cooking in Another World With My Absurd Skill, I wondered if Japense light novels had reached the point where deconstruction no longer has a functional meaning. What’s more, I really doubt that it’s the most absurd or extreme example out there.  

Campfire (I refuse to type out the whole name again) started out as a web novel. Since then, it has become a light novel series, a manga and an anime. I’ve just stuck to the light novels because they’re easier to read on my phone.

After going pulled into a fantasy world, salaryman Mukohda quickly figures out that he’s been summon by an evil empire and takes off to do his own thing. He’s able to easily figure things out because he’s read lots of web novels!

More than that, he has a unique magical talent: Online Supermarket. It’s a magical combination of Amazon and Grubhub (that still costs him money) With it, Mukohda has access to modern Earth food and other products. With the power of refined sugar and prepackaged sauces, he is able to gain unbeatable legendary monsters as allies and  the favor of the gods.

Campifire is such unbelievable wish fulfillment that it’s fascinating. There’s no shame about it or trying to hide it at all. Thanks to his shopping skills, Mukohda has no functional worries beyond cooking meals for his monster buddies.

To be fair, that does sound pretty fun lol

I will note that, while there’s tons of food description, I really wouldn’t call the descriptions foodie or gourmet. Mukohda uses lots of prepackaged and premade ingredients. Which actually just builds on the whole wish fulfillment angle. I mean, that’s how I cook.
I have to say that I found the actual writing to be stilted with a lot of repetitive phrases. I don’t know if I should blame Ren Eguchi or the translator. There were pieces of dialogue that felt like they would have made more sense as a comic panel full of speech balloons.

But the absurdity of the concept and the way the work went whole hog into wish fulfillment just kept my interest.

Campfire is a profoundly self aware work. It couldn’t exist in a vacuum. Instead of a parody, it’s a celebration of escapism.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Learning about Learning

While teaching myself Numbsters, I noted a few comments on the easy and repetitive nature of the game. Which made me feel pretty silly since I haven’t been finding that to be the case.

The I realized those players probably actual read through all the special powers and planned out their strategies. As opposed to me, who made the cards, shuffled them and started playing.

I think there’s a number of reasons why I prefer to learn games without examination and analysis first. Beyond just laziness and impatience, which are also there, of course.

A lot of it has to do with how I first learned games when I really started playing board games. I would be learning other people’s copies or demos at conventions. Under those circumstances, you can’t read through every last card or other component.

There’s also something to be said about tactile learning, learning by actually doing. I know for me, that tends to sink in better. Plus, it gives you the fun of discovery.

I know that approaching games this way means that it takes me longer to get good at puzzley games, which is what a lot of solitaire games break down to. On the other hand, I get in more plays of those games, figuring them out this way.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Preschoolers deserve good games too

While recovering from an illness, I decided to learn My First Castle Panic on Board Game Arena. Because, quite frankly, that’s what I was up for.

As I played it, I kept asking myself ‘Is this it? Am I missing something?’ So I played it again. ‘No. I guess that is it’

I’ve played the original Castle Panic but I have virtually no memories of it. Which doesn’t mean it’s bad (I’d probably remember it more if it was terrible) but it does mean it wasn’t my bag. Castle Panic is a tower defense game and so is its baby sibling.

And I’m not sure how you would simplify a tower defense more than My First Castle Panic. There is only one track for the monsters to move on. The only defense the castle has is a wall. And while a special card rebuild the wall, there is no other defensive buffs and no offensive buffs.

The basic gameplay is playing a card that matches the shape and color in a space to knock off the monster on it. So it really comes down to drawing the right cards or the castle falling.

And you might say, dude, it’s a kid’s game. It’s clearly designed for kids who aren’t old enough to read. Don’t you think you’re being kind of harsh here?

A bit but earlier this year, I tried out Baby Dinosaur Rescue (also on BGA) that is also a cooperative game aimed at the pre-literate crowd and I felt it did a much better job. One, while the basic strategy is very obvious, it’s there and kids can implement it. Two, the game isn’t weighted against the players, just bad decisions.

Basically, if you play well with Baby Dinosaur Rescue, you will probably win. And I don’t mind a cooperative being easy if it’s for four-year-olds. If you draw the right cards, you’ll win My First Castle Panic. It seems weighted against the players and player decisions doesn’t seem to affect that. That doesn’t encourage critical thinking and that doesn’t reward its target demographic.

Keep in mind, I think Don’t Spill the Beans is a god game for little ones. Because it helps develop hand-eye coordination and, yes, it does reward good play.

It’s easy to criticize a game for four-year-olds for not being any good for grown ups and it’s intrinsically not fair. But I honestly feel My First Castle Oanic falls short for toddlers as either a game or an activity.

(As a side note, I’ve learned that some designers put games on BGA for play testing and critique, which is why games for toddlers can be found there. That had been confusing me)

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

I fail to do justice to El Goonish Shive

I’ve occasionally written about web comics but I recently realized I’ve never written about my favorite web comic, El Goonish Shive by Dan Shive. (The name is a nonsensical reference to the creater’s name and has nothing to do with the strip, by the way)

The series has been around for over twenty years and has kind of followed the evolution of web comic trends. It started off as a fourth-wall breaking snarky strip with loads of pop culture references. Since then, It has evolved into an urban fantasy with a strong focus on emotional problems and gender issues. And much, much better artwork.

El Goonish Shive is about a group of quirky teenagers, all who have varying degrees of experience with the supernatural, with a particularly strong focus on transformation. The tone ranges from silly light to dark heavy and storylines range from slice of life to high fantasy adventure. The tone can range from pure comedy to tragedy, sometimes in the same arc.

While the cast started out with three characters, the number of main characters is now something like ten with gobs of supporting characters, which is more than I want to go into. However, a testament to the quality of character development is Ted. Ted started as a snarky pervert teen mad scientist and has become a sensitive, insightful, gender fluid teen mad scientist.

And somehow, amidst this sea of different tones, Dan Shive keeps his web comic feel consistent.  Honestly, by the second year, his writing started to really click and has pretty much kept improving from there. El Goonish Shive has been relentlessly thoughtful and sweet.

While I can’t recommend starting from the beginning (the birthday party arc is where I feel the writing truly gels), I think El Goonish Shive is worth anyone’s time reading.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Ticket to Ride: New York does its iob

I have read (but I don’t actually know if it’s true) that Ticket to Ride: New York was designed as a convention demo and only went retail due to demand. Even if that’s not true, it is a fun story.

I actually picked up a very lightly used copy a couple years back (so lightly that the cards were were still wrapped) but only recently got it on the table.

I’m assuming that anyone reading this knows how to play Ticket to Ride. If you don’t, close your browser window and go play Ticket to Ride. That will be a better use of your time than reading my blog.

The idea behind the city line of Ticket to Ride is a shorter, smaller version of the game, one that takes ten to fifteen minutes to play.  The boards are smaller (I want to say a third the functional size of the big boards) and you have fifteen cars instead of forty-five. Huh, that number supports my one-third estimate.

The only addition to the basic Ticket to Ride rules that everyone should know and love in New York is tourist attractions. Certain locations are marked with a penny and you get a bonus point for connecting to them.

I went in with two negative expectations. I was expecting that the games would be so short that sifting through tickets wouldn’t be a viable strategy. And I was expecting that the points from tourist attractions would be too small to make a difference.

What I hadn’t considered was that the routes and the tickets would both be smaller. So no one burns through their cars so fast that drawing more tickets is the equivalent of losing a turn. In fact, sticking with only your starting tickets looks like a losing strategy. 

And that’s because my fear about the tourist attractions does seem to pan out. The bonus points you get from them aren’t as much as pursuing tickets or even longer routes.

Looking at the other city games, New York doesn’t seem as polished. The map has more bottle necks and the bonus feature is meh. After playing it, I ordered the London map because the district bonus scoring (effectively having bonus tickets printed on the board) seems more of an actual game changer.

Still, at the end of the day, Ticket to Ride: New York succeeds at its most important goal. It feels like playing Ticket to Ride.

I will admit that ten years ago, a fifteen-minute Ticket to Ride would have just seemed cute. As a parent, it’s now a much higher deal. Being able to get in a game on a school night and feel like I’ve actually played a game is huge for us.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Three games that make me want to play 30 Rails

I decided that I wanted to clear out some light Roll and Writes that had been on my plate in a session with a clip board and a dice roller. Honestly, since they are very light and, to be brutally honest, there’s only one I see myself playing again, I’m just covering them all in one post.

All three games are draw stuff on a grid, possibly the most common format for R&W games.

Easter Egg Roll and Write is a game from Gleason Games and I think (?) I found it on It is identical to their Halloween Roll and Fright. Roll three dice. Two of them will be corrdinates on a six-by-six grid and the third will be the symbol you draw.

And, since it was the same as the Halloween game, I wasn’t surprised that the Easter game was terrible. Having to use two dice to determine coordinates and having no dice manipulation turns games into exercises of frustrations. 

On top of the that, you are drawing flowers, trees and ponds. Spring? Okay. Nature? Sure. Easter as a theme? Really?

Turn on the Lamp is an entry in the 14th Roll and Write Contest. It’s a connection game where the twist was the grid was a ten-by-ten grid and you only had four path shapes. So you roll a ten-sided die and a four-sided die each turn.

Easter Egg Roll and Write did make Turn on the Lamp look good, playing them back to back. But it was ultimately not a satisfying game. The grid is simply so big that you won’t end up using most of it to connect the light bulbs to power sources. And a ten-sided die creates enough variance to annoy me.

The last game I tried was Tabletop Arcade: Roll and Snake, yet another Roll and Write adaptation of the old video game Snake. You roll three dice, choose two, and draw a line that many spaces.

Even thought the grid gets more cluttered in the later rounds, I didn’t find it too difficult. At the start of each round, I’d plot out a route and it was only tricky making sure I didn’t overshoot the last  symbol in a round.

I kept checking and I’m pretty sure I was getting the rules right.

On the one hand, if was playing Roll and Snake correctly, it is honestly too easy. On the other hand, it didn’t annoy me and frustrate me like the other two games.

While it was fun to try out some new games, none of them passed the 30 Rails test: why would I play this rather than 30 Rails? 30 Rails keeps holding its place as a gold standard PnP R&W and a game I’ll recommend to anyone.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Some hopefully coherent thoughts on web comics

I heard an argument that twenty or so years ago was the golden age for webcomics. The argument went that, by the late 90s and early oughts, the internet had entered into common, everyday use but bandwidth was limited enough that posting static images was the viable way to go.

I have to admit, from my own personal experiences, it seems there were a lot more web comics around twenty years ago. There were mutiple sites that served as hosts for multiple web comics. Sort of online comic pages. (Discovering Keenspot was a big deal for me)

And it is very easy to see how broader bandwidth, allowing for streaming to be viable, would push web comics to one side. I’m not saying that the people who are streaming now would have been drawing web comics back then. It’s just that technology has allowed for a different skill set to rise to prominence.

I also feel that, even during this golden period, web comics were considered a lesser medium. Bill Holbrock, creater of Kevin and Kell, stated in interviews that having the strip published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a high water mark for the series. (I still read Kevin and Kell, honestly just because it reliably posts every day.)

I noticed that two series of graphic novels I just read (Kill Six Billion Demons and Blood Stain) are web comics. Is that the new goal of web comics? To be physically published? Was that always fhe goal if being in a newspaper was such a big deal for Holbrock?

It might just my own peesonal tastes but it does feel like web comics are shifting away from a newspaper format to a page format. Graphic novels have been becoming more and more of a mainstream medium. Are web comic creaters now using the medium as a step towards graphic novels? Have web comics become less the domain of college students and more of professional artists?

You know, I am a daily reader of web comics and I have no idea of what the answer to any my questions are.

(This started out as a blog about El Goonish Shive but my rambling went out of control)

Monday, April 10, 2023

My two cents about the Mario Movie

As our household is a household of Nintendo lovers, we went out to see The Super Mario Bros Movie.

Okay. Here’s my basic summary. The movie isn’t high art but it is clearly a love letter to the Mario franchise by people who deeply love the Mario franchise. It isn’t a deconstruction of the idea of Mario but a reconstruction of the games in a movie medium. Our entire family enjoyed the movie but it was aimed right at us.

I’m not going to spoil the plot, other than a couple remarks, but there are no surprises. You can see the plot points coming a mile away. But what I did like is that the script leans into the story beats.

Okay, this is a spoiler. This version of the brothers are from Brooklyn (not all of them are) but they aren’t pulled through a random pipe into the other world. No, they get pulled in while trying to stop a major civil engineering disaster. Mario leaped for the call before he knew it was there. He is never portrayed as a reluctant hero, just a novice one.

Peach is arguably the most redefined character as a lady of war (and it can be argued since Peach has been a badass in many versions of the character, dating back to the American Siper Mario Bros 2) but we loved her. She is the Batman to Mario’s Spider-Man. Mario won’t stop. Peach cannot be stopped. Even in her darkest moment, she comes out swinging.

(Okay, Lumalee is the most redefined character, as well as the inevitable dark horse darling of the film. It’s like they were thrown in to give even people who hate everything else something to love) 

I won’t bore you with other points I liked about the film (thank you very f you’ve read this far) The visuals are a treat. Jack Black is a hoot as Bowser. Luigi could have used more character development.

But the Super Mario Bros Movie succeeds at what it’s trying to do by celebrating its source material.

(I still fear my dream of a feature length Legend of Zelda movie where the Hero of Time Link uses the Ocarina of Time to open a time warp that lets Breath of the Wild Zelda team up up Sheik and Tetra  (plus Miidna for snark) to save the universe in a cross time caper will be never come to be)

Friday, April 7, 2023

The hidden mysteries of Black Box

I have to marvel at that people played Black Box without the help of a computer :D

Black Box is a game from 1977 and it is what you get if Shrodibger’s cat designed Mastermind. One player creates a puzzle/code and the other player has to figure it out.

The idea of the game is that the code breaker is trying to find four or five molecules by shooting rays into a black box. The way that the rays are deflected or absorbed will give them the necessary clues to find the molocules.

Black Box is a game that actually simulates a real scientific process (albiet in a simplified, two dimensional manner) but feels as abstract as Go.

Here’s how it works in the analog game. You have a grid (usually eight by eight) The code maker secretly placed four or five marbles on the grid. The code breaker chooses one of the columns or rows to shoot a Ray. Using colored marbles, the core maker will use colored marbles to indicate if the ray was absorbed, reflected or deflected. If it was deflected, they show where the ray comes out.

I have never played the game in person. I even went so far as to actually buy the physical game but was never able to get it on the table. To be fair, playing the role of the code maker is much tricker than Mastermind or even the master in Zendo.

But I have played a lot of Black Box online. It was one of the solitaire options on BSW back when I practically lived on that site (it might even still be there for all I know) I also recently found out there was another site I could play it ( and I have been binging.

The original game came with a book that let you play solitaire via flowchart/choose your own adventure. So, even from the beginning, the publishers knew that it was more fun to be the code breaker and it was good to have a system that couldn’t make a mistake the way a human code maker easily could.

From what I can tell, almost every version of Black Box was published in the 70s. (It looks like there was one edition in 1990 in Germany) but it has had a very active life as a computer game, one way or another. The desire to play is out there. Just not in person lol

Black Box isn’t my favorite deduction game. That’s Zendo and I haven’t found anything in fifteen years to beat it. But I can play plenty of Black Box.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Thank you, Mr Teuber

Klaus Teuber 1952 - 2023


Okay. I am going to say this first: While Teuber made many other games, some of them jolly good, the reason why people will still be talking about him a hundred years from now is Settlers of Catan. And people _will_ be talking about him as long as the world isn’t a post apocalyptic wasteland (which will not be nearly as fun as Gamma World or Max Max)

And let’s not kid ourselves. Catan had an impact on the gaming world like possibly nothing else. The closest thing I can think of is Magic the Gathering but Catan hit a much wider audience. It was the family game’s family game. And judging by its continued sales, still is.

Catan’s impact on the gaming world was like a naked man throwing petrol bombs in a department store on a late Tuesday afternoon. (Gaming buddy: that was disturbingly specific. Me: good, I was trying to disturb you) We would not have the gaming landscape that we have today without it and I don’t think the universe would have come up with an equivalent.

I know that it was where my transition from RPGs to board games started with Catan. And I still hold that, in this post-Catan world that we all get to live in, Catan holds up with an amazing level of engagement and interaction.

If I end up in an Isekai novel, I am introducing Catan to the fantasy world I am stuck in.

Thank you, Mr Teuber, for making my life better.

Monday, April 3, 2023

My March Gaming

 I actually learned a decent number of games during March in a variety of ways.

I learned:

Spell Write



Potato Tomato Carrot 

At The Helm

Go Goa


Ticket to Ride New York

Some of them were solitaires I learned with analog copies. A number of them I learned online. Mostly through Board Game Arena but not only through it. And I got to try out Ticket to Ride New York with another person. (That’d be my wife. And it was much better than I expected but that’s another blog)

I’ve been trying to learn at least one Roll and Write a month for… wow, a couple years now. Spell Write and Go Goa checked that box for me. Of the two, Go Goa is seeing more play.

Every once in a while, I start looking for new games to learn online. The mood just has to strike me. Board Game Arena has been good for that but that wasn’t the only place I looked.

I have found that online games are heavier for me than their analog counterparts. Being removed from the components and other players just makes more work for my brain. That might just be me.

Yet, I have also found that I’m more willing to replay games that I wouldn’t replay as much analog due to the physical convenience of online play. Yes, the ability to make a move on my phone anytime and anywhere makes up for  the mental disconnection.

Amusingly, my happiest online discovery was for a game I’ve been playing off and on for years, a site I hadn’t seen before for Black Box. It only takes a few minutes to play at most but it still makes me think.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

My March PnP

March. Not a bad month for me for print and play. Most of my crafting was during one day of crafting binging.

This is what I made:

Potato Tomato Carrot 

Quests Over Coffee - base and Night Carnival

Island Alone (base map)


Rory Story Cubes adjective cards

Naturopolis (demo version)

My ‘big’ project was Quests Over Coffee and its first expansion. I made the first expansion too to help bulk up my options.  I haven’t actually played it yet and I am curious to see how much it’s dumb luck and how much of it is my own choices. The number of expansions it’s had goes a long way towards my interest in it. 

I haven’t had a chance to play Island Alone yet. However, there is so much content for the game, even before I try out the expansions, that it’s ridiculous. I also think the adjective cards will give me an excuse to pull Rory’s Story Cubes back out.

I have a feeling using a grayscale of the demo version of Naturapolis is going to be so frustrating that I’ll be making a proper version with the final textures. I’m normally all about low ink versions but sometimes, you need more.

I know April will be tougher to find time to craft but I’ve tried to do a lot of prep work so some crafting gets to happen .