Wednesday, August 30, 2023

I hope I am being too mean to In This World

 One of my most important RPG experiences in the past ten years has been Microscope by Ben Robbins. Part of that is because almost all of my RPG gaming during that time has been long distance and Microscope was wonderful in a play-by-email format.

So, when I saw that Ben Robbins had another project, In This World, I backed that Kickstarter. While the final product hasn’t been produced, I have gone through the early-release base rules and I have to admit that I have been underwhelmed.

I won’t go over the actual rules since that would actually be giving away the game. But you go around the table, round robin, building worlds. The twist is that you take a basic concept and subvert some of its basic tenets. (In this world, dragons are plants BUT they still eat princesses)

And before I get critical, I had to say that is a terrific concept. Easy to understand and implement while still open to lots of possibilities.

So here’s where I felt In This Word fell short, albeit possibly only in the basic, early release rules. At the end of the game, you will have some worlds that are laid out as bullet points.

That’s where other games like Kingdom or Microscope or The Quiet Year begin.

I do love me a world building game but part of the experience is doing something with the world. Building up on the initial idea. Seriously fleshing things out. Roleplaying scenes in the world. In This World feels like setting up for a game of Microscope. In This World feels like something I’d find in an anthology, not as a standalone product. 

And, yes, I’m being incredibly unfair. The final product, with all its bells and whistles, could and hopefully will assuage all my fears.

I sincerely hope the finished product proves my fears entirely wrong.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Where I show I am a dinosaur

 I once heard an NPR music critic say the golden age of music is whenever you were twelve. 

And when I was going through my collection, deciding what to keep while trying to purge as much as possible, I was pretty sure that anyone could tell I discovered boars games during the early to mid 2000s. Not necessarily the games from that era but their aesthetic.
Oliver Kiley’s classification of games ( has German Family and Eurogame as two separate design schools. (Yeah, I know both get lumped together as Euros) And the games that I kept definitely show a preference for German Family games. (That said, every single design school that Kiley lists shows up in my collection, even after the heavy purge.)

Catan had been around for close to ten years when I got into the hobby but it was still an environment that was reacting and responding to Catan. Lots of engagement but not violent conflict. Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico and Ticket to Ride were major tent poles for the hobby. Games I still really like and think continue to hold up and deliver.

But, but, but, just because when I got into designer board games helped define my tastes in board games doesn’t mean I think that designs peaked then. I think that game design has improved over the last 20 years, and the classics that hold up are more outliers than representative.

Sturgeon’s law still applies. Developing a microscopic species for technological development always gets out of hand. No, wait. His other law: 90% of EVERYthing is crud. There are a lot of games out there that aren’t worth your time.

However, due to a number of factors, I do think we have seen a rise in refinement and innovation. 

I don’t think of twenty years ago as a particularly golden age for board games. There are have been a lot of golden ages. But I do think it helped encourage elements that I want to see in games lol

While I appreciate direct conflict and story telling and puzzle solving, my introduction to designer board games definitely gave me a predilection towards more social interaction. And, yes, I know I am a huge proponent for true multi-player solitaire games but that’s because I can play them solitaire and get still get the proper experience. (Not that I haven’t had extremely social games of Take It Easy with people swearing at the tiles)

I don’t think there has been a bad time to get into gaming in the past fifty or sixty years. 

Friday, August 25, 2023

Hey, I finally saw the third Guardians movie

 It took me five months to finally watch Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3, which for me is actually watching a movie quite close to its release. (I am much more of a reader than a viewer) I managed to be relatively spoiler free so it definitely manages to surprise me at times.

I’ll try to limit the spoilers but I do feel like commenting on the movie.

The Guardians of the Galaxy films manage to both denser and wackier than the rest of the MCU movies but, at the same time, manages to get in possibly the most emotional gut punches in there franchise l. In no small part because the Guardians fully embrace Tolstoy’s ‘every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’

(No, I don’t know what the second sentence in Anne Karenina is)

I think that the second movie has the best balance of comedy and tragedy. The third one leans heavily into the tragic side. Which isn’t inappropriate but definitely makes this the darkest movie in the trilogy. Maybe the the MCU which also had Thanos kill half of all life.

Okay, I want to just jot down some bullet point reactions but first:





  • While I knew the movie would feature Rocket, I hadn’t expected it to be centered around him. But I’ve liked the character since the 80s so it’s cool. And, story wise, it works.
  • Peter Quill’s arc wasn’t about him getting the girl but growing up. I like that he isn’t wish fulfillment but is used to address the issues of being a man-child.
  • I hadn’t been a fan of the MCU Mantis. The comic version can go toe-to-toe with Thor and is always the adult in the room. In this movie, though, she clearly shows herself to be physically tough and very insightful so I was happier.
  • Holy cow. The comic High Evolutionary is a borderline hero while this one was incredibly vile and reprehensible. Possibly the pettiest and nastiest villain of the MCU. 
  • Okay. We still haven’t gotten Moondragon in the MCU. I’ll wait.

I am far from the only person who has felt that the MCU has struggled to find its voice post-Endgame. Which, to be fair, is unique as the culmination of a 23-movie arc.

But Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3 succeeds because it makes part of being its own trilogy more important than being part of the greater MCU. It already had a voice so it could keep on exploring its theme of unhappy families.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Archie continues to bewilder me

I’m about eight years late to the party but I picked up and read Archie Comics’ Road to Riverdale. It was a sampler for their New Riverdale line, the first issues of five of the books. And it obviously was done to help promote the Riverdale TV show. (Which I have never watched but I understand critics love to savage it)

I had heard of the New Riverdale line, a reimagining of Archie and his world with more realistic artwork and more continuity-based storylines. And, while not inappropriate, aimed at an older audience.

And it wasn’t quite what I expected. As opposed to being Archie as a serious drama (which isn’t actually unknown), it was more of a denser, wackier look but with a heavy emphasis on character development. Honestly, it felt like a post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer Archie, self aware but room for feels.

I find Archie weird. Before I was old enough to not be embarrassed to read it, I thought of Archie as simplistic, repetitive and reactionary. And, frankly, a lot of that is true. Archie has been going since the 1940s and has been almost always aimed at a younger audience.

At the same time, Archie has been constantly reinventing itself. I don’t even know if Archie Comics itself knows how creators have worked on the franchise. And it’s been addressing social issues for decades.

What muddies the water is the fact that they are constantly reprinting stuff from all over their catalog. So you can find different messages, sometimes in the same magazine.

To be fair, you can point to any long running franchise. Batman has been many things. However, Bruce and his merry band of vigilantes have been allowed to change and adjust. The lack of continuity and constant reprints means Archie Comics  keeps the values dissonance constantly churning. There is good stuff but they keep burying it.

Which might be part of the point of New Riverdale.

Heck, it got me to read the first volume of Archie. Which I did enjoy but found almost bipolar. We have moments like Archie’s bumbling destroying the entire Lodge mansion contrasted with Betty’s angry tears at Archie freaking out over her makeover.

From what I understand, the New Riverdale has ended. Perhaps that has to happen. When you actually create a story where the characters develop and change, endings make sense.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Rustling Leaves is a Currier and Ives game

Rustling Leaves had been on my radar for a while, seeing as how it is a Roll and Write game available as an app.  So, when most of our stuff was in boxes, picking it up was a natural move.

Short version: it’s a good little game and a very nice addition to my gaming tool box. 

Still pretty short version: Rustling Leaves  consists of a grid of pastoral images. You roll two dice and use those numbers to draw boxes and check off one type of symbol per box. Lots of different scoring combinations. And a particularly clever touch: each player decides when they end their game. 

Okay, let’s get a little more detailed.

I have heard Rustling Leavea described as actually being four games since there are four different maps, one for each season. I think that’s a bit of a stretch since the core mechanics of rolling and drawing boxes remains the same. That being said, each one has its own scoring conditions and plays very distinctly.

More than that, for a game that is just drawing boxes, the theming is strong. Each season has symbols and themed scoring around those symbols that reflect the season. I particularly like how the river is treated differently in each season. You lose a point for a box crossing it in the spring. It is dried up and has no effect in the summer. It’s flooded and boxes can’t cross it in the fall. And it’s frozen and gets you a bonus point in the winter.

Most Roll and Writes with grids have you draw symbols or lines or Tetris-style shapes. I can’t remember playing one that had you enclose stuff in boxes. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have played one before but Rustling Leaves is clearly the only memorable one lol

It’s obvious that I like Rustling Leaves. Let’s talk about why.

Between multiple starting points, random die rolls and four different maps, the game has a lot of replay value. And since you have to choose one symbol per box, the game offers a lot of choices, particularly for the relatively small number of turns.

Being able to decide when you end the game creates a game of chicken for you, adds tension to the mix. You get six chances to not use a roll but that comes with penalty points. And some maps have negative symbols that you don’t want to box in. Choosing when to end your game is a big part of the game.

And I know I’ve already mentioned it but in a game that is so abstract, the theming is very strong. More than that, it is very soothing. I use games for decompression, particularly solitaire Roll and Writes. The woodland theming is perfect for that.

Rustling Leaves does have some issues. Larger rolls will eat up the map quickly, leading to shorter, more frustrating games. That isn’t a big deal with the app but playing with a physical copy, particularly if you don’t laminate the maps, would be aggravating. And if you don’t like multi-player solitaires, there’s nothing here for you.

Rustling Leaves has been a really nice addition to my digital library, particularly when I need to mentally get away to the woods.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Honeycomb Cavern does its job as a pleasant diversion

 Honeycomb Cavern is the latest game I’ve tried by Alexander Shen.

The theme is that Shen’s reoccurring character Sadie Cat, an adventuring dog with a cat’s tail, has fallen into a collapsing cavern. Fire breathing statues keep her from just walking straight out so she must zig zag her way to freedom.

In practice, it’s a Roll and Write where you are drawing a line on a hexagonal grid. You know, one that looks like a honeycomb.

Three dice get rolled. One die is the direction and you move the difference of the other two. You can’t cross the line but you get three jumps which let you move three hexes in any direction without drawing a line.

Roll two of a kind so you only have two numbers to work with? Pick one for direction and the other for movement. Three of a kind? You get a free jump.

Now, reaching the edge and ending the game is extremely easy. But your real goal is to earn points. Each hex is worth zero to four points. Now you have a reason to stay on the board for as many moves as possible.

I’ve found that Alexander Shen has a real knack for making casual, coffee-break length games and puzzles. Honeycomb Cavern is from 2017 and proves that Shen has been good at this for a while. The game looks like it’s about escaping but it’s about pushing your luck. How greedy can you be without trapping yourself? It’s a nice solitaire but it’s real strength is as a multi-player, trying to beat everyone else at the table/

I have found Shen’s games and puzzles to be a very good way to decompress and Honeycomb Cavern fits right in. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

My inner game snob can’t beat Treehouse

One game, or really a game system, that was never in danger of being purged from my collection is IceHouse/Treehouse/Looney Pyramids. Yes, back in my day, we bought pyramids in sets of fifteen in tubes that didn’t come with any rules!

I feel a very important milestone in the system’s history was Treehouse. While boxes sets had existed before (I have copies of Ice Towers and the original Zendo and I understand one of the earliest releases was The Martian Chess Set), Treehouse was an accessible, low price point entry into the system.

Looking back, one of the last times I really wrote about Treehouse was ten years ago. Where I dismissed it as too light and random while also admitting that I played the heck out of it with a wide variety of places and people. Man, I can be a game snob!

Some years in between, I was at a convention where I met James Ernest of Cheapass fame, which was the same convention where I learned he was a real person. He commented on how some designers were surprised that there was a market for a family of pub games like Pairs. (He said this in a tone that clearly said that some people need to get out more)

That comment has stuck with me. Moving away from my old group in Illinois that focused on new and increasingly complex games made me realize that there was a world of causal games and gaming out there that was clearly doing well enough to be profitable. A world of gaming that had more people in it than the insular gaming world I’d been living in.

And Treehouse totally fits in that paradigm, part of the world of casual gamers and family games and pub games. Heck, all the pieces are waterproof and a game doesn’t take up a lot of space so it checks off some important pub game boxes. And it works very well for all kinds of audiences.

While I think that the earlier pyramid games Volcano and Zendo have aged well and are brilliant (particularly Zendo), Treehouse was a more accessible entry point. A ine tube game for everyone.I believe it helped the pyramid brand grow.

I ought to get it out again.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Postcards of war

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve found Battle Card Market Garden an interesting little work. The game really plays itself but it’s an interesting to show Operation Marker Garden on a post card.

Looking into it a bit more, I quickly learned it was from the Postcards From the Front game design jam. (Not a contest!)  ( It’s a collection of almost fifty postcard war games. They range from small scale hex-and-chit games to much more abstract interpretations of conflict.

While I am not really a war gamer by any stretch of the imagination, I still find this collection fascinating. Honestly , that’s just because the printing effort is one page per game and many of them are either solitaire or have solitaire options. 

I can’t decide if my interest in these small scale games is a compliment or an insult to war gaming. War gaming’s roots are in historical simulation and I assume post card games fall short of war college standard.

But I also have to admit that I’m not being fair to postcard games. Tactics and Strategy Magazine has been including a complete war game since 1967. And magazine inserts are clearly a step between World in Flames and postcard games.

Looking back, the first time I heard about postcard war games was Postcard From The Revolution, which came out in 2004. As a format, it may not have taken the world by storm but it’s stuck around for at least twenty years.

More than that, many of both the postcard games from the jam and other places I’ve seen are focused around specific historical events. Heck, one of the non-historic games about ants and termites was designed by an entomologist.

In short, if an educational component is something you are looking for in a war game, this jam has that. I have learned about the Great Emu War of 1932. I learned that Jose Garcia saved the Alhambra from being blown up. I found out Germans impulsively sacked Rome in 1527. Even if I never play any of the games, I’m learning stuff.

I don’t know if I will play any games from the Postcards from the Front jam but I have gotten plenty out of looking at it.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Dabbling with one-card games

In order to ease myself back into the mindset of both making PnP projects and learning PnP games, I made a few of the simplest entries in this year’s One Card Contest: Flyswatter, The Flea and the Circus, One Card Maze. None of them feel like I could get an entire blog out of them but I’ll throw them together as a pack. 


Pick one of three different cards that each have ten flies and three fireflies in different patterns . Flip the card up in the air and catch it between your hands. Every fly you cover is a point but if you cover all the fireflies you get nothing.

Was this designed as a drinking game?

I don’t even mean that a knock. I found even catching the card to be tricky. I don’t know how much skill as far as earning points can come into it.

But I can see it being fun with drunk people.
Maybe not for drunk people but definitely fun with drunk people.

The Flea and the Circus

It’s a Roll and Write where you draw a line across a minuscule grid. Roll a six-sided die, draw a line that many spaces. You get points by drawing over tickets and you win by reaching the far corner of the grid. Ending on dogs can let you teleport.

The Flea and the Circus occupies the same space for me as 13 Sheep and Blankout.  Very short and simple Roll and Writes that work well for when I am either time strapped or brain dead. And, yes, they get more use than I care to admit.

That said, The Flea and the Circus doesn’t have the decision space those two games have. In fact, bad rolls can easily make sure you can’t make it to the far edge. 13 Sheep manages to take that tiny design space and be a good game. 

It will still get added to the folder for now for variety’s sake.

One Card Maze

Honestly, One Card Maze is what made me decide to do this little exercise. It does come with this caveat: it is most certainly not a game. It is a puzzle.

It’s a card-sized maze that double sided and part of the gimmick is that you flip the card and special spaces let you reorient the card to unlock gates. 

And it is impossible for me not to compare One Card Maze to Thin Cube/Flipuzzles from the 2021 contest. And the Flipuzzle family wins that comparison. They offer more variety and trickiness, hands down.

The one thing One Card Puzzle does better is being casual. I can sometimes struggle to track where I am in a Flipuzzle. It’s much easier with One Card Puzzle. Mind you, that also makes them simpler to solve and remember the solutions.

I still signed up for their mailing list and have looked at the other two mazes available. My one disappointment is that there hasn’t been an additional mechanic added to the spin room and orientation locks. Still, I want to see what else they can do.

Honestly, none of these games/puzzles set me on fire. However, it was a fun exercise.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Restaurantrepreneur Is a weird name but a good game

 My journey with learning Dark Imp’s PnP games has come to an end with Restaurantrepreneur. Certainly not my journey of _playing_ them and if they publish more, well, I definitely be interested in learning those. But Restaurantrepreneur wraps up me learning all of the one currently published.

The theme of Restaurantrepreneur is opening up a new restaurant, which is thematically similar to another Dark Imp game, the Grand Opening, about a restaurant’s first day. However, Restaurantrepreneur involves things like buying fixtures, advertising and hiring folks.


The game consists of five different mini-games. (The Menu, Hiring Staff, The Location, The Fixtures and Fittings, and The Marketing) They all have their own rules, are pretty simple and none of them could really stand on their own.


Each turn, someone rolls three dice. Each player uses one die to pick the game (sixes are wild for this purpose), one die to use in that game and one die as money withdrawn from the bank.

Now, if Restaurantrepreneur just consisted of two dice, picking a mini-game and a die to use in it, it would still be pretty good. But the bank is what pushes the game to the next level.

There are three accounts (pips  1&2, pips 3&4, pips 5&6) They each have sixteen money bags. When you have to cross out a seventeenth bag in an account, you are overdrawn and the game ends for you. (You can’t force an end to everyone’s game)

The bank doesn’t just act as a timer for the game, although it does do that. It makes every turn more interesting. And, at a certain point, you have to make sacrifices to either keep the game going or end the game earlier than you might like to get crucial points.

No, none of the elements are new. Dark Imp doesn’t reinvent wheels but it makes good use of wheels that have been road tested. 

While I can’t say that the mechanics really reflect the theme (they are either crossing out numbers or marking spaces), the themes tie together nicely with the overall idea of trying to get a restaurant started.

Restaurantrepreneur is part of Dark Imp’s placemat line, which means that they take up two sheets of paper, have slightly more complex rules and are ink heavy. The ink heavy part kept me away from the placemat games initially but I’ve been quite happy with them after I took the ink plunge.

Restaurantrepreneur lands solidly in casual gamer camp. It has good choices and the thematic pieces click together. It’s a game that I would pull out for a low key family game night. Restaurantrepreneur captures the feel of a Euro family game in two pages.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Railroad Ink hasn’t fired 30 Rails for me

I have finally played Railroad Ink. As someone who is into Roll and Write games, multi-player solitaires and railway games, it’s been a game I’ve been itching to try since I first saw it lol

(I learned and played it via the app but I don’t rule out getting a physical copy. Although which one? Lol) And at some point, I will actually write about just Railroad Ink but, as I learned it, I found myself thinking about 30 Rails.

Okay, let’s be honest. There’s a lot of railroad-themed connection games out there. And there are plenty of connection-based Roll and Write games. But, for me, 30 Rails is one of the quintessential ones.

30 Rails is an exercise in minimalism. Two dice. A pencil. A grid. A chart. If you didn’t have access to a printer, you could easily make a copy by hand. But within those simple elements is a solid game with some real choices and even a smidgeon of theme.

My initial premise, when I originally started working on this blog entry, was that in a vacuum, Railroad Ink was better than 30 Rails but being free and _very_ easy to construct adds a lot of value to 30 Rails. Heck, having 30 Rails made me not bother to try and mock up a copy of Railroad Ink.

And I think that Railroad Ink, by virtue of having more content, does win in a vacuum. Two different types of paths, bonus faces and a bunch of expansions is a lot extra content.

But 30 Rails with a different set of placement restrictions, offers different kinds of choices. 30 Rails hasn’t lost its own challenges. It has solid value outside of being free. It hasn’t stopped being a good game.

I know I will get a lot of play out of Railroad Ink but I am going to still play 30 Rails. I might even play it more because I’ll be in a train game state of mind.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Is Radoslaw Ignatow the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of PnP?

I dug Radoslaw Ignatow before it was cool :P

I knew his Space Alone Kickstarter was going to do well but I didn’t expect it to get so much wider attention.

It reminds me of reading indie comics in the early 80s and discussing how hard it would be to make a rhyming theme song if they ever made a cartoon of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (In our defense, the theme song didn’t end up rhyming :D And, yes, I’m glad Cerebus never became a children’s cartoons. And don’t tell me they wouldn't have if Sims had been willing. They made a cartoon of Robocop)

Seriously, I’ve followed Ignatow since his first Kickstarter, the LOT of Games bundle. And, frankly, I think he is brilliant at designing Roll and Writes and applying them as PnPs. And he’s been steadily getting better.

I knew that Island Alone had brought him a lot more attention but the fact that Space Alone has gotten up to the number two slot on BGG’s hotness is kind of amazing. 

No, we don’t know how long we will stay there. And you can’t say that it _really_ means anything. (Hands up for everyone who remember when Monkey Auto Race managed to become the number one game on BGG as a mass practical joke in 2007? No one? Man, I feel old)

Still, that’s exposure that justt almost no PnP games get. (I am old enough remember how Zombie in My Pocket was the happy pipe bomb that the community never saw coming) And given Ignatov’s past work, I think the finished product will make plenty of people happy.

It doesn’t hurt that R&Ws can be some of the easier PnP projects to construct. You usually don’t have to worry about making cards or tiles or chits. (Exceptions do exist, particularly the card part) 

I’m not expecting Space Alone to boost the overal presence of PnP games. (Which have been doing steadily better anyway) But it would be fun if it did.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

My July Gaming

With our move and all, I had very low expectations for learning games in July. With that said, I exceeded my expectations.

I learned:

Jump Drive
Disney: Eye Found It! Hidden Picture Card Game
Rustling Leaves

I’ll be honest, I was only figuring I’d learn Restaurantrepreneur in July. 

Jump Drive was something I tried out of curiosity on Board Game Arena. My initial impressions were meh but the solitaire campaigns made Jump Drive addictive to me.

The Eye Found It game was packed as a hotel game. It was better than I expected and the quality of art was solid. However, Dobble/Spot It is vastly superior on almost every single level. Eye Found It is an okay kids game. Spot It is a great game for all ages.

I intentionally packed Restaurantrepreneur in my travel folder to make sure I learned a new Roll and Write game. Honestly, it made me feel like I was playing a family weight board game, the kind of game that got me hooked on designer games. In general, I have found that Dark Imp’s playmat games are hidden gems.

I’ve been meaning to get the Rustling Leaves app for what seems like forever. And now that I have, it was totally worth it. Lots of interesting choices in each map. And, if you don’t play a lot of Roll and Writes, drawing boxes rather than symbols or Tetris shapes might not be a big change but if you plays tons of them, it is lol.

I have no idea what August will be like. July, with three games that I really liked, July was good.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

My July PnP

During July, we drove across the country to our new home, waited for our stuff to catch up with us and have been unpacking ever since. 

So, not a month where Print and Play was a high priority, let alone a possibility. I didn’t even see the printer or the laminator or the paper cutter for most of the month.

However, I did include laminated card sheets for Palm Island in my travel stuff.  I wanted to make sure I could make something in July.

More than that, I wanted to make sure that I made something that meant something to me. I wanted to make something that I knew was a game I enjoy playing, which means making a game I’ve already played.

Actually, I’ve made at least three copies of Palm Island since I’ve worn copies out. Palm Island wasn’t my introduction to In Hand games (That was actually the nine-card version of I Am Lynx. Which made me track down Palm Island) but I do think it’s one of the best In Hand games and helped create a whole new template of them.

Truth to tell, I have other laminated card sheets packed away so I will be able to make more games for the next few months if I pace myself. By then, I’ll have a sense of what my new Print and Play habits will be.