Sunday, December 31, 2023

Looking back at 2023

2023 was a year of changes for us. Moving across the country, me starting a new job, our son starting in a new school. 

What it wasn’t was a big year of gaming for me. Particularly the second half of the year when all those big life changes kicked in. Time, space, supplies, concentration, those were all resources I need to use on non-gaming priorities.

Even online turn-based gaming dried up for me. That ended up feeling more like a chore than fun. That said, I do think turn-based okay takes a different kind of mental energy than live gaming. You have to get yourself back up to speed every turn.

That said, Print and Play solitaire Roll ans Writes kept me gaming the second half of the year. Minimal resources to be able to play. A clipboard, a dry erase marker and either some dice or a die roller on a device and I am good to go. Highlights included learning the rest of Dark Imp’s playmat games and the Legends of Dsyx series. 

Digital board gaming has long been part of my gaming life. BSW was a big part of playing games that weren’t Dungeons and Dragons or other RPGs. But there really is something about using physical components. And clipboards and paper check that box.

It was also the year that I really got into Alexander Shen as a designer. I’ll be honest, in a year when I would have had more recreational time, that wouldn’t have happened. But Shen’s coffee-break weight games and puzzles were amazing for this year. I learned ten different games and puzzles from him and I know I’ll learn more in 2024.

Highpoints of the games I learned include Jump Drive (but only soliatire campalign mode), Trek 12 and The Magus.

2023 also saw me rediscover One Piece and actually sit down and read some Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. You know, along with a metric ton of other manga. I also discovered BattleTech fiction existed. Which is really the equivalent of fast food in fiction form but some interesting authors did get their start there.

I don’t think 2024 wkll be a game heavy year but I do think it will be heavier than 2023.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Taking a break from saving the world to grow up

Almost immediately after I finished rereading The Heroes of Olympus series, I read the Chalice of the Gods, the first in a new Percy Jackson trilogy. This wasn’t actually intentional. I had put a hold on the book a few months ago and the timing was just a funny coincidence.

That being said, holy Poisdien, what a contrast,






Seriously, I’m going to be taking about the ending




The book is less than a year old, stop now if you don’t want it spoiled



And I thought that the Trials of Apollo were a big shift from the Heroes of Olympus, the Chalice of the Gods is almost the diametric opposite of Heroes. While Heroes is a globe-trotting epic with the biggest cast of any of Riordan’s series, Chalice never leaves New York state (other than Poseidon’s undersea castle) and goes back to just Percy, Annabelle and Grover.

However, Chalice isn’t just some sort of return to form. Instead, with the conflict being Percy getting divine reference letters so he can go to New Rome University with Annabelle, it’s a more reflective work. It’s less a callback and more a mediation of how Percy and company are becoming grownups.

This comes to a blatant but surprisingly satisfying point when Percy has to wrestle with Geras, the god of old age. Percy can’t win but he is able to resolve the conflict by accepting the inevitability of growing old, with the implied goal dying havinbfg lived a full life.

The smaller scale of Chalice, Percy working on becoming a grownup instead of saving the world, was charming and effective. Instead of going bigger, Riordan reminds us why we care about Percy and his friends. 

There are still two more books scheduled to address Percy’s quest for letters of recommendation. There’s still time for the entire world to be in danger. But I’m hoping it stays cozy.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Delving into the French history of science fiction

The Xipéhuz by JH Rosny is a novella from 1888 that may be the first example of the starfish alien, beings completely unrelatable for human beings. 

And, as someone who has loved by Lovecraftian horror and science fiction since I was in the single digits, I have to ask ‘Why did I only hear about this story?!’

The reason is actually pretty simple. It’s a French story and if your name wasn’t Jules Verne, your nineteenth century science fiction wasn’t going to get translated into English.

The Xipéhuz  tells the story of prehistoric man encounter tbe mysterious Xipéhuz and fighting a genicidal war against each other. I want to note that, while I did call them aliens, the story doesn’t give any kind of origin for the Xipéhuz. They could be aliens or a native Earth species or magical fay for all the story tells us.

Not going to lie, as far as actual plot goes, it’s pretty simple. What is actually interesting is the biology of the Xipéhuz, as described by a prehistoric Einstein.

They sre neither animal or vegetable (silicon is a pillar theory but not verified in the story) that change forms from cones and columns and sheets. They can fire some kind of heat beams from apertures which are also their ownly weaknesses. And they reproduce by forming a gas that coalesces into a solid.

I am glad that I discovered that tbe Xipéhuz exists. It’s a fascinating look at the origins of science fiction.  

Friday, December 22, 2023

Titans wraps up Dsyx for me

With Titans of Dsyx, I have now played every game in the Legends of Dsyx series.  And, while I didn’t save the best for last, it was a pretty good one.

(Hall of the Dwarven King is still tops)

In Titans, you are filling in one of those grids that are marked out like a brick wall so it’s really a hex grid, even though the sections are squares. There’s also a table of map features. You start by rolling a die and drawing that map feature anywhere on the grid.

Here’s the deal: each turn, you roll three dice. One die will be the direction you move from the last thing you drew. Another die will be how many spaces you move. That other die, using the table, that will be what you draw. Twenty turns and you’re done.

So what’s the clever bit, you ask. Glad you asked.  That would be terraforming. Almost every map feature gets upgraded when drawn next to another map feature, usually itself. If you’d draw a tree next to a tree, you draw a forest instead. Grassland by a lake, that becomes a town. And there’s a third tier of map features, like castles and volcanos that are worth the real points.

And there’s a couple event tables. After you build a town or an arch, you roll for an event that will add or remove map features.

If your turn is impossible to complete, you cross out a map feature  and redraw it anywhere that’s blank.

After you are done, figure out how many points your completed map is worth. Since this is beat your best score’, you are really playing for the experience of making a nifty map. Fortunately, that’s a good experience.

I quite enjoyed Titans of Dsyx. Yeah, the random number generator goes can completely destroy your plans and sometimes having to erase and redraw is a mixed blessing in disguise. However, the goal of trying to build bigger and better things is clear and easy to understand. And making a portal or a world tree is very satisfying.

A couple years after he made Titans of Dsyx, Robin Gibson made a couple of similar games, Wheat & Ale and Timber & Fur. While not Dsyx games, they are filling in a hex grid with  symbols. They are simpler and a lot less random. And, frankly, I like Titans better. It is bigger and crazier, even if it harder to make a plan come together. It’s just a wilder, deeper ride.

When I first started looking at the Legends of Dsyx four years ago (Cthulhu on a moped, was it really that long ago!?),  I felt like Robin Gibson was trying to cram entire box-sized game on one side of a piece  of paper, rules and all. Designers keep on pushing the boundaries of what you can do with Roll and Write medium. (We have come a long way from Kismet being cool for adding color to Yahtzee) but the Legends of Dsyx are still some interesting experiments.

Now that I’ve learned them all… time to go back and revisit the ones I haven’t played in a while.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Apropos of gaming with non-gamers

 Apropos of Movies is a game I hadn’t heard of until I saw it on PnP Arcade’s Black Friday sale. Which is slightly surprising because I tend to at least look at what Button Shy is doing. (If PnP micro games are of any interest to you, Button Shy is your jam)

Apropos of Movies is an 18-card party/social/trivia game that can be played solitaire. It pulls off the later by being a cooperative game that you are playing against a timer. The timer is the bad guy.

Sixteen of the cards are movie elements and the other two cards are a ‘Must Have’ and ‘Must Not Have’ 

Set down the ‘Must Have’ and ‘Must Not Have’ cards. You’ll be forming rows of cards beside them. Set the timer. Now, draw the first card and put it in the Must Have row. Figure out a move that fits. Draw the next card. If the first movie has that element, the second card goes in the Must Have row. If it doesn’t, put it in the Kust Not Have row. Now,’figure out a movie with the new restrictions.

And so it goes.

The game ends when you’ve either successfully played five to seven cards or the timer goes off. You lose if the timer goes off. 

Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the mission statement of Apropos of Movies was ‘Make a game to play while waiting for your food at a restaurant… that you have to play with non-gamers’ Because, if that is the one thing this game is supposed to do, it delivers. Trivia/Party games aren’t really my jam but I _know_ people would eat Apropos of Movies alive and without ketchup.

I do like how you have to come up with your own answers. The game just supplies you with the questions. That means, with maybe a house rule or two, you could get a lot of mileage out of it.

If I am packing one social game for a trip, it’s going to be Flipword. But if I want to throw in a second game, Apropos of Movies is a good backup choice.

I have learned that there is another game in the Apropos family that is about boardgames. I’ve gotten the PDF files for that but I have a feeling that will actually be one I will end up playing solitaire.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

The flaws of Heroes of Olympus

 I originally read Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series as it came out. At the time, it struck me as the strongest young adult writing he had done. I decided to reread the series and found that I both agreed and disagreed with my younger self lol

I initially approached the series as a sharp contrast to Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Since then, I have read a number of his other young adult books (because they were written afterward the Heroes of Olympus lol) and I now feel the series is a sharp contrast to all his young adult work. 

The big, obvious difference is going from first person to limited third person. There are still point of view characters, nine of them in fact. Which is a big jump from the Kane Chronicles having two narrators. (Still nothing compared to George RR Martin) Among other things, having it be third person, heightens the tension since you generally assume the narrator is going to survive. It also makes it easier to keep track of who the point of view character is.

In fact, the Heroes of Olympus is a constant study of contrasts. Every character has at least one other character that they are a foil to.  Percy Jackson and Jason Grace may be the most obvious but they are far from the only ones. Indeed, the Giants of the Gia are each assigned a Greek God that they are the nemesis of. (My personal favorite contrasts are the satyrs Grover and Coach Hedge)

Spoilers time







The Heroes of Olympus has an Empire Strikes Back problem. The House of Hades, which could be subtitled ‘Percy and Annabeth Go to Hell’ is one of Riordan’s strongest books. Arguably his strongest. 

And it’s the second to last book.

As I went into rereading the Blood of Olympus, I realized how little I remembered of it. The House of Hades completely overshadows it. It’s still a fun read. I particularly enjoyed the Nico and Reyna chapters, which I forgot existed. 

The Heroes of Olympus is the most epic of Riordan’s young adult world. Since the world ending is  usually the stake so that’s saying something. And that made the fact that Riordan didn’t stick the landing all the more rougher. 

(I noticed that Heroes actually is structured like The Lord of the Rings in that the heroes are gathered, the fellowship is formed and then broken apart. But the last book is like Frodo and Samwise for back and become supporting characters)

One telling. difference between the House of Hades and the Blood of Olympus is in their approach to heroic sacrifice. In the former, Bob and Damasen hold the line at the gates of death and we can only assume they die. (I believe that gets revisited in The Sun and the Star but I haven’t read that and there’s a big gap between books) In the Blood of Olympus, Leo’s sacrifice is immediately undone by a clever, Ocean’s Eleven-style cunning plan. There just isn’t any weight to it in comparison.

I do feel like The Trials of Apollo feels like a course correction by Riordan. Not only by going back to first person but in a more focused story with a stronger focus on character and character development.

I have revised my opinion of the Heroes of Olympus but the House of Hades totally justifies the series existence.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Going back to Micro Rome

When I was recently looking at Micro Rome, I found out that it had gotten published some time in 2023. While the end goal of a lot of PnP games is to get published, that’s still pretty good for a game that originally showed in 2014.

(Every time I see a Print and Play game that I’ve played get published, I have to remind myself that I’m not an early adapter. I’m a Guiana pig. Which is actually more useful to the board game ecology)

My first rounds of Micro Rome were five or so years back, when my PnP interests were dovetailing with exploring solitaire games. Micro Rome wasn’t the game that changed my outlook in solitaire and PnP (that would be Autumn) but it was part of that initial game exploration.

Micro Rome is a tile-laying game that is themed around building Rome but is really about grouping symbols. One of the clever bits is that each card has to cover up at least three squares that have already been placed. And, oh yes, there are other restrictions. Buildings must be totally covered and water can never be covered.

Going back to it, Micro Rome feels smaller and simpler than I remember it. When I first played it, it was a step up in complexity from what I had been looking at. In the years since then, I’ve seen a lot more micro games. Orchard and its family, for example, I think are deeper and more interesting.

And, while I was always aware that only two out of the seven methods of scoring, could let you achieve the winning score, it feels more striking that the other methods feel divorced from them. I can definitely understand where the game is coming from a design standpoint, but it still seems awkward.

That being said, Micro Rome is a fun game. The mechanics do hold up and force you to make decisions, some of which you will regret later. I particularly like that scoring 41 points defines winning, not beating your earlier scores. And while that doesn’t seem as hard as it was five years ago, it still isn’t easy.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Parry games and creating your own content

A few years back, I found a nine-card PnP game called Cryptic that was a party/social game. At the time, I found the idea of a game like that fascinating, a party game broken down into nine components.

(Which is kind of odd, since charades has probably been around since time and memorial and doesn’t require any components at all)

Since then, I’ve played other games that at least can be party/social games like Word Chain and Flipword and, more recently, the Apropos family of games, that are all also micro games. All of which were better than Cryptic, by the way. 

I realize that a lot of the party games from my childhood had a lot of content. Games like Facts in Five or Pictionary or Cranium or, in particular, Trivial Pursuit came with buckets of cards. Plenty of more modern party games like Dixit or Wits and Wagers or Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity also come with tons of cards.

And, while there have always been tons of party/social games that don’t require five pounds of cards, it was still part of my concept of how they work. (No, it’s not rational)

What I noticed with Word Chain is that the tiny handful of cards create a framework. You’d have to add the content yourself. And the same can be said for Flipword or the Apropos family.

And I quite like this. Having to actually add the content yourself to a party/social game forces you to be clever and to reach into your reference pools. Which is the complete opposite of Apples to Apples, which gift wraps the thinking for you.

And, no, clearly these recent games didn’t introduce the idea of supplying all the content yourself. Not by a long shot. Charades, which I keep on coming back to, can be played that way. Really, adding a stack of questions or topics is actually quite new in the grand scheme of things.

I’m not too big on party games, although I definitely see their value. But I do like being forced to be clever.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Secondhand Dave the Diver

While I haven’t played Dave the Diver myself, I have watched my wife play through the game. Which is how it works in our home, really. I focus on tabletop and she focuses on video games. And from an outsider’s viewpoint, Dave the Diver is a pearl of a game (rimshot)

In Dave the Diver, you take on the role of the eponymous diver, a pudgy guy whose chief characteristic is just how sweet he is. Seriously, Dave is prepared to help out anyone and everyone.

After a magical spot of the ocean where fish from every biome spawn is found, Dave is cajoled in to catch fish for a sushi restaurant. A restaurant that he then has to run. The main beats of the game are beautiful dives to hunt for fish and a restaurant management simulator. Along the way, Dave also discovers lost civilizations, uncovers corporate conspiracies and battle legendary monsters. Also, he plays a bunch of mini-games.

Oh, and it’s look is a love letter to retro gaming.

And the amazing thing about Dave the Diver is that it pulls it off. The wacky hodgepodge of gameplay mechanics interlock and compliment each other. I think the story is fun, engaging and occasionally touching. And Dave is the kind of lovable hero you either want to be or want to know.

It’s certainly not flawless. The controls can be clunky, to judge by the complaints I’ve heard. And some of the mini-games seem a little forced. Like bolting on one more thing into the kitchen range.

But, at the end of the day, Dave the Diver just radiates cheerful, silly fun. It is an escapist journey into a world of sushi and adventure.

Monday, December 4, 2023

My Gaming November

 I didn’t do a ton of gaming in November. Actually, it was easily my least game-oriented month so far this far year. However, I did check some things off that I had been meaning to learn.

I learned:
Tiny Stories (journaling RPG)
Derelict Dirigible 
Beetle Get!
The Magus (journaling RPG)

Derelict Dirigible has been on the stack for a while since I’ve been meaning to learn all of the Legend of Dsyx games. While not without issues, it was better than I feared it would be. And now I just have one more Dsyx game to learn. Then, I’ll go back and revisit some of them lol

But the Magus was my big game for November. I’ve been sitting on it for a year, waiting to celebrate NaNoWriMo with it. (No, I didn’t write 50,000 words with it. I bet you could though)

The Magus has a tighter structure and more mechanics than other journaling games I have tried. That increase in complexity is rewarded by pushing you towards richer story telling. I played it as a campaign and I would do it again.

November was really busy but the gaming moments helped me through.

Friday, December 1, 2023

My November PnP

 November ended up being a very busy month and one where print-and-play projects just didn’t make the schedule. However I like to try and make something every month so I made one game:

Pope or Nope

It’s been ok the ‘To Do’ list for a while. I printed out the sheets and cut and laminated them in 2019 or 2020. Probably 2020.

It’s a bit of a trick taking/climbing game and a bit of a take that game themed around picking the next pope. Honestly, the theme is probably strongest element of the game.

Even when I initially printed in out, I knew that my focus for PnP had shifted to solitaire. Truth to tell, with the exception of Roll and Writes where you just print out the player sheet so it’s just like a published version, it’s hard to get folks to play with homemade components. And even after purging hundreds of games while packing for our recent live, I still have more than enough games to play with my family.

So I know the copy of Pope or Nope I made last month probably won’t get played. However, it did get it off the stack of incomplete projects. And I have a pile of games I’m meaning to learn so it’s not taking the place of a game I would want to play immediately.

All that said, I’m hoping to do better in December.