Thursday, April 18, 2024

Where I praise but try not to spoil Tamora Pierce’s Wild Magic

 Two years ago, I discovered Tamora Pierce through the Protector of the Small series, which I really quite liked.  So I decided to add Pierce to my authors to read list and her Tortall books in particular.

Last year, I read The Song of the Lioness, her first series.  Definitely had some early installment weirdness and didn’t feel as polished as the Protector of the Small books.

This year, I’m reading The Immortals series, the one be in between The Song of the Lioness and Protector of the Small in her Tortall books. (After that, I can just go in publication order)

And I have to admit that I went into Wild Magic not too excited. I had an idea of what the overall series would be like since it does get referenced in Protector of the Small. Daine didn’t sound as interesting or sound like she had as much conflict as the other two protagonists I’d read.

Instead, I found out that the Immortals was where Pierce stepped on the gas and the writing got really good.

Not that the Song of the Lioness is bad. It made Pierce’s reputation for crying out loud. But there are some rough edges (but that’s a different blog) If I had read it in the early 80s, it would have knocked my socks off.

But Wild Magic is a solid improvement, particularly in the actual writing style itself. There is an ease and confidence in the voice of the author. The world building, which took a couple of books to settle in, is very defined. And Diane is more complicated and interesting than I’d feared.

While the Song of the Lioness was never low fantasy, the Immortals steps into higher fantasy with fantastical creatures of myths and legends breaking into the world of humanity. I was worried that would be jarring. And it is jarring, but in the right way. The characters are not responding like Dungeons and Dragons PCs, who expect to see the world fantastic. Instead, they are confused and even terrified. It’s good stuff.

Wild Fire doesn’t rewrite the Tortall of Song of the Lioness. Instead, it expands and deepens it. And it left me eager to read the next book.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

What’s Kraken’s use of familiar forms

What’s Kraken is a Roll and Write that is centered around what I’m starting to think is the single most common mechanic in R&Ws, drawing stuff on grids. That being said, the game keeps it interesting by having you draw on more than one grid, as well as deal with inventory management. Oh, and checking off tracks.

The theme is pretty simple. You are manning a pirate ship that is trying not to lose a fight with a Kraken. Fortunately, these pirates are all about deep sea diving.

The player sheet actually has a fair number of things to keep track of. The biggest part is a grid map for diving for stuff. And trust me, you will need stuff if you want to win. It also has two more grids for the pirate ship, starboard and port sides. Those are for keeping track of the damage the Kraken does. There is also a salvage track and three tracks for doing damage back to the Kraken.

Each turn, you roll four dice. Two for you and two for the Kraken. If I read the rules correctly, they have to be differently colored so you don’t get to mix and match dice. Which, quite frankly would make the game a whole lot easier but also remove the value of one of the special items.

Fundamentally, there are three things that you are going to be doing on your turn. Diving to get resources, repairing damage on the ship, and doing damage to the Kraken.

Diving is probably the most interesting part of the game. You are making a path of shapes and collecting the resources your shapes go over. In fact, it’s quite like Postmark Games’ Aquamarine, except honestly , Aquamarine does it better.

And, as I mentioned before, you are going to need resources if you are not going to lose the game. There are fish to modify dice rolls. There is timber that is required to repair the ship. There is treasure that lets you swap dice with the Kraken. And there are blasts which make it easier to damage the Kraken.

And it is actually kind of annoying to damage the Kraken since you need specific doubles of dice. You are going to need to use these resources if you are going to fill in the Kraken tracks and kill the thing. Luck is not going to do it.

Damage and repair follow the same basic rules. You use two dice to determine which side of the ship you were drawing or erasing a specific shape. If you ever can’t add a shape, you guessed it, you lose.

One of the things that really strikes me about What’s Kraken is how granular it is. Most of the time, you are only going to have two dice to work with each turn. And a lot of the actions require you to use both of them to do that action. 

That said, that economy of actions drives the game. You have to juggle hurting the Kraken, keeping the ship afloat, and diving for stuff. And the Kraken just keep whaling away at you every turn. You have to do the best you can with your rolls and your stuff.

While there is a lot of moving parts (and I haven’t even described all of them), they all work together. More than that, they are thematic, which also helps the game experience. Which ends up being a good one.

What’s Kraken does absolutely nothing that I haven’t seen before. Every mechanic in the game is one that I’m familiar with. Which does make the game easily to learn. It isn’t innovative but it does well with what it uses and it all makes sense.

What’s Kraken isn’t the best R&W I’ve learned this year. Nor is it the most innovative. However, it is a profoundly pleasant game. It won’t fit in a minimalist game collection but it will work. Well for one aimed at variety.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

I discover the Garfield Spider-Man twelves years late

I am definitely a key demographic for superhero movies. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I was an avid reader of comic books. 

But up until a week ago, I never watched The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield. At the time when it came out, it was part of a crowded field of superhero movies and word of mouth hated it. 

Now that I’ve seen it, I am absolutely bewildered by the bile that I’ve heard about it. Yeah, it isn’t Spider-Man 2 but it also isn’t Spider-Man 3.

Actually, I do understand why people were upset. The original Spider-Man movie, along with the original X-Men movie and original Blade movie, did a lot to set up the modern superhero movie movement, the idea that a movie about superheroes doesn’t have to be a toy commercial or a joke. (The first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies and the two Michael Keaton Batman movies also treated their subjects like films instead of shames but they were exceptions rather than trendsetters) Spider-Fans were invested in Toby McGuire and interlopers were not to be tolerated.

But I had been told that Andrew Garfield was the jerk Spider-Man, not the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man that everyone could love.

So, what did I find? A Peter Parker who is an orphan and a social outcast with all the damage and baggage that that implies. A Peter Parker who is awkward and uncertain and angry. A Peter Parker who lashes out and struggles to figure out what to do.

After a half hour, I said to myself ‘This is Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man!’

Now, I am not going to say there is a definitive Spider-Man nor that there is a best Spider-Man. Many people have worked with the character in many media and that is part of what makes Spider-Man such a wonderful cultural phenomena. Honestly, Ditko’s Spider-Man isn’t my favorite one. However, there is no denying that he created the most crucial Spider-Man. If he and Stan hadn’t made it work, there’d have been no Spider-Man.

I am not saying that the Amazing Spider-Man is my new favorite Spider-Man movie. Heck, for the reasons I gave, I don’t have one. However, I felt that the Garfield version of Spider-Man was one that was engaging and interesting. I am glad that I have seen it.

(And, yes, Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy was a great interpretation of the character but everyone says that so that wasn’t a surprise)

Monday, April 8, 2024

How Bruce Coville went from Scooby Doo to Spider Robinson

Many moons ago (checks copywrite dates… Whoa, a whole lot of moons ago!), I read a book called My Teacher is an Alien by Bruce Coville. So long ago, in fact, that I was actually the target age group for the book.

Earlier this year, I learned that it was, in fact, only the first book in a series of four books. After My Teacher is an Alien, we got My Teacher Fried My Brain, My Teacher Glows in the Dark and My Teacher Flunked the Planet

And, boy, did the series not go where I was expecting it to go. In fact, if I had kept on reading it, I probably would have been strongly affected by it at that age.







Seriously, I’m going to even talk about the resolution for the whole series




The first book has three kids, discover that one of their teachers is, yeah, you guessed it, an alien from outer space. He is there to abduct a group of children. Fortunately, he has a great sensitivity to music, and the school band is able to drive him away, although one child is so unhappy here on earth that he goes with him.

So we have an alien invasion/abduction theme with a definite Scooby Doo vibe. And honestly, at the time, it didn’t make that big an impression on me. Particularly because the alien teacher didn’t seem that scary. And I assumed that the rest of the series would continue with the whole Scooby-Doo, meddling kids thwart alien invasion theme.

Instead, the series tackles, a different, science-fiction, trope, one that’s actually more interesting. The aliens are actually trying to figure out what to do with us. Because the series taps into two ideas that show up a lot in science-fiction. One, humans are dangerous. Two, humans are special. 

In fact, it pushes both ideas further than a lot of science fictions works. It doesn’t just talk about how the human race commits war. It also talks about environmental abuse and other forms of abuse and negligence. The Ethiopian famine of 1983 - 85 was specifically mentioned and the political elements of it were even alluded to (but not spelled out because this was a series for middle schoolers)

And the series takes up the old (and disproven) saw that we use only 10% of our brains. So the human brain is the most potentially brilliant brain in the universe, which actually kind of annoys the aliens.

So, instead of an alien invasion plot, the kids find out that what is really going on is that the aliens are trying to figure out if they have to wipe out the human race before we get off the planet and really start breaking stuff. Coville actually does a really good job of both showing that the aliens really don’t like the idea of genocide but also how we aren’t giving them much choice.

The explanation for everything turns out to be that the human race is actually a hive mind, but one that fractured because feeling everyone was just too painful. So we do have magical brains, but the fact that we are incomplete makes us unhappy and lash out. (And this was when I checked to make sure Bruce Coville wasn’t a pseudonym for Spider Robinson)

Not going to lie, I found that to be a cop out. Coville actually does a very interesting job discussing human flaws but then comes up with a fantastic solution. He talks about real problems, but then gives us a magical solution that I’m confident isn’t actually real.

I did like how aliens gave us television to make us more stupid. And then were upset because it worked too well.

While I wasn’t pleased with the destination, I did enjoy the journey. The series definitely encourages you to think and it would have made me think pretty hard if I had read it back when I was in middle school or high school.

I also like the character development. In particular, Duncan’s arc is good. A thoughtless bully, he goes through a Flowers for Algernon brain enhancement. However, instead of it being a tragedy because it isn’t permanent, he gets to keep the emotional growth that he got from it.

My Teacher is an Alien series starts off as a juvenile thriller but segue ways into a young adult examination of human nature. And perhaps Coville’s goal wasn’t to tie everything up with a happy ending  but make his readers think about all the problems along the way.

Friday, April 5, 2024

The nature of places that apparently aren’t places

 Our son recently began talking about liminal spaces, a topic that I really didn’t see coming. However, looking into it, I discovered that the definition of liminal spaces has changed. Or, to be more fair, it’s taken on an additional meaning.

The ‘classic’ definition of a liminal space is that it is a transitional space. Arthur Dent’s house is a liminal space compared to the two ends of the bypass that it had to be demolished to make. It’s a very broad category.

The newer definition, which some sources describe as an Internet aesthetic, is more like a place that isn’t really a place. A place that has stopped being a place. Abandoned malls  or hospitals seem to be popular examples.

Let’s be fair. First of all, the classic definition is so broad and vague that there is plenty of overlap between the two. And language changes. And unless you’re a dead language (love ya, Latin!) that nobody actually uses any anymore, languages are living and changing beasts.

Liminal Spaces as an aesthetic appear in art and movies and video games and cartoons and literature. I am going to argue that the House in Piranesi by Susana Clarke is an example of a liminal space. House of Leaves definitely is.

The idea of a place that is not a place is definitely not an idea that the gestalt that we call the Internet came up with. A. A. Milne described it perfectly in 1924 in his poem ‘Halfway Down’ Heck, the Netherworld in the Epic of Gilgamesh fits the new definition of liminal space just fine.

The thing about these places that aren’t places is that they are real. Obviously the media uses liminal spaces are using fictional examples. However, there really are places that feel like they aren’t places or stopped being places.

And not just places like abandoned malls or failed amusement parks. Any place out of context can take on a liminal space feel. I remember waiting in an empty parking lot and having a sense that time had stopped and the world was no longer entirely real. It was actually quite soothing, which is why it’s stayed in my memory.

But the power of this new version of liminal spacer clearly has power because it is so relatable. We have all been there, the nowhere that is. It is a form of the unknown we all know.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

My March Gaming

 While I didn’t learn a lot of new games in March, I did learn a couple of games that I had been planning on learning for a while.

Waypoints, the third but hopefully not final Roll and Write from Postmark Games, was the one game that I wanted to make sure I learned in March. Voyages, Aquamarine and Waypoints are brilliant and accessible. I am going to try out the Battle Card series to make a complete sweet of their catalog but that is a different category of game. (I have played the Market Garden map but that predates the publication)

Honestly, I can see spending more time trying out all the maps of those three games in April than learning new games.

I also _finally_ played Island Alone. I’ve been enjoying Radoslaw Ignatow’s games for years. However, Island Allone js where he took the jump from one page games to game systems. Another game I hope to spend some real time exploring.

I also learned Golem Needs Pie and Blokus Junior. Golem is very flawed but will probably still see more play. Blokus Junior isn’t the best Blokus game but Blokus is a family that is always good.

I do plan on learning a new game or two in April but I may focus more on exploring games I already know.

Monday, April 1, 2024

My March PnP

 March was an interesting month for Print and Play crafting for me. Because everything I made that wasn’t laminating a Roll and Write sheet was something I’d made before lol

Here’s what I made:

Waypoints (maps 1-3)

Aquamarine (map 1, fan map tomb diver)

What’s Kraken

Apropos of Movies


River Mild + expansion

One Card Mazes - Preview

I had already made a copy of Apropos of Movies and I’ve actually made several copies of FlipWord and given most of them away. (In fact, I may have only given away more copies of Elevens for One and FlipWord may have beaten it by now) However, I wanted copies that would live in my teacher bag. Not just for lunch breaks but because they have classroom potential.

And I hadn’t actually realized that River Mild was just a retheme of River Wild when I bought the files. The sad thing is, I use the a black and white printer so the change in colors, particularly to my colorblind eyes, just isn’t there. But I do appreciate the more naturalist re-theme and I do like the game, even though I think Insurmountable is far better.

But the real gem of March for me is Waypoints. Seriously, the three Roll and Writes games that Postmark Games have given to the universe are phenomenal. Waypoints is my least favorite but that’s like saying it’s my least favorite chocolate. It’s still so good!

Friday, March 29, 2024

Season Two of One Card Mazes builds on core ideas

Earlier this year, I wrote about the first season of One Card Mazes. And I now I’ve been asked to review the second season, which will end up on Kickstarter pretty soon. Okay, disclosure taken care of.

Short version if you don’t want to read any further, the second season builds on the ideas that made the first bunch of mazes fun. If you like puzzles, good stuff.

One Card Mazes are a collection of mazes where each of one fits on both sides of a card. Name’s totally self explanatory.

Here are the two clever bits mechanically speaking. There are paths that lead off the edge of the card. You flip the card over to continue that path. More interestingly, there are also spins, spots on the board that let you change the orientation. And you need those because there are doors in the maze shaped like arrows, and you can only pass through them when the arrow is pointing up.

Now, you don’t actually draw on the maps. Well, I guess you could, but the really not designed that way. As you re-orient the maze, you are going to be backtracking a lot. Maybe actually drawing on the maze would help but it also might make it a lot more confusing. I play with the mind’s eye. Or mind’s pencil.

When I first tried the original demos, I was concerned that the mechanics weren’t strong enough to support a bigger series of mazes. After I bit the bullet and bought season one, which brought the total number of mazes up to twenty-two, I realized that the rules might be simple but they have a broad enough scope to create a variety of engaging mazes. And that’s where I had a new concern. The fact that I was terrible at them lol

The season two preview I’ve looked at actually addresses both those concerns. Season Two includes two new types of mazes: Fledgling and Boss.

Fledgling mazes are simply mazes are easier. The two prototypes that were in the preview had instructions as part of the mazes but I don’t know if that will be the case for all of them.

In addition to being steppingstones to help me wor, my way up to more difficult mazes, like, you know, the ones in the first release, I can see these being good gifts to introduce other people to the system. I can even imagine handing them out in the classroom.

Boss mazes, on the other hand, are literal game changers. Because, they, like, change the rules. Instead of just getting your way through a maze, you have to defeat some kind of antagonist. 

On one side of the card, there is a central area with some kind of opponent on it. The preview has a gelatinous cube, a boxer and Cthulhu to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. The examples have three to four hit points that are displayed as numbered arrows.

You defeat a boss by entering that area in the correction orientation and number order. If you skip a number, you lose. Which just means you start over, or at least backtrack from where you came from.

Boss mazes don’t just add a dash of theme. They are longer, less forgiving mazes that have you will be exploring more of the entire board. Without removing the core elements of flipping, and re-orienting the card, they take the system to the next level. They don’t replace the core mechanics, they elevate them.

So, with these two different types of mazes, the guys who make One Card Mazes are bookending the entire system. They have something for folks like me who need some help and they have something for those jerks who need more challenge.

And One Card Mazes aren’t just cute and/or clever. They have real value. I keep a few in my wallet (they take up a lot less space than a full card game) When, all too recently, I was stuck on the side of road in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire, I was very glad for that. During the four and a half hours of waiting, with a phone that was nearly dead and needed to be saved for being used as an actual phone, One Card Mazes helped me keep a little sanity. Not all of it, oh no. But more than I would have had otherwise.

I am much more of a gamer than a puzzle person but One Card Mazes have done well for me. When that Kickstarter goes live, I’m on board.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Thoughts on the original Blokus Junior

 My son and I recently sat down and tried out Blokus Junior. His real love is video games but we do get in the odd board game now and then. 

Having already played Blokus, Blokus Duo and Blokus Trigon (I don’t count Blokus 3D since it’s a rethemed Rumis by a different designer. Great game but not the same umbrella), I can honestly say that I feel that every game since the first one is better than the original Blokus. Yup, Blokus Junior has kept that trend.

The Blokus family is a set of abstract strategy games that are part of what I think of as ‘stones on the board’ design strategy. (Yes, Go had a big impact on my life, thanks for asking) Every game in the family is built around the idea of trying to cover more of the board than your opponents with different shaped pieces. You always have to touch the corners of your own pieces, but you can never touch the sides.

From what I have read, newer additions of Blokus Junior are actually the same as Blokus Duo just with larger pieces. We have one of the older additions, where each player has two sets of twelve pieces. so, I have gotten to experience the actual different game.

And having a simplified set of pieces does create a different game. Heck, just having two singe-square pieces makes a big difference in your strategy. Blokus Junior is honestly a simpler game with simpler patterns.

To be honest, one of the virtues of the Blokus family is how simple the basic rules are. You can explain the game to just about anyone in a minute or two. At the same time, the family offers a rich decision tree. Just because the rules are simple doesn’t make the choices you make simple.

So I don’t know how necessary it was to make an even simpler version of the game. I will honestly say that I think Blokus duo is stronger than the original Blokus Junior. (Blokus Trigon remains the best and one of the strongest three-player abstracts I have ever found) 

Having said that, we still enjoyed Blokus Junior, and we would happily play it again. Personally, I found it interesting to play with such a different set of pieces. I first played Blokus… decades ago? Eeep! I enjoy the change up. And I like how Blokus Junior continues to have the starting positions in the middle of the board. The starting corners in original Blokus is one of its biggest weaknesses.

Just because there are better games doesn’t mean Blokus Junior isn’t a good game. Indeed, there are all too many worse games. Frankly, the simple game of Blokus Junior isn’t a bad choice for a school night after homework when thinking isn’t the sharpest.

If you are dealing with a very limited storage, space, or if you only want a collection that is the best of the best, I would recommend just picking up Blokus Trigon. But if you like abstracts and have room for variety in your collection (and can find a used copy), Blokus Junior will be rewarding.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

I finally go on the chaotic journey that is the 13th season of Doctor Who

 Very recently, I sat down and got caught up on Doctor Who. I almost never binge TV shows but Doctor Who has long been my favorite TV show and I had fallen far behind.

Honestly, after the 12th season, I was burnt out. While I thought that Jodie Wittaker was a great Doctor, I felt that Chris Chibnall was not a good show runner.

In fact, I felt like the tone indicated that Chibnall was ashamed to be producing a science fiction show. Looking at his history, I learned he has a long history of working with Doctor Who and a longer history of being a fan so that wasn’t the case. Instead, it just felt like he struggled with focus and resolution.

I actually thought that the Endless Child idea could lead to some great stories if used well. However, it felt like it was being dropped in that season’s holiday special and not getting used at all.

At that point, I took an unintended break because it felt like Chibnall, at best, couldn’t resolve the plot and character elements he introduced. I just didn’t feel like watching anymore.

But I can’t stay away from Doctor Who. And I wanted to see what Russel T. Davies was up to when he came back to the show.

Season 13, the Flux storyline, was the best Chibnall season for me. While I still felt like the resolution was very weak at best, it took longer to get there so I enjoyed the journey more. 






I found Dan Lewis, Karvanista, Vinder, Bel, Claire Brown and Professor Jericho all more interesting than pretty much any other characters from Chibnall’s run, sadly including Graham and Ryan (although I think those two suffered from uneven writing) Bel in particular was great. A pregnant badass in a decaying universe full of desperate Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans in search of her child’s father, she could have carried a series all by herself. 

There were also some wonderful moments. The Doctor being transformed into a Weeping Angel at the end of the fourth episode is honestly one of the most striking visuals in Doctor Who on a whole.

However, the actual story doesn’t make much sense. More than that, the resolutions with Tecteun, Swarm and Azure (the different bad guys of the overall story) all fall flat. Literally, someone else kills each of them with the Doctor not having any engagement. 

The payoff just isn’t there but the journey had some nice bits.

Honestly, I could write a lot more about it (and I’m pretty sure anyone reading this has already watched it and won’t be spoiled) but this isn’t a Doctor Who blog.

And the specials running from Eve of the Daleks to the Church on Ruby Road were their own experience, particularly watching all of them in a row like I did. (I will say I did _not_ expect to see Davies pull a character from the Doctor Who comic books)

Doctor Who is a long, insane tapestry of multi-media science fiction. And some bumps along that road are less fun than others. But both it and I survived the 1996 TV movie and that makes Chibnall look like Philip Hinchcliffe.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Golem Needs Pie: whimsical theme, loads of content, critical flaw

 I’ve made it a point to look at every new (or new to me) game or puzzle from Alexander Shen. Their games just do a good job on mental coffee break niche. 

Golem Needs Pie is a puzzle that has Roll and Write elements. To be honest, the Roll and Write part really just adds a random factor that will determine if you can finish the puzzle.

The theme is particularly whimsical. You’ve mixed up your scroll of evil instructions with your shopping list when making a golem. The golem now exists to collect slices of pie and you must help it do so before it runs out of steam.

The actual game is a grid that has eight pie slices and brick walls scattered about it. Your golem has twelve steam to work with. You spend steam to roll a six-sided die for movement and to break through walls. Your goal is to get the whole pie. You get bonus points for ending a move on a slice and for any steam left over if you get all the pie.

You know, I do like solitaire games that have definite losing conditions, not just beat your own score. 

So, here’s the problem. You can figure out the optimal path but if you roll too low, you’ll lose. There’s a best solution but bad die rolls will prevent you from completing it.

Anytime a Roll and Write uses only one die, it’s a red flag for me. I very recently learned Waypoints which also only uses one die. However, that game takes many steps to assuage my fears. Unfortunately, Golem Needs Pie does not. It sadly comes down to roll high or lose.

With that said, I also have to admit that it is going to see some play from me. Part of that comes from its extremely short playing time. The other part comes from the fact that there are literally hundreds of maps so there’s a lot of optimal paths for me to consider.

I like the ideas and themes behind Golem Needs Pie. Alas, the actual game honestly falls short.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Outdoor Survival wishes it was Waypoints

 Ah, Waypoints. The third game that Matthew Dunstan and Rory Muldoon designed for Postmark Games. I really liked their other two games, Voyages and Aquamarine, so I was curious to see how Waypoints would go.

Waypoints is a game about hiking in a park. The boards are topographical maps with a grid overlay. Each turn, you get a certain number of action points. You draw your path freehand and it costs an action point to cross any line. Which means both topographical lines and grid lines.

The map has a variety of waypoints, which are actually just dots with different symbols by them. They are also where you have to end each leg of a hike. (If you can’t reach one, you have to rest, which gets you a water but what you really want is to hike) Collecting symbols is how you get points and bonus powers.

So here’s where it goes interesting. You roll one six-sided die to determine how many action points you get each turn. Now, you don’t get the number you roll. Instead, you move that many spaces on the weather track. The space you end on tells you how many action points you’ll be getting.

Now, anytime a Roll and Write has me use just one die, that’s a red flag. Only one die flattens the odds and limits the outcome. Even two dice, just one more die, makes a big difference in decision tree. I’m not saying there aren’t good Roll and Writes that use just one die but I definitely view it as a design obstacle.

That said, Waypoints has a number of ways of letting you deal with random luck. Water lets you get additional action points. Jackets give you bonus action points on cold weather (which is when you get only one or two points) Kayaks and hang gliders give you special movements. Later maps add more stuff.

The only actual problem that I have found, and this has happened to me, is that I have had hiking days that only lasted three turns. The number of turns you get can be pretty variable.

I have only played the game solitaire, which requires you to end each day at a campfire, a requirement that you don’t have in multi-player games. I lost my first game because I couldn’t do that. I don’t view that as a bug but a feature. The soliatire game would be too easy without that extra challenge. That said, I have had to hustle on some hikes.

I honestly feel Waypoints is a very close third behind Voyages and Aquamarine. The theme is very strong and well connected to the mechanics. The action points make the freehand drawing work well.  Waypoints is engaging and interesting. It feels both innovative and intuitive, at least to me.

However, the variable turn factor is a ding for me. I can see how it might be a plus for some folks, since it definitely adds tension to the game. And I think it might be less of a problem with multi-player games where you don’t have to end on a camp fire.

Waypoints is gojng to see regular play from me. It is what people who actually wanted to play Outdoor Survival wanted Outdoor Survival to be.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Barely scratching the surface of Island Alone

After months of really planning on learning Island Alone, I have finally sat down and played a game. It’s been on my list for what feels like forever and I’m glad to finally cracked the ice.

And I knew it wouldn’t be a hard game to learn. The basics are quite simple. However, the simple actions of movement, collecting resources, and building stuff unfold into a heck of a decision tree.

Island Alone is one of Radoslaw Ignatow’s designs. I have become a big fan of his work and Island Alone feels like a watershed game for his work. It is a step into creating a system that can sustain a wide variety of scenarios and content, something he has kept on doing.

The idea behind the game is you’re on a desert island and you have to do stuff to survive and accomplish other goals. Let’s be honest, the basic idea is not anything new, but it’s also very easy to understand and a classic. Hey, I still love games about trains and trading in the Mediterranean.

Island Alone is a Roll and Write since it’s dice powered and you annotate the player sheet constantly. You do have a pawn that you’re moving around so I can see an argument that it’s not a ‘pure’ Roll and Write. But when nobody wins when it comes to purity tests so that doesn’t matter to me.

Where the game kind of explodes is the amount of content. The base game comes with more than thirty different scenarios and seven different maps. And then there are three expansions that are campaigns.

I have played what is clearly an introductory scenario and I haven’t even scratched the surface of Island Alone. You could spend some serious time with this game system before getting bored.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Why the Sun and the Star matter

 The Sun and the Star was actually the first book I read this year. However, I had just blogged about the Heroes of Olympus and the Chalice of Gods so I wanted a break from blogging about Rick Riordan’s books.

That said, The Sun and the Star is one heck of a read.









The Sun and the Star was co-written by Mark Oshiro because Riordan wanted to make sure that relationship between Will and Nico’s relationship was done right. And, possibly because of another author, I have to say that this book has the most unique tone of all of Riordan’s young adult books. 

The actual plot is about Nico (son of Hades, goth boy and beloved of fans) and his boyfriend Will (son of Apollo, nature boy and generally cool guy) going to Tartarus to save their friend Bob the Titan. Bob the Titan might sound like a Deadpool joke but he’s a well established character with depth and pathos.

(Oh, and additional spoiler, Little Bob the Sabre tooth kitten ghost comes back as well. I really like Little Bob)

However, the focus of the book is on the boys’ relationship. Their connections, their insecurities, their hopes, their issues, their love. And they are a cute couple. One of my favorite lines was, after Will agreed something with no negotiation, Nico telling himself that he will do all the talking when they buy a car. It’s snarky but sweet because it reinforces how Nico sees them having a future together.

The Sun and the Star is chock full of Riordan’s signature fun but faithful takes on mythology. (Really, I grew up with the cleaned up versions of the myths through the D’Aulaires. Is Riordan's way of cleaning them up any less honest?) But, more than any of Riordan’s previous work, the Sun and the Star feels like a young adult novel. It focuses on growing up, coming to terms with your flaws but also what’s good about you.

There are two Riordan books that I cannot help but compare the Sun and Star to: The Gates of Hades and The Chalice of the Gods.

The Gates of Hades is, honestly, possibly Riordan’s strongest book and the Sun and the Star is very much a sequel. They both deal with journeys through Tartarus and the earlier book is better. It is so very desperate and dire. However, the Sun and the Star doesn’t try and compete with the earlier book on that level. It succeeds on its own merits.

The Chalice of Gods was published after the Sun and the Star and I assume it may have been written at the same time or very close together. And I feel Chalice resembles the Sun and the Star in a very good way. It’s a smaller scale conflict with a much more nuanced emotional arc. And I really wonder how much working with Oshiro influenced Riordan.

While there are some odd touches in the book (part of Nico’s resolution feels much more urban fantasy than mythic, which I don’t want to spoil, but if you’ve read the book you know what I’m talking about), I think the Sun and the Star is both a great book and an important milestone for Riordan.

Monday, March 11, 2024

The worlds Grant Howett builds with one page

I was vaguely aware of Grant Howett as a game designer but it took Bundle of Holding’s 2024 Birthday Bundle for me to view his work as a singular vision.

He’s been pretty active as a designer and one of the things he does is make one-page RPGs. I’d seen some of them before, looking for oddball indie games. The bundle collected sixteen of them, which isn’t even most of them as it turns out.

Isaac Asimov once described the vignette as the dart gun of fiction. You just get one shot and if it doesn’t hit, well, that’s it. One-page RPGs? Same deal.

In my arrogant opinion,a one-page RPG needs two things. Mechanics that actually work and a hook that makes people want to play. Quite frankly, the more ludicrous, the more likely the hook is to work.

One of the best one-page RPGs out there, again in my arrogant opinion, is Lasers and Feelings. It’s got simple but clever and flexible mechanics. And the hook is that it’s really Star Trek so  everyone knows what kind of story you’re telling.

Despite the simplicity that’s baked into just about every one-page RPG, I don’t think they are aimed at non-gamers. There are a lot of unwritten bits to them. How to actually run or play an RPG, that kind of stuff. Things that experienced gamers can fill in without even thinking about it but will confuse non-players.

Since one-page RPGs tend to be one-shots, they really feel like they were designed for convention play. As I read Everyone is Seagulls (which reads like an adult reimaging of Mo Willems’ Pigeon books), it felt like it was designed to annoy the next table over with all the shouting.

I have to admit that I found the bundle to be a mixed if fascinating bag. Some of the games simply have too many of those unwritten elements in them. And yes, that could be overcome, particularly by experienced gamers. However, when you can pick something that doesn’t require that, particularly if it’s for a one-shot, why wouldn’t you?

My favorite game in the collection was Crash Pandas both for the concept and the mechanics. The players are a group of raccoons working together to drive a car in illegal street races. The core mechanic is having everyone decide what they want the car to do and simultaneously revealing it. Look, you know what the game is about and how it can all go crazy.

It might sound like I’ve been harsh to Grant Howett. But damn, now I’m looking for more of his stuff. Because having something that is a good one session experience is really valuable. I can’t imagine being in a never ending campaign again. But occasionally a one shot? Yeah, that would really work. In fact, before I moved away from my old gaming groups, some of us were already moving towards that.

So, yeah, Grant Howett’s game are totally worth looking at.

Friday, March 8, 2024

The Suika Game - a master class in fidgeting

 Lately, our household has been unwinding with the Suika Game, a fruit-themed video game.

It’s certainly an example of a little game that could. It was originally developed by the company Aladdin X for a digital projector. Customers liked it so they released in Japan for the Switch. And exposure via social media led to wider Switch release.

It’s a puzzle game where you are dropping fruit into a container and the game ends when the container overflows. The puzzle bit is that when two fruits of the same touch, they combine to form the next largest fruit, with the watermelon (Suika in Japanese) being the largest.

A big part of the appeal is that the fruits follow physics, at least to a certain degree. Fruit will bounce and roll after they are dropped. I am not convinced that the fruits’ masses are all that realistic but the shifting fruit definitely makes the game more interesting.

I was actually quite shocked that the Suika Game wasn’t designed as a mobile game. It’s exactly the kind of casual game that you can easily waste hours on your phone with. It totally fits that model.

There have got to be hundreds of games like this. Probably thousands. Human beings love pattern recognition and fidgeting and that’s all these games really are. They tap into something that is hardwired into us.

I know Tetris didn’t create this genre but I do think of it as the definitive example of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t the most successful example. Six shapes. Utter simplicity. Endlessly fascinating. The Suika Game doesn’t have that simplicity but it does inspire that compulsion.

I don’t know why the Suika Game clicks so well, although the uber cute fruit and the physics has to be a part of it. It’s got plenty of competition. But it succeeds in entertaining and relaxing us.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The Continental Op is the original bastard

Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op is one of those pieces of literature that I find fascinating. The Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade is what everyone thinks of when they hear Hammet's name with the Thin Man being a close second. With that said, The Continental Op was his most reoccurring character and is widely regarded as an essential piece of the development of the noir genre.

The Continental Op was a nameless agent of the Continental Detective Agency, a thinly disguised Pinkerton Detective Agency. He describes himself as short and fat and demonstrates a perfect willingness to use deceit and corruption to serve his own needs.

Hammett described his later creation Sam Spade as an idealized detective, what real detectives wish they could be. If that's the case, the Continental Op may be what Hammett felt actual detectives were like.

Part of Hammett's street cred came from the fact that he had been a Pinkerton detective. Those experiences clearly influenced the creation of the Continental Op, which makes me often wonder what some of Hammett's experiences in the agency were like.

The Continental Op wasn't the first hardboiled detective in fiction but the character did a lot to help develop the idea. It helps that Hammett was one heck of a writer. His own experiences with the Pinkertons apparently left him jaded and cynical and that bled into the Continental Op. That definitely gives some heft to the Continental Op and his bleak world.

Some folks believe that Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (which influenced plenty of later works) was based on Red Harvest, the first Continental Op novel. Kurosawa, on the utter hand, said it was based on the Glass Key. So Hammett wins no matter what lol.

Compared to Sam Spade, the nameless Continental Op seems faceless and invisible as well. However, he helped create a world where the Maltese Falcon could get written. And, while, lets be honest, the Maltese Falcon is Hammett's masterpiece, his Continental Op stories and novels are still great reads.

Monday, March 4, 2024

My February Gaming

In February, I learned Aquamarine, Tape Jam and Apropos of Board Games.

And, I’m going to be honest, Aquamarine is the big deal for me. Oh, I’ll play the other two games now and then but Aquamarine is the game that I can see myself  regularly playing.

Truth to, while I like Postmark Games Vouages better, I  find Aquamarine easier to play after a long day. It is so simple and intuitive but also has such a good decision tree. It’s very chill.

And my plan in March is to learn Waypoints. After Voyages and Aquamarine, I have very high expectations for it. And even if I hate Waypoijts, Postmark Games has done me well regardless. I feel like I have been an unpaid advertiser for Postmark Gamea this year lol

All that said, I would mind learning a greater number of games in March.

Friday, March 1, 2024

My February PnP

 While February was busy like life tends to be, I was able to plan ahead enough to make some PnP projects. I made:

Tape Jam  
assorted One Card Mazes
Aquamarine (maps 1-4)
Apropos of Boars Games

Tape Jam was my ‘big’ project for the month. It’s a game that feels like the epitome of a traditional solitaire game but, despite an amusing theme, doesn’t rise above that. Which still is enough to get an occasional play. 

Because there are a lot of One Card Mazes and each one is, well, one card, they are good for filling in extra space in a laminating sleeve. I have a feeling I’ll be regularly making one or two, just to make better use of my materials. And they do see use.

However, the definite highlight was Aquamarine. Yes, it just meant laminating some play sheets but the game has really proven to be rewarding. Those sheets will get used.

Not bad for a busy month.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Is Drops of God THE wine manga?

 I’ve been meaning to read Drops of God for years and I’ve finally started doing that. Actually, I’m halfway through and taking a break.

Drops of God is a Seinen manga (which means it’s aimed at men between the ages of 18 and 40 basically the next step up from Shonen and is, in many ways pretty arbitrary) about wine. And, while the plot is about Shizuki Kanzaki and Issei Tomine in a wine identification contest, a _lot_ of time is spent discussing real wines and vineyards.

Drops of God is epicurean in a way that I don’t feel I’ve seen in a western work. As far as I know, no vineyard sponsored it and it isn’t in the style of a documentary. It is this blend of fiction and actual factual information.

And, for what it’s worth, red wine gives me headaches so a lot of what I’m reading about is purely theoretical for me. (Although I’m sure every member of the cast would tell me I just haven’t had the right red wine)

That said, it’s the fictional stuff that actually drives the story forward. 

While the story frames Shizuki as the hero and Tomine as the antagonist, they are really deuteragonists. More than that, at least in the first half, they seem to be in different genres.

Shizuki feels like a Shonen protagonist who has stumbled into a Sienen work. He is a plucky newcomer to wine but one with an almost supernatural palate. (Justified by his father putting him through an insane regiment as a child) And he some definite moments of being an awkward goof. 

More than that, a lot of his side adventures, involve him helping out other people. In general, there are a lot of altruistic elements to his part of the story.

On the other hand, Tomine feels a lot more like a Sienen protagonist. He is a much more brooding, troubled character. He’s the one who gets the racy sex scenes. His side adventures have more danger but it’s danger that he often brings on himself.

Shizuki’s flaws are those of innocence. Tomine’s flaws are from the loss of innocence. But Drops of God asks for us to be invested in both of them.

I do plan on reading the second half, particularly since I don’t think it’s guaranteed that Shizuki will win. And I’ll learn more about wine I’ll never drink.