Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Hazy memories of Cowboy Bebop

 I had been thinking of watching an episode of Cowboy Bebop or two since it’s been at least fifteen years since I watched it. However, after giving it some thought, I’m not sure it’s possible to watch that show piecemeal. My memory is that the entire show is one single complete thought. 

I distinctly remember when I first watched the series was initially wondering what was the big deal and why did so many people rave about it? Other than the soundtrack, of course. The music is clearly awesome and the people who worked on the show clearly dug the tunes.

But what I learned was that Cowboy Bebop is a slow burn. It takes its time to let what it’s telling you sink in.

Spike Spiegal isn’t just the protagonist of the show. He is also the central theme. The other characters, particularly Jet and Faye, are counterpoints to him. Which is pretty impressive since they are also fully realized characters.

But being fully realized characters is what makes them foils to Spike. It is what makes them so powerful. Jet and Faye are able to come to some level of resolution with their pasts and their flaws and who they are. And Cowboy Bebop is a tragedy because Spike cannot.

Does Cowboy Bebop have a killer soundtrack? It does. Does it have solid animation that is enhanced by incredible designs? Yeah. But I think its biggest strength is that it tells a tragedy that never flinches from.

(And, yes,  I am sure people have put together a select viewing list so you can watch the series in a time budget. I don’t think it would be the same)

Monday, January 29, 2024

The eternal war of pencil versus dry erase marker

 This feels like it might be one of the silliest topics I’ve written about. However, it’s one that I do find myself thinking about. And, as it’s getting time to order more toner, it’s definitely on my mind. 

Pencil versus Dry Erase marker lol

I play a lot of Print-and-Play Roll-and-Writes. Easy to make, easy to have the same quality as a published copy and there’s plenty of interesting games that use that medium.

And if you laminate a game sheet or even just put it in a page protector or a ziplock gallon baggy, you can use it over and over again with a dry erase marker. Over the years, it’s pretty safe to say that I have saved a lot of ink and paper that way.

But dry erase markers tend to draw thicker lines, even the finer tip ones. (And I’ve found the fine tip ones wear down but maybe I press too hard) And there are some games where thicker lines just don’t work.

For example (and there are many examples), Utopia Engine has you filling in lots of small boxes with numbers. I need a pencil or pen to play the game (and if you don’t, I’m jealous) Even with writing lightly and erasing after the game, that seriously limits the use of a game sheet compared to lamination.

It feels shallow, even silly, to judge a game on the basis of whether or not I can laminate it. However, PnP R&W gaming is definitely a form of budget gaming. There are games that I would have played a lot less if I had had to constantly reprint game sheets. It does make a real difference.

And it’s a similar line of thinking of that makes me go for the low ink option (well, not necessarily if it’s for a multi-player game). Material costs are real costs.

Over the last few years, I must have played over a hundred different games that I could use a dry erase marker on. And I will definitely play games that need a pencil. But I do choose those games with more scrutiny.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Blackjack: VillainIsn’t super but it has promise

I have found that Capepunk is a genre that I find myself actively looking for in books. I blame a childhood of reading comic books and the Wild Card series for that lol

Blackjack: Villain by Ben Bequer is a book that felt like a mixed bag, albeit mostly positive, to me. In fact, I found myself sometimes wondering if some of the flaws were actually authorial intent.

Blackjack is the first person narrative of a super villain who starts off as the equivalent of a Spider-Man villain of the week who gets pulled into bigger, more cosmic events. In doing so, we see how he changes in the progress.








Blackjack starts off as a mildly unreliable narrator because he is clearly more arrogant, more immature and more self-destructive than he is willing to admit. He starts off as a gadgeteer archer who robs banks while he has apex level super strength and durability and is a scientific genius who can keep up with the equivalent of Lex Luther.

In other words, he is falling completely short of his potential.

In fact, most of the super-powered characters in the book clearly have psychological issues. It’s less super powers drive you mad (Brandon Sanderson does a wonderful job covering that in his Reckoners Trilogy) and more what happens when a normal person gets this much power and responsibility. And Bequer spends more time showing than telling that.

With that said, it did feel like Blackjack was sometimes rewarded for his behavior, particularly in the section where he and his compassions go to the Shard World, which is also easily the weakest part of the book.

At that point, the genre changes to planetary romance and Blackjack goes utterly John Carter. And by that I mean an unbeatable barbarian warrior who treats alien life forms as cannon fodder. Admittedly, it is war but his compunctions about killing go out the window without any commentary.

Fortunately, the book goes back to Capepunk for the ending and, while Blackjack of course saves the world, it is also clear that his decisions caused a lot more death and collateral damage than had to happen.

In the end, Blackjack: Villain was good enough that I do plan on reading at least the next book. The question is if Blackjack’s character arc is done or will he keep developing?

Monday, January 22, 2024

I was a good dad and played Super Mario RPG

 Our son enjoyed Super Mario Wonder so much that he wanted to try the next ‘new’ Mario game, the switch version of Super Mario RPG. However, he got bored with the JRPG elements. Since daddy loves RPGs, it fell upon me to play through the game.

Well, I do love RPGs. Tabletop RPGs are my true love but I have played the odd JRPG in my day. So playing Super Mario RPG wasn’t a painful experience.

Super Mario RPG started out life on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System back in  1996 and was developed by Square, the same company that created Final Fantasy. No, I didn’t know any of that when I started playing.

I have dabbled with the RPG side of Mario before with Paper Mario 64 and Paper Mario Origami King (please refer to the first paragraph about why) but apparently Super Mario RPG is where it got started.

And Super Mario RPG may be the shortest, simplest JRPG I have encountered. Heck, there are even some straight up platforming sequences. (That I did abysmally at) Super Mario RPG isn’t just built for folks who have never played an JRPG before. It’s built for folks who don’t have any interest in playing another one.

With that said, an RPG of any kind lives or dies by its story. You don’t play D&D for the minis or the dice. Well, you might but you’d be in the minority. You play it for the story.

And, yeah, Super Mario RPG’s story is a solid reason to play the game.

Even by 1996, the basic pattern of Super Mario games was established and worth poking fun at. And Super Mario RPG lovingly makes fun of how often Bowser kidnaps Peach and also has a lot of fun with the idea that Mario has been become famous for all of his heroics. The cutscenes depicting Mario as a heroic mime are hysterical.

Yes, the actual story involves a big bad who is mean enough that Bowser signs onto Team Mario (Having both Bowser and Peach as party members is a high point) and you do have to restore the cosmic balance. But the tone remains jovial rather than dire. Of course, world shattering threats are pretty routine for Mario, which the game cheerfully points out.

I played the game in easy breezy level and I also didn’t play clever. I fought everything to level up the party and constantly stocked up on mana potions so I could spam the biggest attacks. And that worked just fine. I may have missed some items but we got to see the story.

Super Mario RPG is pretty lowkey and pretty simple. It’s not Final Fanrasy with a Mario reskin. But we enjoyed it.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Why Voyages is an amazing system

I became interested in Voyages because I liked Postmark Games’ free game Battle Card: Market Garden and I was curious about how it would approach Pick Up and Delivery in a Roll and Write format. Plus, I’m always looking for more Print-and-Play Roll-and-Write games lol

In a very real sense, instead of a game, I found that Voyages is really more of a game system. The actual core mechanics are very simple but each map adds a bunch of extra cogs and wheels that make for the actual game. There are six official maps and at least fifteen fan maps (

This is the core idea of Voyages. You are drawing a line on a hex-grid map. Each turn, you roll three dice. One die determines the direction. One die determines the distance. And the last for is used to fill in a box on a duties chart. (The chart is different on every single map and, quite frankly, can add a lot to a map)

It’s not a new mechanic to me. It’s pretty much the mechanic of Go Goa, for instance, which I played a lot of last year. It also brings back memories of Outdoor Survival, whose first scenario is the stuff of legends and nightmares.

And, to be fair, it’s not a bad mechanic. But on its own, it’s pretty meager. You need more. Fortunately, Voyages delivers.

All over the maps are special hexes. Land (not pass through) on a special hex and you perform its action. It often is get something but it can also be fight something or sell stuff you picked up at other hexes. 

Your most crucial resource is sailors. Sailors can be used to modify dice. They can also be upgraded and they can be spent to perform some actions, like defeating enemies.

And the duty charts that I already mentioned can really affect how maps work. In the Trade Winds map, which is really the tutorial map, you just get bonus items. However, looking ahead, the duty charts can become tech trees or even hitpoint management.

The maps also have achievement stars that also work as a timer. In multiplayer, anyone getting a third star triggers endgame. In solitaire, you play sixteen turns and not having a third star by the end means automatically losing. You can earn them via the duty chart, exploration, trade or winning combat. But they all take planning and investment.

I have only played the Trade Wind map so far. And, if that was the entire game, we would still be looking at a strong piece of work, one with a lot of replay value. However, looking at how the other maps create new goals and mechanics, Voyages as a product is top notch.

My only disappointment is that it really isn’t a pick-up-and-deliver game. The Trade Winds map is the only official map that uses the mechanic and it doesn’t feel like the efficient way to play or the primary goal. That said, some of the fan maps might address pick-up-and-deliver more. And this is really about my expectations, not an actual game issue.

Over the last few years, I have played a lot of Roll-and-Writes. As a PnP option, they are incredibly rewarding. And Voyages is a game I would recommend to anyone who has access to a printer.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Janky Blades is… okay

 I might have never noticed Janky Blades if it hadn’t been designed by Robin Gibson. However, their track record on Print-and-Play Roll-and-Write games has been solid for me so Janky Blades got printed out.

The theme of the game is that you are drawing a jagged sword with many different grains, indicating the artisan craft put into its creation. The reality is that you are drawing shapes on a six by eighteen grid.

Gameplay is simple. Each turn, roll three dice. One die will determine the column you are drawing a shape in. One die will determine the grain of the shape. And the last die determines the shape you are drawing.

The game last thirty turns. After you are done, you score the shapes that are contiguously connected to the handle at the bottom of the board. Each shape earns one point for every adjacent shape that has a different grain. And if you completely enclosed an empty space, it counts as a shape with its own grain.

Janky Blades is billed as a solitaire game but I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t play it as a multiplayer game Take It Easy style. There isn’t a dice manipulation mechanic and the decision tree is wide enough that you won’t end up with identical janky swords.

Janky Blades has two touches that I found interesting. First of all, as opposed to the Tetris shapes I’m used to using in a draw-shapes-on-a-grid, it uses more pointy shapes, triangles and rhombuses and the like. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tangram puzzles featured in the development. I also like how negative space can become a part of the blade.

Those two elements made Janky Blades better than I was expecting. Because, quite frankly, I was expecting a completely forgettable game who’s best feature would be drawing a pretty picture . Instead, I found the decisions actually interesting.

Ultimately, though, I have to damn Janky Blades with faint praise. It isn’t bad but there are a lot of Roll-and-Write games I’d rather play, a number of them also by Robin Jarvis.

Monday, January 15, 2024

All aboard the Royal Limited and other dad jokes

 I started my game learning for the year with The Royal Limited.

In actuality, my current copy is the demo from the Kickstarter campaign. I made it at the time but moving distracted me . I did back it and I do have the final files. And, yes, I plan on making a fresh copy from them.

The Royal Limited is part of Scott Almes/ButtonShy’s Simply Solo line, a series of solitaire games that only uses small decks of cards. No dice or tokens or tiles or pyramids. The Royal Limited is themed around filling up a passenger train.

Not counting the conductor card, which serves as a timer, the deck consists of twelve train cards and five double-sided special passenger cards. The train cards have three bits of information on them. A color (red, yellow or blue), a number (0-3) and a special power.

The game lasts four turns. Each turn, you draw a hand of five train cards. You can either place a card sideways as a car or tucked under a car as a passenger. 

You are placing the cars in a line. The placement rules are that the next car can’t match the color or number of the last train and you have to discard the same number of cards as the card’s number.

You don’t have to discard any cards to tuck passengers. They do have to match the number or color of the card. Special passengers (each game will have two) have specific placement requirements. And, when a train car gets a passenger, its special power goes off. And if you can’t do it, the turn ends immediately.

Points are bad in The Royal Limited. Every card in your discard pile, every unplaced special passenger and every empty train car is a point. The idea is to use every card and a full seven-car train is a perfect play. Haven’t done it yet.

The key to what I think makes The Royal Limited work (and I very much think it works) is how intuitive it is. Not only do all the mechanics work, they all make sense. The game practically teaches itself.

And I have to admit that I really like the theme. Train-themed games and train games have been a part of my gaming life pretty much since I started looking beyond D&D. Games of Station Master were practically a GenCon tradition with long distance friends. There is something about trains that is like comfort food for the mind.

I do wonder if it has a simpler decision tree than any of the other games in the series. The biggest twists are the special powers when you add passengers. That said, there’s still a lot of play in it, plenty of meaningful decisions.

The Royal Limited, more than any other Simply Solo game since Food Chain Island, is a game that you can sit down; shuffle and play. 

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Pick Up and Deliver on one piece of paper

Having finally gotten around to playing all twelve of the Legends of Dsyx games, I then went back to the very first one I tried: Gryphon Delivery Service.

Almost all the games involve mucking about with a grid of some sort or another. GDS is one of the exceptions to that rule. It is a solitaire Roll-and-Move Roll-and-Write Print-and-Play Pick-Up-and-Deliver game.

It’s when I write sentence like that that I remember what one of my gaming gurus told me: ‘Jargon interferes with communication’ Of course, he was talking about corporate life but the rule still applies to gaming.

Okay, the board is a track marked with spaces that let you pick up goods, sell goods or have random events go off. You effectively have three pawns, the gryphons who are delivering stuff. Roll four dice and assign three of them. You write the letter of the gryphon in the space you move it to and no other gryphon can land there. Game ends when one gryphon completes the track.

And there are other little touches. You can choose to not deliver an item but instead increase the price of the item. Raising the demand, I assume. Each product has a special ability that you can use instead of selling it. Each gryphon also has some special abilities, the most annoying being a speed bonus since there are times when you want to mosey up the track.

My opinion of Gryphon has actually improved since my earlier plays. One of my problems with it was how short the game is. You burn through that track pretty quickly and doing your best to pump the brakes is pretty key.

Revisiting it, it think the short track actually forces the game to be tight. Every decision makes a major difference and forces you to make the most of every special ability. Gryphon isn’t Steam on one piece of paper but it is a decent puzzler of a game. Between the number of options and the randomness of the dice, I think there’s a lot of replay value.

(That said, I would like to see the core mechanics expanded to a bigger PnP Pick Up and Deliver game)

Gryphon Delivery Service was my entry point to the Legends of Dsyx. I have described the series as trying to fit a boxed game into a sheet of paper. Gryphon does that better than any other game in the series.

(And I just picked up Postmark Games’ Voyages so I guess I’ll be looking at another PnP R&W Pick Up and Deliver game soon)

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

BattleTech as cotton candy

 I bought a bundle of BattleTech fiction on the strength of Michael Stackpole having written a bunch of them. And I have definitely enjoyed Stackpole’s work. But I’ve decided to look at some of the other stuff.

Decision at Thunder Rift seemed like the natural place to start since it was the very first BattleTech fiction ever published. Pretty sure it was also William H. Keith Jr’s first book too. 

I went into Decision with low expectations and, honestly, the book lived down to some of them. Stackpole approached turning a tactical war game into a book by exploring the political backdrop of the setting. Decision turns BattleTech into fiction by being an action thriller, leaning in to the actual gameplay that takes place on the table.

After a savage betrayal wipes out the mercenary group that he was a member of, including his father, Grayson Death Carlyle must scrape together a new group of warriors with backwater locals and whatever giant robots he can find.

That’s the book in one sentence. You have to admit, it sounds like something that would have come out in any given summer of the 90s with giant robots added in.

That said, even though you can see every twist, every plot beat coming, the actual writing is good. I knew what the ride was going to be like when I bought the ticket so I don’t have any complaints. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare and Shakespeare wouldn’t have worked if Keith had tried.

The actual weakest points are when the book goes hard science, describing the weather and ecology of the world Grayson is stuck on. That’s really because it doesn’t really affect the story. Let’s take a famous example of hard science physics: A Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement. The planet of Mesklin’s distinct environment drives the story. It’s absolutely key. The physics of Decision’s Trellwen is incidental at best.

Stackpole’s political thrillers in the BattleTech universe are a greasy cheeseburger of fiction. Not good for you but fun. Decision is cotton candy. Nothing really there but sometimes it’s nice to eat a little cotton candy.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Mulling over the Simply Solo series

With the Last Lighthouse on Kickstarter, I thought it would be fun to look at the already existing Simply Solo games. You know, rank them and share some thoughts.

Food Chain Island was the first game in the series and it remains the best as far as I’m concerned. The core mechanic is dead simple, just a card implementation of a soliatire peg game. But the card powers and interactions are brilliant.

More than that, Food Chain Island is a game that I would recommend for just about anyone. Non-gamers, casual gamers, serious gamers. If the goal was to start the line strong, that goal was met.

Unsurmountable and Royal Limited kind of hold joint second place for me.

Unsurmountable is the one where you’re building a mountain and trying to make sure there’s a path from the bottom to the top. Cards either act as actions or as tiles. But what makes me come back to it is how unforgiving even one mistake is. Sometimes luck of the draw makes for easier games but they are always interesting.

I’m still learning the Royal Limited but the game really clicked for me and I’m really enjoying it. Rail-themed games work for me and this takes me back to happy memories of Station Master. That said, I do have this concern for the Royal Limited. It seems to have the simplest decision tree out of all the games in the series and I don’t know how it would do in the long run. It might really need it expansions more than other games in the series.

On the complete other hand, while I really like Fishing Lessons, it hasn’t clicked in my head. The programmed movement of the boat over the row of fish, I have not yet groked it. That said, Fishing Lessons might have the most complex decision tree and I think keeping at it will be very rewarding. Honestly, I can see it and the Royal Limited flipping in my estimation.

And the Ugly Gryphon Inn continues to be my least favorite Simply Solo game. Poor Ugly Gryphon Inn! I find the turn sequence downright fiddly and the random factors can spoil my plans with the flip of a card. 

With that said, the Ugly Gryphon Inn is wonderfully thematic. Not only is every element thematic, they mesh with the mechanics. For all my issues, the game does a brilliant job creating a narrative. It is less that I dislike the Ugly Gryphon Inn and more that I think that all the other games are so much better.

Really, the Sinply Solo series consistently delivers. Even the weakest game is strong. In the world of solitaire games that take less than a half an hour (and there are a surprising number of games in that world), they are top knotch.

Friday, January 5, 2024

Ending the year with a family game

 The last game I learned (and played) in 2023 was Santa Cookie Elf Candy Snowman. It’s the holiday version of Cat Taco Burrito Goat Cheese. With a name like that,  I am convinced that the game originally started life as a drinking game.

The game itself is a variation of Slap Jack. The big difference is players say the words in the total as a sequence. The starting player says Santa as they lay down a card, the next player says cookie, etc. If the word and the card match, that’s when the slapping starts.

There are also some special action cards: reindeer, silent night and drum. When those cards come out, everyone does a silly action and slaps.

Last person to slap the stack of cards adds those cards to their personal stack with the goal being to empty your hand.

The designers also played the Jungle Speed trick of having some cards look like different suites, like Santa dressed in elf colors.

Santa et al is a silly, little party game. It isn’t a game that I’d pick instead of Catan or Agricola or even Food Chain Island. There are gamers who I wouldn’t recommend it to. But it’s clearly not meant to be. 

More than that, by building off of an established game and adding special cards that guarantee the board will get periodically cleared, Santa et al has a solid mechanical design. A lot of that design is ‘don’t fix what’s broken’ but that mantra gets ignored a lot more often than you’d think. (To be fair, I look at a lot of prototypes)

Santa et al gave us a cozy game to play and have fun with. That alone gives it lots of value and I think we will return to it.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

My December gaming

 December was a quiet, cozy month as far as gaming was concerned. I learned three different games: Apropos of Movies, Titans of Dsyx and Santa Cookie Elf Candy Snowman. Two of the three games were party/social games and holidays are the time to play those.

My ‘major’ learning accomplishment was learning the Titans of Dsyx. I always try and learn at least one Roll and Writes a month but Titans was more than that. It marked me finally learning all of the Legends of Dsyx games. And one of the better ones at that.

Now, I feel free to go back and play any of them without the guilt of unplayed games lol

Santa Cookie Elf Candy Snowman was the last game I learned and played in 2023 and it was the game that we played as a family on New Years Eve. Playing it as a family definitely helps my opinion of the game but, regardless, it’s a cute variation on Slapjack. I’m prepared to play it out of season.

December wasn’t a month that was crazy for gaming but the gaming that I did do was comforting.

Monday, January 1, 2024

My December PnP

On December 2, I made a bunch of copies of 13 Sheep to include in Christmas cards. Honestly, I have yet to find a better game that I can put in a card without adding extra postage than 13 Sheep.

While I was cutting and laminating, I also made a copy of Apropos: of Movies. I picked up the files during PnP Arcade’s Black Friday sale.

And that was it for the PnP projects I finished in December.

Which, to be honest, does put it above November. I made Pope or Nope just to finish a project and get it off my unfinished stack. I sent out copies of 13 Sheep in Christmas cards and I actually played Apropos: of Movies. That makes December actually meaningfully productive.

That said, I also did a lot of printing and cutting. Over the last few years, I have been trying to get the most out of PnP’s Black Friday sales. That should give me projects for the next few months. January will also probably have more prep work than finishing work. More than that, projects that I’m interested in playing when they’re done.

Print and Play has given me a way to keep skin in the game and I know 2024 will be another good year for Print and Play.