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.

Monday, February 26, 2024

A game about games? Meta!

A couple months ago, I tried out Apropos of Movies, a cute little trivia game. It’s a deck of sixteen movie qualities and you have to determine movies that either have or don’t have them.

It’s a clever little game, and I like how there isn’t a single right answer so you can get a lot of mileage out of such a small deck. You really just have to add a house rule of not reusing the same movie in the same session and you’re good. I am even planning on making a spare copy For potential classroom use. 

Well, Apropos of Board Games is the same deal… only for board games! 

(Yeah, probably not that big a surprise)

You have a Must Have and a But No cards that you’ll be forming rows next to. Draw a card and place in the Must Have line. Figure out a game that has that particular characteristic. Draw another card. If the last game you picked has that characteristic, put it in the Must Have line. If it doesn’t, place it in the But No line. Five cards makes a game. You set a timer for five minutes and you need to beat the clock to win.

One interesting change from Movies to Board Games is that the Movie version has rules for higher difficulty by adding more cards. The board game version doesn’t have that option. Maybe the world of movies is vaster than board games?

(Nah, that could never be)

I rather like trivia games that have you find ideas that fit into categories rather than have a single right idea. I feel they have more replay value and have more scope for imagination. And the Apropos family definitely fits that.

With that said, Board Games are a lot more niche than movies. I can’t see pulling out this version for group play, even with dedicated gamers. On the other hand, it will probably see a lot more solitaire play by me lol

I do wonder if there will be more Apropos games. Literature or video games seem like fertile media for it.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Looking at the second maps of both Voyages and Aquamarine

After I played the second map of Voyages, I really wanted to blog about it. However, I didn’t want to go down the road of writing about every single map in the series. Pretty sure I’d really start boring people.

So I decided to wait until I played the second map in Aquamarine and compare the two. Same publisher, same designers, both R&Ws  I think that’s fair.

Voyages - Marauder’s Reef

Ho boy. I quite liked the learner map, Trade Winds Blow. But Marauder’s Reef takes the core concepts you learn in Trade Winds Blow and makes them razor focused on one concept. Beating people up.

Trade Winds Blow did have one hex that involved combat but Marauder’s Reef adds fuller (but still very simple) combat rules and makes them the centerpiece of the game.

The other major change is the duty chart. In Trade Winds Blow, you filled lines to get bonus items. In Marauder’s Reef, it’s a flatout tech tree that lets you get permanent upgrades. This is a literal game changer.

I have been playing Voyages as a solitaire where games are only 16 turns and if you don’t earn three stars, you automatically lose. It is definitely harder to earn stars in Marauder's Reef, creating a more tense game.

Marauder's Reef isn’t a more advanced Trade Winds Blow. It is a different experience.

Aquamarine - Apex Predators

This map makes two meaningful mechanical changes to Aquamarine’s first map, Exploratory Expeditions. It replaces the shipwreck and their bonuses with research magnifying glasses and it adds in caves.

The research tracks are a very nice addition. Filling out a complete track gives you points but certain spaces give you special moves. Unlike the wrecked ships, you have more choices in how you use the research check marks.

Plus, most of them are in caves with the new giant squids, tying almost all the new elements together. 

Caves are special spaces that are restricted. You can have them in a box if it’s daytime or if you use a torch. And you have a very limited number of torches. Between the sharks (which take up more space than map one’s jellyfish) and caves, this map has more bottlenecks and tough choices.

Apex Predators isn’t just map one with a new arrangement. It’s a definite step up. With this one provision, I think you do have the focus on the giant squids to get the best results.

Overall Conclusions

When I first played both Voyages and Aquamarine, I was really impressed. I mean, it’s one thing for a Roll and Write to work for me since I’m kind of an R&W addict.  But I think anyone would have fun with both of them.

I felt that Marauder’s Reef definitely affirmed my feeling that Voyages is a game system. I was working with new goals and new mechanics. It could have been marketed as a different game. On the other hand, while Apex Predators definitely showed new things Aquamarine could do, it didn’t push it to that extent. And it doesn’t have to.

The second maps in both games affirm my first impressions.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Revisiting One Card Mazes

 Last august, I found out about the One Card Maze collection. I printed out the promos and found them interesting but I was good. Since then, I’ve gotten more invested in the series and even bought the first season. (Which was released on PnP Arcade a month later, which I found hilarious)

Okay, there puzzles are just what they say on the tin. There are mazes that fit on the two sides of a card. Part of the idea is that paths that lead off the edge will take you to the flip side. The other major mechanic is that certain areas will let you change the orientation which determines which paths are open.

As I have mentioned in the past, the One Card Mazes remind me of the Flipuzzle collection. And, as I have said before, from a sheer technical brilliance, Flipuzzles have the edge. There is some amazing creativity going on there.

However, One Card Mazes are better for casual play. Flipuzzles can be hard to parse, particularly if you get distracted. They reward, maybe even require, constant concentration. One Card Mazes are much easier to just figure out where you are.

Another big plus is that One Card Mazes are available and I’m pretty sure Flipuzzles aren’t.

So here’s what happened. For years, I kept a copy of the nine-card game Down in my wallet. THEN I discovered Flipword (yeah, same designer) and that lived in my wallet. And then I switched to a smaller wallet lol.

While I can no longer carry Down or Flipword, I can carry a One Card Maze or two around. There are the four initial demos that I looked at and got me interested. The first collection is 18 more. And there are more clearly being designed.

And, what’s hilarious is that I am _terrible_ at them. I can fidget away on one forever and it doesn’t click. Still, they are for moments like waiting in the car so they still work perfectly.

I prefer games over puzzles but puzzles are great too.

Monday, February 12, 2024

The flawed beauty of Radiant Black

I read a lot of manga and a decent number of horror or crime drama graphic novels. But it had been a while since I’ve read any super hero stuff and that was all I read comic book-wise when I was younger.

So when Humble Bundle had a bundle of Massiverse graphic novels from Image, I decided that it would be a chance to go back to my roots. Which is actually pretty fair since there is clearly a lot of influence from Marvel Comics.

If I were to describe the Massiverse in one sentence it would be ‘A superhero universe where every hero is Peter Parker in super sentai armor’

Which actually sounds pretty awesome.

Peter Parker isn’t the first example of a superhero with normal people problems but he has become the quintessential example. That’s a big part of what makes everyone love Spider-Man. And, really, Power Ranger outfits look cool. (The creators previously did a Power Ranger comic book so this choice makes sense)

Unfortunately, I don’t think the Massiverse lives up to that potential.

The series that got the line started is Radiant Black and I think it really highlights the strengths and flaws of the line overall.

After failed writer Nathan Burnett has to live back in with his parents, he discovers a mysterious black hole that lets him transformed into the armored form of Radiant Black. A side effect of this is that he is drawn into a cosmic conflict involving other colors of radiant and the potential destruction of the Earth.

The visuals are really good. I particularly love how the creators lean into the radiant helms being expressive. There is clearly a bigger picture and I honestly feel like this is designed to be a single story and not a never ending serial. And the creators are clearly intent on having their heroes be flawed human beings.

However, one of the downsides of the line is that flawed human element can be pushed too far. The second Radiant Black (won’t explain any further to minimize spoilers) is pretty much a copy of Randal from Clerks who is an antagonistic glory hound trying to monetize Radiant Black. He stops being relatable or sympathetic and I don’t think that’s intentional.

(On the other hand, in another series in the line, Rogue Sun, the fact that everyone who has been Rogue Sun is a total jerk does seem to be the point)

Another problem, arguably even greater, is how poorly they show or explain the characters powers. A problem that goes across pretty much every series in the line. Having an a character can do doesn’t just give a reader a sense of their limits, it informs them what the heck is going on.

Just the Radiants alone are confusing. They share some powers but exactly what those are isn’t explained. I didn’t understand Radiant Red’s powers until she got a mini-series. And I had to go to outside sources to find out what Radiant Yellow’s powers were.

The one character where this approach works Bibi from Dead Lucky. Some elements of her powers may actually not be powers at all but side effects of her mental illness. And I still understood what she could do better than characters from other books.

I enjoyed my read. Good graphic design goes a long way in a graphic medium. However, it can’t be a coincidence that, after I finished, I started binging manga.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Tape Jam is just okay… but I keep playing it

 The theme was the only reason I decided to make a copy of Tape Jam. Untangling an unspooled cassette tape? I feel like half the audience that’s going to see the game will have no idea what we’re talking about.

The game consists of a deck of cards with wavy lines, recalling magnetic tape, and numbers on the top and bottom. The numbers go one to nine. If someone told me the game was developed with a set of dominoes, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

You are building a tableau of ten cards. Your goal is to get either runs (numbers in order) or sets of numbers (the same number over and over) And that counts both the top and bottom of the cards.

You draw two cards and place them in a, oh, let’s call it a market. You then pick a card from the market to play in your tableau. The market can only hold five cards so when it gets to four, you only add one card.

You can place a card on either side of the tableau or in between cards already in the tableau. However, once a card is placed, you cannot change its position or orientation.

A run or a set has to be at least three cards. Then it’s worth three points. If it’s more than three cards, it’s still worth three points. A run of one to nine would be worth three points. Numbers that aren’t in a scoring group are negative one point. 

I have a mixed opinion about Tape Jam. It feels like a pretty run-of-the-mill solitaire game. As I’ve said before, you could play it with a set of dominoes. While I don’t remember playing a game just like it, every single mechanic is familiar.

And the other hand? I do find myself getting Tape Jam out and playing a few games. It’s honestly not that different than playing a solitaire game with a regular deck of cards but it’s Tape Jam I’m playing.

Earlier this year, I learned games like Voyages and The Royal Limited that I felt were really great games. Tape Jam isn’t one of those games but it’s okay.

It’s pedantic of me  but I am amused at how the theme doesn’t really work. I have plenty of memories of respooling cassette tapes (and trust me, I do not miss cassette tapes. I can see the appeal of vinyl but I’m glad cassette tapes became obsolete) Tape Jam is about splicing tape and I don’t know anyone who did that.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Aquamarine - Postmark Games knocks it out of the park again

Yes, if I was going to learn Poatmark Games’ Voyages, I was going to learn Aquamarine as well. (And, yes, Waypoints and Battle Card are also on the list)

Aquamarine is a Print-and-Play Roll-and-Write that is designed to be a multiplayer solitaire. Which means you can shove in as many players as you want without slowing the game down. That seems to have been Postmark Games general model, making games that are Covid friendly. 
(Meaning low-cost-point games you make yourself and play via video conferencing or solo. Games you never have to leave the house for, as long as you have a printer)

In Aquamarine, you are diving and looking at marine life. The board is a grid with features like fish and rocks and beacons. It also has layers. The deeper you go, the more oxygen you need to use. You get three dives per game but you are limited by both turns and oxygen.

Here’s the core mechanic. Each turn, you roll two dice.  You’re going to draw a shape that’s as many squares as one of the dice. But, if you pick the larger number, you have to pay the difference in oxygen. The first shape has to touch one of the boats at the top of the board. Every following shape has to touch at least one side of the last shape you drew.

So you aee drawing a path of odd-shaped boxes. And you score points for the sea life you enclose inside the boxes.

Other tidbits: there’s a day cycle and a night cycle, which affects some of the scoring. If you roll doubles, you not only don’t have an oxygen penalty, you draw a shape with two extra squares. 

There are four official maps, including one that takes up two sheets of paper. Each one has its own tweaks and there are fanmade maps as well. I’ve only been playing the first one so far but I’m already planning on laminating _at least_ all of the official maps.

The core idea, drawing in a path of boxes, is very simple but works very well. I have seen the mechanic of being able to adjust the shape of the boxes before but very rarely. It’s easy to understand and intuitive but it also gives you a lot of interesting choices.

The end result is a really good game.

I can’t help but compare Aquamarine to Voyages. Same designers, same publisher, same mission statement. And I think Voyages is a little stronger. The duties charts allow for greater customization of boards and I find the game play more tense. Voyages feels like a game system to me while Aquamarine has, so far, felt like a game with multiple boards.

With that said, Aquamarine is still an amazing game. It’s really fun and the mechanics are really flexible. There are times when the more relaxing game play is what you are looking for. And there are definitely people who I’d recommend Aquamarine over Voyages to.
Between Voyages and Aquamarine, Postmark games has hit  it out of the park twice for me.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Fun with randomly generated boards

 I play a lot of short, itty bitty games and, to be honest, a lot of them are guilty pleasures whose chief virtue is brevity. The nine-card game Down, for instance, is a game I only play while waiting in the car.

13 Sheep, a tiny roll-and-write that only uses one die and can end in seven turns, is not a game whose chief virtue is fidgeting.  I will cheerfully argue it is worth playing for its game qualities as well as its brevity.

And a lot of that comes from the fact that the number of fences you are able to draw is a lot smaller than the field of sheep and bushes you are drawing them in. For a game that has so many limits, it has a good-sized decision tree.

Anyway, the reason I felt like writing about 13 Sheep some more is randomly generated sheets.

When I first started playing 13 Sheep, the official website (  had a feature would randomly generate boards for you in three different sizes. Then, the generator went away. I assumed it was because 13 Sheep has been published.

Which didn’t make me cry too hard since it generated the boards as PDFs, which meant that I had saved the ones I had had it make. I got a hundred plays out of the official two boards before I felt the need to look into the random boards. So I knew I had enough to keep me occupied for a while.

And then I saw the generator had been returned to the site. So, of course I generated more sheets and saved them lol

The randomly generated (okay, procedurally generated if you want to be precise since there are clearly parameters in place) boards don’t have as much value as the original boards because they can be unbalanced. If three or four sheep are clumped in relatively close proximity, that part of the board is going to be what you focus on.

Still, all these bonus boards add a lot to a game I already was enjoying.

I’ve also taken to printing a low-ink 18 board sheet to put, unlaminated, in my bag for lunch gaming. I normally don’t go for disposable game sheets but this way I don’t have to count on having a dry erase marker.

13 Sheep has been a game that’s entertained me for years. I’ve used it in holiday cards and as a gift. I’ve used it in the class room. Honestly, it’s one of the best minimalist games I’ve found.

Friday, February 2, 2024

My January gaming

 I didn’t learn a lot of games in January but I did learn a game I’d been meaning to learn and a game I should have been meaning to learn.

I learned the Royal Limited, Janky Blades and Voyages.

I’ll get Janky Blades out of the way first. I try and learn a Roll and Write every month and I was worried I wouldn’t have the time to do that. Janky Blades is a perfectly serviceable and pretty forgettable game. I don’t regret learning it but it’s not going to get much more play from me.

The Royal Limited and Voyages, on the other hand, those are games that I want to add to regular rotation. They jump past being serviceable to being really good. Learning these two games meant that I made good use of my game learning time.

As I’ve commented elsewhere, The Royal Limited may be the simplest of the Simply Solo line but it’s also incredibly intuitive and engaging. It is game that is so easy just shuffle and go. And, at the end of the game, play it again.

Voyages’ core mechanic, drawing a line in a grid, is one I’ve seen plenty of times. I’ve even seen the compass rose element of it plenty of times. But the extra touches, the ones that make each map into their own distinct experience, those really make Voyages into one heck of a game system. After playing the first map, I printed and laminated all six of the official maps.

I won’t be surprised if I’m still playing The Royal Limited and Voyages in December. That’s a good start to the year.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

My January PnP

 January is always a month that encourages Print-and-Play for me. Fresh start to the year. And I did make a number of projects, more than the last couple of months. However, I also prepped for the rest of the year.

I made:

The Last Lighthouse (demo copy)
Waffle Hassle
Potato Carrot Tomato 
One-Card Mazes (different sizes and mazes)
Voyages (maps 1 -6)
Ninja vs Robot

The Last Lighthouse was my ‘big’ project for January. The only reason I haven’t played it yet is that I just learned the Royal Limited and I want to spread my learning Scott Almes games out. His Simply Solo series has been a great one for me.

I made a second copy of Waffle Hassle with the backs properly lined up this time. The card backs form the board so having the backs right is nice. I made another copy of Potato Carrot Tomato as a lunch game for those times I only have ten minutes for lunch. And I’m really looking forward to trying all the maps for Voyages.

However, what I really spent January doing as far as PnP was concerned was printing, cutting and laminating stuff I had gotten from the PnP Arcade Black Friday sale. I have a folder of laminated card sheets that I can trim over the next few months.

Yes, part of this is the mindset of having projects I can finish and check off the ‘made a game in February, March etc’ However, there is an emotional reward to finishing a project. And I also want to pace _learning_ games as well.

The last several months have been crazy with not a lot of gaming or crafting time. I’m preparing for that trend to continue and that’s why I filled that folder.