Friday, June 14, 2024

The Last Lighthouse - Tower Defense and Nameless Horror

 The Last Lighthouse is the sixth game in Scott Almes’ Simply Solo series. As someone who has stumbled into Print and Play, solitaire, and Button Shy, the Simply Solo series is one that I eagerly look forward to every new entry.

The game consists of eighteen cards (which I have been told is how many cards fit on one professional printer’s sheet) Two of them are your light house and a way to keep track of its health. The rest are duo-purpose monster/trap cards. Monsters are trying to destroy your lighthouses and traps are how you destroy monsters. 

The game consists of a queue leading to the light house. Monsters get added from the deck and you add traps from your hand. Monsters attack your lighthouse and your traps. Traps attack monsters.

Here are the two really clever bits. Both traps and monsters have special abilities that either go off when placed or when defeated. And managing special powers are a big part of the game. And, after your initial hand, you don’t draw any more cards. The only way you get more traps in your hand is by defeating monsters and getting those cards.

I hadn’t thought of The Last Lighthouse as a tower defense game until I saw other folks use that description. Trying to protect a lighthouse against a column of monsters? By Jove, it is totally a tower defense game!

My first two plays of the Last Ligjthouse were terrible experiences. That was because I got a rule seriously wrong. I had assumed that traps were one use and got discarded after taking out a monster. Even at easy level, that made winning neigh impossible. Then I realized that traps stick around until destroyed by monsters or the tide.

After I got that straightened out, the game got a lot better. In fact, I think that the mechanics are a treat. Games get tight quickly and there’s room for clever moves.

Most of my issues with the game are actually about the theming. In particular, with the term traps. Because traps implies a one-shot item and the traps are functionally work just like monsters, only on your side. A term like drone or automaton would have made a lot more sense.

I also wish traps had more theming.  The monsters don’t have names but they get creepy imagery. And being nameless may make them more dreadful. Traps don’t get a name or a picture, just numbers. It’s a level of abstraction that pulls away from the theming. 

That said, the mechanics carry the game and mechanics are the real deciding factor.

After a really bad first impression, The Last Ligjthouse is really growing on me. After I got the rules straight, it fits the Simply Solo mission statement. Easy to set up, doesn’t take too long to play while still having some meat on its bones. It went from ‘why am I playing this’ to ‘this is coming out on the regular’

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

By Jove, PnP files are worth spending money on

 About eight years ago, I tried out a PnP game called Outlaw. It was a very simple build, print out a board and add dice and tokens. It was a dice chucker that had a bit of a Pickomino feel.

Honestly, it had only the fact that it was free and required no construction going for it. And that was still enough for me to recommend it to a couple people. 

Outlaws came back to me while I was learning Beards and Booty. It’s another no-construction dice chucker but it is superior to Outlaw on almost every single level. Well, except for the fact that it isn’t free. However, I’ll pay that minimal price for a game that will see play.

It has been at least fifteen years since I started looking at print and play whatsoever and it’s been around eight years since I started getting ‘serious’ about print and play. And every time I feel like I stop and look at the PnP world, it feels like it has grown so much.

Websites like PnP Arcade or provide a market place for buying PnP files. Companies like Postmark Games or Hammerdice have managed to stake out part of the game market with only PnP games. Design contests have become a lot more common and feel more and more like a stepping stone to publication. 

I suspect that Covid has either caused or sped up the process. I am also sure that that is going to not only be the topic of endless debates over the years, it will also probably be the topic of thesis  and other scholarly papers.

If you had asked me eight years ago, if you could be a hobby gamer only through print and play, I would have said no. I definitely would have said no fifteen years ago. And I think I would’ve been right. The infrastructure didn’t exist even eight years ago.

But over the last few years, I think having a PnP game library and life has become more and more viable. Now, I’m not saying it’s the same as having a huge table, a giant game closet and a hefty game budget. It’s not and it’s not as good either. However, you can still get some good gaming in.

None of this is surprising. Heck, the expanding PnP infrastructure wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a market for it. And I dare say it’s become a more expensive hobby, albeit heaps cheaper than buying fully published games.

But pulling out Outlaw and realizing it had once been exciting to find it is still a revelation.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Miseries of the Night turns Sandman into a spreadsheet

 Miseries of the Night is a post card Roll & Write game. I actually just printed it off as a PDF that I laminated. I’m not sure how well it would work as an actual postcard since gameplay requires you to erase stuff as you go along. Still, postcard defines the size of a game, not the actual practice.

The artwork and some of the terminology hints that you are fighting nightmares or dark creatures in your dreams. Very Neil Gaiman Sandman. In particular, your bonus actions being called lucidity really leans on that idea. The game doesn’t have enough fluff to come out and say it. Which I don’t view as a negative since space is extremely limited on a postcard. That that much theme comes through is a triumph.

The actual gameplay is far more abstract. You are guiding a pawn around a grid and defeating miseries which are represented randomly generated numbers. Since you are using a pawn, Myseries of the Night isn’t a pure roll and write. Again, no big deal. Purity tests are only for gatekeeping.

The grid is the 6 x 6 grid with die pips marking off the rows and column that we have all seen before. At the start of the game, you generate three miseries. Roll two dice for the location, and a third, preferably visually different, die for the strength of the misery. Your pawn starts off in any corner.

Each turn, you roll four dice, one of them being the visually different misery die. You use the misery die and two of the other dice to add or strengthen a misery on the grid. The fourth die is your movement. Land on a misery and you fight it, trying to roll equal or higher than its value. Defeated miseries become Xs, which you can’t move through.

The most interesting part of the game is all the ways that you can manipulate things. Overwhelming victories over miseries give you lucidity points, which you can spend for a number of advantages, including moving through  those pesky Xs. You can also sacrifice a health point, yes, you have health, to add a die in combat.

The game ends when you can’t move or you’ve run out of health. The number of Xs on the board is your score.

Okay, time to damn with faint praise.

The actual real problem that the game has is that there are some real rules ambiguity. Do you have to move exactly onto a misery? Does your move end when you move onto one? Can you fight multiple miseries on the same turn? All of that said, which interpretation you go with affects the tempo of the game more than the actual gameplay itself.

A meta issue I have with the game is that the actual experience of the game is very abstract, despite the engaging theme. Which doesn’t have to be a problem in an of itself. I mean, I like Wurfel Bingo and that’s a pure abstract. But I don’t think there’s enough tension without the support of a theme going on in Miseries of the Night.

You are basically trying to not get boxed in. You have enough special powers that the actual fighting isn’t going to be the determining factor. It’s making sure you can keep moving. Which isn’t bad but it’s not enough.

Even with the rules questions, Miseries of the Night holds together mechanically. And I do like how it gives you lots of choices. And I am downright impressed by how much theming they were able to do with so little. However, ultimately the gameplay doesn’t have any tension. Even as I tried out the different rule interpretations, I just didn’t get interested.

Miseries of the Night isn’t a bad game. I do find the postcard format an interesting way to explore minimalism. But there are a lot of Roll & Write games out there that I find more engaging.

Friday, June 7, 2024

So what is a foundation deck?

 Button Shy’s June Kickstarter is Mysticana: A Foundation Deck. I haven’t finished making a copy of the demo version but I did want to get some thoughts out before the Kickstarter ends.

(And, yes, I can make a functional copy with a regular deck of cards. However, let’s be honest, artwork does make a difference in how a game feels. Also, the built-in rock-paper-scissors of Mysticana’s element system is a good visual shorthand)

So, what is a foundation deck? That just sounds like a way of saying a game system that you can try and copywrite. Well, it turns out a foundation deck is a subset of game systems. 

A game system is a set of components that you can use to play multiple games with. A standard deck of cards is the most quintessential example that I can think of. Even the most conservative estimates say there are over a thousand games you can play with the regular deck of cards.

A foundation deck is a game system where you add additional cards for different games. Some games just require the base deck but you can modify the deck with other cards for specific games.

This isn’t a new concept. Looney Labs Looney Pyramids is totally a foundation system. Almost all its games (at least the good ones) add things like boards and dice or other stuff. And I think there’s nothing wrong with that. Yeah, the purity of a game system that uses a core set of components is appealing but purity tests are just for gate keeping.

What I think will make or break Mysticana is whether or not it has a killer app. If a game system has one really good game, one that people want to play, then it will have legs. A game system can survive having plenty of meh games as long as it has one good one. Poker is a great example of a game system’s killer app, although the standard deck of cards has a whole bunch of them. (Being around for centuries helps with that)

And I don’t know the answer to that yet. It’s not even a decision I can come to. It will end up being a community call.

I was very pleased that the designer diary explicitly mentions the Decktet as a major influence. A six-suited deck with multi-suited cards, the Decktet remains one of the most flexible game system decks I have found that isn’t just a modified standard deck. And it’s killer app, Magnate, requires additional components so it’s a foundation deck too.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Failed Anatomies reminds of how bleak Delta Green is

 Reading Delta Green: Tales from Failed Anatomies, I found myself thinking that I was reading literature based on a RPG that was, in turn, based on literature. 

Honestly, given the fact that more and more intellectual properties have become multi-media entities, that actually doesn’t seem unusual or strange anymore. Products exist in many different formats.

Really, it’s been that way for decades. The deregulation of the 80s allowed intellectual properties to become toy lines and cartoons and comic books and greeting cards all at the same time. And I think that it is safe to say that the definitive version of any intellectual property is whatever you want it to be.

And while the end goal of a multimedia franchise is $money$, I also think that it has become more and more refined to the point that some of it really is art. Because there is some good writing in Failed Anatomies.

Delta Green started out life as a supplement for Call of Cthulhu, the original RPG of Lovecraftian horror. The extremely short version is that it is centered around the government’s response to the Mythos.

The original source book (which I got out and looked at while reading Failed Anatomies) was heavily built around flying saucer conspiracy theories with the grays being actually literal puppets of the MiGo. The official stance of the US government is that of collaborators and Delta Green is a disgraced, officially disbanded, clandestine group trying to stave off the end of the world.

I was actually surprised how narrow the scope of the original Delta Green was. The franchise has grown enough that I had forgotten it’s humble beginnings. However, even from the start there is one core element of Delta Green that has really given some bite:

The stars _will_ be right. The end is coming. Unfathomable eldritch abominations will rise. It is inevitable. And Delta Green may not be fighting to give the world a little more time but only to extend the ignorance of what will happen.

Even by the standards of Call of Cthulhu’s cosmic horror, that is heavy.

Failed Anatomies embraces that bleak despair. The stories form a timeline from the Innsmouth raid (perhaps the only time Lovecraft had the government get involved) to the End. I’ve seen that formula before but Failed Anatomies uses it well. And there are no happy endings.

Failed Anatomies shows why Delta Green continues to be a part of the Cthulhu Mythos. Not because Call of Cthulhu needed the X-Files or Men in Black. But because Delta Green makes cosmic horror visceral.

Monday, June 3, 2024

My May Gaming

Some months, learning games end up being a way to decompress and relax. May was one of those months.

I learned:

Kaos in the Catacombs
Rally J
Roll Crawl
The Last Lighthouse
Beards and Booty

Both Kaos in the Catacombs and Rally J  honestly like prototypes or experiments to me. That said, trying games out and giving feedback is part of the great circle of life. Or game development. And I try to learn a new Roll and Write every month and Kaos fit the bill for May.

Roll Crawl is a very simple combat/dungeon crawl game, using tiny dice pools to beat up monsters. It does offer some decent choices during game play. Not amazing but it clicks as a quick little play. Where it falls short is that it really needs more content for any long term play.

The Last Lighthouse is the most recent of Scott Almes’ Simply Solo games, a description that will be obsolete fast, I’m sure. I had a bad initial impression because I messed up a rule which made the game unwinnable. Once I got that straight, the game has steadily grown on me

The one issue I still have is that I think the theme and the mechanics don’t mesh wells. Traps being treated as autonomous fighters doesn’t make sense. The creepy art is good though.

Beards and Booty pleasantly surprised me. Its goofy charm and decent-sized menu of actions make it more than the sum of its parts. It’s a dice chucking, beat ‘em up game that comes together as a fun, silly beer and pretzels game. If you have a big table and a big game closet, you don’t need Beards and Booty but it does the trick for limited space.

Good gaming month. I hope June is also good.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

My May PnP

 May ended up busier PnP crafting month than I had expected. I made:

What’s Kraken: Ghost Captain

Food Chain Island (demo version)

Rally J

13 Sheep

Hello Autumn (Creative Kids collection)


One Card Mazes

Explosion in the Laboratory 

Every time I can’t find my travel copy of Food Chain Island, I just make another one. No regrets. And One Card Mazes continues to be my way of filling in extra space on laminating sleeves. And they’re a great way to do that :)

Explosion in the Laboratory ended up getting added to the queue because I try and make a ‘larger’ game every month and I couldn’t justify Rally J as that game. That said, it’s been a game that was already in the broader queue and I think it’ll be good.

But, in many ways, my actual big project was making classroom copies of Hello Autumn, 13 Sheep and Blankout. All super easy builds but I had to make enough for group play. I didn’t end up actually using Hello Autumn but I’m glad I made them, just in case.

Honestly, I’m already gearing up for June.