Monday, July 22, 2024

This Sprawlopolis is really good

I have to confess that I have largely admired the Sprawlopolis family from afar. I have always thought the games were downright brilliant but, until quite recently, I played their parent game Circle the Wagons more than the entire family put together.

That’s really because I have a black and white printer and I’m colorblind on top of that. The textures in the original game aren’t super distinct and even when I printed out the game in color, the colors were diffuse enough that it was hard for me to tell some of them apart.

Both Agropolis and Naturopolis do a much better job at both texture and color contrast but I was already derailed by the original game. Which is a shame because the family is very good.

Micro tile-laying games were already a well established concept, including ones with overlapping cards. Variable scoring conditions were also established. Sprawlopolis also has a variable winning score depending on the scoring conditions, which I hadn’t seen before but I would be surprised if it wasn’t already out there.

What Steve Aramini has done, though, is a really good job of packaging all of these elements together into a tight, well balanced, challenging game. 

Revisiting Sprawlopolis, what I am really struck by is how many tough and annoying decisions there are in the game. I look at a lot of 18 card games because, well, they’re really easy to print out and play. And from my experience, Sprawlopolis has a lot of weight for a micro game.

I feel micro games and more minimalist games have become more a part of the gaming culture. This started a ways back since both Love Letter and Qwixx helped get that ball rolling in their own ways. (Feel free to tell me how I’m wrong)

And I feel that a design goal that some micro games pursue is for the game experienced to feel like a “big“ game. It doesn’t always work and sometimes the results feel cluttered and fiddly. And it isn’t always the goal of a particular game. In the first set of Pack O Game, HUE is solid but feels intended to be small. On the other hand, TAJ feels ambitious but fiddly and GEM actually feels like a bigger game.

Sprawlopolis feels bigger than eighteen cards. More than that, the gameplay is intuitive, not fiddly. Scrabble and Carcassonne and other games have made tile laying second nature to so many of us. You don’t have to concentrate on how to play but on the actual choices you need to make.

I revisted Sprawlopolis because I signed up to playtest Casinopolis. Now, I want to re-examine the entire family.

Friday, July 19, 2024

A completely unfair review of Paper App Dungeon

First of all, confession and disclosure. I played Paper App Dungeon via the play sheet provided by Semi Co-Op. So I have in no way shape or form played the game as it was designed to be played. That said, that is also probably the only way that I would have tried out the game.

Paper App Dungeon is a Roll and Write dungeon crawl. One of the simplest ones I have seen, to be honest. The core mechanic is that you rule one D6. If you rolled even, you have to move orthogonally. If you roll odd, you have to move diagonally. And you move that many spaces. Hit a wall, bounce off that wall (Hi, Ricochet Robots!)

There are encounters spaces. Stop or run into them and they happen. From what I can tell, there isn’t a combat mechanic. Monsters just cost you X number of hit points. (Again, I could be wrong)

One rules discrepancy that I wasn’t sure about was if you had to choose a path that didn’t run into a wall over one that did. Quite frankly, I think, forcing you to choose the path that doesn’t let you ricochet removes a lot of the decision making in the game and then we are back in the first module of Outdoor Survival. And if you don’t know what that means, it isn’t good!

Also from what I can tell, the complete game is an actual campaign with the ability to level up and equip the line you are drawing. So there’s a lot that I haven’t been exposed to.

The interesting quirk in the game is that every sheet is procedurally generated. Which means random but within specific parameters. It’s published as a spiral notebook and every one will be different. And you can also buy a pencil from the publisher that has been marked so you can use it a knuckle bone die, dropping the components down to two.

In some ways, I am the ideal and absolute worst demographic for Paper App Dungeon. I play a lot of Roll and Write games and I have no idea how many of them have been dungeon crawls. I also like portable games I can play anywhere.

At the same time, a big reason I play so many Roll and Writes is because I love Print and Play. And Paper App Dungeon is clearly designed to not be a PnP.

I also have to say that a procedurally generated dungeon really gives me pause. I have played some procedurally generated PnP games and the boards become incredibly swingy. It’s amusing if I’m not being asked to pay for the experience. Under those circumstances, I don’t care if balance is lost. But when every board is effectively a one-shot experience? Then the loss of balance becomes a loss of overall gameplay, particularly if it’s a campaign.

Even setting that to one side, the game seems to come down to drawing a semi random line through a dungeon grid. There isn’t even combat, just lose hit points. I realize that I have not had the full experience of the game, but I feel pretty confident saying that I have played several Roll and Write dungeons that were, better than that and some of them were free. 

I think it is a perfectly valid argument that I have not given Paper App Dungeon a fair shake since I didn’t play the official version. But if you accept that the Semi Co-Op UKGE Dungeon can be viewed a demo, than the demo sank.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Even by Roald Dahl standards, the Witches is disconcerting

Since my son was reading Roald Dahl’s The Witches, I decided to read it too. While I have read a lot of his books for children, some of them when I was a kid, and his stories for older audiences, that was a book that I had never read.


That was a weird read.
 
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First of all, let’s be honest. Roald Dahl’s work has always had elements of the grotesque and the macabre and the really bizarre. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator reads like it was written during a severe fever where opiates were part of the treatment plan. But his other kids books balance out that with happy endings.

(No, I haven’t seen any of the movie adaptations of the Witches but I did l know they were out there)

An orphaned boy learns from his grandmother that witches are real and among us. They look like humans, other than their hands, feet, and their saliva. Oh, and they’re bald but being bald as a qualifier as being inhuman feels kind of extreme. And their whole deal is killing children.

When the unnamed boy and his grandmother end up at a resort where all the witches of England just happen to be meeting, they manage to wipe the witches out by using the witch’s’ own transformation potion against them. But the boy also gets hit by the potion and will be a mouse for the rest of his life.

While the topic of The Witches is probably the darkest of any Dahl book I’ve read, the tone isn’t. The witches are serial killers with genocidal plans, which puts the people-eating giants in the BFG to shame. However, their behavior is incredibly childish with the Grand High Witch in particular coming across as a petulant brat.

Even by Dahl standards, the contrasts are jarring.

Then there’s the boy’s final fate. Permanently transformed into a mouse with a significantly reduced lifespan. And he plans on dying with his grandmother since they now have about the same life expectancy. The boy views this as a happy ending but I’m not sure how many readers will agree with him.

Really, what the Witches lacks that so many of his works have is whimsy.

And I was unsurprised to learn that the book has been accused of being misogynistic. In fact, the first draft of this blog entry was twice as long discussing that. And that was just too distracting. What I will say is, regardless of authorial intent, the book is very easy to give a misogynistic reading of. Which is definitely not to say don’t read it. Just keep that in consideration, particularly when discussing it with children.

Monday, July 15, 2024

Dice and colors and evil labs

 I’ve been meaning to look Polterdice games for a while. I’ve backed a couple of their Kickstarters so I’ve picked up a decent amount of their library and their designs do look interesting.


Many (not all) of their Roll and Write designs involve using color, markers or pencils or crayons or whatever of different colors. They certainly aren’t the first to do so. And, as a medium, Roll and Write games have fewer components to work with. Something that allows an additional layer in the game design and game play is a good thing.

Yahtzee just involves writing down numbers. The write element of Qwixx is checking off boxes. They are both very important games in the development of the Roll and Write medium (and Qwixx rocks) But, as a medium, Roll and Writes can do more than that. Color can be a powerful tool to adding new elements into turning a piece of paper into a fully fleshed out game.

But here’s the thing. I’m quite colorblind. It’s been a bane for my gaming from the start and it’s takes some decent contrast for me work with colors. So that makes some of Polterdice’s designs a real challenge for me.

And some of their designs really interest me. Dice of Steam looks like it might be able to capture rail stock in a couple pages. (I know, that’s been tried a _lot_) The engine building of Iron Made might actually give me the Pick-Up-and-Deliver Roll and Writes I’m looking for.

All that said, I started with My Little Evil Lab, the family/Junior version of Evil Lab. Evil Lab might be their simplest and most accessible game and I’m starting with the simplified version lol

Stripping away the made science theme, you’re putting symbols on a grid. Pretty familiar territory for me. The columns act like Connect 4 columns, that a symbol has to go down to the bottom or on top of another symbol. Again, we’ve seen this before.

So… what makes My Little Evil Lab different?

You use two dice to determine the color and shape of the symbol you draw each turn. A very important touch is that each pip gives you more than one choice of color or shape. In fact, the difference between the junior version of My Little Evil Lab and regular Evil Lab is that the Junior version gives you four shapes as opposed to the regular version’s three shapes. That makes gameplay easier because two identical shapes cannot be next to each other. Diagonal is fine, thank goodness. If placement is impossible, you put a big X in a space.

In order to score points, you have to create patterns of colors. A box of four squares, a line of three squares, that sort of thing. And the patterns must be isolated. If you have a line of five squares, not one of the scoring patterns, you get nothing. It doesn’t count a line of four with a buddy.

You also get bonus points for making every pattern in one color or making one pattern in every color. Trust me, if that sounds confusing, looking at the scoring sheet will make it all makes sense.

(The low ink version substitute’s patterns for colors. I went one step further and used numbers)

From what I can tell reading through rule sets, the Evil Lab family is the simplest of Polterdice’s
catalog. And I have to admit that the various elements are familiar. However, the various restrictions on both placement and scoring make for some interesting game play.

The Evil Lab family is simple but so many of the games that they share qualities with are even simpler.  Even sitting down to My Little Evil Lab requires making some plans and some decisions. There is enough going on to keep me interested and coming back.

The more forgiving ruleset of My Little Evil Lab has actually made it relatively easy to get good scores. I am definitely planning on trying the regular version soon. More than that, there are alternate boards with different scoring conditions or special symbols that change the gameplay. I feel like the Evil Lab family has a lot of gaming for me.

My Little Evil Lab was me poking at Polterdice and it’s been encouraging.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Young Adult literature and the upside of necromancy

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m the Queen of the Dead by Richard Robert’s wasn’t on my immediate reading list. I mean, I planned on eventually reading it but I had other stuff higher on the list. But it ended up sneaking to the front of the line.


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It is the eighth book in a cape punk series about teenagers whose struggles to figure themselves out are complicated by super powers. The initial protagonist of Please Don’t Tell et al is Penny whose uncontrollable mad science and knack for super villainy makes her dreams of  being a super hero tricky. After her story is resolved in Please Don’t Tell My Parents You Believe Her, Roberts began bringing in new protagonists.

While I liked Goodnight and Magenta, Avery Special, most powerful living necromancer in the world (on account of being the only living one), is  my favorite new protagonist. In no small part because she’s not interested in heroics or villainy. She just wants to get better at necromancy. Not that she won’t save the world if it needs saving.

The world of Please Don’t Tell et al has a very silver age feel where both heroes and villains follow a code of conduct that keeps things safe for civilians. But one of the underlying themes of the series is how much work it takes to keep that code of conduct up. In fact , outside of Los Angeles, it’s pretty much stated the rest of world is a lot scarier. In fact, one of the supporting characters in PDTMP I Work for a Supervillain gets, for all intents and purposes, mutilated by a world-scope villain.

One of the major conflicts in the series is the teenagers chafing under the restrictions of the code of conduct. In fact, a major part of the first book is getting grown-ups to take them seriously. Part of what makes Avery an interesting contrast is that she much more acknowledges the need for a social structure that keeps everyone safe. Part of her story arc is realizing that she does need a mentor and that magic can become a dangerous addiction.

One character, who only appears as a one scene wonder, helps hammer the danger of magic addiction home. The Godchild of Despair, who gained her powers and lost her name by failed magical suicide. I am certain that White Wolf has a splat book built around this concept. While only appearing for one scene and being a likeable character, she helps both Avery and the reader realize the stakes of dark magic.

After I Did NOT Give That Spider Superhuman Intelligence (which I think was published in the middle of the Penny books) and Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Work For a Supervillain, I didn’t think the non-Penny books would be as strong. Queen of the Dead felt like a return to form and I’m glad Avery apparently becomes the narrator again for the tenth book.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Brain fog gaming

I’ve decided that I need another category of gaming, brain fog gaming. 

You know, when you play the games that you play when you are too physically or emotionally exhausted to think. As opposed to the games other people play with you when you are too physically or emotionally exhausted to think.
 
I suppose I could also use the term fidget gaming but I feel that implies either anxiety or boredom. That probably involves playing some of the same games but the motivation isn’t the same.

We are definitely talking about short games, games that fall under the filler label. Either simple rule sets or rule sets that you know like the back of your hand. And you should have fun. 

And brain fog doesn’t mean brainless. There still has to be something to engage you. Years ago, I read about a betting game called Pig which was just rolling one die until you quit or roll a one. Without betting, there’s no engagement. But Pass the Pig with its cute pig dice, that’s engaging.

Even in brain fog, I need some spark. Be it theme or chrome or some quirk of the mechanics, it needs to not just not tax my brain but also entertain me. So, if you want to get through my brain fog, it does take some kind of hook. 

Brain fog gaming definitely has elements of guilty pleasure. Because a huge chunk of the games that I reach for are not good games from a mechanical standpoint. In fact, when my brain is clear, I find myself wondering what was I thinking playing some of these games lol And yet, these help me relax and have fun.

I don’t think I can cross the line to saying that brain fog gaming is part of mental health. I think that’s giving them too much weight. However, I do think they help.

Friday, July 5, 2024

Nine Perils: Mysticana’s first steps

 It only makes sense that my first foray into Mysticana was Nine Perils, the solitaire option of the core games. I mean, I only have to find myself in order to try out the game.

For me, Mysticana is going to live or die by the solitaire games. If I’m not enjoying it, then at least I’m not spreading the misery around. Solitaire games are how you test drive game systems.
 
And I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am alone on focusing in on the solitaire options. It seems like more and more games have solo modes. There is a definite demand for it. Out of the first nine planned expansions, if I’ve counted right, six of them are solo or have solo options. (Holy cow, that’s a lot)

Mysticana is an eighteen card deck that has three suites ranked A to 6. The suites are elemental themed with a rock-paper-scissors hierarchy. Water beats fire. Fire beats earth. Earth beats water. If I keep looking at these games, I feel like I should copy and paste the paragraph.

Nine Perils is pretty darn simple. Shuffle the deck and make a line of nine facedown cards. The other nine cards are your draw pile. Draw a hand of one to three cards (the bigger your hand, the easier the game) Flip over the middle card in the line and you’re ready to go.

Turns are simple. Turn over a line card. Draw a card from the draw pile. Play a card under one of the line cards. Game ends and figuring out if you’ve won or not when you’ve got a line of your own nine cards under the original line.

If every card in your line is greater than the card above it, you win. Which would mean you have to be lucky and good at card counting. But there’s a twist. If there’s a tie, that card and the next card down the line are determined by third card.

Basically, if you can set up a cascade of ties ending with your card beating the last card in the line, you win. Ideally, four cards will get skipped over and it doesn’t matter what you played on those spots.

So, Nine Perils really comes down to trying to do this one clever thing. You could also hope to being really lucky but the cascade move is really the goal. And that one clever thing is a very obvious strategy.

But… I found myself playing three times in a row until I got that cascade. The game play and the goal are simple and obvious but it was still satisfying. I’ll keep playing it and probably at a higher difficulty.

Nine Perils isn’t revolutionary or brilliant. It is a solid little solitaire though. I don’t think it’s a killer game that will make Mysticana famous. It does make me think that the deck does have potential.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

My June gaming

 June was a different kind of month for me because a lot of what I learned were design contest entries or play test prototypes. Which, in many ways, are very similar. 


Miseries of the Night

Mysticana - Nine Perils

Casinopolis (prototype)

Dice Fishing D6

Guards & Goblins (2024 9-Card Contest)

The Star Speaker (2024 9-Card Contest)

Simply Solo #8 (prototype)

My Evil Lab


Design contest entries were one of my entry points into PnP so that was a return to form. On the other hand, being more serious about being in play test groups is new. I’m hoping to keep doing that but I will have to see what life holds. I momentarily have a little more free time but that won’t last. 

I have also noticed that I am getting into the habit of starting each month by learning a really quick, simple game just to make sure that I actually learn something. This month, it was Miseries
of the Night. Shockingly not Dice Fishing D6, which is easily the simplest and lightest game I’ve played all year.

But really, the real value of my game learning this June was playing games that were still in progress, still experimental in some ways. And giving my feedback in some cases. It’s a different side of gaming, one that I didn’t discover for quite a while.

I don’t know what July will be like. For one thing, I don’t know how often Button Shy asks for play testers lol

But June was rewarding.

Monday, July 1, 2024

My June PnP

 June ended up being a busy Print and Play month for me. Heck, there’s a chance it will be my heaviest PnP month of the year.


Some of it was because of summer break giving me more time. Some of it was because I was looking at contests and play testing. And if I’m am already doing a lot of printing and laminating, laminating some Roll and Write sheets was just natural.

Beards and Booty

Mysticana (demo version)

Murderers’ Row (Bluey Retheme)

Casinopolis (playtest prototype)

Guards & Goblins (2024 9-Card Contest)

The Star Speaker (2024 9-Card Contest)

Wayfarer’s Tale: The Lonely Isle

Dice Fishing D6

Around the World in 10-15 Minutes + expansions

Everest 1924

Bake and Sale

Space Alone - B&W basic boards 

Malta Convoy

Logicards (2024 9-Card Contest)

Nintle (2024 9-Card Contest)

Tanuki Matsuri

Habits (2024 9-Card Contest)

Spore (2024 9-Card Contest)

Simply Solo #8 (play test version)


My ‘big’ project was originally Beards and Booty, which was a surprisingly fun game. However, I’d also count the Mysticana demo deck as a big project as well. The play test prototypes also edge into that territory.

But I did a bunch of smaller, often quirkier projects. Which was quite fun. I used to add an asterisk to laminating a R&W sheet because there wasn’t any real construction involved. I no longer do that because the quality of a game doesn’t depend on the amount of work you put in.

Beards and Booty, for example, just required me to laminate a variety of play sheets for the different characters and beasts. But the actual game play is jolly fun. I will get plenty of play out of it.

I also did a lot of prep work for projects that I didn’t finish. When life is busier and crazier, I will be glad to have PnP games where most of the work is already done.