Saturday, December 9, 2017

Roleplaying Games Besides Dungeons and Dragons

Six roleplaying game rule books displayed on a wooden table: Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, Vampire: The Masquerade, GURPS, Paranoia, and Traveller.

I was playing Say Anything with some friends recently. The basic idea behind this game, for those who don't already know, is that the players take turns being the judge, and the judge reads a question off one of the cards in the deck (the questions always refer to the judge; for example, 'What is my favourite brand of beer?' or 'Where in the world would I like to travel that I haven't already been?'). The other players write down possible answers on small dry-erase boards. The judge decides and secretly records which answer best applies. The players then vote on which answer they think the judge chose. They get points for voting for the answer chosen by the judge, and the person who wrote the answer chosen by the judge gets points as well.

On one of John's turns, he read the question, 'What game do I think is most overrated?' There were several good answers, but the one he chose was Dungeons and Dragons. The reason he gave is because there are many roleplaying games (of varying levels of quality) in existence, but so many people (even many gamers) have never heard of any of them apart from D&D (or, these days, Pathfinder, which was based on D&D so may as well count as D&D anyway).

John went on to describe how whenever he talks to people and tells them that he enjoys playing roleplaying games, they always respond with, 'Oh, you mean like Dungeons and Dragons?'

He went on to describe how annoying it always is to have to explain, 'Well, yes, it is like Dungeons and Dragons, but it's not like Dungeons and Dragons because the system is different, the setting is different, the object is different...' Because of that, because of how tired he gets having to tell people that he doesn't play D&D because there are so many other and (in his opinion) better RPGs out there, he ranks D&D as the most overrated game.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Board Game Review: Conspire

Ok, let's be totally honest. This is not a board game. It really fits into the category of a roleplaying game. But, much like Fiasco, Conspire does not fit into the traditional roleplaying game format. It's not intended for long-form stories that take multiple sessions to complete. There's no GM, no character sheets, it doesn't even use any dice.

But although it technically is a roleplaying game, in that players create a role and play the part of that role in free-form storytelling, it is much better suited to the sort of settings in which one would be likely to play a board game.

Besides, I enjoyed the heck out of this game, and I really wanted to write a review for it. So I'm going to.

The Conspire Deluxe Set. A flat black box, propped open to reveal the Conspire rulebook, with artwork depicting a typical conspiracy theorist's bulletin board, showing the conspire logo, an eye in a triangle, in the centre. Also in the box is a tube containing poker chips in several different colours, a bundle of dry-erase markers, laminated role sheets, and a Cherry Picked Games business card.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

PinkFae Archive #5: Stories in Games - Our Most Fun Experiences

We have come to installment #5 in our reposting of my articles from PinkFae. This article was originally published on 31 January 2016.

One quick note before we get to the article reprint: the Andrana Project is live on Kickstarter. At this moment, there are 10 days left before the end of the drive. This looks like a great game, and they're only at 54% funded. If you read this before 5 December 2017, please head on over to their Kickstarter page and help them meet their goal!

A game of Stipulations: people sitting around a table reading what players have written on their cards

When people sit down to play games, what exactly are they doing? I spoke of this a bit a couple of weeks ago. Depending on the nature of the game, we are doing things that can be just as difficult as a so-called 'job.' Games come in so many different forms; games of luck, of physical prowess, of strategy, of skill (broken into many different types of skill; spatial reasoning, manual dexterity, mathematical ability, and so forth), games of knowledge or memory or bluffing or deduction... It may be obvious by now that I am most strongly drawn towards games that have a serious element of telling stories.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sci-Fi vs Fantasy

One thing I've always wondered is why science fiction and fantasy are lumped together as a genre. When I go into a bookstore, the two types of books take up a single section, apart from 'romance,' 'comedy,' and general 'fiction.' Even though the general fiction section doesn't always confine itself to a specific setting (books in that area can be found taking place at any point in history – from prehistoric ages as in The Clan of the Cave Bear to modern day novels, which are legion).

More interestingly, the 'sci-fi/fantasy' section of a bookstore is often seen as the realm of nerds and geeks by many shoppers. Although it is true that non-nerds are less likely to peruse that section, it's not fair to say any of the following:
  • Nerds won't go to any other fiction section.
  • Non-nerds won't go into that section.
  • Nerds will indiscriminately read anything in that section.
But even more interesting is the idea that the two genres are inseparable. The tendency to lump sci-fi and fantasy into a single section is nearly universal, even amongst nerds themselves. Even the cable channel Syfy (formerly the Sci-Fi channel) broadcast fantasy shows with great frequency. This question is relevant now with the release of the new Starfinder roleplaying game. It basically takes the Pathfinder system and uses it for science fiction gaming (though it still contains magic and other fantasy elements).

Saturday, November 11, 2017

PinkFae Archive #4: Board Game Review - Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar

Some of the articles that I wrote for PinkFae were board game reviews, just like ones that I write here. Today, we come to the first entry that is a reprint of a board game review. This article was first published on 23 January 2016. I hope you enjoy it!

A thing I like to do on occasion is review board games (and, technically, card games too). I've done many over at my main blog, and I think it will be fun to do it on occasion here as well. So if you're interested in learning about some of the many high-quality (and, let's be honest, not-so-high-quality) games out there, keep your eyes on this space and we'll see how many we can cover! We'll start with a game I learned to play last week: Tzolk'in: the Mayan Calendar.

A group of four players sitting around the game board at a a   table, playing Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Inclusive NPCs Volume 1: Cedar

In PinkFae Archive #3, I mentioned that a good way to foster diversity and tolerance within the gaming community is to add diverse NPCs to your game. I've done this myself on several occasions. However, I also realise that it's not always easy for people to develop a diverse cast of characters for use in their games.

So, to that end, I am going to start a new series of posts called 'Inclusive NPCs.' Today's entry will be the first in that series, in which I introduce you to Cedar. I encourage you to adapt and use any NPCs that I publish here in your games as you see fit. With that in mind, I will (for both this entry and for any subsequent entries in this series) provide a basic write-up in four of the most common systems: D20, GURPS, the original World of Darkness, and FATE Core.

So let us meet Cedar. Cedar is an intersex agender individual who has chosen to become a vigilante. As a genderless person, Cedar prefers the use of gender-neutral pronouns 'they' and 'them' (as in 'They are a vigilante,' and 'Cedar has few friends, but all their friends greatly enjoy spending time with them'). Cedar was the child of parents who believed in the sanctity of the human body, and so refused to allow any surgical alteration to bring Cedar in line with any particular gender identity. As they grew up, Cedar presented as female until adolescence, when they began to explore the possibilities of being intersex. Eventually, they decided to eschew gender roles entirely, and began to identify as agender. Motivated by the mistreatment that they often received at the hands of others, Cedar chose to become a protector, and studied combat arts so that they could prowl the streets at night in search of people in need of help. Now twenty-five years old, Cedar considers themself to be an accomplished defender of the weak and helpless.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The X-Card: Making Games Safe for Everyone

I know it sounds like something out of the Marvel X-Men franchise, but this topic actually has nothing to do with mutant powers. Although it might be considered a superpower, in that it really does help to make the world a better place.

The idea is that when playing roleplaying games or storytelling games, especially with people you don't know very well (with a new gaming group, or at a convention with strangers, etc), there's always a chance that the game may veer into territory that is uncomfortable for some players. It's less likely when you're with a group that you know quite well, but even then, it is still a possibility. When such a theme pops up in a game, it may diminish the fun for one or more players. In extreme cases, it might even trigger a traumatic experience.

The X-Card is a way of helping to avoid such experiences as much as possible.

The X-Card is, quite simply, an index card with an X drawn on it. The concept is described in great detail by its creator, John Stavropoulos, in the Google Document he wrote. In this article, I'm going to provide a brief overview of the X-Card, some background, and detail the advantages of using it.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Board Game Review: Abyss

A friend of mine purchased a copy of Abyss when he encountered it at the Geekway to the West convention in St. Louis. He bought it primarily because he thought the artwork was stunning, but he was delighted to find that the game itself was quite enjoyable. Since I have now managed to play it twice, I will review it for you here.

Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.

Get ready for some numbers!
Strategy: 4
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 2
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 45 minutes
Gamer Profile Ratings:
  Strategy: Medium
  Conflict: Medium
  Social Manipulation: Low
  Fantasy: High

Saturday, October 14, 2017

PinkFae Archive #3: Can Games Save the World? The Social Benefit of Games

In our reposting of my PinkFae articles, we come to #3. This article was originally published on 18 January 2016. Enjoy!

One very long game board of the Settlers of Catan board game stretching across many tables, as hundreds of people sit along it playing the game with each other in small groups. The ultimate in social gaming?

We live in a crazy world. Despite the internet, people have bad ideas, wrong ideas, and just plain stupid ideas. But research has shown that increasing social contact helps spread good ideas. Humans are, after all, social creatures. We crave contact with others, and the more diverse the contact we have, the better society will be. What better way to improve our social situation than through playing games?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville

We're going to take another stroll into off-topic-land. As I'm sure you know by now, this past month has seen the debut of two new television series of interest to nerds and dorks like myself: Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. Fans of this blog will be aware that I am a major Star Trek nerd.

Just to be certain, let me describe why. Some of you may have read my previous post in which I describe the reason I love the original Star Trek so very much. If this is the case, you can safely skip the next paragraph to get to the good stuff. But I want this understanding to be explicit so that the rest of this entry will make sense.

The original Star Trek was wonderful for five main reasons: 1) it was relentlessly optimistic, 2) it used science-fiction to explore modern social topics, 3) it eschewed the traditional good/evil dichotomy for a more nuanced dynamic between antagonists and protagonists, 4) it emphasised exploration and discovery, and 5) the character dynamic of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy was a wonderful thing to behold. Although The Next Generation did not have #5, it did a good job (especially starting in season 3) of the other themes listed here. The other Trek series? Not so much...

So when I heard that they were making a new Star Trek series, I was very excited. I was looking forward to getting back to basics. Back to what I loved about the original series. Sure, it wouldn't have Kirk, Spock, or McCoy, but it would have the other elements.

Or so I hoped.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Board Game Review: Captain Sonar

It's time for another board game review. This week, I've decided to cover Captain Sonar. It's a fun little game that captures the suspense of submarine warfare. We'll start as we always do, with the ratings:

Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.
Strategy: 3
Randomness: 0
Complexity: 3
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Useful
Average Length of Game Play: 30 minutes
Gamer Profile Ratings:
  Strategy: Medium
  Conflict: High
  Social Manipulation: Low
  Fantasy: High

Saturday, September 23, 2017

PinkFae Archive #2: Reasons Why We Play Games

We continue our reposting of my PinkFae articles with this item, which was originally posted on 9 January, 2016.

--Beans-- What'cha doin'? --Chuck-- Just playing some video games. Trying to unwind after a long, crappy, day at work. --Beans-- So what's the point of this one? --Chuck-- It's a role-playing game, so mostly I run around performing menial tasks for petty reward. It's a tough grind, but if you work hard enough, eventually you face off against some really tough bosses. --Beans-- And THIS is how you unwind from your crappy job? --Chuck-- You'd think the irony would have occurred to me by now.
Why do we play games? Sure, we all have our reasons. For some, it's about spending time with people they love. Other people see it as an exercise in creativity, or practising various mental skills (or, let's be honest, physical skills; not all games are played around a table or in front of a television set).

For me, there are many reasons: some games are enjoyable because they indulge a particular love I have (dare I say, a fetish?), such as the original Balderdash, which caters to my lexophilia. Other games force me to think, and I love to give my brain some exercise on occasion; Dominant Species and Clans are two excellent examples of these types of games. Some games are fun for me because they facilitate social interaction that I otherwise find difficult to attain (The Resistance: Avalon falls in this category). Others appeal to my love of a certain fandom, such as Star Trek: Road Trip or Firefly: The Game). As a Storyteller, I also tend to be drawn to games that facilitate the telling of stories (thus my love of tabletop roleplaying games like Changeling: the Dreaming, as well as Fiasco and Gloom).

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Sandbox Gaming

I recently read an article about Sandbox Gaming. In case you're not familiar with that term, it comes from video game designs, in which players are given free reign to go where they want and do what they please. This is in contrast to the linear structure of most early video games.

At first glance, you might think that traditional tabletop roleplaying games are a perfect example of sandbox gaming. Whereas a computer game only has so many possible actions programmed into it, so many objectives for players to try to attain, in tabletop RPGs, players can do whatever they want. They don't need the game to have been preprogrammed to allow them to go to certain places or offer them certain options. They have a GM who can improvise to accommodate anything the may think to do. They don't need to wait for a programmer to make something available; the GM can do it for them on the fly.

However, the article in question isn't about sandbox games in that sense. Instead, the author describes whether or not the players are given objectives, or must decide on objectives for themselves. In other words, does the GM tell them, 'You have been hired by the ruler of the Shallukar Empire to find and deliver to her the Canopic Chest of Solitude,' or does the GM say, 'You are standing in the main plaza of the capital of the Shallukar Empire. What do you do?'

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Board Game Review: Blood Rage

I've been able to play Blood Rage twice now, and I enjoyed it both times, so the time has come for me to write a review of it. Guess what? We start with the ratings.
Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.

Strategy: 5
Randomness: 2
Complexity: 2
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 2 Hours
Gamer Profile Ratings:
  Strategy: High
  Conflict: High
  Social Manipulation: Low
  Fantasy: High

Saturday, September 2, 2017

PinkFae Archive #1: Lawsian Gamer Types

As I mentioned previously, the PinkFae site is essentially defunct. This makes me very sad, not just because it was a pretty neat site that had the potential to offer a lot in the way of a gaming blog, but because it had about a year worth of articles that I had written. I was quite proud of and pleased with those articles, and it would be a shame if they just vanished.

So starting today, I'm going to intersperse my normal articles with reprints of the ones I wrote for PinkFae. We start, today, with an article entitled 'Lawsian Gamer Types,' which was originally published on 3 Januay 2016.

Robin Laws, an older gentleman with short grey hair, a thin goatee and moustache, and black glasses, wearing a colourful shirt, speaking into a microphone.Robin Laws, an experienced author of roleplaying books, has written an invaluable tool for GMs. It's invaluable for all gamers, although it was targeted at the GM. In it, he includes a great deal of advice on how to make your games as enjoyable as possible for all participants. It's not the stuff you'd normally find in the 'For the Game Master' section of the core rulebook or supplements like the Dungeons Master's Guide. It's more fundamental information, such as campaign design (are you running a dungeon crawl, a set-piece story, a branching story, an episodic story, etc?), suggestions on how to be spontaneous (have a list of appropriate names for when you need to ad-lib an NPC, have a box of index cards with stats for random NPCs that the players may encounter, etc), how to deal with different player types (what emotional kick is each player looking to get from the game, and how can you deliver it to them?).

One of the most important issues that he addresses in this book is the topic of Gamer Types.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

One-shot, Short Term, Long Term: Campaign Length

I find myself rereading some of my Order of the Stick books again. Because, well, it's such a great story. There are five volumes of printed comics, plus two prequel books and a bonus book of strips that ran in the ill-fated Dragon Magazine and other assorted sundries. In addition, there are (at the time of this writing) 147 online strips that haven't yet been collected into printed volumes. Once it gets to the end of the current story arc, that will be volume 6. I predict there will likely by 7 total volumes, with a small chance that the total may end up at 8.

In Volume 3 of the printed books (War and XPs), author Rich Burlew wrote in his prologue that he used Babylon 5 as a model for how to write an epic-length story. He mentions the way that little bits of at-the-time seemingly irrelevant details that turned out to be super important bits of foreshadowing in the series' final episode. He refers to that show extensively as a guide for how to map out a long-term story.

On the other end of the spectrum, I will be running a one-shot tabletop RPG tomorrow. I expect it to last a few hours. In those handfuls of hourglass sand, there will be a complete story, with all the necessary elements: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Board Game Review: Kingdom Builder

A close-up view of a game after it has ended. There are four sections of the game board, each placed together to form the play area. Each one is made up of a grid of hexagonal spaces, coloured to represent grasslands, forests, flowers, canyons, mountains, lakes, and deserts, with a fancy space representing a city. On most of the non-water spaces is a wooden house token in one of five colours: blue, white, black, red, and orange.

I've been able to play this game a few times now, and though at first I didn't think much of it, my second play through caused me to realise that it's actually a really good game. It has all of the best elements of a good game that I described in my article on good games. There's no player elimination, it has a lot of player agency, it's relatively simple, it ends decisively, it allows for upsets, and best of all, it's fun to lose. So let's take a look at it.

We start with the numbers, just like always.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Expanding my Corner

I have decided that it's time to start trying to grow my little media empire (ha!). This decision was motivated by several factors. One of these factors is the fact that PinkFae appears to be defunct. This makes me sad, but such is life. More importantly, there is the fact that only the first two to four paragraphs of the six most recent articles are accessible at all. I don't want all that writing to be lost, so I'm seriously considering reposting those articles here.

Furthermore, I had an idea some years back. I've been active in my local chapter of PFLAG for some time, and one day, I was wearing a PFLAG shirt which featured some rainbow-coloured stick figures. A friend saw that and told me, 'For a second, I thought those were meeples, and I was about to ask where I could get a shirt like that.' Well, such an idea can't go unexplored! So I threw together a design and tried to get some organisations to use the idea.

Well, nobody would. So I decided, 'screw it, I'm going to do it myself.' So I've created a more advanced Game Dork brand, and have created a store on cafepress where I am selling shirts with these designs.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

What makes a game good?

I found myself sitting around with a few friends last night talking about games. This is not surprising, as we had gotten together for the specific purpose of playing some games. In between games, we talked about gaming, gamers, conventions, and some specific games.

There's a sentiment that I hear often when talking about games. I heard it last night, and I've heard it many times before. We'll be discussing a particular game, and someone will say some variation on:
  • I have a great time playing that game even when I lose.
  • That's a game I love to lose.
  • I don't care if I lose this game, because it's so much fun to play.
I've found it to be true for me in many cases: The Red Dragon Inn, Dominant Species, and The Resistance: Avalon to name just a few. 

Now, I will readily admit that these games are not perfect. The Red Dragon Inn, for example, features player elimination. Dominant Species can be pretty intense, complicated, and lengthy. The Resistance: Avalon is difficult for people who are not good liars.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Board Game Review: The Goonies Adventure Card Game

Recently, the Dork Spouse and I found ourselves at our local board game cafe with time to kill. We looked around at their library to decide what we wanted to play, and eventually decided to try out the Goonies: Adventure Card Game that was funded via Kickstarter last year. So now I will share my thoughts on that game with you. Starting of course with the numbers:


Strategy: 3
Randomness: 4
Complexity: 2
Humour: Derivative
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 45 minutes
Gamer Profile Ratings:
  Strategy: Low
  Conflict: Low
  Social Manipulation: Low
  Fantasy: High

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Accomplishing Big Things

I'm going to post something a bit meta today. I'm not going to talk so much about games, but a little bit more about the games industry. In fact, I'm even pulling back my perspective to talk a little bit about creativity in general.

Let me set the scene. I currently live in central Oklahoma. There's not a lot in Oklahoma. There are farms, there is oil and natural gas, and there is a smattering of a few other things. If you live in one of the two major urban areas (the Oklahoma City metro area, and Tulsa), there's a slightly broader array of things to do and see. A small handful of companies have their headquarters here (most notably, the drive-in fast food chain Sonic), and downtown OKC and Tulsa have some offices for various corporations.

But otherwise, there's not a lot to Oklahoma. The state tries to rely on its Native American heritage (all of which was basically imported from other parts of the country anyway) to promote tourism, but not many people think of Oklahoma as a vacation destination.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Giving It a Try

Before we get started, please allow me to remind you that I have set up a Facebook page for this blog. If you like reading the stuff I write here, head on over to follow me, so that you can keep up to date, and see interesting new stuff that I might post there!



A friend recently drew my attention to an interesting post on Facebook. The short version is this:
An employee from Portal Publishing was irritated to see people claiming that a game is unbalanced and worthless after only playing through once or twice. Instead of learning the ins an outs of the game and getting good at playing that game, they give it a cursory single play-through and then give up on it entirely.
Really, the entry is quite interesting. It's a little emotional, as the author is clearly upset. But I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Board Game Review: Hoyuk

As I continue to write reviews for those games that were kindly sent to me by Mage Company, I come to the largest of the games that I received: Hoyuk. In this game, you control one of five clans of primitive people settling in a valley. You compete to build houses, fill it with people, attach livestock pens to those houses, fill those pens with cattle, and build add-ons like ovens and shrines.

The game box next to the board set up as if in the middle of a game. The box art shows large stone letters spelling out the title, Hoyuk, standing in a desert landscape against a sun preparing to set. The board shows a valley with stone outcroppings, trees, a river, and a pond. Tiles representing houses and pens are placed about the board, with meeples representing ovens, shrines, villagers, and cattle on some of them. Supplies of meeples are grouped on the right edge of the board, with various cards and building tiles on the left edge.


One quick note before we get started: I have set up a Facebook page for this blog, so if you like what you read, head on over, like us, and share with your friends! Now, let's start this party properly!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Tales from the Loop

In 2015, Swedish musician/artist Simon Stålenhag ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of his art book, Tales from the Loop. In this book, which was completed in 2016, the reader will find a wealth of paintings that show suburban Sweden in the 1980s, but with the addition of a number of sci-fi elements such as enormous technologically-advanced towers, magnetically levitating cargo freighters, debris from failed particle accelerator experiments, robots of various sizes, and even an occasional dinosaur brought forward through time portals.

This was so wildly popular that in November of 2016, a new Kickstarter was launched to turn these paintings into a roleplaying game. This one was also a great success, raising almost forty times their target. Thus, in early April of 2017, backers received their copy of the core rulebook.

The cover of the rule book. It shows a painting of four children in their early teens, dressed in winter coats and hats with backpacks and bicycles, standing in a field of yellow grasses and cedar saplings, looking away from the viewer into the distance at three large cooling towers, slightly obscured by fog, with futuristic lights on the tops. The title is printed in white across the top, and along the bottom, it reads, 'Roleplaying in the '80s that never was.'

My good friend John has a copy of this game. He has suggested running a game for me and some others, so he loaned me his book.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

My Personal History of Roleplaying Games

I spent some time chatting with a friend recently. In the course of the conversation, I ended up describing to her how I got into gaming, and which games I've played, in rough order from earliest to most recent.

It occurs to me that this may be of interest to others, if only in part because my path into gaming was so very different from that of most other gamers. So I think I will describe it to you, my faithful readers.

It's all my father's fault, really. When I was a teenager (15 or 16, as I recall), my father brought home a number of Marvel comic books. He was an executive in the regional offices for Hardee's, the fast food restaurant, before it was purchased by Carl's Jr. At the time, Hardee's was considering doing a merchandising promo with some Marvel characters, and so he brought home a handful of issues of various titles for research. There was an Iron Man, a couple of different Spider-Man titles, an Incredible Hulk, and so forth. But the two that caught my attention were the Uncanny X-Men #258 and Wolverine #23.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Board Game Review: Wrong Chemistry

For those of you who follow me on PinkFae gaming, you may have noticed that the site is having issues. The owner appears to be having issues in her personal life. Which is totally understandable; I've been there. But this just happens to come at a time when I am supposed to be writing reviews for a couple of Mage Company's games. I had wanted to wait for the PinkFae site to be up and running again, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen for some time. So as much as I am disappointed to have to do this on the Game Dork blog instead of the PinkFae one, I don't feel I can wait any longer. So today, for my entry on The Game Dork's Gaming Corner, I am going to review the copy of Wrong Chemistry that was very kindly sent to me by Mage Company.

Here is my rating system for those of you that need it:

Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.

Strategy: 2
Randomness: 4
Complexity: 1
Humour: Implicit
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 45 minutes
Gamer Profile Ratings:
  Strategy: Medium
  Conflict: Medium
  Social Manipulation: Low
  Fantasy: Medium

Saturday, June 10, 2017

More Resources for Gamers


You may remember that a few months ago, I posted an article that was essentially a series of links to websites that would be of use to both players and GMs in creating both worlds and characters. It included a twitter feed that generated a random map once per hour, a website with story idea generators as well as name and race generators, another website with generators for many different kinds of names, a third website with generators for personalities and other things, and a random city map generator.

I have a few additions to make to this list of resources. However, whereas the links in my previous article all had to do with preparing for games, the two I have today are more for setting the mood in the game itself.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Downside of the Golden Age

As I've mentioned many times, we are in the midst of a Golden Age of board games. Lots of amazing new games are being published every month. If you go down to your local Board Game Cafe (assuming you're lucky enough to have one in your town, and if you aren't, maybe you should try to start one up!), they'll likely have hundreds, if not thousands, of different titles from which to choose. And that's not counting the ones they don't happen to have at that particular location, to say nothing of the out-of-print titles that are hard to find!

And that is an incredible thing.

To have so many options... to have hundreds of games you can play. You can seriously play a different game every day for a year. Two years, if you have access to a good supply, and maybe even more if you're in a place with a vibrant gaming community!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Board Game Review: Dead Last

This image is a triptych of three photos side by side. On the left is a photo of the Yellow player card, standing on the table by means of a plastic base. The image on the card is a woman holding two submachine guns. The middle image is a set of voting cards, one each for the Black, Blue, Teal, and Red players, as well as the yellow Ambush card, and a gold bar card showing a value of four. On the right is a detail of the game box, showing the title against a splatter of blood, with four coloured sections behind it. The green section in the upper left has a man in silhouette, and the red section on lower right has a woman holding a gun pointed towards the viewer. The blue and yellow sections can't really be seen very well.

I got to play Dead Last recently. This was exciting, because I'd been curious about it for some time. Here are my thoughts on it. Starting with the numbers. Of course.
Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.

Strategy: 2
Randomness: 2
Complexity: 1
Humour: Inherent
Attractiveness: Average
Average Length of Game Play: 30 minutes
Gamer Profile Ratings:
  Strategy: Medium
  Conflict: High
  Social Manipulation: High
  Fantasy: Medium

Sunday, May 21, 2017

'Realistic' Fantasy

Some time ago, I wrote an entry about players who get upset about rules in RPGs that don't accurately emulate real-world physics. In that entry, I pointed out the oxymoronic attitude of demanding that a rules system that mimics in excruciating detail realistic swordfighting but have no problem playing an elven wizard who shoots lightning bolts from his fingertips.

I stand by that attitude. If you're going to let your demand for realism impede your own ability to enjoy the game (let alone other people's), then why are you playing a fantasy game in the first place?

But this entry is not about that phenomenon. I'm not going to stress about the physics of the setting. Instead, I'm going to stress about the setting itself.

Don't get me wrong. I'd never let this issue get in the way of me or anyone else playing whatever game they want in whatever way they want. It's just something I tend to think about on occasion.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Playing the Villains

A few months ago, I posted an entry about the various forms of heroism that can be encountered in mythology and literature. In it, I took a brief look at some of the different definitions of what it means to be a hero.

But what if we look at the other side of the proverbial coin? What about playing the villain?

This is not a new idea. In 1971, author John Gardner used one of the primary villains of the Beowulf saga as the protagonist of his own novel, reframing the story so that it was no longer a simple clear-cut case of a hero fighting against evil. A few years ago, Disney reworked their Sleeping Beauty film to tell the story from the point of view of the villain, whom they transformed from a malevolent being into a redeemable character motivated by revenge. Alan Moore's comic Watchmen was a deep look at the nature of the 'good vs evil' trope to examine the real world version of the phenomenon. Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles recasts the monsters of folklore into dynamic characters with motivations and goals of their own, not always driven purely out of malice. This concept was further explored in the first of the World of Darkness games: Vampire: The Masquerade, as well as most of the follow-up games. Then, in an additional twist, the antagonists of the primary character groups in those games were expanded as well, to give players the option to play characters who were seen as monsters by the monsters. For example, in Vampire, where the monsters become the protagonists, the Player's Guide to the Sabbat allowed players to take on the role of the antagonists (the hedonistic, often malevolent counter-sect to the 'good guy' sect of the Camarilla). This trend continued in Wraith: The Oblivion with the Spectres sourcebook, and in Changeling: The Dreaming with The Autumn People and The Shadow Court (examining two different version of 'the enemies' of the fae).

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Board Game Review: Apples to Apples

A plastic tray with spaces for three stacks of cards, capable of holding about a hundred or so cards each. Two of these are filled with cards that have red backs and the 'Apples to Apples' logo, which is the game's name on a yellow circle. The third compartment has a similar stack of cards, except the backs are green instead of red. Spread nearby are six of the red cards, face up, showing the red apple character and the card's titles: Convenience Stores, Time Travel, Hawaii, Food Poisoning, Sandra Bullock, and Redwood Forests. Also nearby is a spread of three green cards, which look similar apart from being green. The titles are: Nutty, Endangered, and Special.

Many years ago, the Dork Spouse and I would attend the annual Christmas and New Year's parties of some friends. It was on such an occasion that we were introduced to Apples to Apples. This game is ridiculously popular. Especially now that the 'naughty' version, known as Cards Against Humanity exists.

Yes, I know they're not technically the same game. But they're basically the same game.

Anyway, I'm going to write a review of Apples to Apples today. We'll start, as is the norm, with the ratings:

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Rant: Star Wars vs Star Trek

It has been two months since I posted. My goodness, that is a long time. I haven't had a break that long since I returned from hiatus in December 2014. I'm really sorry. Life got too busy there for a while. I just didn't have the time, or the energy needed to think of topics.

With that said, let's get back into the swing of things. I'm going to rant today about something that has been bothering me for a while now. I know I've mentioned this a little bit before, but I want to expand on it.

I don't like Star Wars. After I watched Episode II: Attack of the Clones, I lost interest in the franchise. I waited until Episode III was in the dollar cinema before going to see it. Then in 2012, when Disney bought the whole mess, it began a horrifying cycle of new Star Wars films every year. It began with Episode VII in 2015, followed by Rogue One in 2016. Episode VIII will release this year, with a Han Solo film planned for 2018. According to Wikipedia, Episode IX will come out in 2019, and there will be another film in 2020. If I know how Disney works, they won't stop there. They will continue to churn out films every year for as long as they can.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Economic Domination Games

I know I keep referencing the Six Board Games That Ruined It For Everyone article on Cracked.com, but it's such a good article. The Top 100 list on Board Game Geek is awesome, but it doesn't compare bad games to good games the way the Cracked article does.

As an interesting side note, I saw that, if you reverse the order of the Top 100 List so that it shows you the Bottom 100, five of the six games from that article are listed. The one that's not? Risk. Which is interesting, given what I'm about to say.

Anyway. Here's what the Cracked article has to say about Risk:
The worst part of Risk is victory by excruciation. A well-designed game has tactics and skill building to a climax, a thrilling race to victory, and when someone has clearly won, it's because the game is over. In Risk, someone can win hours before it ends, and they will not let you just admit it and leave. They spent hours carefully planning this victory, and by God you are going to sit there and patiently lose for just as many hours so that they can enjoy it properly. They've turned having fun into a zero-sum game.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Board Game Review: Caverna: The Cave Farmers


Don't forget to check out the podcast version of this article! You can listen to it in the embeded media player above! And please let me know what you think. Is this a good idea? Or should I stick to text only?

A single player board, with various pieces arranged on it. The board has two halves: the cavern half and the forest half. Each is subdivided into twelve squares. Some of those squares have tiles representing conversion into tunnels, mines, or living areas (in the cavern half) or livestock pens and crop fields (the forest half). There are tokens of various types on these tiles.
As I progress in my quest to play 80 or more of the games on the boardgamegeek.com top 100 list, I find I'm getting to play all sorts of interesting games. This is certainly what happened last week, when I found myself playing Caverna: The Cave Farmers. I keep hearing that it's similar to Agricola, but as I haven't played Agricola yet, I can't comment on that.

But it does mean that I get to review Caverna. So let's get this started the right way: with a bunch of numbers!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Replayability

Some time in the last year, I learned to play T.I.M.E. Stories. I'm not going to review it here, because it's a very different kind of game. I'll just give you a quick overview before going on to my main point.

The game itself is, similarly to a roleplaying game's core rulebook, more about the mechanics and less about the objective. Whereas most board games state, 'To win this game, you must collect the most gold coins' (or whatever), when you play a roleplaying game, the rules state, 'These are the mechanics involved in playing. Now decide what goal your group must accomplish in order to win.'

T.I.M.E. Stories's base game contains the board and all the counters you'll need to play. It also includes a deck of cards. Most of these cards are similar to the pages of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Each player is sent back in time to occupy the body of a person in a specific place. Whilst in this body, the player must help to solve a problem of some sort to fix the timeline. You lay out the cards in a specific order on the board, and the art of these cards collectively shows you what you see. For example, in the included scenario, you are inhabiting the body of patients in a 1920's mental asylum. The first set of cards that you lay out on the board will, when seen together, show you the day room of the asylum. Here's what I mean:
Five cards, laid out side by side. Each card shows one fifth of the total image, which is a painting of a day room in a mental asylum. The card on the left shows a nurse looking at the viewer, standing in front of the nearest window. The second card shows a man wearing a strange contraption on his head sitting in a lounger with a chess set on the small table in front of him. In the third card, as the wall of the room is seen running into the distance, with tall windows along it, you see a woman in a white patient's robe painting at an easel. The fourth card has the corner of the room, so the next wall starts moving into the foreground of the image's perspective. There is a love seat against the window of this card, on which sits a man in a suit coat and fedora, wearing a plague doctor's mask. The final card shows a chest of drawers on top of which rests a painting of a man.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Board Game Geek's Top 100

I was looking at the top 100 list of Board Game Geek a week or so ago. I realised that, despite all the games I've played in my life, I've only played about 16 of the ones in the top 100.

So I've made a resolution. I don't normally do resolutions, for several reasons. I think New Year's is a stupid holiday.  I believe that every day you wake up is a chance for a new beginning; you shouldn't have to wait for a specific day of the year. Besides, most New Year's Resolutions are silly, and forgotten before January ends anyway.

So this is not a New Year's Resolution. This is just a resolution that happens to coincide with New Year's, and is measured against the calendar year. My resolution is this:

By the end of 2017, I will be able to say, at least once, that I have played 80 or more of the games on the Board Game Geek's Top 100 List.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Board Game Review: Push a Monster

Sometimes, it's nice to play a very simple game that's suitable for children as well as adults. Games that don't require a lot of thinking, and don't even involve a lot of luck. Games of skill, like Run Yourself Ragged (which has apparently been renamed Screwball Scramble). I'm not one to shirk a 'kids' game.' Labyrinth is one of my favourite games, after all!

So when I was asked to join in a game of Push a Monster, I agreed. It's a very simple game, so let's jump right into it. Here are some numbers:

Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.

Strategy: 1
Randomness: 2
Complexity: 0
Humour: None*
Attractiveness: Ideal
Average Length of Gameplay: 15 minutes
Gamer Profile Ratings:
   Strategy: Low
   Conflict: Medium
   Social Manipulation: Low
   Fantasy: Low

Saturday, January 7, 2017

I Want to Play More Games

Note: The article begins below. I'm going to try something different. I'm contemplating the idea of making this blog a podcast as well. To that end, I've made today's entry into a prototype podcast. Let me know what you think. Or, if you're not interested, skip to the regular text version below the podcast.

It's my own fault, really.

I should never have agreed to play with them. John decided that, for his birthday, he wanted to run a special two-session game. We played The Dresden Files Role Playing Game. I played a young changeling who had just recently learned of his faerie heritage and was trying to learn more about his father to understand why he would agree to enter into a somewhat deleterious relationship with a faerie woman. There was also a necromancer, a witch, and a vampire of the Yellow Court. For the first session, we also had a were-armadillo, but that player's son fell ill and he had to miss the second session.

Ever since then, I've been wanting to play more games. It didn't help that, as I was sitting around with the Dork Spouse and two of my good friends, we somehow managed to talk about the Little Fears RPG that I have. I've only been involved in one session of that game, which did not turn out well, because I was GMing for a group of Butt Kickers and Power Gamers who were unable to appreciate the 'you are a child fighting against the monsters from Closetland that adults cannot perceive' aspect of the game.