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  • Amateur Boardgame Design - Sword and Planet pt. 1: Introduction

  • Amateur Boardgame Design - Sword and Planet pt. 2: Frustration and Redesign

    This isn't going to be such a comprehensive post as the last, but will chronicle what is now going to be a marked shift away from the previous design. I would like to thank everyone for pointing out the finer points of copyright law bfore I got too enveloped in using the Warlords of Mars theme. Although I am forced to redesign much of the game, that doesn't mean that I am not committed to an immersive, fun and interesting theme. It just means that the theme will have to be strong enough to stand on its own without any personal knowledge or nostalgia to drive interest in the game.
  • Amateur Boardgame Design - Sword and Planet pt. 3: Combat too confusing?

  • America Needs a Hoverboy!

  • An Afinity For Rules?

    Last week The Economist Magazine ran a rather bemused article discussing Board Games, and mentioned Ameritrash in print!
  • An afternoon's entertainment

    After weeks of missed gaming, I finally was well enough and free enough to get together with some friends and have an afternoon of gaming.  We played Cosmic Encounter (FFG Version), Once Upon A Time and God Dice and Citadels (not finished).

     Of the four, I had the most fun playing God Dice.  It's a seriously fun game, whose only let down is the number of players.  I can't wait for an expansion to come out to let more players in, because I can easily see us playing this game as a filler quite, quite often.  Set-up time is  minimal, it's incredibly easy to teach and it's fun, fun, fun.  

    Cosmic Encounter continues to underwhelm me.  It's not a bad game, it's just something I crave.  I'll play it but it just doesn't do much for me.  I do like the introduction of tech cards to the game, it does add a bit more strategy but it's still only okay.

    Once  Upon a Time  is definitely an interesting and unique game.  Depending on the players and mood, it can be really good or mediocre.  We weren't in that much of a mood to be silly, so the game was relatively serious for once, with no sudden deaths but lots of plot reversals.

     My biggest disappointment was that we didn't get Warhammer : Chaos in the Old World onto the table.  I so want to try that.

  • An Ameritrash Evening

    After being kicked out of the house by the wife who wanted time alone to study, I went and spent the next 3 hours playing board games.  Specifically, Thunderstone then Warhammer : Invasion.  With random talks about the latest action movies (Iron Man 2 good) and running a game store (one of the players was thinking of doing s0 himself in a few years).

    So, I just traded for Thunderstone and was quite excited at the idea of trying it out.  First impressions - I like.  It's a tad slow; but that might just be because we messed up a few rules that slowed the game down.  The constant calculations is a bit annoying, but you learn it pretty fast.  It'd have preferred better iconography (like say Arctic Scavengers) but the theme was a ton of fun; and the gameplay was quite good.  Rounds went nearly as fast as Dominion - except when you started trying to figure out negatives to light and strength.  Then things slowed down.  It didn't help that we were fighting the Spirits and Undead Knights, forcing us to calculate that in nearly every battle.   I'm definitely looking forward to trying this out again.

    Warhammer : Invasion was another blast.  With one of our players calling it quits, there were just two of us, which made Invasion perfect.  I like it - it fixes a lot of issues that occurs in Magic very well, while adding a ton of strategy.  It was also pretty easy to learn, so we didn't spend much time with that either.

    In fact, the only major hindrance to the game is the fact that you almost need to do deck-building to get the most fun out of it.  And I just don't know if I have the time do it... so that game continues to sit on my 'might buy' pile.

    Now, I just need to get Runewars, Horus Heresy and Age of Conan on the table (i.e. find someone who has those games) and I'll have ticked off most of the Ameritrash games I'd love to try.

  • An Epic Game of StarCraft

    I wasn’t entirely unhappy when two players jumped ship in the very last moment before a Friday night of StarCraft: the board game. None of them had played the game before, and though having played the computer game helps, it can easily take 45 minutes to explain the rules to new players and maybe do a sample turn. Instead the three of us could just jump right into it.

    We played with the Brood War expansion in the mix and picked random factions. My wife played Tassadar, AFB ended up with Jim Raynor, and I played The Overmind. None of us picked the leadership card that would allow us to win by a special victory. Mostly – I think – because we all wanted to try something new, but since the game ended with a normal victory as soon as we entered phase three, that was probably a good thing.

    One of the most interesting things about the expansion is the new planets. Quite a lot of the areas are now limited to ground or air units only. In our game we ended up with a lot of air only areas which meant we were all forced to go air. And even though I never made it to any of my top tier units, I really like how the layout of the board can nudge you in certain directions. My one gripe about StarCraft (and it’s even worse with Brood War) is the sheer number of possibilities you have unit wise, but I think the new planet areas can help this.

    Into the fray
    The game was intense from the beginning. I figured I had placed my self very well indeed with easy access to a couple of conquest points. And with a leadership card that gave me additional points as long as the overmind token was in play; I figured I was good to go. Not entirely true, as I was soon to find out.

    My wife made a bold move to my second planet, going directly for my second base and the conquest points beneath it. I was certain I could counterattack and keep it, but I was wrong. And though she only kept the area for a turn, the extra points gave her a solid lead. In the meantime I threatened AFB and his Terrans, but wasn’t man (bug?) enough to actually attack, fearing that Tassadar would use his (her?) portal (gained from a leadership card) to transport troops behind my lines. This was another mistake by me, since the sneaky Terrans not only got resources from a leadership card, but also from the rich areas I failed to invade.

    In other words things were looking bleak for your favourite bugs. But by cunningly pitting the other two against each other, I managed to set up my forces for a game winning move. However, it all hinged on whether or not AFB and his Terrans could keep the Protoss from winning and gain us all an extra turn. So while I mounted my attack, he sent his forces on a daring raid deep into Protoss territory. He easily took the area with the all-important conquest points, but the real question was whether or not he could survive the Protoss counter-attack.

    I cannot remember the exact details, but this was one of the most intense gaming moments I’ve had for a very long time. If the Protoss could kill the Terran forces, my wife would win the game. If not, we would all have a shot at winning the next turn – even me, though I’m not sure that was apparent to the others yet. What I do remember is that it came down to the very last man standing, but the Terrans won the day.

    End of Days
    In the next and obviously final turn, I attacked the Terran home world to gain the conquest point that – as far as I could see – would make the game a tie between me and the Protoss with the Terrans close behind. A tie I would win, since I had the most resources in my areas. Everything – from planning to execution – went just as I had hoped, and I could almost feel the sweet taste of victory in my mouth – a taste made so much sweeter by the fact that my poor bugs had taken a severe beating earlier in the game.

    But alas, something cannot be planned. As we entered phase three – just before I would be declared winner – the Terrans played a leadership card that cost me and my wife two conquest points each. And even though I gained four conquest points that turn and she three, that was not enough to beat AFB and his damned Terrans. And just to make matters even worse, he also depleted one of my resources, meaning that I came in last instead of second. It. Was. Epic.

    But next time. Next time I’m gonna read those fucking leadership cards beforeplaying.

  • An Evening with Zev



    If you're looking for substance you might as well skip this blog.

    I can't tell you what we played.

    I can't tell you the criticisms and ideas about the games.

    I can't tell you what is likely to get published.

    I can however tell you the recipe for a ZevZinger.


    So about two months ago Frank mentions in an off hand sort of way "Oh by the way Zev might be coming down. "Uh-huh sure, I'll pencil that right in." OK Actually I'm thinking, Wow! That would be really cool- but its never going to happen. He's publishing a million games and has all these cons lined up and has young daughter-there is no way this is going to happen.


    Two weeks ago Frank says block in Thursday at the Swamp- Zev's definately coming.  I'm pumped but still have this little voice in my head that says this thing will fall through. No problem, we'll still meet, have some laughs, drink a few beers...maybe I can get a hold of Rob Martin's blackberry and throw it in the pool.


    So suddenly it's ‘the day' and the end of work can't come fast enough. The rain is coming down in a torrent and I have to drive 35 mi/ hr on the express way and time has slowed to a crawl. 


    Turns out Frank is running late though so I have time to grab some fish tacos from my favorite Mexican restaurant. I also grab some drink mixers and bottom shelf peach schnapps to go with the rotgut rumthat  I left at Franks from previous trips past. I have concocted a special drink, the ZevZinger, just for the event.


    I arrive promptly at 4:20 and  Dan Baden has already beaten me to the swamp. Some smiling, stocky guy with black curly hair is chatting in the corner and he obviously can't be Zev. Where is his power armor? Where is the blinding aura of game publishing might?! This must be a trick- OH CRAP! AN INTERVENTION!!!  Right before I bolt, He comes over and introduces himself and indeed seems to be Zev. Additionally, he has brought...Prototypes!


    Senior Zohgby shows up and in short order Zev has got us playing the first (of many, many ) prototypes of the evening. Dan takes an early lead and though is his might is impressive, he is stymied every time he attempts to wield it. I start the metagame early by throwing jabs at Mark "line of Death"Zohgby and lobbying for an all out attack on Frank. The game is entertaining and has a lot of polish. However, we're an hour and a half into the game and there is no end on the horizon. Barnes has showed up and he and Zev are chatting it up about topics ranging from zombies to deli meat. (Hmm?)  Jeff Jarvis and  Aaron Tubb roll in as well. It time for... the ZevZinger!


    Ok, I can understand some people being gun shy about my concoctions. Yes, the last drink the "Mysterio" did have a startling resemblance to bloody spooge- but this time it will be different! Really!  Trust me!

    No Takers.

    "But I have a Kiwi garnish cut into a Z with Dice on top!"

    Still no takers.

    "PUH LEASSSS!!!" 

    "Ok but none of that cheap rum in mine!"  Sandy saves me and I gleefully start whipping it up. I found out a little late that Zev drinks neither liquor or coffee which I find incomprehensible since that is two of my four food groups.  

    Jarvis also takes pity on me and I mix two more. Cheers!


    The next game a sprawling and gorgeous game which the designer has lovingly crafted. We are all anxious to play and who should show up but AaronTubb. He's one of the two people who actually read the rules. I usually get the rules through osmosis or sometimes in a divine sending. It's a co-op and we're off to a rough start. I blame my team mate- Zev. Whose decision was it to go that way last round?! Yeah?! Well why did you listen to me?  Uh-oh we're having to make a lot of house rules. The table talk is building...Difficult to.. continue playing. Play. Breaking. Down. ABORT ABORT ABORT!

    A long discussion ensues. Oh Well, At least Zev has an idea where he wants to go with the game.


    Next up- Ooo! Something with guns. I like guns. And speed. I like fast guns. This next one felt a bit old school (not in a bad way.)  Both Michael and Zev had played it before and Mike's enthusiasm was infectious. This game went almost all the way to the end. I'm pretty sure that we quit only because Jarvis and I were close to victory.  What Haters!  Some ideas were bantered about on how to maximize the fun parts of the game.


    At this point the Parting of Cowards was initiated. Had I any sense I would have gone home too but I was too wired and wanted to keep playing. I had to physically separate Zev, Frank, and Mike from each other as they entered a death spiral of obscure movie trivia. Next time I'm bringing a taser. Really.


    The last game of the evening was something with tactical minis- WOOT! HELL YA! Now're we're talking.  We were down to Zev, me , mike, Frank and AaronTubb. The 5 of us armed to the teeth and ready to kick ass. By far this was my favorite game of the evening. It had all the things I like (boobs, bombs) and none of the things I don't (everything else.) The game immediately caught our attention and set our imagination afire.  Unfortunately, that let to animated discussions on how the game could be made *even better*. It will be criminally irresponsible to not pursue this one further. I'm optimistic that this one will be revisted. Even if I have to resort to blackmail.

    At some point I realized I had only 4 hours before I had to wake up again and tore out of the house like a bat out of hell. I left papers flying in my wake and didn't even stop to grab my martini shaker, work clothes or new Arcane Legions Demo kit. In fact, I don't even think I said good bye so if you guys are reading this sorry for the hasty departure. If it makes you feel any better, I feel like crap and still have 7 hours to go before I get home.


    Steve"so tired"Avery

    P.S.  i'm sure I skipped some stuff. I'll append it when I wake up

  • An Evening with Zev Schlasinger, Ameritrash Hero

     Last night at Swamp Castle, we had a very special Guest of Honor- none other than Zev Schlasinger of Z-Man games. He travelled all the way to Atlanta from his home in upstate New York to hear what Atlanta's gaming most incredible game group had to say about a small pile of prototypes he's been considering moving into further development and to see (but not sample) the "Zev Zinger", a honorary drink prepared by Steve "Cocktail" Avery. A great time was had by all- F:ATtie Aaron Tubb was there, as was lurker Jeff Jarvis (where we get the term "Jarvising" from). Dan Baden, designer of THE GREAT CHILI COOK OFF and FIREHOUSE FLOP was on hand to impart his sage wisdom and damning criticism and martial arts expert and Navy SEAL Mark Zoghby ran security to keep out unwanted nerds. 

    I can now truly attest, having met the man, that Zev is in fact awesome and should be sainted in the AT canon. Over the course of the evening, we talked a lot about game design, what works and what does, business matters, and what Z-Man Games is doing and trying to do.  And that something? Make a million dollars with awesome and unique games. I can stand by that.

    Now, the games. Several unpublished prototypes were played, and some of them didn't go over so well as was expected. One of them had dice thrown at it, which in Swamp Castle parlance means "epic fail". One about XXXXXX seemed to be a big hit but I was in another game (XXXXXX) that didn't go over so well.  A couple of possible reprints were also looked at along with some redevelopment ideas, particularly for XXXXXXX.  One of the games we played resulted in a raging gorilla spawning inside a locked bathroom. I'll never forget that.

     But the star of the evening, outside of our heroic Brooklynite, was definitely XXXXX. It is a potential GAME Z. The theme is completely new, original, and one of those "why the hell hasn't somebody done this before" things.  In the game XXXXX XXXXXX  XXXX XXXX XXXXX, XXXX!  It features XXXXXX XXXX XX, XXX, XXXX, XXX, and XXXX. I don't know about you guys, but that's a game I would buy in a heartbeat. I think it would have huge market potential based on the theme and concept. However, it was also very, very rough and needs some serious development work done in order to get it up to speed. Like I told Zev, when I play a game and I'm doing something I've never done before, that's signficant to me.

    Of course, we also rapped about obscure movies a little and alienated everyone who's not ever seen DELLAMORE DELLAMORTE or BIG MAN JAPAN.  We also talked cuisine and I felt like I had to apologize for the pizza all night since Zev grew up in Brooklyn. Come to think of it, I don't think Zev ever wound up actually eating anything. I guess the idea of "Georgia Pizza" was too off-putting.

    So yes, Zev really is a great guy and Z-Man games has some really interesting stuff in the pipeline. There's one in particular coming out next year, XXXXXX, that I think is going to be a smash hit in these parts. Watch this space.



  • An exercise of trust

    Avid Ameritrashers:

  • An Ingenious Game With A Questionable Lifespan - A Hanabi Review

    Hanabi may be a small game that hides inconspicuously on your shelf, but its shadow of popularity and awards dwarfs that of even the largest Fantasy Flight coffin box games of yore. This deck of 50 cards is the Spiel Des Jahres winner of 2013, a formidable award that has been given to titans such as Carcassonne and Dominion. Does this tiny combatant stand up to its accolades? 10 years from now will everyone and their mother still be holding firework cards up against their foreheads like a drunken Japanese version of Headbandz?

    There are two primary strong points in Antoine Bauza’s design, the first being it is a cooperative card game, and the second being the fact that your hand of cards is visible to everyone at the table but yourself. The former is a less an innovation and more a cool little twist as cooperative games built on such simplicity are difficult to find. The latter is why this game is being lauded and it absolutely is a stellar and game-changing mechanic that is difficult to fathom how it took until 2010 for someone to come up with. It is such a simple and elegant mechanism that just works, and works well.

    So you’re holding this hand of cards up so that everyone else at the table can see them so that you can give each other clues about both the number and color on the card. The point of the game is to blindly play cards from your backwards hand, although cards can only be played if they are a 1 or they are the next consecutive number for their given color (i.e. you can play a White 3 if the White 2 is the highest played White card on the table). You are also only able to play a 1 if the color has not yet been played on the table, this is important because there are duplicates of most cards.

    The deck itself functions as a timer for the game and it clocks in at roughly 15 minutes. The pacing is excellent and it does not feel too long or too short for the weight of the decisions involved. The difficulty of the game arises through the limited scope and quantity of clues the group may exchange. Small clock tokens form resource and represent clues you may give to other players. Clues consist of pointing at one or more cards in another player’s hand, and telling them that all of the cards are the same number (and what that number is) or the same color (and what that color is). You can regain clue tokens by discarding cards, in which case the card will never re-enter the game. The only other niggle is that you are allowed two incorrect card plays, the third meaning you all lose.

    Hanabi sounds interesting, it’s perfectly paced, and it allows you to get in a cooperative game as a filler; so what’s the problem? The problem is that no one is actually playing Hanabi. If I was unaware of the meaning behind this game’s name, I would likely come to the conclusion that Hanabi is an ancient Chinese word for dirty cheater. Nearly every group I have played this with gives out extra hints and clues beyond what the rules allow. You want the Drunken Japanese Headbandz Cheat Guide for Dummies?

    -Wince noticeably and sigh when a player slowly selects a card from their hand to play or discard (“Ugh, not that one!”)

    -Ask the player what he knows about his cards before giving a clue (“So you know those three cards you are holding cock-eyed are red, right?”)

    -Repeat clues already given to players if they look like they’ve forgotten them (“Hmm, Jeremy you do know those two cards at opposite sides of your hand are the same color don’t you? Ben told you five minutes ago, remember?”)

    Many people cheat accidentally as the game requires a great deal of discipline to keep a blank face. Worse yet, the game is less fun (although much more strategic) if you play strictly by the rules and only give clues as outlined. The rules do offer the option to be loose with clues in the variants section but it clearly breaks down the structure of the game and makes it more of an activity (oh no, the dreaded “A” word) rather than a game of sorts.

    I can ultimately live with the cheating. What is more aggravating is the fact that game does not stand up to repeated plays with the same group of people. You will start to give clues and place cards in ways that form a pattern of sorts, a shared understanding between team members. The game pushes you towards this learned behavior as the metagame and ability to score in high increments practically requires it. Because of this the game loses its charm after several plays with your group and that spark begins to fade a bit. The game still remains fun, but you find yourselves scoring higher and higher due to assumptions and shared understandings rather than actual meaningful clues. It feels like this is baked into the game on purpose and I find it grating as it mars the reputation of an otherwise clever and concise card game.

    Hanabi is absolutely worth playing a few times. The mechanics are borderline ingenious and the package is streamlined in a way that will make even Love Letter envious. I imagine we will be seeing an evolution of this mechanic from other designers in the future, improvements based on Bauza’s exceptional spark of creativity. I do however caution – don’t get too attached to this one as it will burn and then fizzle out almost instantaneously akin to its explosive brethren dotting the sky.

  • An Ode to the Otters (Root)

    Do you like negotiation in games?  Wheeling and/or dealing?  Basic micro-economics? Profiting from a conflict while remaining above such vulgarities yourself?  Then boy, have I got a faction for you! 

  • An Open Letter from History Fighter's Creator

    Hey there -

    I’m a mostly self-taught, DIY-type guy and I’ve worked in arts and media pretty much forever - doing all sorts of stuff from graphic and web design to record production and live DJ performance internationally. As a multi-media artist and a big nerd, games are BY FAR my favorite medium to work in because games fuse three things I love: creativity, technology, and collaboration with all types of fun, smart people. All the elements are there from writing and art to music and behavior – movies are great but a movie only has one possibly outcome. Games react and offer choices.

    About two years ago I quit my Audio Director job at Ubisoft (best job ever) because after almost a decade of making sounds and music for games, I wanted to break out into a new space. Plus, after working on Assassin’s Creed, Silent Hill, and Mortal Kombat I wanted to work on something less bloody. I was a part of the “core team” and a regular contributor to design choices and writing tasks at my last few jobs so it wasn’t that crazy of an idea (remains to be seen?) plus I had ideas for new types of games that could infuse knowledge in interesting ways.

    History Fighter Episodes

    So, I took my pathetic life savings and raised a bit more from close friends and family to start up a games company called Headrush Games. The company History Fighter is my first try at this concept. A game about super-powered historical figures, that offers both factual and fictitious aspects as part of its appeal. The idea came from a session of Magic: The Gathering at a neighbor’s house. I had played all sorts of games but this one got by me until that night and while learning how to play had this thought, “this game would be a lot more engaging to me if these characters were a bit more familiar, like say, historical figures…” – History Fighter was conceived in that precise moment. I knew what I wanted to make.

    The other prototypes that my team of merry, indie developers had going were put on the back-burner and History Fighter became the focus of our company. Deciding to make a card game really simplified things for us – after all, cards are generally static 2D objects that don’t move much so right there the scope of work to get to the finish line would be lighter. We could focus on game play without the worry of how to make it pretty in the long run. The first step and my first mandate, so to speak, was for the team to come up with a game that worked as a table-top game first.

    This was to be the acid-test for our concept’s fun-factor. If the game was fun played with index cards around my kitchen table, then we would proceed. This meant (1) coming up with enough interesting historical figures with the potential to be transformed into new heroes and villains with super powers that made sense for their historical personas and (2) coming up with original yet familiar mechanics to play the game. Both of these were so much fun to do we had a feeling we were on to something special, and it went fast. It just so happened that an old friend was available to throw down some concept art that we used to print and stick to a few of the index cards to make it more “real” feeling around the table. It totally set things off… and we all felt it.

    SO, now we had a fun game that worked as a table-top and it was time to choose the tech, ramp up the rest of the team, and GO FOR IT!! Our first digital version of History Fighter was made in Unity, but then we met the folks at Game Salad (in our back yard here in Austin) and they were so excited about our idea that we decided to work together. Game Salad was about to rework their tech in some very cool ways that made sense for us, and we were about to make a game that they could use to showcase the new features they had in cue – win, win. Sharing is fun, and again, they were local so the relationship meant we could get further faster by working together.

    It’s worked out great so far… History Fighter is now in a “between Alpha and Beta” stage with a working prototype that is fun to play, and a story mode that is being written with love and care to entertain with wit, humor, charm, and knowledge over old-fashioned violence. We are telling new stories with history’s most-celebrated people, and having a blast with it all!

    Which brings us to one of our last steps to finish strong this Fall - our Kickstarter campaign. We’ve decided the most fun we can have is to make our new fans a part of the action in design – so we’ve structured our Kickstarter to include tiers for those who want to put their hands on the clay and be part of making history with us!

    Tesla, Edgar Allen Poe, Blackbeard, Mozart

    We're a small portion of the way towards our goal, but we feel History Fighter's underlying message (that games have the potential to change the way people think while offering a learning value built into the fun) will encourage a lot more support. The focus is 100% on the fun, but chances are, you’ll learn something unexpected – we’re all about the unexpected, lesser-known history being highlighted.

    What a long, strange trip it’s been. Thanks for the open mind, your time and the chance to make history! I invite you all to be part of it.

    We'll see you on the other side,

    PSST - Back Us Now on Kickstarter!


  • An uncomfortable evening with Dark Cults

    Timothy Forbeck rubbed his eyes, leaned back in his chair, and tiredly stretched. For over two hours, he had poured over countless documents produced to him by counsel representing a major tobacco company. Which one? He couldn’t remember after the mind numbing trial that was document review.

    But, a quick cup of coffee and he would be ready for the good stuff, a memo file that he saw earlier that day in his office. A file that he could use, or twist the information, against opposing counsel. Forbeck smiled. In a court of law, he could make a fender bender look like a multi-fatality car wreck.

    And the jury would just eat it up.

    That act would score him the big bucks. However, he ultimately knew that that probably would not happen. Corporations, even as big as they were, were nothing more than giant cowards. Instead of using their money to utterly crush the little guy, they were more concerned about the cost of defense and profit ratios. They would rather settle quietly than get the screws put to them by uneducated, lazy sheep whose underlying motivation was to get the Hell out of the court. And that was what Forbeck was hoping for.

    Grinning to himself, he began shunting papers and other unruly piles of documents aside to look for the memo file. The grin quickly faded from his countenance when it appeared that it was nowhere to be found. His mind shuffled through its short term memory and gave him a photograph of his desk at the law firm where he worked, with the memo file bookmarked between his monitor and his phone.

    “Shit,” he said out loud, rubbing his eyes. “I thought I brought everything I needed home.”

    He thought about just giving up for the night and going to bed. But, he  remembered that his boss wanted an update on the results of the document review the following morning. Rather than have his ass chewed, he decided to leave the house, walk over to the firm and bring the file back. The walk would do him good, he was out of coffee, and the night air might clear away the cobwebs.

    Locking the door behind him, Forbeck nipped down his front steps and broke into a decent stride. He bought the house for a steal. Property values in the area were low for two reasons. One, the city didn’t have enough money to keep the roads up and that depressed real estate. Two, there was a crumbling, ancient cemetery about a block away from his home. Normally, walking past the cemetery didn’t bother him. But tonight, there was something about that old mausoleum, which looked like a tent spike keeping the cemetery in place, seemed to give him something to fear. He quickly picked up the pace and before long, the mausoleum was far behind him.

    Slowing down to take a bit of a breather, he stopped and looked to the sky. The firmament was filled with haunting stars, causing Forbeck to tarry at his spot for a while. Just as he was going to continue walking to his place of work, a clap of thunder and lightning completely startled him. Meanwhile, he noticed an ominous black cloud spread across the sky. Again,  something like that wouldn’t have bothered him normally.

    But it was the fact that the cloud not only started blotting out the stars in the sky, it also started blotting out the streetlights with its aphotic form. Before him, and slowly moving towards him, was a wall of pitch darkness. A chill ran up his spine and his primitive instincts told him to do a quite logical thing in the face of an unexplainable phenomenon.

    He turned and ran. Fear straddled his heart like a cruel jockey, flogging it to beat faster. He had little control on his direction, his feet just moved of their own accord. He didn’t stop running until he heard a mournful train whistle. While catching his breath, he began to try to get his bearings. Train whistle? There’s no tracks anywhere near my neighborhood, Forbeck thought to himself. Next, after fully taking in his surroundings, he knew why. He was in a neighborhood quite a clip away from his home, well known for being the bad part of town. Mysteriously, the area he was in was strangely silent. Then, he heard it.

     The unnerving, hidden scurrying. 

    His heart began to race once more, pounding in his chest, almost desperate to get out. His eyes scanned the landmarks, trying to give him answers as to best get away. After several moments, his instincts won and he simply turned to run back the way he came.

    He was only able to turn before he screamed.  There, standing before him mere inches away, was a frightful apparition. A being caked in dirt and accompanied by a bitter coldness that sank into Forbeck’s bones.   It moved slowly to him, as if drawn by his fright.  His mind imperiously commanded him to run, but his feet disobeyed. It raised grime encrusted, talon like fingers to touch him.

    That’s when self preservation finally won out. Dashing like an Olympic sprinter, the frightened lawyer ran, and ran, and ran. He stumbled and collapsed, Lord knew how far away from the phantom. Breathing hoarsely, he looked quickly around.

    The apparition was nowhere to be seen.

    Forbeck wiped sweat off his brow and felt his forehead by happenstance. A fever had sprouted up out of thin air. Chuckling weakly, he tried to reassure himself that the things he saw were nothing more than fever induced hallucinations. He walked home quietly, repeating that as a palliative mantra.

    Only his instincts weren’t buying it.

    End of Night 1. Night 2 to follow

  • Analogue gamer finally grokks digital? #1. In which I neither got nor 'get' computer games

    My sorry excuse for a computer game collection …

    someone inside a digital word-cloudI noted the paucity of my digital gaming experience last September in my review of Death Ray Manta. Getting a bit more precise: as far as I can remember I’ve only ever owned 5 or 6 computer games, and only 5 which I can remember for sure:-


    • Quake 2: played a few times but abandoned in frustration when I couldn’t get past the first level (I ended up running around banging on the walls hoping to find the secrets I knew I hadn’t uncovered).
    • I would’ve followed this a long way if I’d had the mind to, but I just couldn’t get the knack.Abe’s Oddysee: this charmed me but otherwise ditto because I couldn’t solve the problems of the more difficult screens- running around in endless frustrated circles was no fun, however cute.
    • Close Combat III: The Russian Front: my most-played computer game and my favourite, naturally enough- abandoned after I'd played the scenarios when I couldn’t fathom the campaign game.
    • Panzer General 3D Assault: played once or twice- meh, I'd rather'd've had a rulebook, and probably a map, counters and a FtF opponent to boot.
    • Combat Mission: Shock Force: out of the shrink, but otherwise the CD-ROM hasn’t even been inserted into the computer.

    Of all of these I still own the wargames.

  • Analogue gamer finally grokks digital? #2. In which, getting neither rules nor manual, I am confounded

    Analogue and digital: opposing skill sets?

    duelling godzillasFar from original, my closing remarks last time echo truisms familiar from many online discussions of, eg. how to get more younger people to play wargames (a common enough theme on the BGG Wargames subforum). Once this notion rears its head in any thread it won’t be long before someone observes that the ‘plug-and-play’ nature of computer games’ has ‘spoiled’ younger people when it comes to reading rules for a game, especially those more-or-less complex ones you’ll find in ‘heavy duty’ wargames. And these are games like, eg. the 32 pages of detailed case point of Unhappy king Charles or the similar 28 pages of Twilight Struggle — ie. average complexity medium-sized wargames with clear and concise rules — not ASL’s legendary monumental tome or some such monstrosity.

    The basic disconnect


    These displays of condescension leave me feeling a point is being missed, somewhere. I mean to say, as wargamers we seek relaxation in a hobby predicated upon higher-grade English comprehension overlaid with standard grade mental arithmetic. If you don’t enjoy exercising these skills then you’re hardly likely to enjoy games which put a high priority on them. This surely goes some way to explain why Eurogames are far more popular than wargames: their rules are simpler and they don’t emphasise the traditionally ‘studious’ skills to the same extent as wargames. Consequentially, Euros are social and cooperative in their conflict- eg. Settlers; if not indirect in their actual competition- eg. Alhambra. In this respect analogue wargames remain the niche of a niche dominated by educated aging geezers which Jim Dunnigan outlines in his Wargames Handbook.

    cover_OblivionIt’s not as if some computer games don’t have player manuals which put most wargames to shame; some can even take on ASL pound for pound, eg. Oblivion’s reputed 400-page tome. The key difference here I guess is that these manuals are typically about mastering the game instead of just starting it. The core skills set remains digital's proactive set, which remains the antithesis of analogue's abstract/passive set. I’m not here talking about the obvious hand-eye coordination: rather, skills like rapid assessment of highly dynamic situations; inventiveness and practical problem solving; even the simple exploratory mindset which is at odds with the hidebound mentality which wants everything explained in a rulebook (interestingly, some of this seems to me to echo what many Euros are about).

     ‘Hot’ digital and ‘cool’ analogue?

    Marshall McLuhanThe snobbery about plug and play is an echo of the old brain versus brawn prejudices, and the whole business reminds me of ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ media. Coined in the 1964 book Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan- best known for his slogan, “the medium is the message”, 'hot' and 'cool' are McLuhan’s key concepts in his analysis of how media are consumed and understood; ie. which senses or faculties they engage:

    “A movie is thus said by McLuhan to be "hot", intensifying one single sense "high definition", demanding a viewer's attention, and a comic book to be "cool" and "low definition", requiring much more conscious participation by the reader to extract value.”

     “Any hot medium allows of less participation than a cool one, as a lecture makes for less participation than a seminar, and a book for less than a dialogue."

    McLuhan_McLuhan’s ultimate ‘form-over-content’ pessimism doesn’t hide his real point of interest. He was writing about TV, radio and movies, the first wave of post-Gutenbergian media technology in its mass media immaturity, a period dominated by the same old producer/consumer relationship characterised above all by the passive audience. He still managed however to establish the key point that consuming different media will create and exercise different tastes and talents, which tastes and talents can only have become more multifarious with the advent of the digital revolution McLuhan lived barely to glimpse.

    etching of a medieval printing pressAll of which brings us back to where I came to grief in my own early computer gaming. I mean to say, I consider myself quite intelligent, yet, when I was confounded by Quake 2Abe’s Oddysee, or CCIII:TRF not once did I think of searching the internet for advice. Sure, I was an internet novice at the time, but I suggest that really does speak to the oft-mentioned generation gap: my age puts me just on the wrong side of that gap between those for whom ICT is second nature and those for whom it always remains a bit mysterious and daunting. Hardened old Gutenbergian that I am, I always want to flee to the frakking rules every time I don’t know how something works.


     Taking the pledge?

    abstract artMy point here then is that analogue games speak to me of a dual comfort zone formed by both the skills the games themselves exercise, coupled with the happy memories I have of more than 40 years’ boardgaming. Even when digital games speak to happy memories they are more fleeting; eg. like those from CCIII:TRF, where the initial fun was overlaid with frustration when I couldn’t figure out how to go to the next level in the game, a level which was the obvious place to go for a wargamer like me. I have decided to do something about this.

    cover_Close Combat III- the Russian FrontI must confess to having some qualms about deciding to invest some serious time in digital games. Why? First, because I’ve got along very well without them all these years thank you very much. Second, because one of my motives is to generate new content for RD/KA!. This might prove quixotic because one problem which arose from my futile career gamer dreams was the editorial direction they imposed on my bloggery, one result of which was self-generated pressure I could usually have done quite well without. Why then do I want to bother with this at all? I’ve already given one reason above. At least as important is the fact that my ignorance of digital gaming is truly woeful. I mean to say, some of the most important visual imagery and immersive gaming experiences of our times are those to be found in the digital realm. I’m a self-respecting gaming geek and I know nothing of them. Nothing. Now I know I once argued very passionately that taste is taste, but ignorance of the definitive gaming genre of our times? Truly woeful as I said.



    In light of all these caveats, I’ve decided to ‘Keep It Simple Stupid!’ If there’s one thing that’s just too galling to endure it’s being defeated by a computer game’s basic interface. So I’m going to master the first Operation on CCIII:TRF if it kills me. Oh, and I’ll filling idle moments too with a pleasant sufficency of Death Ray Manta, naturally enough. An OOP RTS WW2 tacsim and an indy retro shooter? Now that's cutting edge computer gaming! ;)


    'Death Ray Manta': indie, still psychedelic after all these years

    Analogue gamer finally grokks digital?

    #1. In which I neither got nor 'get' computer games

  • And Now...*I* Rant. Agri-f'n-Cola.

  • And Now...*I* Rant. Agri-f'n-Cola.

  • And Summer was supposed to be slow

    You can tell things have gone crazy busy for a while, since my posting here took a drop off the map.  Ditto on that other site and on my own blog.  Went into a bit more detail on the blog, about both my problems and just the slow down in external marketing.

    Admitedly, we've also had a very good run on the search engines which has put us on really nice keywords (e.g. board games Canada for Starlit ), which barring a major change in Google will give us a good inflow of customers.

    Still, I've lately been devoting more and more time to direct advertising on sites.  While advertising is more expensive than spending say an hour writing a blog post (like this one) or commenting on other sites, it's also less time extensive.  And with my time being crunched further and further, it's something I've had to look into to ensure we keep a good flow of customers in.

    As always, the good old marketing project equation holds true.