• I went looking for a Trash Talk  thread the other day and noticed there are some real gems out there created this year. Most threads die after a page or two, but there are some I think should be revisited whether they be helpful, informative, or just cool. I'm limiting this to threads started in 2010 to preserve my sanity.

    What XXXX have you been YYYY?

    Breaking my 2010 rule slightly, if only because this was the year that these finally spawned their own category, the Mos Eisley Cantina. The XXXX's range from bands, music, tv shows, movies, and of course games of board and video stripes. The YYYY's might be buying, playing, listening to, reading, &c. The content in them ranges from basically "Tweet" level updates to full-blown reviews. They are, for me, the best way to keep up with the community and they make me feel like Norm walking into Cheers at the end of the day. Or the middle part around lunch. Or before breakfast. 

    F:AT Arms Trade #4: Logan's Trade

    WOW. 198 items! ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY EIGHT. Mind you, we don't have a karma system, or a real enforcement mechanism, and international members from all over the place and a Math Trade got 198 items from 19 users. That's amazing. I hope the next one goes as well because I fucked up my wants last time and got Stratego instead of Hammer of the Scots....


    (While I begin by talking about RPGs, I am later going to generalize to all kinds of tabletop and video games - “sit-down games”.)


    When I used to write lots of articles about RPGs for White Dwarf, Dragon, and other magazines three decades ago, I mostly wrote two kinds of things: game rules, and advice about how to play and especially how to referee Dungeons & Dragons successfully.  I rarely wrote settings; and only occasionally in the magazines did I write adventures, which are a combination of rules and setting/story.


    When I thought about this further I realized that this can be generalized to any role-playing game: the person who creates the game is taking on three writing/designing tasks to a greater or lesser extent, the rules for the game, advice about how to play the game, and the setting (which includes at least the story that comes from hiSTORY) for the game.  Supplements to the game are almost always about setting/story, often with additional rules.  World-settings often include advice about how to use the setting, about how to successfully incorporate it into a campaign or base a campaign on it. 


    TSR published several settings for AD&D such as Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Arabian Nights, and Forgotten Realms, after the original Greyhawk setting.  Some of Greyhawk was included with the D&D/AD&D rules, because it was Gary Gygax’s original campaign, but for the most part the original rules assumed a more or less Tolkien-like fantasy setting without being specific.


    A world-setting supplement may be almost entirely about the “world,” about things like the geography of the world, how magic works in the world, who or what rules the world, and the history of the world.  If it’s the more narrow sense of setting, as in the context for a particular adventure, along with a story (more or less), then much of the “setting” is descriptions of locations and NPCs.  In adventures there are also rules in the sense of how the various obstacles to success work, as in “if the character walks across the pit trap there is a four in six chance it will activate and he will fall in”.  There may be additional monsters, magic items, and other explicit rules for play.


    The world-setting is like the background of a novel, or a sort of bible, with the story being the history of the world.  The adventure setting is much more like a short story or (sometimes) novella.


    Of course, some “world-settings” aren’t for an entire world, but may be for a single city and its environs (as in the Freeport series) or for a particular country or region (Arabian Nights).  They’re usually large enough to provide the basis for an entire campaign, and that’s why they’re usually called “world-settings”, for the player characters they arethe entire world.


    Video game RPGs, being based in software, usually tie world-setting and rules together inseparably.  If there’s a new world-setting, it’s usually an entirely new game to buy.


    Some TSR tabletop world-settings for first and second edition AD&D were later adapted, if only in a magazine (e.g. Spelljammer in Dungeon Magazine), for the Third Edition rules.  Settings generally can be adapted to more than one ruleset.  Tolkien’s Middle-earth has been adapted several times, and many other settings that originate in movies or novels are then adapted to several rule sets over the years (e.g. Star Wars).




    So you can write an RPG supplement that is almost entirely a description of a new world setting that can be adapted to many different games, such as the Freeport series and a great many other “D20" works.  Or you can write one that is specifically adapted to a particular game by including many rules for that game, for example the original Spelljammer setting for AD&D.  Or you can write an RPG supplement that has a specific setting and lots of rules for that setting, for example a dungeon adventure.


    The more rules you include the more there’s a need for playtesting, though I’m pretty sure that rules included with world-settings often get little or no playtesting.  Someone who writes rules and doesn’t include advice such as examples of how to play is probably not doing an optimal job.


    A Broader View


    You can write a set of RPG rules that has virtually no setting attached, for example the free-to-download Fate rules.  But that set of rules is probably going to include some advice about how to use it successfully.  Think about it, any example of how to play, unless it’s very specifically about a particular rules, is a form of advice.


    And of course you can write a supplement that is almost entirely advice about how to play RPGs successfully, either a specific RPG or RPGs in general such as Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering.


    Adventures can be largely about rules or largely about story.  In the early days the adventures tended to be about rules, partly because they were written by people who were longtime wargamers.  More recently, published adventures are much more often strongly story-based, partly because many of the writers are frustrated (or even successful) novelists rather than wargamers.  Also there are so many adventures available that many people who buy adventures aren’t likely to actually run the game, but like to read them - and naturally it’s the story that attracts them more than the rules.


    The easy-to-remember form of all this is that the person writing RPG material can be a game designer, a teacher, and a storyteller/historian, with the latter divided into “short stories” (the adventures) and long stories (the world settings).


    Not Just RPGs


    Once I arrived at this conclusion I realized that any tabletop or video game is a combination of these three things.  There are always rules or we wouldn’t have a game.  (Though some improvisational RPGs are pretty light on rules, these days.)  There is often advice about how to play the game in the form of examples of play if nothing else, but also strategy hints.  Completely abstract games have no setting or story, and there are many abstract tabletop games that are given a setting or story that actually has nothing to do with the game (this has been common in Eurogames).  But thematic games generally include a (his)story and setting, and many of the AAA video games are very thematic.


    Puzzles also can have these three elements, but frequently have only one.  Most puzzles include little or no advice about how to “play” the puzzle. Tabletop puzzles rarely include a setting/story, whereas many video game puzzles, such as “adventure games,” are heavily connected to a story.  But all puzzles have to include an objective, which is a form of “game rule.”


    Some toys have these three elements but typically a toy has neither rules nor goals, and many toys have no story - the “player” makes up the story.  So I can make paper boats - there are rules about how to make paper boats, but not what to do with them - and no particular story to follow: I make up my own.  So if I decide to put the paper boats in a tub of water, set them afire with burning paper airplanes, and sing “Stars & Stripes Forever” as they sink, that’s not something that was inherently part of the toy.  (My fifth grade teacher actually did this when she was a kid in days before TV - she was cool.)  Or if I have a set of race cars there’s an obvious implication that they’re going to be in a race but I have to decide everything else.  The striking thing about many modern commercial toys is that they almost always include a setting and often a story, so that the kids don’t have to figure out the main parts of usage themselves (with consequent deleterious effects on the development of imagination).


    In video games of course much of what we’re talking about is incorporated into the software and not something that someone reads.  The rules are enforced by the software so that the player must play according to the rules (barring glitches in the programming of course!).  The advice comes in the form of the tutorials, and sometimes in all of the hints/quests/other pointers that advise the player what to do.  But video games tend to be light on advice about how to play because the software forces the player to follow the rules. 


    The settings in a video game, whether short-term or long-term, are less often explicitly described than in published paper role-playing games.  This is partly because a video game offers other ways to describe and especially showthe setting, and also because video gamers generally don’t read about the setting even when their character finds a virtual “book” or scroll that describes some of the setting - they just don’t bother.

  • I've created three new variant decks for Last Night on Earth, and they're now available together in one deck via Artscow.  Here's the link:

    Currently, the deck will run you $10.99 plus $6 shipping, so you might want to wait to order until there's a coupon code for card decks (which come up every so often).  Usually those will give you a deck for $4.99 with free shipping, which would make this a lot more worthwhile, no doubt.  I'll reply back to this post next time a coupon is available.

  • As far as sports go, my first love is football. I was born a fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cleveland Browns, and I’ll most likely carry those loyalties to my grave. The football season is some terrific television. Like a weekly drama series, there are exciting developments every week, and then you spend several days gabbing about recent events. All of the nerdery that goes with the game does not come naturally to me, but the drama and narrative that develops over a season is unparalleled, and that’s what I love about it. That holds true of any sport, in fact. There’s an arc that forms over a season, and that’s really what makes sports fun to play and watch. 

    Blood Bowl: Team Manager is the first game I’ve played that actually encapsulates a season of football in an hour or so. And really, it does a pretty good job. In fact, it’s one of the best games of 2011 because it knows that it can’t translate a football season perfectly. Instead, it abstracts the whole thing in smart ways, and leaves a very accessible game that still feels like football. And not just any game of football: this is Blood Bowl. The classic Games Workshop game is still a favorite among hobbyists, but it’s hard for fans to play the game the way it is meant, as a multi-team league. There’s a lot of time and commitment that goes into a Blood Bowl league, and it’s more than most gamers can set aside. Fantasy Flight games has once again taken a classic GW property, and translated it into a really good game. 

    Let’s me clear though, this is not Blood Bowl. There aren’t any minis or measuring. The setting has instead been transported to a $35 card game that represents a complete season of Blood Bowl. Each player takes ownership of one of six teams, like Orcs or Wood Elves, and take part in a five-round season to see which team can get the most fans. Each round, a series of matchups are placed face-up. Players take turns placing individual players on the match-ups, which commits a certain amount of star power to that match-up. The side with the most star power at the end gets a nice reward for their trouble, and the loser has to content themselves with a much smaller payout. Each player has a couple of skills, like the ability to pass the ball or tackle another player. Tackling is my favorite part of the game. The tackling player rolls dice depending on how his star power compares to that of his target. Odds are the tackle will succeed and knock down the opponent, but there’s a chance it’ll miss, or even knock down the tackler. Winning matchups brings your team rewards like new players, coaching staff, team improvements, and fans. 

    That’s the bones of a pretty good football game right there, but the setting really is what makes this game fun. In short, this is a very funny game. Blood Bowl is a setting that embraces the most violent parts of football, and it does so with glee. The illustrations are gruesome to the point of hilarity, and each match-up contains little bits of commentary that makes me smile without fail. One of the most important parts of the game is cheating. Several players “cheat” by placing a token on their card. At the end of the game, that cheating will likely result in a reward, but it could get them ejected. And each team really has their own personality. The Wood Elves have a high-flying offense. The Orcs love to hurt their opponents. And the Dwarves basically play the card game equivalent of Tresselball.

     Like last year’s very good Death Angel, Team Manager uses randomness in all the right ways. Each die roll is tense and has very high stakes. It can be the difference between a huge reward when you miss a crucial tackle. And there are few things as groan-inducing as having a player ejected for cheating, while the refs swallow their whistle for the guys who cheated twice as much as you. That will probably drive a lot of people crazy, but it works well in a football game. Football always has bizarre twists of fate and extenuating circumstances that affect the outcome. This game captures that capriciousness very well. And yet, I never feel like I’ve been screwed too hard. The decisions definitely matter. In a four-player game, there can be as many as five match-ups, and you only have six cards to play. That makes each play a tough choice, and there’s a lot to consider each turn. It’s a simple game, but it invites analysis. 

    That’s probably a bigger problem than it should be. I tend to play with thinkers, and that will definitely add time to the game. It wants to be about 45-60 minutes, and with familiarity it could probably get there easily. But new players will push the time closer to 90 minutes, and the really slow ones might edge 2 hours, which is way too long. I also have some theoretical reservations about the two-player game. Normally a game will use headline cards, which give a little effect to the rest of the turn. They are fun and add variety, but they are left out of the two-player game as written, and I don’t know why. However, that’s a very easy fix, and in practice it barely registers at all. It actually plays very well with two. Also, with new players, you might get a player from another “race” on your team, like an Orc playing for the Skaven. That’ll annoy some people, but those people will mostly be sticklers. It doesn’t bother met at all, and is also easily fixable. 

    I’m impressed by Blood Bowl: Team Manager. It reminds me a lot of Space Hulk: Death Angel from last year in the sense that it takes a pretty rich board game experience and distills it into a small box of cards. Both designs utilize randomness to add tension and excitement. The difference is that Team Manager is much more accessible, and a lot more replayable. The fact that FFG included six playable teams is to be commended, and between the teams, players, and improvements, each game will shake out differently. And if you strip back the layers of rat-men and minotaurs, it’s just a good football game. But then, why would you do that? Blood Bowl: Team Manager brings forth the promise of its setting in a great way. It would seem that FFG has a better handle on Games Workshop products than Games Workshop.

    Check out this review on my blog, The Rumpus Room, where Matt Thrower won't review the same game two days before I do.

  • 3iscompanyThree's a crowd, Three's company but some times it's hard to find a good three player game.  With 2 players I can always play a war game.  There are tons of great games for 4 - 6 players.  And with 7+ you usually end up playing a party game.  But with 3 it's a little more difficult to find good games.   The problem with 3 player games is preventing the 2 against 1 situation that tends to come up in every game.  Or if you can't prevent it why not embrace it and create games that are designed to be 2 against 1.
    My criteria for my top 20 for 3 players is that playing with 3 players is the sweet spot or the game plays equally well with 2 or 4 players.  I've also included games that have some degree of interaction.  Other peoples list may have low interaction games like Dominion, Race for the Galaxy, etc. but I'm not into that kind of game.  For me game like Arkham Horror, Ti3, Doom were taken off the list for me because both games play better with 4 players than with 3 players.

    So here' my list of 15 games to play with 3 players

    #1 War of Ring (hardcore fans of the game will only play 2 players but 3 works real well)

    #2 Friedrick (long but doesn't feel long, I still haven't play Maria maybe that's #1)

    #3 Starcraft (Scales well from 2-6 but works real nicely with 3 players)

    #4 Age of Steam (3 players is as good as 4 or 5 players)

    #5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (3 is great number for this game)

    #6. Caylus (2-5 players but I'll never play 2 or 5 players)

    #7. Nexus Ops

    #8. Middle Earth Quest

    #9. American Megafuna

    #10. Talisman (can be played with 2-50 people but 3 - 4 is the best)

    #11. Prophesy, World of Warcraft, Dungeon Quest, other dungeon games, etc.

    #12. Parthenon: Rise of the Aegean  (2005)

    #13. Wallace game (Byzantium and God's Play Ground)

    #14. Android

    #15. Attika - A unique Euro from 2003

    So what's your favorite 3 player games?

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    For the past two and a half years, most of my free time has been consumed by the development of a pulp hero adventure boardgame. The design has gone through three complete overhauls, which have been particularly arduous because the game is so card dependent (there are over 600), and each revision has necessitated a near-complete rewrite of all of the cards. A few weeks ago I finally managed to finish the third complete prototype (above), and this past week a gang of hardy playtesters were finally able to put it through its paces.

    I got the idea for Thrilling Tales of Adventure! after reading Roberto Di Meglio's preview description of Marvel Heroes (a game he co-designed with three other Nexus designers). The notion of each player controlling both heroes and a villain was interesting, and he mentioned the use of "Plot Points" as a kind of currency used to buy actions within the game. Those two concepts, combined with my own desire for a game rich in "emergent" narrative,  sparked the fire. For some reason I can't recall, pulp adventure leaped to mind as the theme for my pie-in-the-sky game, and I ran with it. So I guess a good mental image there is me running with a flaming pie.

    At the outset, I hadn't read a lot of actual vintage pulp. My  love of the genre came mostly from having seenRaiders of the Lost Ark at age 14 in 1981, reading old Lee Falk Phantom comics and a couple Lester Dent's Doc Savage novels, playing Justice Inc. (a Hero Games RPG) in high school, and lovingThe Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai to death. The greatest impression pulp had made on my psyche, though, was via the glorious cover art that graced the old magazines themselves. When I was 7 or 8 years old, my parents bought me a copy of the Steranko History of Comics , and I spent countless hours scrutinzing every miniscule cover reproduction therein. Although those covers were mostly for comics, they shared a lot of the same artists as the adult pulps, and pulp paragons like the Shadow and the Spider figured prominently.

    Steranko History of Comics Vols. 1 & 2 

    In all of my armchair game designing, and in all of the games I love to play most, theme is vital, but the marriage of a compelling theme to fitting and solid mechanics is what really makes a game great. I always start with a theme I want to see in a boardgame (other back-burner designs include a post-apocalyptic empire builder -- Dune meets Nausicaa -- and a boardgame adaptation ofPride & Prejudice), then try to find mechanics that reflect what I consider to be the key qualities of that theme. This is a kind of "outside-in" approach, where the final desired shape of the thing is known, but under all those great elements -- Fiendish plots! Narrow escapes! Death traps! -- is a kind of enormously complicated Rubik's Cube of interacting mechanics with which I have to wrestle.  Iknow the game I want is in there, but finding it is a heck of a puzzle. And I always sucked at Rubik's Cube. 

    I liked the meta-narrative notion of each player controlling both his own heroes and the villains that would oppose the other players, and I liked the idea of Plot Points that you could use to direct that narrative, but both of those concepts had to be jettisoned after I took them as far as I could in the first and second iterations of the game. Putting each player in control of a hero and a villain just felt wrong during testing, and the Plot Points (as I conceived of them anyway, having not played Marvel Heroes at that point) were too tedious to manage by half. In the current version, there can be 1-4 Hero players, working individually or teaming up (as they see fit) to oppose a single Arch Villain player. Plot Points have been replaced with a simple action point system (or "Moves" in TToA terms), with each Hero having 5 to spend each turn.

    What has remained through all three versions is what I consider the core mechanic of the game (and one of my own invention): cards that can be linked in variable sequence to create a story. In game terms, these are called Adventure cards, and although there are a number of other different kinds of cards (items the heroes can carry, twists the arch villain can play on the heroes, etc.), about 90% of the 600 cards are Adventure cards. Each Adventure card is a modular story element, which can be "linked" to other Adventure cards, either in "Plots" custom-built by the Arch Villain player, or in  "Wild Adventures" which the Hero players can explore on the fly.

    There are 7 basic types of Adventure cards (Hooks, Clues, Locations, Minions, Villains, Allies, and Treasures) spread throughout 8 different decks (City, Country, Sea, Mountain, Jungle, Desert, Polar, and Underground). Most Adventure cards are unique, and each one carries specific link possibilities. Here's an example of an Adventure which I just drew at random for this blog entry:

    The potential links for each card are shown along its lower left edge, and if you examine the icons you'll see how each one links to the next card in the sequence. The "Concerned Scientist" card has a bunch of links that could have taken this Adventure out of the City, as indicated by the different colors (top to bottom that card's links are City, Country, Mountain, Desert, Jungle, Polar, and Sea), but I just kept drawing from the City deck because I was lazy.

    I played and loved the original Tales of the Arabian Nights game in the 80s (and am eagerly anticipating the Z-Man re-release), and in high school I took a stab at a card-driven fantasy adventure game along similar lines, so the basic concept of a game with a flexible, unfolding narrative has been nagging at me for a long time. This card linking system basically allows you to do away with the paragraph book (for those of you familiar with Tales of the Arabian Nights), at the expense of a more detailed narrative and the wealth of choose-your-own-adventure options that that game provides. But there are advantages to the economy of space enforced by the cards, chief among them the power of suggestion.

    I write and draw and teach comics for a living, so the relationship between words and images arranged in sequence is something I think about a lot. When you provide a player with just a few key elements -- in this case, a card title, an image, a line of flavor text, and a card-specific mechanic -- he or she will instantly string them together with the next ones in the sequence to create a story. It's not always the most logical story, but the players will always make "sense" of it. The linking system tends to keep things from getting too out of hand, but I can always fall back on the fact that a lot of those old pulp stories were full of some crazy shit.

    Sheesh, this was originally meant to be a simple account of a recent playtesting session, and I'm running on and on. I guess I've been wanting to talk about this for a long time, and completing the third prototype (which was a fucking bear) has opened the floodgates. Without any further backstory, I'll just try to summarize how the session went.

    The assembled playtesters were students and alumni of the Center for Cartoon Studies , where I teach. We had played about half a game previously, so they were familiar with the basic  rules, but this would be the first complete run-through. There were three Heroes (chosen from a lineup of 10) this time around: The Amazing Uri ("Former Magician to the Tsar"), La Gaucha ("Argentine Vigilante" -- think female Zorro), and Jack Snapper ("Salty Sea Captain"). Each Hero has a rating in three stats (Might, Speed, and Wit), a Home Base, a special ability, and a starting item or ally. Two people actually decided to play the Arch Villain as a team -- not something designed into the game, but it worked out just fine.

    The game plays out over 16 turns divided into three Acts. Initially, the Arch Villain has no specific identity. In Act I ("Our Story Begins"), the Heroes concentrate on successfully resolving their initial Wild Adventures, while the Arch Villain player starts constructing and Plots. At the start of Act II ("The Plot Thickens"), the AV player must select a specific Arch Villain to play (there are 10 to choose from), and the Heroes either continue on Wild Adventures or try to thwart any Plots that have been put into motion. At the start of Act III ("The Thrilling Climax!"), the AV player reveals which Arch Villain was selected in Act II, and sets about trying to complete that Arch Villain's Master Plan. Each Arch Villain has a unique Master Plan, such as the construction of a death ray or trying to encase the planet in ice).

    There are three categories of resources in the game: Heroism/Villainy, gained through the successful execution of good or evil deeds; Theme tokens (of five types: Criminal, Military, Science, Occult, and Weird), gained through linking cards of the same Theme; and cards themselves. Heroism/Villainy points are the closest thing to experience points in the game, and are spent on general effects like bonus dice to combat rolls. Theme tokens are spent on Theme-specific powers, like spells (Occult) or inventions (Science). Finally, any cards in your hand can be are discarded to power basic abilities, such as firing a tommy gun or researching something at a library. 

    The game starts off with each Hero in media res --  as if we've come upon them near the beginning or in the middle of one of their usual adventures. This idea was new to this iteration of the game, folded in after previous versions proved slow to start out of the gate, and I'm happy with the addition. I'll just outline each hero's first turn to give you an idea of how the Adventures play out, and then summarize the rest of the session instead of taking you through every turn. As I describe what happened to the characters, actual cards they encountered will be noted in bold. Other narrative details were made up by the players as their adventures unfolded.


    La Gaucha's tale begins when she encounters a Dead Soldier during a routine patrol of the Pampas outside of Buenos Aires.  Examining the area for clues, she finds a set of Tracks leading to some nearbyRuins, where a search through theRubble turns up several crates of anOpium Shipment, clearly secreted after some intended criminal exchange went awry. She turns the illegal cargo over to the local authorities before heading back to Buenos Aires in search of more wrongs in need of righting.

    Meanwhile, across globe in Shanghai, Jack Snapper and his faithful monkey sidekick, Mister Mate, have inherited an old map from Jack's deceased pappy. The map depicts a land mass in the midst of a formerly uncharted area of the Pacific Ocean. In hopes of discovering some buried treasure or other fortune, Jack and Mister Mate set out on Jack's tramp frieghter, the the S.S. Hibernia. After smooth sailing across Open Sea, they negotiate a Deadly Reef without mishap, and continue across more Open Sea until a purplish land masscomes into view on the horizon. Reexmining the map and deciphering his father's cryptic notes, Jack realizes that they are approaching none other than the Lost Continent of Lemuria!

    Uri's story starts in his Magician's Garret (every Hero has a unique Home Base) in Petrograd, with a loud noise at the door. He opens it to discover a Bullet-Riddled Body, clutching a scrap of paper on which is scribbled a library reference number. Uri takes a carriage to the Petrograd Library, where he locates the book referred to by the scrap of paper. Inside the book, he finds a Map Drawn in Blood, which details a portion of the city's Sewersystem. Reluctant to risk soiling his fine suit, he nevertheless descends into the depths, and follows the map through a long Tunnelof older construction than the rest of the sewers, emerging eventually into a strange Hall of Planets. Starlight is channeled down into the dark chamber from the surface in a single beam, which illuminates an engraved map of the world at a specific spot in the Amazon jungle...


    In addition to controlling all Minions and Villains the Heroes encounter throughout the game, the AV may play Twists (traps, hazards, and obstacles) directly on Heroes, so he or she can actively try to thwart a Hero's attempt to successfully resolve a Wild Adventure.  In this game, though, because the AV players were playing the AV for the first time, they concentrated on building Plots, and only played a couple of Twists in the latter part of the session.

    Act I saw La Gaucha and Uri successfully complete their initial Wild Adventures, but Jack Snapper would end up exploring the vast continent of Lemuria for most of the game. He successfully battled enough enemies (smugglers and cannibals among them) to keep him neck-and-neck with the other Heroes in terms of Heroism points, and he always had the option of abandoning his Adventure, so I don't feel like this was a flaw. In fact, the guy playing Jack had probably the most fun, due in part to "Bottle o' Rum," Jack's special ability, which grants him +1 Might and -1 Wit before any fight. Jack basically brawled his way drunkenly across Lemuria, the most memorable battle being between him and a "Firebox" -- a sort of flamethrower robot --  amongst the ruins of a lost city.

    As the jungle burned down around him, Jack eventually succumbed to smoke inhalation, and despite Mister Mate's best effort to defeat the Firebox by throwing rocks at it, the thing eventually left them both for dead and continued on its swath-cutting way across the landscape.

    When Act II began, the AV players took stock of their accumulated Theme tokens before choosing which Arch Villain they would be for the rest of the game. The AV accumulates Theme tokens whenever cards with matching Themes show up in a given Adventure. A card's Theme is denoted by Theme icons just below the card's type icon. In the three-card example above, the grey circle bearing the ringed planet icon in the upper left indicates that the Ancient City has a Weird Theme, whereas the Firebox falls under both the Weird and Science (lightning bolt) Themes. The AV gains 1 Theme token of a given type per previousy revealed card of matching Theme, so the rewards grow rapidly with each successive match.

     I came up with this concept as a way to reward the AV for building Plots that are thematically coherent. As the AV player, you're not obliged to link matching cards when building a Plot, but you will be more powerful in the endgame if you manage to do so. Which brings me back to the AV players choosing their Arch Villain at the start of Act II. You can choose to be whichever Arch Villain you want, but you'll be more powerful if you choose one whose Theme matches the Theme of the tokens you have in the greatest quantity. The AV playtesters had far more Weird tokens than any other, so they settled on one of the two Weird Arch Villains. The Hero players would be in the dark about their choice until the beginning of Act III.

    [End of Pt. 1] 


    We have another round of playtesting scheduled for this Sunday, so I need to get the rest of this account down before my memory is cluttered with a whole new session. I'm running out of steam a little, since a lot of work demands are encroaching on my free time, somy apologies in advance for the fact that the level of detail here will taper off as this entry proceeds.

    When last we left our intrepid Heroes, Jack Snapper was knee deep in Lemuria, The Amazing Uri's attention had been drawn to the Amazon Jungle, and La Gaucha had just finished patrolling the Pampas. The Arch Villain had been chosen but not yet revealed.

    Before heading to South America, Uri decided he needed some muscle, so he took a train to Irkutsk to pay a visit to his old friend Unegin Dash. Unegin, a hardy Mongolian tracker, agreed to accompany the Russian magician on his investigation, and the two began the long journey to the Amazon. In game terms, Uri had the Unegin card (an Ally) in his hand, but had to travel to Irkutsk or Peking in order to recruit him. To recruit an Ally, you usually have to travel to a specific City. Recruitable Allies are all in the White Deck (from which only the Heroes may draw; the AV player has his or her own similarly "private" Black Deck), so often Hero players will draw for Allies and try to snag any that are close by. Each Hero can have up to two Allies.

    Upon reaching South America, Uri and Unegin travelled up the Amazon toward the latitude and longitude that had been indicated by the Hall of Planets (see Pt. 1). At those precise coordinates, they discovered a Hidden Airstrip, and began a cautious reconnoitre from the safety of the jungle. They observed a number of native workers clearing brush and prepping the landing strip, overseen by an imposing figure who could only be some sort of shaman. From the grotesque stains on the shaman's lips, Uri surmised that he was none other than Yellow Mouth, a cannibal witch doctor known in European occultist circles, said to be hundreds of years old as a result of his horrifying diet.

    Uri and Unegin managed to dispatch Yellow Mouth with little trouble (I'm foggy on the details), and wrapped up their Wild Adventure in time to begin tackling one of the Arch Villain's Plots. Two Plots popped up on the map in Act II -- one in Rome and one in Calcutta. Uri crossed the South Atlantic to Lagos, where he recruited Professor Gundu, a Nigerian Magician, and with a full entourage began making his way to Rome. La Gaucha, who had followed a Wild Adventure into the Australian Outback (where she defeated the renaminated fiend known as General Riktus), boarded a steamship at Perth and headed for Calcutta. Meanwhile, Jack Snapper continued his drunken stagger through the steaming jungles of Lemuria.

    Besides Jack's run-in with the Firebox, there were two other really memorable incidents in the game. The first was when La Gaucha and Fuego, her faithful Argentine Criulo (a breed of horse -- who knew?) followed clues from Calcutta into the Asian Jungle, and came across an Abandoned Campsite. The AV players noticed that the campsite card had a Trap icon on it (which means Trap Twists can be played there), and, having not tried playing any Twists yet, they decided to throw a Pit Trap at La Gaucha to see what would happen. The Pit Trap card reads "Target Member with lowest Wit;" La Gaucha has Wit 2, and Fuego has Wit 1, so Fuego became the target. The horse failed his Speed Test to leap aside, and suffered 2D of damage, which killed him instantly (docking La Gaucha 2 Heroism and netting the AV 2 Villainy). We all imagined La Gaucha riding into the trap on horseback and leaping free of her noble steed as it was impaled on the spikes below.

    The other really funny moment for the players happened when Uri was scaling the Swiss Alps with his entourage, and (after escaping from an erupting volcano and battling an unholy brotherhood of slave-trading monks) came face to face with Black Angel, the voluptuous mercenary siren, in her mountaintop Observatory. Black Angel has two special abilities: .45 Automatic, which allows her to discard 1 for a simple Might bonus during a Challenge, and Seductress, which allows her to discard 2 before the Challenge starts in order to force the opposing male Ally of her choice make a Wit Test or become her minion on the spot. Much to Uri's dismay (and everyone else's great amusement), the AV discarded 2, chose Unegin, and cackled with glee as Unegin failed his roll. So the strapping Mongolian tracker, once Uri's trusted right-hand man, became his instant enemy. Did I mention that Uri had seen fit to equip Unegin with a Tommy Gun back when they made a pit stop in Rome?

    Amazingly, Uri and Professor Gundu marshalled their resources at the right moment. After surviving one round against Unegin and the lead he had begun to spray their way, Uri made use of his inherent Puff of Smoke special ability, which allows him to instantly escape from his current Foe. This effectively allowed him to sidestep Unegin and take on Black Angel herself. The best part about the fight that ensued was that the player who was controlling Uri had finally wrapped his head around the combat system, and through a series of careful choices was able to execute Gundu's special ability (Black Fire) twice, which was enough to send Black Angel screaming to her death from the top of the observatory. It was a narrow and well-earned victory.

    On the turn after Black Angel's demise, Act III began, and the AV's true identity was revealed: Malevola, Queen of Planet X! Her Master Plan is to "Lay Waste to Planet Earth," which is accomplished in game terms when she destroys a certain number of cities. Her arrival is heralded by the appearance of the X-ian Ark, a vast space craft that sets down on any Country, Desert, or Polar space, whereupon it begins to disgorge X-ian Behemonths, giant War-of-the-Worlds-esque walkers that can incinerate entire cities at will.

    I won't go into the endgame any more than that, other than to say the Heroes won the day.  There were some balance issues with the final Act, some having to do with the overall mechanics, and some having to do with Malevola's Master Plan itself. We discussed a few possible Act III tweaks and I'm implementing some of them in time for this Sunday's test.

    The main positive thing that I took away from this session was that everyone involved had a lot of fun. There was a lot whooping and hollering at the moments of high tension or hilarity, to the point where I was worried about disturbing the neighbors. Everyone involved was very eager to come back the following week, so overall it was very gratifying. I had made so many changes over the preceding year, and altered so many of the game's basic mechanics, that I had no idea whether it was going to even be playable, so it was a huge relief to see apsects of the game unspool almost exactly as I imagined they would.

    And some others, not so much. The game is 16 turns long and took about 4 1/2 hours to play, which is longer than I'd like. My playtesters are still learning the rules, and this next session will surely move quicker now that they have a better handle on things, but I'm looking for ways to tighten up the play time. 16 turns seems to be just about the perfect length in terms of each player being able to play through at least a couple of Adventures before the final Act, so I can't see trimming there.

    Hero player turns are uneven; some turns, all a Hero will do is move five spaces on the map and nothing else, while the players before and after might negotiate a series of entertaining obstacles and fights. Downtime seems to be a bit of an issue; no one ever seemed bored, but as it stands now you can't really affect another player's turn unless you are the Arch Villain. In previous versions Hero players were allowed to play positive card effects on one another, so I might bring that option back.

    The two other main points of feedback were that they wanted the game mechanics to encourage teaming up more actively, and that in the endgame they felt the need to travel greater distances with greater ease. There are rules for teaming up, but they rely on the players being self-motivated to do so. This next session I may just emphasize that it's an option always open to them and see if that changes the way they play. The late game traveling issue I'm trying to address by instituing air travel that's always accessible, but costs Heroism to use. We'll see how that goes as well.

    Thanks for reading, everyone, and thanks again for the votes of confidence. This will likely be the only playtest report at least until the summer, when I'll have many more sessions under my belt and a cleaner running engine. 

     So tune in next... season (or the one after) for another exciting epsisode of Thrilling Tales of Adventure! 



  • [This is a playtest report for Thrilling Tales of Adventure!, a pulp adventure boardgame that is currently in development. You can peruse previous playtest entries starting here].

    The year is 1928. After recovering from the terrible toll of the Great War, human civilization has entered a new golden era. Industry is booming, science is opening up new frontiers, and the world looks forward to a bright future. But beneath the hustle and bustle, evil spreads like poison. The criminal underworld extends its despicable reach; military dictators forge dreams of iron and blood; deranged geniuses distort the boons of science to terrible effect; eldritch forces stir in the bowels of the Earth. Worst of all, some diabolical intelligence seems to be pulling the strings, orchestrating these forces toward some unknown, horrific goal.

    But fear not! Rising to face this threat is a breed of rare individuals, heroes the likes of which the world has rarely seen. Intrepid souls, determined to defend the downtrodden, punish the wicked, and untangle the thickening web of corruption and trickery. What adventures await them? What tales will be told of their extraordinary deeds?

    Before these tales are told, let's meet the three heroes upon whose shoulders the fate of the world resides,  this time around:

    Doktor Radium, the brilliant German scientist, starts at his Laboratorium in Berlin. He is accompanied by Gunther, his faithful (if slow-witted) dogsbody.



    Of the 4 potential unique Advantages available to him over the course of the game, Doktor Radium chooses to start with German Discipline.

    Each Hero also has a unique starting Adventure in play when the game begins, to set them on their way. Doktor Radium's initial Adventure is The Curious Doktor. The entries on this card marked by green and red hourglasses indicate what will happen if this particular Adventure is brought to an heroic or villainous conclusion, respectively. A white entry is always addressed to the active Hero player, and a black entry is always addressed to the Arch Villain player.

    Rockwell Jones, former pugilist turned private eye, starts at114 West 86th St. (his office in Chicago), withhis faithful companion, a.45 automatic.

    Rockwell chooses Ace Detective as his starting Advantage.


    Rockwell's starting Adventure, In Walked a Dame, sets him up in classic gumshoe style. But who knows where this apparently simple case will take him?



    Rounding out the trio of do-gooders is Grigor the Great, the mysterious Russian magician. Grigor starts at his Magician's Garret in Petrograd, and has no starting Ally or Equipment.



    Choosing from among his 4 prestidigitation-based Advantages, Grigor settles on Sleight of Hand. In addition to the ability explained in the card's text, this Advantage carries the "Lockpick"  icon, which he can use in situations that call for that particular piece of incidental equipment.



    Grigor's introductory Adventure, Stolen Secrets,  pits him against an as-yet-unknown trespasser who has made off with some of his precious repertoire. Will Grigor be able keep his secrets safe?



    Opposing these three is the Arch Villain, a shadowy entity whose true form will only become known in the last Act of the game.


    The Arch Villain!


    The stage is set!



    How will the Arch Villain's plots manifest, and what will the Heroes do to thwart those plots? Tune in next time for another chapter of Thrilling Tales of Adventure!

    [Continue to chapter 2]

  • As noted in last week's entry, each Hero begins a given session of TToA embarked on his own trademark introductory Adventure, represented by a Hook card. These Adventures are relatively easy, usually taking about 1-3 turns to complete, and give the Heroes a chance to build up a little before they tackle the Adventures constructed by the Arch Villain player.

    This week, we'll start following Doktor Radium on his introductory Adventure, which he managed to wrap up on the first turn of the game. My description here is lengthy for the sake of explanation, but the player's turn went by quickly.

    It all began with the good Doktor's insatiable curiosity:


    Each Adventure card has a set of "links" along its lower right edge, showing what types of cards can follow that card in the Adventure. In this case, The Curious Doktor has only one possible link, a City Clue (the light gray rectangle indicates a card from the City deck, and the magnifying glass indicates a Clue). At this point I should explain Moxie and Menace, and the concept of "having the upper hand" in the game.

    Each Hero player has a personal Moxie level and a personal Menace level, each of which can vary according to in-game actions and events, to a minimum of 0 and maximum of 10. Moxie, symbolized by a star icon, is gained by defeating bad guys, completing Adventures successfully, and the like; the Hero can spend it to do things like activate special abilities, buy new Advantages, and add bonus dice to die rolls. Menace, symbolized by a skull and crossbones icon, works the same way, but is spent by the Arch Villain player to enact various nefarious effects. To determine who has the "upper hand" at any given time, the active Hero's Moxie and Menace levels are compared: if he has more Moxie than Menace, he has the upper hand; more Menace than Moxie, and the Arch Villain has the upper hand. Ties on even numbers break in favor of the Hero, while ties on odd numbers break in favor of the Arch Villain. It took me a long time to arrive at the Moxie/Menace mechanic as a balancing device against the more random aspects of the game. Here I owe Thomas Denmark a debt, since the mechanic was directly inspired by the Bane/Boon mechanic in his Dungeoneer game. Having the upper hand can be vital, because all ties in the game break in favor of the player who has the upper hand when the tie occurs. 

    In addition, if the active Hero player has the upper hand when it comes time to reveal the next card in his Adventure, and if the Adventure is being built on the fly (i.e., it was not custom-built by the Arch Villain player), that Hero gets to choose which linked card to reveal next. In this case, even though Doktor Radium has the upper hand, there is no choice to be made, since there is only one available link. The Doktor Radium player just draws the next City Clue card from the City deck and adds it to his Adventure:


    Doktor Radium, hard at work in his Laboratoriumin Berlin, has received a Coded Message. How can he resist such a tantalizing challenge to his intellect?

    Each time a new Adventure card is revealed, the first thing the active player does is examine the "theme column" under the card's icon in the upper  left. From top to bottom, the theme column consists of icons representing TToA's five major themes: Criminal (hand), Military (shield), Science (lightning bolt), Occult (pentagram), and Weird (ringed planet). A theme icon can be grayed out, indicating the card does not possess that theme, or colored red, indicating that it does possess that theme. Coded Message possesses Military and Science. The active player compares these themes to all preceding cards in the Adventure, and if each theme matches the theme of at least one preceding card, the Arch Villain gains a theme token of that type. In this case, we see that The Curious Doktorpossesses only one theme -- Science -- so the Arch Villain player gains a Science token. The Arch Villain needs theme tokens to use the more powerful thematic twists at his dosposal, but they are most important as the primary currency for completing his Master Plan, during the game's final act.

    Next, Doktor Radium resolves the steps on the card. Coded Message has only 1 step, "Decrypt," which calls for a Wit test. A test roll is made by rolling 1D6, adding the value of the stat being tested and any other modifiers, and comparing it to the test rating. In this case, Doktor Radium has Wit 4, and needs a 7 to succeed at the test. He gets +1 to his roll for being a Scientist, and 4+1=5, so he will only fail if he rolls a 1.

    Now, any time a player makes any kind of roll, he may spend Moxie to add bonus dice to that roll. The cost is 1 Moxie per bonus die if a Hero is making the roll, and 2 Moxie per bonus die if an Ally is making the roll. You can add 2 bonus dice at most to any given roll (for a total of 3D6 maximum), and after all dice are rolled, you choose 1 die to use. In other words, the dice are not added together; bonus dice just increase your chances of getting a high roll.

    In this case, Doktor Radium is confident of his powers of decryption, and does not elect to buy any bonus dice. He rolls  1 die and passes the test easily, which triggers the "thumbs up" result for that test ("sender identified"): he gains 1 Moxie, and is able to examine the next Villain in the Adventure, but since this Adventure is being built on the fly, there is no Villain to examine.

    The body of this card has been resolved, so the Doktor proceeds to the link array along the right edge of the card, to see what card will be revealed next. Links to a wide variety of Locations and Destinations are available. The Doktor still has the upper hand, and it's in his best interests to keep the Adventure local (leaving Berlin would force him to expend valuable actions), so he chooses the topmost link, a City Location. The next City Location in the City deck is drawn and revealed:

    The Coded Message leads Doktor Radium and Gunther to the Pawn Shop. No themes are highlighted in this card's the theme column, so the Arch Villain gains no theme tokens. The first entry on this card is a card ability, "Close quarters," which inflicts a Speed penalty on all characters that occupy the Location. The shape of the icon indicates that it applies whether the characters are in a fight or not, and the color of the icon -- split white and black -- indicates that it applies to the Hero (white) as well as the Arch Villain (black).

    The second entry is an optional step, since it says that the active player mayspend 1 action to attempt the described test. A player only has 2 actions to spend on his turn, and as the game progresses time becomes increasingly valuable, but the Doktor is not feeling any pressure on the first turn of the game, so he decides to spend 1 action to rummage through the shop to see what he can find. He fails the test, but decides to use his German Discipline Advantage (see last week's entry), and pays 1 Moxie to re-roll his test die. The second time he passes the test easily, and chooses to find a Gadget (as per the test's "curious curio" result).

    At this point, enjoying the completely optional storytelling aspect of the game, the players decide that the pawn shop is actually the storefront for the Doktor's laboratorium, and that he's rummaging through his own inventory of inventions to find something useful. Doktor Radium's player draws the next Gadget from the Valuable deck:

    Obviously one of the Doktor's more useful castoffs. When a player "finds" an Item, as in this case, the Item is not added directly to his Adventure, but may instead be either immediately equipped or discarded. The Doktor chooses to equip the Magnetospherehimself. He could give it to Gunther, but its ability depends on Wit, so Doktor Radium is clearly the more competent operator. Each Hero or Ally may only carry up to 2 Items, and the distribution of Items among party members may be rearranged at any time, except when the party is in a fight.

    Doktor Radium's player examines the available links on the Pawn Shop card and daringly chooses the dark gray link with the white compass rose icon, which indicates an Underground Location. After dusting off the magnetosphere, the intrepid scientist and his musclebound sidekick descend into the shop's cellar.

    And wow, what a cellar. What is that, an old well? into what dark depths is that coded message leading our hero?

    Suddenly, Doktor Radium's player is confronted with a difficult decision. The test required to successfully descend into the pit is of average difficulty, but failure means defeat (i.e., death for an Ally, unconsciousness for a Hero). If he had a rope, the Doktor could avoid the test entirely, but he has no rope. To proceed, Doktor Radium and Gunther will each have to take the test. Doktor Radium is weak (Might 1), but German Discipline will allow him to re-roll his test dice, so his chances are decent. Gunther has Might 3, so he will only fail on a roll of 1, but losing his loyal sidekick on the first turn of the game would not bode well.

    A dank wind blows up from the black pit in the middle of the cellar. The Doktor decides to send Gunther down first. The walls of the pit appear to offer little purchase, but Gunther shows no fear. Without hesitation, the faithful bodyguard moves to the edge of the pit and prepares to descend.

    Tune in next week for another exciting installment of Thrilling Tales of Adventure!

    [Continue to chapter 3]

  • [For previous entries in this playtest session report, see Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.]

    When last we left Doktor Radium and his faithful bodyguard, Gunther, they had discovered a Pit Chamber in the basement of the pawn shop adjoining the good Doktor's laboratorium.

    Without hesitation, Gunther prepares to descend into the darkness. He will only fail his Might test on a roll of 1, but failure will mean a fall into the bottomless depths, so Doktor Radium's player chooses to invest some Moxie in Gunther's roll and increase his chance of success. Buying bonus dice is pricey for Allies though -- 2 Moxie for 1 additional die -- so the Doktor chooses to buy just one bonus die.

    Doktor Radium's player rolls two dice for the test, and neither comes up a 1, so Gunther successfully scales the pit's wall and finds purchase on a ledge somewhere in the darkness below. Now Doktor Radium must attempt the descent.

    He needs to roll a 4 or higher (his Might of 1 + a roll of 4 = 5, the difficulty of the test). The Doktor doesn't like those odds. He reviews his German Discipline Advantage to see if it will be of help to him in this instance.

    Because German Discipline allows Doktor Radium to re-roll all dice used on a test, Radium's player chooses to buy 1 bonus die in order to make more efficient use of the ability. He rolls a 3 and a 5 on his first roll, though, so he doesn't actually need to use German Discipline. Gunther assists the Doktor in the short climb down to the ledge.

    Each success on the test grants the Doktor +1 Moxie (as indicated by the thumbs-up "Phew!" result on the Pit Chamber card), so his net loss for resolving this card is -1 Moxie (-2 Moxie to buy a bonus die for Gunther, -1 Moxie to buy a bonus die for himself, +2 Moxie for both characters passing the test). In the Doktor's analysis, that's a fair price for not falling into a bottomless pit.

    Having resolved the Pit Chamber card, and still in possession of the upper hand, Radium's player chooses the Underground Clue (white magnifying glass on dark gray background) as the next card in his adventure.

    The cold ledge appears to open into a passage or tunnel, but the progress of our intrepid pair is quickly obstructed by a Pile of Rubble.

    Gunther, with his Might of 3, is obviously the man for this job; the Doktor would surely injure himself if he lifted even a single brick. The Doktor's resources are depleted (he currently has just 1 Moxie), so he must either let Gunther make the "Excavate" test without any bonus dice, or retreat from the depths. Gunther begins the hard work of clearing the passage, tossing the hefty stones off the ledge and into the darkness below.

    "Gunther! Nein!" shouts the Doktor as Gunther rolls badly, pulling out a stone that brings down part of the ceiling on his head. As per the "ceiling collapse" test failure result, Gunther suffers 2 wounds from a roll of 1D3, avoiding death by 1 wound. Loudly castigating his bodyguard for incompetence, Doktor Radium begins to clear the rubble from the boxer's battered body. As part of the same failure result, the Doktor is now forced to spend the first of the 2 actions he has available this turn.

    Having completely resolved the Pile of Rubble card, the Doktor has only 1 Moxie and 1 action remaining. He briefly contemplates spending his last action to rest and heal Gunther, but then realizes he can finish his adventure by choosing a Valuable (yellow background) as his next card. Luckily, since it's still the first turn of the game, he has zero Menace, so he still has the upper hand, and can choose the next card. Loot (gemstone icon) tends to be grant Moxie, while Artifacts (urn icon) and Gadgets (lightbulb icon) grant useful powers. The Doktor's player chooses to reveal an Artifact, because he already has a Gadget (the Magnetosphere), and just wants to mix things up.

    As Doktor Radium struggles to haul Gunther out of the rubble, he notices a gleam amongst the stones. Leaving Gunther groaning on the ledge, he steps back toward the rubble, reaches down, and pulls a small object from the debris.

    "Was ist das...?" the Doktor mutters under his breath, mometarily hypnotized as he holds the Girasol Ring up in the darkness. The gemstone seems to flash with red light from within. The sender of the coded message that led him into the basement of the pawn shop must have intended this strange piece of jewelry for him. But why?

    Such matters must be considered at a later time. Gunther needs medical attention. The Doktor swiftly pockets the ring and moves to help his bodyguard back onto his feet.

    The Girasol Ring has an Occult theme (red pentagram in the theme column in the upper left), and grants +1 Moxie upon being revealed (the +1 star below the theme column). The "End" box in the lower right corner indicates that this card wraps up the adventure. With all of the cards lined up in the player's adventure area, the final adventure looks like this:

    Because the adventure came to a "Heroic Conclusion" (i.e., Doktor Radium reached the end card in one piece), all of the preceding cards in the adventure are checked for a green hourglass icon, which indicates any effects that are triggered by a Heroic Conclusion. The only card with such an entry is the adventure's first card, The Curious Doktor.

    "Curiosity satisfied" grants the Doktor another +1 Moxie, bringing his total current Moxie up to 3. The Girasol Ring is an item, so the Doktor can equip it, and decides to give it to Gunther. He figures that the ring's "Dazzling gem" ability will make a good combination with Gunther's "Jab" ability. All of the adventure cards are now discarded to their respective decks, and Doktor Radium appears back in his Laboratorium.

    The Doktor still has 1 action remaining, and decides to use it to rest, using the "Sanctuary" ability of his Laboratorium. Gunther is healed completely, and Doktor Radium's turn ends.

    That wraps up Doktor Radium's first adventure of the game. Tune in next week, to see what happens when Rockwell Jones mixes it up with the Midnight Army on the streets of Chicago!

    [Continue to chapter 4]





  • [Previous chapters in this series: 1, 2, 3]

    Rockwell Jones was a prizefighter before he was asked to throw one too many matches and quit the racket in disgust. Taking over his deceased father's accounting office at 114 West 86th Street, on Chicago's South Side, he reinvented himself as private eye, first helping out family friends, and gradually earning bigger and more well-connected clients. Now, among the gin-joints and meat-packing plants of the Windy City, he earns his keep as an Ace Detective; the tools of his trade are a keen eye for detail, a bloodhound's persistence, and his trusty .45 Automatic.

    One hot afternoon, there's a knock on the door of his office at 114 West 86th Street. A knock that will change Rockwell's life.

    Mrs... "Smith" says her husband's been missing for two weeks. Something about her story smells wrong, and Rockwell suddenly knows what a fish must feel like when the hook goes in. But it's better than being bait, and he needs the money. He presses Mrs. Smith for details about her husband's recent activities, and from her purse she produces a tattered piece of paper, which she carefully unfolds. Rockwell's gut feeling goes from bad to worse. It's a Map Drawn in Blood.

    The card's themes (Occult and Weird) don't match the Hook's theme (Criminal), so the Arch Villain gains no theme tokens. But below the theme column is an icon (the skull) which indicates Rockwell must gain 1 Menace. After all, nothing good can come from a map drawn in blood.

    Rockwell passes the "Decipher" test without using any bonus dice, and gains 1 Moxie, bringing his Moxie and Menace totals to 5 and 1, respectively. He has the upper hand, so he decides which link to follow on this Adventure. Since a map could lead anywhere, the links cover Locations and Destinations of all possible terrain types. If the Arch Villain had the upper hand, he could send Rockwell to the jungle, desert, or even one of Earth's frozen poles. But Rockwell's player has control, so he keeps the adventure local by choosing a City Location (the topmost link).

    The scourge of the new century has not left Chicago untouched. Rockwell knows the place, and asks Mrs. Smith if her husband may have fallen under the sway of the poppy. She pleads ignorance; regardless of the truth, the gumshoe has no choice but to investigate the Opium Den. He grabs his hat and coat, sees Mrs. Smith out the door, and hits the streets in the dying light of the day.

    The Opium Den's Criminal theme matches the theme of In Walked a Dame, so the Arch Villain gains 1 Criminal theme token, and such a place is part of the dark underbelly of the big city, so Rockwell gains 1 Menace.

    Rockwell's player moves his pawn from his home base to the Opium Den card to resolve the "Question proprietor" entry. He can use either Might (roughing up the proprietor) or Wit (interrogating him), and chooses Might since it is his higher stat. He only has 2 Menace, so the effect of failing the test -- giving the Arch Villain the option to spring a Trap if Rockwell has at least 3 menace -- won't trigger even if he fails. Rockwell makes his roll without bonus dice, passing the test, and gains another point of Moxie.

    Since Rockwell's Ace Detective Advantage gives him free bonus dice on Clue cards, he chooses a City Clue as his next card.

    The proprietor clams up, but Rockwell notices one of the den's customers looking a little agitated, and turns his formidable attention on the nervous addict. The new card has a Criminal theme, which matches at least 1 preceding card in the Adventure, so the Arch Villain gains another Criminal token.

    Rockwell can tell that this Stool Pigeon will give up some valuable information with a little encouragement. Unfortunately, this Clue card doesn't call for a test, so the ability granted by Ace Detective does not apply. Wanting to hold on to his Moxie lead, Rockwell elects to use the "Good cop" option, and spends 1 action (his first of 2) to interrogate the pathetic schlub.

    Then, he resolves the next step on the Stool Pigeon card, "He squeals," and chooses to draw a Hero card. Hero cards represent allies, equipment, and twists that can affect various aspects of the game. In addition, each Hero card is worth 1 Moxie point, and may be discarded at any time to pay any Moxie cost (other than buying a new Advantage). A given Hero player can hold up to 5 Hero cards. Rockwell draws Burst of Speed.

    So this card has 3 possible uses: 1) it may be discarded at any time to pay 1 point of any Moxie cost; 2) it may be played to give any Hero or Ally +2 to any Speed roll, or 3) it may be played to change the outcome of any engagement (in a fight) in which any Hero or Ally has won with Speed. Rockwell adds the card to his hand.

    Feeling the urge to leave the hazy underworld and clear his head, Rockwell decides that the card to follow the Stool Pigeon will be a City Location.

    The squealer points our dogged detective to a nearby, boarded-up Warehouse. The Arch Villain gains yet another Criminal token, and Rockwell's player moves his pawn onto the Warehouse card.

    Casing the joint from a distance, Rockwell sees a night watchman making the rounds. He deliberates trying to talk his way in, but decides again to conserve his Moxie in order to keep a firm grasp on the upper hand. So his only other choice is a stealthy entrance. He's feeling confident about his progress so far, and thinks that his luck will hold out long enough to make a roll of 4 or higher (Rockwell's Speed of 2 + a roll of 4 = the test's difficulty of 6). He briefly considers using the Burst of Speed card for its +2 Speed bonus, but then decides that fighting a City Minion -- which he will have to do if he fails the test --  will probably be manageable.

    He makes an unmodified roll of 1 die and gets a 2. He climbs into the warehouse through a window, and drops to the floor among mountains of stacked crates. But his entrance has not gone unnoticed! Suddenly, uniformed figures emerge from the shadows, and Rockwell finds himself surrounded by the...

    Tune in next week for another exciting installment of Thrilling Tales of Adventure!

    [Continue to chapter 5]

  • [Previous chapters in this series: 123, 4]

    When last we left Rockwell Jones, ex-pugilist private eye, he was on the trail of a missing person, and had followed a lead from an opium den into the dark recesses of a Warehouseon Chicago's waterfront. His attempt to sneak inside failed, and he found himself surrounded by the Midnight Army.

    The Midnight Army's "reveal column" -- the chain of icons running down the left edge of its card -- is resolved as soon as the card is revealed. The Army has a Military theme (red shield), which doesn't match any other cards in the current Adventure (see chapter 4), so the Arch Villain gains no theme tokens. The last entry in the reveal column is the card's Menace cost, in this case -3 Menace (skull icon). Rockwell immediately loses 3 Menace, reducing his Menace level to zero. A given Hero's Menace level ranges from 0 to 10, and may never drop below zero or rise above 10. Menace is spent by the Arch Villain to activate special powers and to buy bonus dice for tactic rolls, so Rockwell's Menace level of zero minimizes the threat of the Midnight Army. The Menace cost of revealing enemies serves as a balancing mechanic, mitigating the threat of more powerful foes, especially in the early game. Rockwell has no allies, and has encountered the Midnight Army -- one of the most powerful City Minions --  on the first turn of the game, but until he gains Menace, the Midnight Army will not be able to use its "Rifles" ability or buy bonus dice.

    Which brings us to one of TToA's core gameplay elements: fighting. Each fight round costs 1 action to resolve, and Rockwell has 1 action remaining, so he will fight 1 round before play passes to the next player.

    Each character (Hero, Ally, Minion, or Villain) in the game is rated in three primary stats (Might, Speed, and Wit), and three secondary stats (Engage, Health, and Defeat). Might, Speed and Wit are the values used for test and tactic rolls, with a normal human range of 1 to 3.

    Engagerepresents the minimum number of engagements a character must resolve on a given fight round. Each time any two opposing characters engage, they each use up 1 engagement, and a given fight round ends when all available engagements have been used up. This means that, in a fight involving just two opposing characters, each with an Engage rating of 1, a fight round would end after a single engagement between those two characters. However, Group characters usually have a number of engagements based on their remaining Health. Here, you can see that the Army's Engage rating is 1/1 Health, which means the Army must resolve 1 engagement per point of Health it has remaining. So, because the Army has Health 4, Rockwell will have to fight 4 engagements before the fight round ends. This mechanic is meant to reflect the feeling of being mobbed or swarmed by a large group of enemies. 

    Healthrepresents a character's durability. A given character can suffer two types of damage: wounds and fatigue (represented by red and yellow "droplet" icons/counters, respectively). A given character is defeated as soon as the number of wound counters it carries equals or exceeds its maximum Health rating, or as soon as the number of fatigue counters it carries exceeds its maximum Health rating. The difference between wounds and fatigue may seems meaningless until you figure in the fact that it is much easier to recover fatigue than it is to heal wounds. For instance, a rest action heals 1 wound on each party member (2 wounds if resting in a city), but removes allfatigue from each party member; and any time a Hero spends an action to move via train, ship, or aeroplane, all fatigue is removed from each party member (because someone else is doing the driving).

    Defeatis the Moxie or Menace adjustment that is applied to the active Hero upon the character's defeat. In this case, Rockwell will gain 3 Moxie if and when he defeats the Midnight Army. You can think of a given character's Defeat value as its experience point value, with the added twist that the defeat of an Ally actually penalizes the owning Hero by inflicting a lossof Moxie.

    So, Rockwell begins his first fight round against the Midnight Army. At the start of each fight round, the active Hero player always has the option to attempt to escape from the fight. This costs 1 Moxie, and requires the Hero player to win a Speed test against the Speed of the enemy. If you successfully escape, you can just ignore the enemy and continue with your Adventure; if you fail, you have to resolve the fight round, less the 1 Moxie you spent on the attempt. Since this is Rockwell's first foe, and he's unscathed and fully rested, he decides to fight this first round.

    Each player has three six-sided tactic dice, each of which is color-coded to match one of the three primary stats: a red die for Might, a yellow die for Speed, and a blue die for Wit. In addition, each player has two "bonus dice" (white for the Hero players, black for the Arch Villain player), which may be added to any tactic roll for a cost of 1 Moxie/Menace per die if a Hero or Villain is making the roll, or 2 Moxie/Menace per die if an Ally or Minion is making the roll.

    For each engagement, the two opposing players each take all five of their dice under the table to choose tactics secretly. Each player selects one colored die to indicate which tactic he is using for that engagement (Might, Speed, or Wit), and then 0, 1, or 2 bonus dice to add to that roll. Both players reveal their choices simultaneously, pay for any bonus dice they reveal, and roll their dice. Just as with test rolls (see chapter 2), a player may only use the result on one of his dice to add to the roll (i.e., the numbers rolled on bonus dice are not all added to a roll total, but provide more chances to roll a high number).

    Each player calculates his tactic roll total by adding his highest die roll to the stat indicated by the colored die he rolled, then adding 2 to the total if he chose a tactic that is strong against his opponent's chosen tactic. In classic rock/scissors/paper form, each of the 3 primary stats is strong against 1 opposing stat: Might gets +2 against Wit, Speed gets +2 against Might, and Wit gets +2 against Speed.

    And, as you can see, each tactic has one basic result for the winner: if you win with Might, you inflict 1 wound on your foe; if you win with Speed, you inflict 1 fatigue; and if you win with Wit, you gain 2 Moxie and lose 2 Menace (this last is reversed on the Arch Villain's tactic results table, so the opposing Hero loses 2 Moxie and gains 2 Menace when the Arch Villain player wins with Wit). Of course, various character abilities and card effects can alter these results, which is where a lot of flavor can enter a fight. For instance, Rockwell's .45 Automatic allows him to alter the outcome of an engagement if he wins it with Speed:

    The Midnight Army's "Rifles" ability allows for a similar result substitution, which may be applied if the Midnight Army wins with Wit, but the Army needs Menace to use the ability and Rockwell currently has 0 Menace. Generally, heavy weapons like tommy guns depend on Might, handguns depend on Speed, and long-range and area-effect weapons like rifles or dynamite depend on Wit.

    Got all that? To the fray!

    ROUND 1

    First engagement: Both players choose tactic dice secretly. Rockwell chooses Might, with no added bonus dice (he reveals his 1 red die). The Arch Villain player chooses Speed, with no added bonus dice (he reveals his 1 yellow die). Rockwell rolls a 5, + Might 3 = 8. The Midnight Army rolls a 2, + Speed 2, +2 for the Speed vs. Might modifier = 6. The soldiers try to maneuver for position among the stacks of crates, and Rockwell steps out of cover to clock one. The Army suffers 1 wound, reducing its Health to 3.

    Second engagement:Rockwell guesses the Army will try Might, since Speed didn't work out, and chooses Speed in hopes of countering. He reveals his 1 yellow die, and the Arch Villain player reveals his 1 red die, indicating that Rockwell's hunch was correct. Rockwell rolls a 3, + Speed 2, +2 because Speed is strong vs. Might = 7. The Army rolls a 5, + Might 2, = 7. The tactic rolls are tied, but Rockwell has the upper hand (5 Moxie and 0 Menace). The tie breaks in Rockwell's favor, so he loses 1 Moxie (for winning the tie), and wins the engagement. Instead of inflicting 1 fatigue, the usual result of winning with Speed, Rockwell chooses to use his .45 automatic's "BLAM!" ability, and pumps several rounds into the next Midnight soldier that steps out from the shadows (inflicting 1 wound, and reducing the Army's Health to 2). Because Rockwell still has the upper hand (4 Moxie and 0 Menace), the gun's card is not exhausted. Due to a doubtlessly unrealistic mechanical subtlety, a revolver is exhausted each time it is used, while an automatic is only exhausted if the owner does not have the upper hand.

    Third engagement: Rockwell considers switching back to Might, in anticipation of the Army switching tactics, but then figures the Arch Villain will plan on that and go for Speed or Wit. He decides to stick with Speed, but this time secretly adds 1 bonus die to his choice in order to hedge his bet. He reveals his 1 yellow die and 1 bonus die, and the Arch Villain player reveals his 1 yellow die. The players interpret this as the Army chasing Rockwell through the maze of stacked crates. First, Rockwell, pays 1 Moxie for the bonus die. Then, he rolls a 2 on his yellow die and a 4 on his bonus die, so he keeps the 4 as his tactic roll, + Speed 2 = 6. Speed vs. Speed grants no modifier, so neither side's roll is altered due to tactic choice. The Army rolls a 3, + Speed 2 = 5. Rockwell wins the engagement yet again, and decides to fire over his shoulder as he evades the Midnight soldiers, using his .45 to inflict another wound and reducing the Army's Health to 1. Rockwell now has 3 Moxie, but still 0 Menace, so he does not exhaust the .45 Automatic.

    Fourth engagement: This is the last engagement of the fight round, and Rockwell's turn will end after this round if he doesn't pay Moxie to extend the fight (each fight round costs 1 action, but if he's out of actions, a Hero can "buy" another fight round by paying 1 Moxie per party member). If he can win this engagement with Might or Speed, he will defeat the Army, so Wit is out if he wants to go for it. The Arch Villain player likely knows this, so it's a question of which to try to counter. If the Army wins with Wit, the upper hand will shift to the Arch Villain player, plus open up the threat of the "Rifles" ability; if the Army wins with Speed, Rockwell will suffer 1 fatigue. His gut tells him to go with Might, and he decides against adding bonus dice. He reveals his 1 red die, and the Arch Villain player reveals his 1 blue die. Bingo! The players translate this as the last Midnight soldier slowing down at the sight of his comrades scattered across the warehouse floor, and scanning the shadows for the elusive private eye. Rockwell rolls a 2, +3 Might, +2 because Might beats Wit, = 7. The Army rolls a 5, +1 Wit, = 6. The Chicago Shamus steps out behind the last nervous soldier and pistol whips him into the cold concrete.

    The fight round is over, and the Midnight Army lies defeated. For laying them low, Rockwell gains their "Defeat" award of +3 Moxie, bringing his current Moxie total to 6. The fight only netted him 1 point of Moxie (he lost 1 for winning a tie, and spent 1 on a bonus die). He has no actions remaining, so his turn ends, and play passes to Grigor the Great.

    This fight was great to watch play out, since it was easy for all of us to imagine the lone private eye facing a mob of bad guys in a dark warehouse, and taking them out one by one. Rockwell's player guessed well and rolled well, but was also at an advantage due to having the upper hand, a firearm that didn't cost anything to use, and some Moxie to spend.

    All in all, this was a demonstration to me that I finally had a fight system that involved some interesting decisions, wherein fights could be resolved quickly without sacrificing flavor. I owe most of that to my playtesters, but two key elements -- the reduction of basic tactic results to just three possible results (as opposed to my original nine), and the +2 rock/scissors/paper modifier (as opposed to +1) -- to F:ATties Josh Look and Stormcow, respectively. Thanks, guys!

    But what about Grigor the Great? An unknown enemy has claims to know the secrets of his magic act! Can  the famed Russian magician put an end to this threat, and keep his repertoire safe from prying eyes? Tune in next time for another exciting chapter of Thrilling Tales of Adventure!

  • At the mercy of the machine?

    logo_Aton TowersGav and I spent a day at Alton Towers last week. This was a bit of a turn up for the books: the trip had looked likely for September; I’d never hitherto been on a roller coaster; and I last rode a fairground ‘flyer’ ride back in 1991- a specific date I remember because it was just after my arrival in Glasgow at the dog end of Glasgow’s year as European City of Culture, and the fair was one of the popular attractions of that year. I also remember that ride because all I could think about while I was on it were the nut and bolt upon which my safety depended, and the physics of shear stresses: the ride reminded us all of both often enough to be sure. That sucked all the fun out of things for yours truly I can assure you dear readers.

    My friend Gav

    Vintage busAnyway, long story short, Gav persuaded me to go to my first theme park. And so we were off on a 30-hour red-eye coach round trip from Glasgow. Twenty-plus years since I crapped-out on a regular fairground ride, heading off to ride ultra-modern roller coasters? I confess I was a bit nervy but, as Gav pointed out when I quipped the heading above, roller coasters are safer than buses. Which is true, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    Alton Towers: a monstrosity’s monstrosity?

    The entrance to Alton Towers

    Alton Towers is amazing and terrible at the same time. Amazing- as a theme park; and terrible- in the way that, for some, hell is other people. You enter the camp park to be confronted by Towers Street, a short street constructed after the fashion of a quaint old seaside resort. Piped music is constant almost everywhere you go- there are even speakers hidden in the undergrowth (except, IIRC, in the garden); concession stands are everywhere, with vending machines even more ubiquitous than that. Then there’s the queueing, the endless queueing- Gav and I queued for 1¾ hours for one ride; all that painful waiting for thrills better measured in seconds than in minutes. The queues are literally in pens to keep them orderly (you can, of course, queue 1st Class, with Fastrack tickets). This is already some people’s vision of hell. Add the rumbling of infernal engines and the screams of the damned and you’re there!

    Alton Towers stately home

    Perfect vision of a consumerist hell notwithstanding, Alton Towers is just plain great fun. There’re the rides, naturally enough, but there’s also the setting- the grounds of a 19th century Gothic stately home. Quirky enough in its own right, but a modern consumerist theme park set in a Victorian theme park- there’s more than just a touch of the postmoderns there, don’t you think? And the old grounds are beautiful to boot. Wandering between sections of the park can be very pleasant, especially when you happen upon follies which remind you of the old place’s half-mad mock grandeur.

    The rides, oh yes, the rides!

    Nemesis rollercoaster

    After 10 hours of travelling and waiting around in chilly outdoor locations, and having personally been awake already for some 20 hours, I finally reaped the benefits of Gav’s travel plans: early rides- that quiet 9-10am hour when the camp is nearly empty because of the early hour and because only a few rides are open. Net result: very — deceptively, even — short queues. We were heading for Nemesis- it’s Gav’s favourite coaster and I’d figured if I was going to be screwing my courage to the sticking post, I may as well start with a beast. ‘Twas not to be however. We passed another ride on the way to Nemesis and jumped on that because it was early early rides and there’d be no queue, so my first ride was:

    1. A very basic roller coaster. Kid’s stuff. Really. Fun but few thrills for adults, unless they’re clinging very firmly to their coaster virginity. With hindsight Gav and I agreed that choosing this coaster to start was a wise decision despite my eagerness to face Nemesis, and with further hindsight I agree all the more: Runaway Mine Train is a good introduction to the experience of riding your basic cars-on-top roller coaster.

    And so my 2nd ride turned out to be:

    1. “Remarkable!” I love Nemesis. The sight of its track, twisting and turning through solid rock, struck real trepidation in me- I was going to ride underthat? At least its construction looked reassuringly solid: that these were fixed rides of solid construction being the realisation which had finally overcome my fear of the old fairground attractions- I knew my mind wasn’t going to be worrying about the physics of everything staying in one piece! The sight and sound of Nemesis' cars and riders could only add a tinge of real fear to my existing tension. An average bus queue of a wait then, bang, we’re off, screaming through gullies and tunnels, up, down, round corners and through inversions at speeds whose apparent impossibility makes me think of a flying superhero. The net effect is awesome, as is the rush at the end. I’ve bitten the bullet, and I love this!

    And so my 3rd and 4th rides turned out to be:

    • Nemesis!
    1. We went on the front the first two times, and at the back the third time. Gav — he's a G-force junkie — explained that it was about higher G-forces riding at the back, but I didn't notice enough of a difference to care one way or the other.

    Gav and me on Nemesis

    Fate and the misfortune of poor judgement intervened at this point; the former- our next ride of choice — Air — wasn’t working; the latter- we decided to walk to get to the next section of the park when we should’ve taken the Skyride. The valley walk we took was very nice- it was when I got a real sense of what the Victorian theme park was like, but it was long enough that early rides was well and truly over and queueing had begun in earnest, and we were knackered and footsore.

    A wooded path in the garden at Alton Towers

    The pagoda in the valley garden

    A bandstand in an expansive garden setting

    The Gothic pile

    Still, we only queued around half an hour for our next ride:

    1. With its woods and witches theme, Thirteen is like a grown up’s Runaway Mine Train with added bells and whistles: faster, banks more steeply, pulls more Gs, nice wooded sections. Alton Towers’ classic, gentle coaster.

    This was followed by a quick dash to the nearby:

    1. Rita is the coaster for which we queued 1¾ hours, a taste of the pens which was utterly dreadful and which I can truly say broke my spirit; an experience so horrible that we soon wished there was any way out other than forward through an indeterminate more of the same. We were in too deep at that point. As a coaster, Rita is all about the speed, from its hydraulically powered launch, all the way round the track with its very steep banking, tight corners and resulting Gs. Maybe not the fastest coaster at Alton Towers (I really don't know just now) but a good one if you like the solid feel of a track under your car. Expect to queue.

    Cars being slowly hauled up to the top of The Smiler

    At Gav’s insistence we’d bought a Fastrack for our next ride- the park’s new attraction, as a result of which we waited a short 10-15 minutes to board:

    1. If the queue for Rita broke my spirit, The Smiler broke my nerve, with its astonishing sequence of 14 inversions: twisting, turning and looping passages of blinding speed interspersed with brief spells of calm as you’re hauled into position to be launched once more. An unbelievable whirlwind of a ride, the Smiler left me filled with dread. Quite, quite stunning!

    I was by now a straight 24 hours in and feeling slightly the worse for wear and in need of rest and recuperation. We ate. I think you can find food at Alton Towers a bit better than the burgers, but they filled a gap. The chips were cold though.

    By the afternoon Air was running again, so off we headed (which words make short work of even that short walk: the only thing as interminable at Alton Towers as the queueing is the walking- I’m sure a typical full day’s total walk at the park could easily total several miles). We made our attempt at Air in late afternoon. The park was busy at this peak time, naturally enough, and the rides’ queueing times signalled on boards stationed across the park showed that we could expect queues of at least 45 minutes on the big rides. Getting to Air we saw that we’d be queueing for about an hour and I realised I’d just had enough: though my nerve was a bit shaky, I could’ve done any of the rides (except The Smiler- I wasn’t going back on The Smiler that day!) if I could’ve just walked on to them. I just couldn’t face an hour-long queue for the sake of a quick thrill ride. Gav headed off for one last ride before closing time and I went off to find a place to sit and wait.

     Other attractions

    Headliners the roller coasters may be, but there are many other attractions at Alton Towers, many of which look to be adventure attractions aimed at kids. Gav and I took in a few of these different attractions as well as the rides. First, one we did in the early rides time because it neighbours its namesake- Nemesis:

    1. Reminiscent of the 1990s’ Alien War, Nemesis Sub-Terra is an immersive fright show involving walking about ‘under orders’, sitting down, and computer and other SFX. Worth seeing once if you’re a completist, otherwise, strictly teenage kicks; queue stalls looked quite small…

    The rest we similarly went on as we were walking between the big rides.

    1. Based on the Alton Village legend of the Chained Oak, Hex takes you inside the Gothic pile in another immersive themed walk-through and sit down. Don’t expect much in the way of trappings and staging, but Hex is the kind of experience you might want to repeat to get your head around it, so do expect to enjoy the attraction. Also, you'll probably never have to queue.
    1. Duel is a ghost train with added laser pistols, which I imagine can only be excellent more than once for the very young or excitable. Gav tanked me in the supernatural shoot out.
    1. One of 2 big water rides at Alton Towers, Congo River Rapids is gentle, relaxing fun with added splashes and water cannon. In addition the loading and unloading bay is a thing of mechanical ingenuity a delight to behold. Queue is long but fast-moving, so a half hour or so seems about right at peak times. Worth the wait because this really is a nice way to unwind from the thrills of the big rides.

    Favourites, favourites?

    At the end of a long, wearying day of thrills and delights I can say that I’ll be back at Alton Towers sometime in the future. It really is too good a day out to ignore. I plan on being better organised the next time I go. Meanwhile, if I had to favour one and only one ride out of those I rode last week, it’d have to be The Smiler.

    The madness that is The Smiler!

    Nemesis was a very close second, but The Smiler is now the ride that Nemesis was before that trip: the signal ride against which I would test my nerve. In any event, The Smiler also delivers more of what it is I think I like about these modern coasters: the disorienting horror of those impossible hi-speed inversions. Nemesis is faster, and more immersive- its location was blasted out of solid rock so that its setting is more than just the coaster’s structure itself, all of which gives it the edge on sheer intensity; but for nerve-jangling sensory overload you can’t beat The Smiler as it throws you up and down, around and around, over and under seemingly for ever, then tells you you’re only halfway.WOW!

    The sanity that is science

    What a brilliant day out, and all because I overcame my petty fears by putting my trust in science, engineering and good maintenance. ;)

  • My three year old wanted to play Ticket to Ride because he likes trains, so we worked out a variant together.

    Pick a color, grab all the trains, and pick a starting city. Each turn claim a route that has to start from the city you're currently "in". (You're actually moving from city to city, and since the game is supposed to be a race across North America, this is actually more realistic than the real game.) Put down the appropriate number of trains. No cards are used. Announce the city you're moving to.

    If the city has a baseball team, say what you think of the team, i.e. "Toronto Blue Jays are ok!" or "Boston Red Sox stink!"

    End game: someone runs out of trains and yells "I win!"

  • An interesting topic came up in the comments section and it's an area worth exploring.  Naming a game is a simple endeavor that carries far more weight and consequences than are readily apparent.  With the proliferation of Kickstarter, we are seeing more off-the-wall and ambitious naming conventions as designers are either afforded the breadth to take the risk, or lack the knowledge and experience to understand how their title will be perceived when viewed by someone unrelated to the project. 

    It is becoming increasingly popular for large publishers to push homogenized, direct titles which easily and sharply convey the theme of the design.  These types of titles inundate most people’s collections as games like "Stone Age", "Village", and "Cash 'n Guns" all have sold in vast quantities.  A bland and direct name aims to the lowest common denominator of understanding and seeks to attract more by turning away few.

    While the above is common wisdom, I've not been convinced this is such a clear cut issue.  I spend much of my free time scanning through BGG game forums looking for a discussion that interests me.  Intriguing and unique game titles often catch my eye and garner a look.  I first learned of "A Few Acres of Snow" due to seeing its name pop up which immediately demanded my attention.  If it was called "French-Indian War" I would never have halted my momentum and I never would have purchased the game.

    What is interesting is that I find 90% of my interaction with this hobby is occurring via text online. Not pictures, not video, and not browsing the offering at my FLGS. The majority of my board gaming consumption is occurring with information. If you’re delivering a hobby game not aimed at the mass market or fledgling gamers, I’d wager a paycheck a significant portion of your target audience exists under these same predilections. The implications are that the title of your game is your box cover. It needs to grab your viewer by his mullet and demand his attention. A game like “Village” is not going to punch me in the gut and swallow me whole as a bland, simple title will mentally correlate to a bland, uninspired design. Regardless of whether that is true or not, it is definitely a problem.  

    I'm clearly not the only one who falls under this umbrella as we see the notion expanded with the swell of Kickstarter releases where designers are shedding the restraints of traditional publishers.  A game like "...and then we held hands..." is drawing comments and forum posts simply due to its off-beat and frankly odd name.  Savvy (or perhaps just ignorant) designers are using unique names such as these as another marketing tool to create buzz and get noticed.  With the at times overwhelming release schedule swallowing the industry, this can only be good. 

    My own philosophy adheres to the belief that a game's name should be vibrant and interesting and worthy of the cardboard mechanics and bits it envelopes.  When naming my own prototypes I have spent several hours contemplating and mentally wrangling with different ideas for titles.  I've approached naming games like I would naming a piece of literature I've written, or a precisely composed song.  I've done this despite the fact that a publisher is going to rename the game anyway because, quite frankly, the game deserves it.  You're presenting an entire package to the publisher/consumer and the name is their first kiss.  If you want someone to give in to your design and fall in love, you damn well better deliver on that first intimate moment. 

  • Been a bit since i wrote one of these.

     The new game, per week thing failed. Sigh. Like one of those New Years fad diets, where have an epiphany one day with a spoon wrist deep in a tub of chocolate ice cream....


     That I do most of my gaming at work was complicating things. It's not just MY idea of what would be fun, we've had several game leagues float in and out, deadlines (Stop working and come play games!) only works so often, and random other crap.


     I'm still trying to play new games, but it's often playing games with people who have not played them. 


     Today at lunch I decided to play a game I knew I disliked, because the people playing it were 2 that I like alot, and are generally fun. Without mentioning specifics *(I'm not allowed to review games!)  it was worse than I recalled, fiddly and slow and something I am bad at. I was over the honeymoon of thinking, if I just tried, maybe I could see the overall 'shape' of things, and 'get it' and it would be fun. 


     I was consciously biting my lip and trying to avoid whining. Just because I am not having fun, no reason to ruin the game for the people who invited me to play.  I tried a few times (3 or 4) in the past, and then have been steadily declining the last few weeks. At one point, they showed I had been miscalcing things the entire game (language less symbology failure) and said 'Oh, I'm sorry, I should have noticed that' and I couldn't resist 'No worries, I won't be playing this again'. 


     Next week is a 'Fun' Convention and I'm packing up my car's backseat, writing my name on the inside lids in pencil, and looking forward to getting games in with people I don't know, or only see yearly at this con. It's not known for it's games (they have a single room with a ton of titles, which due to proximity and staff involvement with the convention, leans heavily toward FFG games - about 6 tables, and almost no scheduled things. I know a couple other gamers that will be there. I hope to get some of the longer ones in, maybe, maybe even Diplomacy. It's sometimes a mixed bag - but hopefully will be good time. I'll take pictures :)


    Also, as an edit- I have been doing a fair amount of gaming - just not new stuff. I'm in an every other week RPG for A Soon To Be Released title (it's not playtesting if it's off to the printers!), and played games 4 of 5 days at work this week (Take 6, 2 days of Red November, then Mystery Game today) . Even doing a bit of playtesting. Just... not new. 

  • There's a film about the well-known Belgian comic book Tintin in the cinemas at the moment. I have no idea about the states, but here in the UK you'd be hard-pressed not to know about this because there have been Tintin fans decrying it all over the media. It's been on national radio.  It's been on national TV. It's been in well-known national broadsheets, including this particularly egregious example. And it's making me increasingly angry.

    I don't know anything about Tintin. I've never been a fan, and I've only ever glanced at the comics. I have no particular interest in seeing the film and I'm content to accept the view of purists that, whatever its merits, it fails utterly to live up to the source material whilst remaining entirely unconcerned about these issues. So why am I bothering to blog about it? I'll tell you.

    Because it's nerd rage, that's why. It might not be the nerd rage that we're used to but whenever a particular fan-based leaps on something for being insufficiently pure and true to its source, that's basically still nerd rage.  And there's been nerd rage about any number of adaptations of superhero comics into film, nerd rage about popular fantasy and science fiction franchises such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Narnia Chronicles into film, nerd rage about CGI changes to classic films like Star Wars and nerd rage about other adoptions galore. The world is awash with nerd rage, all of it as heartfelt - and as nerdy - as those of anguished Tintin fans. 

    So why is it only Tintin nerd rage that makes it into national media? This is what makes me so furious. Why are Tintin nerds allowed all over the news, but fans of superheroes, science fiction and fantasy ignored?

    Well one possible answer is that Tintin is perceived by many - to paraphrase the author of the article I linked above - as 'great art'. Again, I know nothing about Tintin so I'll take his word for that. And seeing great art bought low is indeed a sad thing, which has been committed many times in the history of cinema when bringing classic plays and novels to the big screen. But while I accept that you'd have a hard time classifying a lot of favourite nerd properties as great art - I don't think Star Wars, for example, really deserves the label no matter how influential it is, then if Tintin is great art, so is Lord of the Rings, and Narnia, and Harry Potter, and the comics of Frank Miller and many other things that directors have crapped on over the years. So that answer doesn't cut it.

    You could also argue it's an issue of quality. After all most fanboys will admit that the current Batman films are superb. And whilst there are some question marks over the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I've raised myself in the past, at the bottom line it's certainly great cinematic entertainment on an epic scale. But the Tintin film has enjoyed a relatively smooth ride from the critics and the punters alike - for non-fans, it sounds like it's a pretty good flick. So that answer doesn't cut it either.

    Know what I reckon? I reckon it's a class thing. Superhero comics are dismissed en masse as junk by the intelligentsia. So is much of science-fiction and fantasy. Because the much of these genres consist of mindless pulp, the genuine art and intelligence they contain ends up getting tarred with the same brush. Critics have always been very sniffy about Tolkien. But Tintin gets a pass. Tintin harks back to Victorian adventure stories. Tintin is full of non-threatening white characters and has vaguely liberal-leftist leanings. Nice boys read Tintin. Yobs and scum read Superman and pulp horror.

    It's stereotyping, pure and simple. And it makes me sick.

  • It's that time of, uh, four or five weeks again. Time for the F:AT TITAN game to be renewed at ACTS . The last couple of games have ended with Anthony Santiago (Dr. Mabuse) mopping up the grisly piles left of his opponents.  Truth be told, he had to game a little for this last one, as his Titan stack took a thumping the early going, but he obviously came back.


    The trash talk is thick, like pool hall smoke. So far "slow bitches", "fucknits" [sic], and some Ric Flair quotes have made appearances. Also a lot of latent homosexuality--a lot. If that's your bag (let's go ahead and intend that pun), then by all means, drop in.


    I'm wearing Brown this game, so I go last, which should make turn reviews a little easier.  Black and Gold both got the nifty Troll/Lion recruits, but Gold had give up Titan vs. Angel info for it (rolled a 6 and teleported).  Green has bucked the trend and split Centaurs. It's working so far, he managed Troll/Cyclops. I probably wound up with the worst of the turn with Garg/Garg, but I'm in OK shape for Cycs at least.


    There's concern in 6-person TITAN games that all the Gargs will get mustered early--it's already a little dicey on that front-there are only 5 left.


    If anyone would like to learn how to play this great game, shoot me a PM. I'll get another game set up with some experienced regulars and we'll tak you through it. In the last year, I've gone from "What is TITAN?" to losing terribly in the annual online FITS tournament. You too can enjoy this kind of progress--don't be shy!


    --Turn 2--

     Black rolls a 6 for movement and gets all pissy about it. He gets only Ogre for Ogre in the Hills. No game breaker this early--folks don't want a big 7 on 5 fight this early because it will do a real number on your attacking stack. Even though you'd win, you might only have a 3-stack at the end of it. Too risky. Blue just gets a Cyclops, Red ends up with Cyclops/Troll, and Green gets Warlock/Troll. This whole split Centaur things is coming up roses for Mr. Green. Gold gets only Lion and I wind up with Cyclops/Cyclops with my normally-disappointing-unless-trying-to-get-into-a-Tower roll of 1. The board is weirdly crowded at the "top" (Tower 400 in ACTS), and I might split early (into 4-2 instead of 5-2) next turn if I can get away with it.  


    --Turn 3--

    Black doesn't get to complain anymore. Look at this shit:

    Black Axes musters Minotaur with 3 Ogres (7) in H4

    That's a big pile of bullshit right there. It's Turn 3, for fuck's sake. FUCK.  Not only that, he nestled his 6 and 7 stack right up my Antlers stack's urethra. I'm contemplating an early demise more than a 4-2 split at this point. He gets a Lion with the other stack. Blue just gets a Lion, but mostly because Red's Cross stack is right in front of him on the Outer Lane.  Red draws the first no-muster turn. Interestingly, he left his Outer Lane Cross stack blocking Blue, so some bad blood could get cooked up there. Of course, all TITAN players are gentlemen and I'm sure this will be resolved cordially and with a minimum of undo distraction. Green gets Ogre with Ogre (Zzzz),  Gold pairs his Troll, but the rolls aren't letting him double-recruit, and I of course, get the shaft. I get another Cyc for a Cyc in one stack, but my other has the option of attacking a 6-stack of Mr. Black's or potentially getting attacked by a 7-stack of Black's with a Minotaur in it already. No thanks.


    --Turn 4--

    This turn is a little boring. Something bad is going to happen soon, and it could have been me that went down, as Black opted to not kick my ass, and instead move along the Outer Lane. Black pairs his Lion. Blue gets bupkis. Red has the best mustering turn, Ranger (Trolls) and Lion (Centaurs). Green splits--and gets bupkis. Gold gets a double-muster (finally), but it's just Troll and Centaur. I have a 7-stack on the Outer Lane, 5 away from nearest stack, so I decide to split 5/2. Only one stack will get to move, because I'm not on a hex that would let me into the Middle Path. I roll shittily and get to take my 5 down the OL, and send my 6-stack into the Middle Path. Black promises we'll meet later. O frabjous day. 


    --Turn 5--

    Still waiting for the first blowout--it's going to come soon. There's starting to be a nasty degree of asymmetry in the legions. A couple of bad mustering rounds and you look vulnerable. Land of some bad terrain and you could see a 7 on 5 pretty easily. Black double-splits and gets three musters for his troubles:  Gargoyle (4 left!), Troll (from Ogres split out of the Axes legion), and a Ranger. Axes is the nastiest legion on the board at current. It can develop in both trees at the second layer and can really work the Hills. He's got it nestled against a Tower now, probably hoping for a 1 to get a Warlock in there too. Blue gets a Ranger and pairs its Cyclopes. Red also double-splits and musters like Blue. Green rolls a 4 and eats shit. GOLD, meanwhile, GOLD SPLITS LIKE A DOUCHE. Who splits 5 off of 2? Come on! Anyway, he's punished for it and gets nothing. Here's the board when my turn starts:

    Wheat and Figurehead are in the Outer Lane and can't do anything but plod along. Antlers is in the Middle Path and has a couple of options, but one sends it headlong into Gold's... shit. Looking at this now I realized I played my turn based off this screenshot from Red's turn--not Gold's. I thought I'd be attacking Gold's 7-stack if I went into the Woods--but it would have been easy pickins on his 2-stack. Well, fuck a duck. I'm an asshole. Gold may split like a douche, but I play like one. Anyway, my arrow drawing was prophetic, I rolled a four and moved as noted--getting bupkis.  I'm nestled against the Tower, but I don't think Green will tangle 6-on-6 just for fun. We'll see.


    --Turn 6--

    First Battle! A 7-on-4 in the Hills.  Kind of a neat fight actually. Black is defending with Tro Ogr Ogr Ogr--and Ogre's are native on the slopes--they strike as 7-2 down slope and cause opponents to lose a skill factor striking up (assuming opponent is non-native). Blue's attacking stack is Cen Cen Gar Lio Lio Rgr Ttn--Lions are also native to slopes. The Centaurs and Rangers attack as 3-3 and 4-3 respectively "uphill" when trying to get Ogres. Not so hot. Black started a little slow, getting poked by the Rgr and then only getting 2 for 15 dice needing 5 to hit (one would expect 5 hits.) The Ranger had the magic, I think it missed only 1 hit in the 13 dice it was involved in throwing. It took 1 hit early from an Ogre and then got smacked out by a lucky 3 hits from a Troll in a retaliation round, eliminating it. Blue is coming out with the win, but Black took some damage to his Titan stack, with only Ttn Gar Cen Lio Lio left at the end (and that second Lio took a little gamesmanship, as Anthony (Black) accidently rolled a to-hit of 5 when he should have rolled at 3. He adds the Angel for a good stack. 52 points gained, and 28 pts "lost". He can still muster on both branches, but he'd better pair that Gargoyle soon before they're gone.


    Red rolls a 1 and moseys two stacks into Towers, getting a Warlock and an Ogre for his troubles. Green suffers the bane of the early 6-player game--the big movement roll. He spins a 5, gets a Centaur, but notes the crowding (FORESHADOWING). Gold rolls a 4,  and has to plow a Legion headlong into someone's stack so he can muster nicely in the mountains! He sends two Ogres to their death--at the hand of Blue! Who's now got 72 points and can get an Angel pretty soon. Meanwhile, Green squatted on the Tower, so I have to move my 6-stack elsewhere. I head towards the Inner Circle and get a Lion. I luck out in the Outer Lane and get one stack buffed with a Troll, and the other set up to enter the Middle Field, assuming it doesn't get slapped by Red coming out. 

  • Every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I have my local gamestore owner over for dinner, as he is family-less, and I figure any sucking up I can do may get me some discounts on games .

    Today, as always he shows up with with his usual donation to our dinner, a frozen, purchased, cheesecake and a case of Bud Light.

    He then turns to me and tells me he has to go out to the car and get something else.

    What? Says I.

    Titan he says with a shit eating grin and a wink!
  • Thank you for your generous gift of the D&D Adventure Board Game.  After getting it and doing an inventory of its missing parts, I made it an effort to make it whole, by photocopying tokens and cards and mounting them on cardboard.  I also replaced some of the missing figures with generic fantasy miniatures (two were missing out of the entire set you sent me) and remade the DM's Guide and Player's Guide from scans off of BGG.

    But all that work paid off in spades. I was skimming through the DM's Guide at bedtime and The Boy cuddled next to me and started reading along with me.  After a moment, I asked him the question.

    "Do you want to play this tomorrow?"


    Now, I know my son.  I tried to hold my enthusiasm, because he does try new games that I have, even some in his age range.  But somehow, they don't really grab his attention and I let him do other things after he loses interest.

    Let me tell you, that did not happen last night.  I laid out the boards for the first scenario and read the back story to him.  I could hear him trill in anticipation.  He was like a bottle rocket ready to explode.

    Then he entered his first room and encountered his first goblin. 

    He did pretty well, with a little assistance from me.  He caught on rather quickly and was taking down goblins like a champ.  It warmed the cockles of my heart when I told him how to loot the treasure chests.  "I LOOT THE TREASURE!!!!" was his rallying cry.

    He was a bit overeager in opening new rooms, and splitting the party (a huge no no).  Regdar was a true goblin slayer and Finder of Traps (the hard way).  Regdar died in the final room, but it was all good.  Jozan came up and healed him back to goblin kicking mode, laying waste to the last goblin who was severely messed up by Acid Arrow Queen.

    After the the scenario was completed, I asked him if he wanted to continue to play the next scenario tomorrow.  He, of course, agreed.

    So, in the end.  Thank you very much, Space Ghost.