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  • Trying to save some nerds at Ars Technica

  • TToA Playtest, Arise!

    Well, 6 months after getting publisher feedback, I finally finished revising Thrilling Tales of Adventure! It was a lot of work, taking up every last minute of spare time that was already at a premium since we had welcomed a new addition to the family in December. The biggest change was throwing out the old movement system and replacing it with one that would theoretically tie in better to the other game systems, but I made a host of other changes as well. I brought the map size down about 20% to open up more table space, redesigned the basic card layout, and tweaked nearly every other aspect of the game in some way.

    I decided to produce two prototypes at the same time, and with the generous production assistance of some of my students, finished them up earlier this week. Then, on this past Wednesday and Thursday nights, we ran two playtest sessions concurrently.

    The first night took the wind out of my sails, since the new movement system generated a number of problems. It's definitely easier and more  intuitive than the old one, but there were still issues with getting around and completing Adventures within the prescribed turn time limits. A couple of players had frustrating experiences, which I tend to take pretty hard because I'm so concerned with people having a good time. By the end of the Wednesday session I was demoralized, thinking about cancelling the Thursday night session, and contemplating giving up on the whole project altogether.

    Luckily my students encouraged me not to give up, pointing out the positive aspects of the design and the ways in which they hadbeen having fun. They convinced me to carry on with the Thursday session. I went home, thought about what short-term changes I could make to the design, and came back the next night with notes and newly-printed combat tables in hand.

    I'm happy to report that the Thursday session went much, much better. There are still some issues, but a few small changes steered us clear of what had been disastrous about the movement system the previous night. One of the two games was taken to the end, coming down to a face-off between Rockwell Jones and the Arch Villain Baron Zero in his fortress in the Gobi Desert with the military occupation of Eurasia in the balance. It was right down to the last die roll, and Rockwell won it.

    We had to cut the other game short  at 1a.m., but the Heroes had a satisfying final Adventure that took them into the depths of the Earth beneath Atlantis, where they fought Mole Men and the Death Sphinx before defeating General Midnight in his subterranean bunker. That game took longer because it was a learning game with four players who had never played before.

    So, overall, it turned out for the better. People were having a lot of fun, there was a lot of laughter, and a lot of dramatic tension. After collecting everyone's feedback and seeing how the new systems work (or don't), I am once again faced with the task of producing another prototype. Luckily it will be a case of tweaking everything that's already there, so it won't be as big a production as this last version was, but it will probably still take me another couple of months. In the meantime, the two prototypes that I do have are workable, and we'll continue to test them as we have the opportunity. Onward!

    Many thanks to all of my awesome students and friends who have contributed their time, effort, and encouragement to this crazy project!

  • TToA Playtest: Vol. I, Chapter 1

    Herewith is the first installment of attempt to document a recent playtest session in its entirety. I'm going to try to keep it narrative, but actual cards titles will be indicated by boldtype, and notes on mechanics will be appear in brackets throughout. After the last chapter runs, I'll post a rundown of the positive and negative conclusions we drew from the playtest. If you're not familiar with my game, here's its page on BGG .


  • TToA Playtest: Vol. I, Chapter 2

    Read chapter 1 here



    Meanwhile, in a cluttered Magician's Garret [Home Base] in snowy Petrograd, the Amazing Uri is rehearsing his magic act when his concentration is broken by insistent knocking. Irritated, he throws opens the door only to find the hall empty, but notices an envelope at his feet. Inside are a handful of ruble notes, about which Uri immediately notices something strange: on the face of every bill is an engraved portrait of what looks like an American gangster.

    Intrigued by the obviously Counterfeit Cash, Uri throws on his overcoat, checks to make sure the Pistol in his coat pocket is loaded, and catches a carriage to the local Newspaper Office, to consult with his contacts there. No sooner has he entered the newsroom when a monstrous creature lurches out of the stairwell in the hall and crashes through the door after him. Uri nimbly evades the thing's clumsy first strike as a roomful of stunned reporters look on, and a flashbulb goes off as one quick-thinking photographer captures the action on film [By attacking here, the Arch Villain takes advantage of  the Newspaper Office's "Infamy" effect, which grants extra Villainy points].

    "Am I not beautiful?" cries the monster as more flashes go off. "So what if everything but my head came from other bodies!" [This quote is the flavor text for this Minion, Maldehyde's Bride]

    As a typing machine flies past his head, Uri realizes with a shock that his foe is female - if that word could fairly be used to describe a patchwork assembly of mismatched limbs. Regaining his composure in the midst of the chaos, he further understands himself to be the quarry of the abominable Amazon, and that the best way to avoid unnecessary injury to onlookers would be to make a quick exit. The next time a flashbulb goes off, there is a puff of sulfurous smoke, and the Amazing Uri is nowhere to be seen [After two rounds of combat, Uri makes use of his "Puff of Smoke" special ability].

    As the staff runs screaming from the building, Uri emerges from a broom closet in the basement and takes a survey of his surroundings. Some dark smudges on a wall near the coal chute appear on closer examination to be large Fingerprints, no doubt left by the shambling she-devil as she staggered into the building. In the snow outside, he finds a trail of oversized footprints and sets off to trace them to their point of origin.

    Within a few blocks he has reached the service entrance of Petrograd Hospital, whence the monster appears to have begun its trek. He draws his pistol, slips inside, and stealthily climbs a set of stairs to find himself near the entrance to an operating room. As he edges closer to the doors in order to peer through one of the portholes, a shadow moves across his field of vision.

    Someone is behind him!


    Tune in next time for another exciting episode of Thrilling Tales of Adventure! 

  • TToA Playtest: Vol. I, Chapter 3

    Read the first chapter here .

    Read the previous chapter here


    The deafening roar of gunfire fills the hospital halls, and a spray of bullets tears across the wall, drawing a ragged line of death where Uri had stood just a second before. The magician, having dived to the floor at the last possible instant, rolls to face the direction of the gunfire and fires off two shots before he can even get a clear look at his assailant. A Thompson submachine gun clatters to the tiles and its owner, a Gun Moll, slides down beside it, her trench coat stained with blood. Uri reflects for a puzzled moment on the fact that he has been assaulted by two women in the same evening. [Uri wins this Challenge in one round, getting a lucky roll with his pistol against the Gun Moll's "Tommy Gun" ability].

    Knowing that anyone in the vicinity would respond quickly to the sound of gunfire, Uri leaps through the doors to the operating theater in hopes of surprising any foes within, and finds himself face to face with none other than Boss Dollar, the notoriously vain and well-dressed kingpin of crime.

    "When my work is done here, the only face you'll see on a ruble is MINE!" hollers Dollar, squeezing off a few shots from his gold-plated .45 into the plume of acrid smoke that billows where Uri stood an instant before. The overhead lights flicker and go black, plunging the room into darkness [Uri uses his special ability on the first round of the Challenge]

    "Where'd ya go, Russkie?" shouts the kingpin.

    Suddenly anxious, he pats his jacket, feeling for something that was just there am oment ago. "Hey! My rocks! MY ROCKS!"

    Enraged, he starts firing blindly into the dark, turning the room into a deafening echo chamber. 

    Uri crouches down behind the printing press that takes up one half of the operating theater as bullets ricochet off of it. He hefts the fist-sized package purloined from Boss Dollar's vest pocket before slipping out the door on the far side of the theater.

    Two mounted police officers clatter to a halt and dismount outside the hospital's front entrance on Liteinuy Street just as Uri dashes down the steps.

    "Gentlemen," the magician says calmly, holding his hands in the air as the policemen reach for their sidearms, "If you move quickly and with care, you will find within the American embodiment of vanity and greed – a man driven tonight by these twin evils to perpetrate more than one crime against the pride of Petrograd!"

    Uri opens his left hand, and dozen golden bullets cascade into the snow at his feet. A small burlap pouch appears suddenly in his right hand, and he tosses it towards the nearest policeman, who catches it.

    "Luckily, he is now both out of ammunition and in need of funds for his enterprise."

    Both officers, their eyes momentarily drawn to the thrown package, are shocked to see no trace of the stranger when they look back to the place where he stood only seconds before.

    The officer with the pouch empties it into one gloved hand. Something sparkles in the light of the nearby streetlamp.

    "What is it?" Asks the other policeman.

    "Rocks. No… wait. Diamonds! Uncut Diamonds!"

    Flakes of snow catch and dissolve on the cluster of stones in his hand.


    Tune in next time for another exciting episode of Thrilling Tales of Adventure! 

  • TV Blog: Dr Who & The Pacific

    With the relative calm of a four-day bank holiday giving us a little time to sort out baby stuff and sit down and watch some TV, we got the chance to catch up with some of the big new shows over the weekend.

    First was the new series of Dr. Who with a new face for the doctor and a new head writer. I had my doubts about Matt Smith as the Doctor, especially following in the footsteps of David Tennant who has seriously got to be a contender for the best Time Lord ever, but on the whole the episode delivered. Smith's take on the character doesn't seem to be quite as compelling or believable as Tennant's but it's solid and has it's own unique angle, painting a personality that is both child-like and slightly psychotic. I was also impressed by his new companion, Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, if for nothing else than her brilliant wide-eyed, hard-mouthed "shocked face" which simultaneously conveys surprise, fear, awe, and a serious intention to kick whatever caused the shock in the bollocks if it comes any closer. This being Dr Who and she being a poor ignorant earth-girl she got to use the face a lot. Surprisingly, given that the new head writer, Stephen Moffat, delivered some of the best episodes of the previous series, I was a lot less impressed with his work here. The aliens - a giant eyeball and a monster eel that could apparently hang in mid-air and travel around without the aid of arms, legs, wings or other appendages (we never got to see it's rear end) - were a bit silly. And although the episode plot hung together well, I couldn't quite believe the clumsy handling of the meta-plot for the series arc, something that was handled with incredible subtlety in previous runs. Having the first episode talking about "falling silence" and "cracks in time and space" is the dialogue equivalent of smacking the audience in the face with a plank.

    I'd been waiting for The Pacific ever since it was announced many years ago. Watching the first two episodes it's clear that the team behind it took some of the criticism of Band of Brothers to heart and worked hard on ensuring the new series didn't fall into the same trap. Each episode is now introduced with a short history lesson narrated by Tom Hanks in order to set the scene, which I found a huge boon since my knowledge of the war in the Pacific is very poor compared to my understanding of the war in Europe. It also focusses down on a much smaller number of characters, three main ones and a small cast of their closest companions, which makes it a lot easier to follow. The characterisation, historical accuracy and action sequences were all very much up to the standard set by it's predecessor and yet on the whole I felt The Pacific fell slightly short of the benchmark set by the previous series. Why? On reflection I think it's very simple: whatever the flaws introduced by trying to writer a series about an entire company of soldiers, Band of Brothers simply seemed to hang together better as a story about a group of people that slowly evolved together as they travelled and fought through Europe. It simply offers a more cohesive emotional and historical narrative. In The Pacific the action takes place against the backdrop of the entire 1st Marine Division and the story of the War in the Pacific as a whole is lost because from the Marine's point of view, it was a series of isolated island landings, which makes it feel more impersonal and punctuated.

    Still, the criticisms of both are relatively minor. They're well worth watching and you can bet I'll be sitting down to the remaining episodes of both whenever I get the time.

  • Twilight Imperium @ the WBC 2009

    This is the stuff you have been waiting for.

  • Twilight Once after Twilight

  • Twilight Twice after Twilight

    Now that my daughter is a little older and life is a little less fraught I find that I have enough free time to go out and game on a fairly regular basis - about once a month, sometimes twice if I'm lucky. So what with this being a blog and all I figured it was probably about time I actually used it like a blog and do what all blog writers do and bore you to tears with irrelevant and pointless observations about the minutiae of my daily life. Or at least do this after each time I go out and get some gaming in. I know this is "just" a blog post rather than a custom-written front page article but I'm sticking it on the front page anyway for two reasons - firstly as a heads-up to everyone that I'm going to be posting these things once or twice a month and secondly because I have the power to inflict my inane ramblings on you lot at the click of a button so I'm damn well going to use it. I love admin rights.

  • Two game nights

    From the past couple of weeks... 

    Dead of Night

    A couple two-player games at my friend's place. He made absurdly delicious Mexican food (tortilla chicken casserole main, intense home made salsa) which we enjoyed with fresh margaritas, and a crisp German beer I've been enjoying recently (Holsten). First scenario: We tried to make a quick escape from the zombie horde by hotwiring the car. The hotwiring worked, but since the car was a mini and since we didn't do anything to clear zeds away from the exit the car was overwhelmed by a mob and it crashed. I consider it a victory that we managed to slide out of the car and escaped back to the house alive. The new plan was to hide in a washroom until sunrise when the army would arive. But just as I got the house I got grabbed and chomped, and spent the next few rounds trying to delay my inevitable transformation into a zed. It didn't take long. Second scenario: We had much more success here. When we arrived in the mini, we drove around the area running zeds over (my friend is a Car Wars freak, so that strategy came naturally). Then we each found fire axes and were able to make short work of the zeds with those.  Music: various horror soundtracks, tunes from some Swedish death metal band (forget the name) that produced an album of horror music.

    Battlestar Galactica

    Played at my &  my partner's place with 3 other friends. Since I was still thinking about the awesome Mexican food from the previous week, I decided to try to make something like that. Baked enchilada burritos, a few different fresh salsas, a couple of salads, organge/mango spritzers, Holsten. The food worked out really well. It was the first time playing BSG for our three friends, so we decided to shorten the game a bit (humans win if they jump after reaching 6 distance, sleeper phase at 3 distance). For the first half of the game the friends were a bit overwhelmed with the rules and details, but by the second half they were really into it. I was a human Baltar, and I knew that Agathon was a cylon. But I didn't realize that my parter was the other cylon, which sucked for us humans because she was Saul and had both president and admiral titles. Agathon revealed and dropped a massive assault super crisis card on us at a time when we already had 2 fucking basestars on the board and centurions close to the end of the track. Humans had no chance, especially since one of us was Boomer in the brig. It was the centurions who got us in the end. It was awesome, and the friends liked it. The next game will go much better now that the learning curve is over . One of my friends brought a bunch of fresh cherries which were surprisingly yummy with the after dinner scotch I was drinking. Music: various Brazillian tunes (album of tunes selected by David Byrne), PJ Harvey, Bob Dillan, Chet Baker, Coltrane.

    Next up: Napoleon's Triumph

  • Two military (more or less) problems for historical game designers: pushing barbarians, and tribute

    Two military/political aspects of the ancient world hold a fascination for me, because I've not found or seen a really satisfactory way to represent them in games.  These are the problems of "the bump" and of tribute.

    The Bump
    The first of these is what I call "the bump" or the push.  This is the way that horse barbarians migrating out of Central Asia pushed other barbarians before them.  Sometimes the pushing continued until ultimately some of them crossed over the borders of the civilized world.  For example, the Huns pushed the Goths into the Roman Empire in the late fourth century A.D., and helped push the Vandals/Alans/Sueves/Allamanni/Franks as well.

    In historical games that have the benefit (or curse) of hindsight/foresight often the player representing the Goths, knowing the Huns are coming, moves into the Roman Empire on his own.  But in terms of causality that is backwards, a flaw that's a consequence of putting history into repeatable gameplay.  Also there can be cases where the player is not certain that the Huns (or whoever) are coming, or are coming immediately (this turn).  But there's rarely a mechanism in games to enable the Goths to react immediately according to what the Huns do.

    If the nation is not allowed to vacate an area until actually attacked then some of the hindsight/foresight problem goes away.  But if they're not allowed to flee and attack somebody farther up the line that we don't have a true bump.

    I have tried various rules that allow horse units to withdraw from combat without fighting and move to another adjacent area to cause a fight there, more or less replicating the pushing action, the bump, on the steppe.  But this can be complex and time-consuming whken there are multiple simultaneous bumps, and I've never found it satisfactory; and it doesn't reflect more subtle pushes that affect foot barbarians farther on (the other Germans).

    Confederations and Submissions
    Associated with this problem is the problem of shifting tribal confederations.  Historians believe that the typical large tribal groups that attacked civilized areas were confederations made up of many tribes, including tribes of varying ethnicities.  So the Huns were not all Mongols - or is it Turks, nobody's really sure - but some were Iranians (Sarmatians, Alans) and some were other peoples that they'd picked up in their travels.  The Franks were a confederation of many tribes, although probably all German tribes.  The Vandals famous for sacking Rome in 455 A.D. were actually much more complex, with two kinds of Vandals plus hangers-on from other tribes including even the Iranian Alans.  Along with them into Iberia came the Suevi who were themselves a confederation of Marccomani and Quadi (IIRC), but again mostly Germans.
    This also extends to the long-term submission of one barbarian tribe to another, as of the Germanic Gepids to the Huns.  (A confederation including Gepids finally took down the Hun empire after the death of Attila.  The Lombards and Avars later did away with the Gepids.)  Yes, there are submission rules in Britannia, but those don't reflect the reality that tribes submitted to the Huns made up a considerable part of Attila's force that invaded Gaul in 451.

    How do we represent the coming together (and sometimes coming apart) of these tribal confederations?  How do we keep track of who is who?  How do we decide when a tribe submits and when it unsubmits?
    The second fascinating aspect of the ancient world is the interaction between tribute and control, especially in the ancient Near East.  It seems that most warfare was not actually intended to conquer new land but only to raid adjacent nations into submission, both to gather loot and so that the victims would peaceably pay tribute in the future.  The Assyrian empire especially was known for this, and only gradually did they take full control of areas they raided as their tributaries again and again reneged on their promises, especially when a new king came to power.  Typically an Assyrian king went on campaign almost every year in order to chastise some opponent by raiding their lands.  Sometimes the Assyrian kings raised stele that described in detail the loot they received in the tribute they extracted.  And when the king died it was often necessary for his successor to go back and raid areas that had been tributary but stopped as soon as the strong King passed away.  In most ancient Near Eastern empires the borders we see on maps represent tributary areas rather than a year-round control, though a few maps differentiate the two as best we can with limited knowledge. 
    In the Middle Ages, Charlemagne's Empire had some aspects of that tributary nature, but this often took the shape of feudal military obligations rather than actual payment of money and goods. And once the empire was no longer expanding, no longer collecting loot for the army, those obligations were more often not fulfilled.  In contrast, in "modern" (post-Medieval) times in European warfare nations nibbled at the borders of their opponents, taking control of fortresses and small areas, or colonies overseas, and rarely resorted to tribute.  Only occasionally as in the partitions of Poland did the attackers conquer large areas.
    The Assyrians resorted to mass exportations of population to help gain control of new lands.  In the end perhaps there just weren't enough Assyrians to control all that they had, and when there was a long fight over the succession after the death of a strong ruler such as Ashurbanipal, this could drag the Empire down, to the point that it was destroyed by its many enemies in the late seventh century BC.  Thereafter there were still people around who called themselves Assyrians, and to this day there are people in Iraq and elsewhere in the region who call themselves Assyrians and proudly hearken back to the Assyrian Empire, but there's never been an Assyrian state of any note since 605 BC.

    In an ancient Near Eastern game I'm working on I have a simple tribute mechanism, that armies can temporarily vacate an area (which is not normally allowed) in order to attack an adjacent area and extract tribute, afterward returning to the areas they came from.  The owner of the raided area can decide to fight or can simply give up the tribute, which is one victory point to the attacker but no loss to the defender.  It's the no loss to the defender that doesn't quite fit the historical situation, but in this game the economy is very simple and it's not worth trying to represent economically that the area was raided.  The very long time scale - the game covers about 2,200 years in less than three hours for 3-5 players - makes it difficult to represent something that changed year-by-year in actual history.

    For whatever reasons the ancients were not inclined to completely destroy enemy cities the way the Romans destroyed Carthage in 146 BC and Corinth in Greece in the same year (when he entered Corinth "Mummius put all the men to the sword and sold the women and children into slavery before he torched the city").  A common culture may have contributed to ancient reluctance; I think the Assyrians were more willing to destroy cities of enemies who were not part of the ancient Near Eastern culture dating back to old Babylonia and Sumeria.  The Greeks may have had similar reasons not to destroy cities.  The Spartans refused to destroy Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War, but Alexander the Great - a Macedonian, which is somewhat different from a Greek though the Macedonians liked to think they were Greeks - razed Thebes to the ground after the Greeks rebelled at his accession.  On the other hand, centuries earlier the Spartans had destroyed Messenia and enslaved the entire population, who nonetheless retained their identity as Messenians.

    All of this can come into play in the great mystery of history, the extraordinary effect that good or bad leadership can have in ancient (and medieval) times.  Assyria fell when a three-way succession struggle following the death of a strong leader went on too long, but it wasn't the first time Assyria had suffered because of doubtful succession.  The Roman Empire's great problem was the succession, and I wonder if more Romans were killed by one another in succession struggles than were killed fighting barbarians.  Again and again and again you see the vast difference between outstandingly good and outstandingly poor leadership.  I have leaders in Britannia, but their effect is not massive on its own; the Major Invasions have a much greater effect, and those are sometimes a result of leadership.  In the much-shorter version of Britannia that I intend to be one of the new editions, you can only move half your armies when you don't have a great leader, a stronger effect added to the leader's bonus in battle.

  • Two Rooms, a Boom, and a Great Damn Game - 2R1B Review

    Hidden suicide bombers, conniving spies, infectious disease, and an evil timer that slams your head into the ground while all you want is a moment of clarity to speak with your team? Hell yes, I’m in. In the realm of social deduction games, if The Resistance was Stone Age then Two Rooms and a Boom (2R1B) is The Manhattan Project; It is sleek, sexy, and most importantly – a deep and dynamic experience.


    In its simplest form, 2R1B is elegant and easy to understand. You receive a face-down card identifying you as a member of the Red or Blue team and then are randomly assigned to one of two playing areas (the “Two Rooms” part of the title). Mixed in amongst the Red members is a Bomber, and amid the Blues is a President. Members of the room are selected to be traded to the other room (“Hostages”) at the end of each of the five rounds of the game by an elected Leader of the room. If at the end of the final round the President is in the same room as the Bomber, Red team wins, otherwise Blue rejoices in victory.


    The wrinkles come in the form of the five rounds being timed, and getting successively shorter – the first round is 5 minutes, then 4 minutes, then 3, and so on. The Leader of the room is the first person to be nominated at the beginning of the game, but can be usurped by a player starting a vote and gaining majority. Strategically, all of this leads to an experience where you attempt to identify your teammates early, isolate the key roles, and take control of the room so that you can manipulate the Hostage trading.


    The fundamental twist in this game that separates it from its peers is that there are rules in place to facilitate identifying your teammates through hard evidence – players can reveal their role cards to each other. This is very different from most games in this genre that rely on you convincing another player purely through social means that you can be trusted. What this does is provide a stable platform of strategy discussion as you include allies in your plotting and attempt evil machinations to plant spies in the enemy’s group.


    The mechanics in place grease the wheels of role revealing in an interesting way by giving limited power to disseminate what you know, while also causing you to second guess if you’re making the right move. You are allowed to share your role card with other players in very specific ways. The most common way to do this is to agree to co-reveal your card with another player, which involves you both temporarily trading cards and looking at the role of the guy next to you – it’s a consensual reveal that has to be adhered to if agreed upon. You can also privately show someone your card without reciprocation. Finally, if you’re jacked up on liquid courage you may decide to publicly show your card to multiple players (or the entire room even). One key aspect to understand related to the different reveals is that in a game of 11+ players, you may do any of the above actions and only show the color of your card, or you know, you can still show your entire card to someone if you like to walk the line and live dangerously (“Seatbelts are for suckers!”)


    So now that we’re jamming and you understand the rules of the game and some elements of the strategy involved, let’s crank it to 11 – the game has dozens and dozens of special roles boasting powers which break the rules and blow your mind in interesting ways. The full experience involves using multiple special roles once you’ve become acclimated to the rules, and the effect on strategy and negotiation is tremendous. Many of the roles should be introduced to the game in pairs or like groups, as they features new concepts and ideas that play off each other. One early such group is the Doctor and Engineer. The President begins this game ill and must co-reveal with the Doctor before the end of the game, otherwise the President dies regardless of the Bomb. Likewise, the Engineer must co-reveal with the Bomber before end-game in order to repair the Bomb so it may go off. This is the first pair you’re probably going to throw in and the subtle effect of encouraging co-revealing will become readily apparent.


    Another great set of roles are the Red and Blue Shy Guys. Each team starts with a Shy Guy on their team, and Shy Guys are not allowed to reveal any part of their card to anyone.


    “Ben, want to color reveal and see if we’re on the same team?”


    “I can’t, I’m the Red Shy Guy”


    “Huh? But Jeremy said he was the Red Shy Guy when I was in the other room!”


    The Shy Guys bring a great deal to the game through allowing others to bluff. Other rules interacting perfectly with the Shy Guys are Criminals who make other people Shy when they co-reveal, Psychologists who cure the “Shy” status, and Negotiators who may only do a co-reveal (no Color or Public reveals). Playing with all of these “Shy” status roles quickly alters the game space so that you now have to be careful who you reveal with as you don’t want to be duped into seeing the other team’s Criminal when you thought he was the Negotiator. What about when the Doctor is dicked over by a Criminal before he’s co-revealed with the President? Exactly.


    There are an enormous amount of roles in the game and most all can be viewed in the current print and play set available on Tuesday Knight’s site, which I highly recommend you check out. You will see fan favorites like the Devil who must always tell a lie (“Brice, want to co-reveal?” “Noooo”), Spies whose color on their card matches the enemy’s color, and many more that completely change up the game and the way you approach it.


    One final aspect of the roles that I must touch on are the Gray roles. The Gray roles are neutral to Red and Blue and contain their own win conditions. For instance, before the final round the Gambler must publicly announce who they think will win the game. If they are correct then they win, otherwise they lose. The Gambler is the simplest, but there are several combinations of Gray cards that play off each other in interesting ways. We see this with the Intern and Victim who want to end the game in the same room as the President and Bomber, respectively. Besides being interesting to play, the neutral roles allow the opportunity for Red or Blue to negotiate and form temporary alliances with the Gray members to achieve majority of votes for a new leader or trade information. If the Victim finds himself in a Red controlled room early, he may agree to work with them for the rest of the game if they can assure they will send him to the room with the bomber. Ad-hoc agreements like this run rampant and are sometimes betrayed upon. This is absolutely fantastic in play as you juggle all of these different elements in your head while trying to quickly figure out who your team is sending to the opposite room before the hammer of the timer falls and you need to make your selection.


    I believe my enthusiasm is readily apparent, but I do wish to make one thing clear; this game seems to thrive on a larger crowd. While my experience of playing with 10 or less was only a couple of games, it was readily apparent that selecting a good mix of roles and establishing the right atmosphere for that few of people was difficult. We identified quickly that we preferred the 11+ player game (with color revealing) and I’d caution anyone who would be picking this up just to play with a local small group. The game is also susceptible to becoming derailed if a single player loses their cool or misunderstands a key rule about their role. This is a catch that exists in all social deduction games of this nature but it is something that you should be aware of when explaining the rules.


    The bottom line is that with a suitably sized group this game is rock solid and brings a pure element of social deduction while offering endless replayabilty through a multitude of game changing roles. After playing this for several hours straight with a large group, we were absolutely enamored and wanted to keep going. If you read my previous review for the recently released Mascarade, you will remember I suggested that it would likely be my top game of 2013. While I still love Mascarade, that previous comment only remains true because Two Rooms and Boom will not officially be released until next year.


    Additional reviews and articles by Charlie Theel can be viewedhere.

  • Ugly duckling MYTHGARDIA turns out to be a swan


  • UK Games Expo: New games, old handshakes

    This weekend I went along to the UK Games Expo in Birmingham. The expo aims to be a UK alternative to Essen and is now in its third year. It provides a mix of gaming: board games, RPGs, CCGs, miniatures gaming and even a couple of rooms of video gaming, including a Sega Master System. It had the feel of a busy trade fair. Those looking for quiet open gaming could go to the next door hotel to play. There was a lot of tournaments and RPG sessions available. All that housed in the bizarre luxury of a masonic temple.


    I did my fair share of open gaming but also hit the stands and demo tables. Here are my impressions of the new games I got to play over the weekend. These are of course all based on a single play, so bear that in mind when reading.

    Crunch (Terrorbull Games)


    Crunch (Terrorbull Games)


    Terrorbull have been quick off the mark with their second game. After War on Terror, the next target for their satirical ? is the current economic downturn. Players are bankers choosing how to invest their customer's money to maximise returns. Victory is not decided by how much wealth the bankers accumulate for their banks but how much they sequester away for themselves. To line their pockets, players either award themselves large bonuses or embezzle their bank's funds. Embezzling money requires players to hide asset cards about their person. However, if caught in the act by another player, the money must be returned to their banks' coffers. The players hire and fire investment teams who will invest asset cards in high, medium or low risk enterprises. These enterprises will pay out more asset cards in response to certain events. The asset cards can also be used at any time for their action such this forcing another player to prove they have enough money to balance their books with an audit, gambling your bank's money on hedge funds or stealing a players investments in a hostile takeover. The game builds to the inevitable crunches where banks that lack the assets to sustain their investments rely on government bailouts to stay afloat. A bank loses trust cards as they receive bailouts. Once all of a bank's trust cards are depleted it will go bust and it's managing director is out of a job.


    Bonus Time from


    Crunch is unabashedly a take that card game. It is both funny and mean spirited, which for me are what separates the good from the bad in this genre. This is for people who like game like Junta or Cash n Guns.  You struggle to keep your bank solvent as you have to pay your workforce from crisis to crisis with your opponent's constant harrassment. Eventually one bank's risk laden porfolio will pay dividends giving them the financial clout to squeeze any competitors out of business. The added stress of needing to find oppurtunities to put a little something aside for yourself and stop your opponents shameful thieving are the elements that make it great. Surely this game is as satisfying as embezzeling millions of dollars yourself.


    Overclockers (Diverse Entertainment)


    You and your fellow hopefuls are seeking to be recognised as the coolest at the LAN party. However, this ain't about your R2-D2 t-shirt, your ability to get head shots with your foot on the mouse or directing your team in Klingon. These are hardcore 'clockers who are impressed only by your system and the games it can run. It's a fast, simple bidding game where players compete in auctions to get the best hardware. This is a promising early effort from a young designer with some sharp video gaming jokes. This auction filler does just seem to be a couple of components short of a great system.


     Steam (Mayfair Games) 


    Steam (Mayfair Games)


    One of two Age of Steam reprints coming out this year. However, the designer will be paid for this version. Much has been said about Age of Steam over the years by better reviewers than myself. I am guessing most people who are interested in the idea of a heavy economic train game have had a chance to play it. As heavy economic train games go Age of Steam is superb. The new Mayfair version has much improved graphics and a couple of great new features. Steam has a new income track inherited from Railroad Tycoon that smoothes many of the calculations. The way new goods are added to cities has been improved and made a more strategic element in the new game. The game has two new maps: one aimed at 4 or 5 players and another for 3 or 4. The new components are designed to be compatable with old maps and you are provided with enough player pieces for 10 players. The game now features a more friendly version with the turn order auction and share angst removed. The old brutal version is still in there as well. All in all this is everything you could want from a reprint and is worth it for fans for the two new maps alone.


    Trader (Cocktail Games)


    With four players, this is a partnership game. You must work with your partner to invest in and merge businesses to make a profit. The businesses are cards numbered 2 to 6 in five colours. The number indicates the cost of a business and the profit you make from merging two of the same colour is determined by multiplying the two numbers (eg. 3 and 4 gives 12 is better than for the same investment cost 2 and 5 gives 10). As you buy a business you make the business beneath available for your opponents to buy leading to tough choices. This is an excellent example of the fifteen minute euro. It is abstract economics boiled down as far as it will go. If you like bone stock, you should try this.


    Sumeria (Reiver Games)


    As great leaders of men, you must guide your tribe to greatness from the dawn of civilisation. I lie. This is a pure abstract area control game. It plays in 30 minutes and is reasonably good for what it is. I personally am not looking for reasonably good in games these days. It is so reasonable and unassuming that I will have forgotten I ever played it in a month's time. Area control has been done to death and I'd much rather sit down to Shogun or Struggle of Empires. It's not like 30 minutes is a length of time where there aren't plenty of greats to choose from either.


    Fzzzt (from


    Fzzzt (Surprised Stare Games)


    This will be a hard sell to the AT crowd. It is afterall a euro bidding game. It does have a nice theme of building robots and cute artwork going for it. You are collecting the reliable old victory points. Each robot has some victory point value from 3 down to minus 1. However, each robot also has a volts value used in auctions and a combination of cogs, nuts, oil or bolts that let them be put to work on production lines making more VPs. Each round, robots are either shuffled into a players mini deck or they are put to work on the production lines. This is very much a euro auction game and I can sense a collective rolling of eyes but it is a good game. It is also great to see that the Dominion deck building idea is getting out there into more interactive games (if you count auctions as interactive, that is).


    So those where the new games I played. There were other new games out there I wish I had gotten a chance to play like Waterloo (Warfrog), the new version of Ideology (Z-Man Games) and War for Edadh (WarriorElite), which was previously featured in a Cracked LCD episode. There were more euros than AT but I got in a game of Netrunner with a friend I recently discovered is a fan. We failed to get round to the planned Starcraft game. We did have fun in the brilliant Crystal Maze style Living Dungeon.

  • Ulrika the Vampire: the trilogy complete

    High hopes

    logo_The Black Library

    The first volume of Nathan Long's Ulrika the Vampire series- Bloodborn, which I reviewed back in 2010, exceeded expectations sufficiently to ensure that picking up further volumes was a no-brainer for me. Volumes 2- Bloodforged, and 3- Bloodsworn, were duly added to my Warhammer Fantasy fiction bookshelf last year. I didn't know what to expect from these books but my hopes were pretty high after the first volume. Would Nathan Long be able to sustain my interest and excitement as he further developed the tale of the tragic destiny of one of my favourite characters in my favourite fantasy world?

     Vivid characterisation

    cover_BloodbornFreshly blooded and still bearing emotional hallmarks of her human identity- a proud young women of position, mature beyond her years by virtue of her martial experience, Ulrika chafes under the yoke of her new elders and betters- the Bloodlines: creatures for whom a year passes in the blink of an eye; who have nothing better to do than bicker, scheme and intrigue while human generations live and die as pawns in their powerplays, and as their prey and cattle. Among these, her new kind, Ulrika finds herself cast down to the status of a mere infant. Intrepid and independent she instinctively rebels against this subservience, launching herself on a quest to survive without surrendering to total damnation.

  • Unhappy Poland: God's Playground by Martin Wallace


    God's Playground is a solid Wallace design, with lots of historical feel, generally worked well into mechanisms. It essentially pits you as three major noble factions in Polish history from the 15th to the 18th century.
    Every turn represents an era of 50-100 years and starts with the players investing cubes into the five major provinces (Prussia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Little and Greater Poland). These cubes represent your influence among the local nobility. Having the most influence in a province grants you the vote of that province in the Sejm, the parliament of nobles (true story!). The cubes furthermore allow you to perform actions during the rest of the turn.

    As the players build up their power base in the provinces, their estates become increasingly vulnerable to invasions from the North (Prussia and Sweden), Russia, the Tatars, the Ottomans and the Habsburgs.

    As Poland in this era was not a absolutist monarchy, but rather a egalitarian autocracy consisting of a nobility comprising a few wealthy magnates and thousands of impoverished gentry, there was no centralised power. The King was elected by the nobility (don't laugh) and each faction was able and allowed to field their own troops, even legitimately against the King.
    There's the added chrome of special actions like making treaties with Poland's enemies to keep them of your back for a turn (expensive and not unlikely to be broken), encouraging Jesuit missionaries (granting VPs for your eternal soul) and improving the administration of your estates (raising your income).
    Enemy incursions can be preempted or stalled by attacks on the enemy. This can be done by your own army, with or without help of the royal army. However, the King cannot be relied on to do all the work, or any work at all. You need to have a presence in the Sejm. As seen before, that requires that you have the most cubes in one or more provinces.

    The combat is pretty simple, with 2 basic (infantry, cavalry) and 2 special (Cossacks, artillery) troops types. Dice are rolled for each unit to score hits.

    Then the enemies attack Poland. If you have successfully attacked, they will be weaker, and if there's Polish troops in the attacked province they will defend. When that is not enough, the province is overwhelmed and the most exposed estates plundered. But of course, you haven't attacked, and there are no troops defending the provinces.

    The cool thing is that all the gameplay makes you focus on your own benefit at the expense of the common good. I took a lot of satisfaction from wasting huge amounts of money on the spread of Catholicism (granting me immediate access to heaven), rather than on armies to keep the Turks at bay and see Poland go down in flames. This game is all about free riding, while hoping that others do you dirty work.

    It works very well in that way and it gives you a good feel of the period. Most mechanisms have a basis in history. The only blemish on this game is the enemy expansion phase which is convoluted, time wasting and produces no significant result. A drag and an ugly mechanism. That keeps God's Playground from reaching the same level as Liberte and Byzantium.

    But that doesn't make it a bad game. Despite the presence of cubes and the glaring flaw of the enemy expansion phase, I think this game has a good bit of AT cred and will not disappoint anyone here.

    Anyway, it's a relief to see a Wallace design approaching his former glory after the boring London and useless train games of the last couple of years. Rise of Empires, Steel Driver, Tinner's Trail?  I can't be arsed to even try.

    This is of course not a full fledged review as I've only played once, but I think this game deserves the exposure.

  • Unkind Thoughts

    I recently received a chargeback notification from our payment gateway for an order that was placed and delivered in December during XMas.  It was for $566.71 to an a**hole named (supposedly) Steve Marcil in Quebec.    After some research, it looks like it was  a completely fraudulent order - the payee was in Nova Scotia but the IP address is from Quebec, the phone number no longer works (if it did at all) and the customer used a free e-mail address and never registered an account.

    All in all? A complete fraud.  So not only am I out of the cost of the chargeback, I've also paid for XPressPost shipping for  the order as per the order request of $30 and I'll be charged a $10 'administrative' fee for the Chrageback.  $600 completely out of pocket , never mind the $300 or so in products that was shipped.

    Grrr.... at this point I'm thinking I might as well burn another few thousand, hire a Private Investigator to locate this idiot and then fly over and break his kneecaps. 

    Sadly, that's probably more fantasy than reality.  Other than a police report, there's not much else I can do other than institute even tighter anti-fraud policies in-house.  It'll cause delays  for actual customers, but I can't afford to eat too many of these kind of charges without going out of business.

  • Vacation Day 3

    The in-laws left at the crack of dawn this morning. Or maybe it was 8:30 am. Anyway it was before I woke up. The Man had to go to work - awww. But the Spawn and I slept until 10.

    So far we've had a very productive day.

    • Watched SpongeBob Squarepants
    • Ate cookies
    • Assembled gingerbread house
    • Ate candy
    • Watched iCarly marathon
    • Fed cold cuts to the cats. Actually, we didn't do this on purpose. It's just what happens if you leave the lunch stuff unguarded on the kitchen counter.

    We have a busy schedule for the rest of the afternoon. Some of the things that we are considering doing:

    • Get dressed


  • Vacations and games

    So I'm taking off for British Columbia with the family.  I used to cram as many portable games as I could in my bag, but this year three of the kids have iPod touch-es (I have no idea how to pluralize that) and I'm bringing an iPad filled with most of the best iOs boardgames.  I did throw a copy of Rat-a-tat-cat for our seven-year-old.  My eleven-year-old son asked if he could bring some Battleground Fantasy Warfare, but the floor of his room is covered with playing cards and I'm pretty sure that would be the fate of BGFW as well.  

    I guess I've learned that you can't force the kids to play games, and they'll either play or not when they're ready.

  • Valley Games Pre-orders and YTMT stuff