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  • 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.

  • MYTHGARDIA

  • 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 http://www.crunchthecardgame.com/

     

    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 http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/)

     

    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.

  • 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.

  •  

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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

     

  • 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.


  • So my plan for yesterday evening was a first solo game of Valor & Victory. There's a nice little scenario that plays in about an hour including setup. Instead I ended up making chits.


    Valor__Victory This is a print & play squad-level wargame with about 12 pages of rules. Nothing too complicated in the actual gameplay but some of the scenarios are pretty big in the number of units and size of the maps. Like most games at this level of detail, you can pick the playtime by picking the scenario.

    The first one I had in mind plays on a single map and has about six squads total. If I can figure out the basics on that one I'd bring it to my buddy Paul's place for the next step up against an opponent.

    I got this thing in a trade. The guy on the other side of it got Zooloretto with four or five of the mini-expansions and I got V&V and Target Arnhem: Across 6 Bridges which I was ecstatic about because one of them would require me to expend actual effort to have and the other is out of print and hard to find. So he thought he really got a deal but for me it was just a nice set.

    But the V&V was printed on thick paper and nothing else. Whisper-thin from a chit perspective.  That's par for the course, and the real value in the package was the plush rulebook and the cheat cards printed in full color. The other value was that it got me off my butt and trying to improve on it. I printed the chits for the British Infantry and the heavy vehicles onto basic paper and then affixed it to that flexible foam stuff that you can buy at Michael's. It's adhesive on one side so it's just a peel and stick maneuver and it cuts easily enough with scissors.

    For me it's a nice step up because I need the thickness to pick up the pieces. Euros have few enough pieces on the board so I can generally just slide whatever card I need to the edge to pick it up (except for the new Alhambra board with the score wrapped around the cards -- bad idea) but on a map with three-dozen chits or more that's often not an option. I worried they'd be too light, but they have a nice feel to them and they don't seem to cling to each other. The flexiness of them feels a bit out of the ordinary, but nothing to worry about. Nice and thick.

    The foam sheets are 99 cents each and are 9x12 so they hold a lot of chit. I'm guessing about 35 cents per printed page on my printer, so for about six dollars I'm getting the entire western front, and the maps (I won't mount those) are 45 cents apiece on legal size paper, maybe a dozen total. Let's say five dollars for all the maps I will ever use. All the rules and quick-refs are already done, so I'll likely spend $11 on it and have a pretty plush version of a well-respected squad-level game. 

    Valor & Victory is definitely worth a look -- ASL style game with a very-well-illustrated 12 page rule book.

    S.


     

  • Dr. Finn’s Games

     

    A friend of mine brought over a little card game to the last Grand Rapids Area Boardgamers game day. It came in a VHS video case. You know the old big bulky ones?  The cover proclaimed “Scripts and Scribes A medieval Game of Strategy and Intrigue.”

     

    I was, well, intrigued. I love card games. They are my first love in gaming. I have spent countless hours playing Spades, Euchre, Hearts and Rummy. I was eager to give it a whirl. It turns out that it really is a wonderful game. After really enjoying Scripts and Scribes I looked up Dr. Finn’s games. 

     

    It turns out he is an interesting cat. The blurb on his web site reads: “Games should be a good time: easy to understand, quick to learn, and fun to play. Games have come a long way since Monopoly thanks to some great strategy games that have broken the mold like Settlers of Catan and Carcassone. Dr Finn's Games are a perfect "gateway" to this new world of games, easy to understand, exciting to play and straight from the designer.” He has self published these games in “limited runs of 100-200 games. If the game is well received, we may make additional runs.”

     

    I picked up Slush Fund from him directly and signed up for his email list. Being on the list I was lucky enough to be among the group of people who were able to order his most recent game “The Trial of Socrates.”

     

    Manipulating victory points is a common element in all three games I have played by the good doctor. All three are short, easy to learn, have a nice flow of play and most importantly are (as advertised) fun. The type of game you want to play a couple of times in a row, once you grok what is going on. I would call them Super-Fillers. If you are looking for some games to have on hand while you are waiting for the entire gang to get to game night, these are perfect!

     

    In S&S VPs are dice – value starts off at 3 and during game play cards (Bishops) come up that allow you to add or subtract from the VPs. There are two phases of the game. Both phase are different hand drafting mechanisms. In the first you are building your hand by picking cards off the deck. You have 3 choices. Put the card in your hand, put it in an “auction pile” for the next phase, or put the cards face up (enough for every other player in the game). The face up cards are then drafted by the other players. Play goes round and round until the deck is depleted. Then the auction phase! Yes, I can hear you groan, but fear not friends! It is quick and is just another hand drafting mechanism for this game. Cards come face up one at a time, and you bid gold for cards that aren’t gold, and some number of cards for gold cards. In the end each player has a hand built consisting of various suits.  The player with the most points in a suit gets the die, i.e., the VPs.  Most VPs wins!  

     

    Slush Fund is billed as “An exciting game of bribery, scandal, and politics”. It has VP cards that are added to the politicians you are trying to bribe, scandal cards that subtract VPs, and Thief cards that can steal bribes from other players bribe piles. You play your cards on your side of the politician card and after all the machinations are done, the player with the most money in his bribe pile wins the politician. Base point of politicians is 7 plus and/or minus any VP or scandal cards in that player’s pile.

     

    The Trial of Socrates is a light worker placement filler game. This is a very homespun affair. It has almost a prototype feel to it, production wise.   The components are simple but perfectly functional.  You place follower tokens of various value face down in various areas of the “board” and are vying for the VPs in each house. The worker (cube) placement mechanism allows you reveal tokens values so you assess where players are in the race to control the houses. A second cube allows you to choose between playing cards, drawing cards, or adjusting your tokens around the board. Most points wins the house VPs and most VPs wins the game.

     

    Some may be turned off by the low production quality, particularly The Trial of Socrates. Much like Winsome games, it actually is part of the charm of the games in my opinion. In the two card games, the cards are fine quality and I rather like the art. Some of the folks I have played with complain that the cards in S&S are a bit hard to differentiate. That is a fair criticism. I would put it down as a minor gripe rather than a reason to not try out the game. It is also perfectly fair to note, that theme in all of these games is utterly superfluous. It is there for ambiance only. It works for me just fine, but may be a disappointment for fans of theme heavy games.

     

    These may sound like the stuff of any usual dreary Euro game, but these games are absolutely a blast. Each of them play in about thirty minutes. While the game play is quick, there is a fair amount of strategy hidden in the simple rules.

     

    If you are looking for a nice filler game (or two) I would highly recommend you check these out.  I would note that Scripts and Scribes and Trial of Socrates may be hard to purchase right now. I understand that S&S will be re-released by a professional publisher, hopefully in 2010, albeit under a new name.  So keep your eyes open and if you get a chance to support a small publisher I think you will be well pleased with these games.

  • The varying degrees of board games
  • About 2 years ago, Avalon Hill (Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro) released a collectible miniatures game called "War At Sea".  Being a Naval geek and having wanted to play a Naval Miniatures game in forever, I bought quite a few of the minis (The Complete US Set, the Complete Japanese Set, quite a few Germans and Brits) and played the game hot and heavy for a few months.  The game is fun, but it is lacking.  There isn't quite the depth of strategy that you can get from other games I've played.  My biggest complaint is that Destroyers are pretty much easy pickings almost to the point of uselessness.  Planes are nice but once the carrier gets in gun range of the battleship, it gets chewed up.  Submarines are next to impossible to kill because once the destroyers are gone, they can not be hit by anything else (unless the planes survive).  So while the game is fun, it is hardly a good Naval game.

    At Gen Con, one of my friends ended up picking up a copy of "Victory at Sea" because we have been eying this game for a while.  Everything I've read about it seems to indicate that it is closer to what I am looking for (although one of these years I would like to play a game he and another friend have been talking about called "Fletcher Pratt").

    So last night, we got a chance to play it.  For our first battle, we did the Graf Spee against a Southampton class Cruiser.  According to the rules these should have been evenly matched which looking at the stats, they should have been.  He had the Graf Spee with better guns and I had the Southampton with better aiming.  It turned out to be a pretty lopsided affair as the Graf Spee sent the Southampton to the bottom.

    So then we played the Bismarck vs. the Missouri.  Again according to the rules this should have been a fairly even match.  I had the Missouri and ended up smoking the Bismarck.

    Anyways, even though we ended up steaming our ships towards each other, the battles still felt about right.  You could tell the difference in speed between the ships (In Axis and Allies the ships either move 1 or 2 spaces, so there's not really all that much difference between a destroyer and battleship in speed) and I have a feeling had we done one more with destroyers, that would have been even more apparent.  There's also different target numbers depending on the silouette of the ships (battleships have a lower target number than the cruisers, I didn't see destroyers), so smaller ships get harder to hit (although throwing 9 dice at one will hurt it, I think).

    I think if we had did a bigger engagement with Destroyers, it would have been a nice donnybrook as the Destroyers could lay smoke (something that not all destroyers can do in Axis and Allies) and I think the differences in the ships would have become even more apparent as the Destroyers would have been able to turn tighter and move faster.  All in all, the game seems pretty fun and I can't wait to play it again.

  • So Victory Point Games just announced they have purchased a laser cutting machine and are making counters so thick that they can be stood on  edge.  [VPG announcement]

    Given that VPG recently had GMT release the de-luxe version of No Retreat!, I wonder if they decided to keep that money in the family.  The new, fancier games are called "Gold Banner" and for now they won't cost any more.  I plan to snap up as many as I can afford before they raise their prices.  It sounds like they will upgrade their existing quiver of games to the Gold Banner standard starting with their best sellers and games that are expecting expansions.  I'm personally hoping for Nemo's War, Dawn of the Zeds and Zulus on the Ramparts.

    They also announced their plans for broader distribution, including Amazon fulfillment.  I'm looking forward to seeing Forlorn Hope with chunky counters for sale by Amazon for $25 with free shipping.  My overdraft account is trembling in fear.

  • Victory Point GamesAlan Emrich is doing something that I think is really kind of special. He's running a small games business and apparently doing extremely well since he was able to cut a $1000 royalty check to one of his designers. He's also teaching classes on game design and encouraging folks to get out there and make games, not just play them. And the games he's publishing are well worth your time and money, covering some unusual subject matter and providing some very fresh gameplay ideas that are sorely lacking in the "majors".

    In this article over at Gameshark, I'm reviewing three of VPG's multiplayer games- CIRCUS TRAIN (which Ubarose reviewed a while back and got me interested in), LOOT & SCOOT, and FORLORN: HOPE.  In a future column, I'm going to be covering a couple of their solitaire games including SOVIET DAWN, ZULUS ON THE RAMPARTS, TOE-TO-TOE NUK'LR COMBAT, and NEMO'S WAR. NEMO'S WAR is one of the best games of the year, it's _outstanding_ and hugely thematic.

    It really amazes me how much narrative, detail, historicity, and gameplay these guys are packing into really small footprints. TOE TO TOE has like 20 counters and it feels more thematic than games I've paid five times as much for and that have hundreds more components.

    They've got a new one out that I wish that I could have covered, it's called FINAL FRONTIER and it's very obviously a Star Trek game. It looks fun. Anybody play it yet?

  • Captain Nemo Pictured is James Mason as Captain Nemo. He's PISSED. That is a stern look of disapproval if ever I saw one.

    Why is "Jehmz Mehhhzohn" pissed? Because you're not playing NEMO'S WAR enough. It's one of the best games of 2010, and it along with PHANTOM LEADER rank as two of the very best solitaire games I've ever played. So quit laying out four character, one player games of ARKHAM HORROR that take all day to set up, play, and put away and give the ol' Nautilus a whirl. I think you'll be surprised at how much game this inexpensive, low profile game will give you. And the them is BAD ASS.

    This week at Cracked LCD I'm looking at NEMO'S WAR along with three other Victory Point Games solitaire titles. They're all really good ones. That's seven total games that I've covered from their catalog, and I have yet to play a bad one. Can't wait to see what these guys do next.

  • This 12+ minute screencast is primarily for aspiring designers, not for professionals.

    This is a followup to "10 'need to knows' about game design" http://gamasutra.com/blogs/LewisPulsipher/20141020/228137/Video_screencast_10_quotNeed_to_Knowsquot_about_Game_Design.php

    The text of the slides follows.  Of course, there's a lot more to the screencast than this text.

    11 MORE “need to knows” about Game Design

    Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

    Pulsiphergames.com

    “Game Design” channel on YouTube

    Original 10 Wasn’t Enough

    I started with 10 “ntk”

    But I thought of more than 10, so here some more.  Keep in mind, the first 10, taken as a whole, are the most important

    But these 11 are also important

     

    The List

    Focus on the essence

    Professionals design for other people, not for themselves

    Professional game design is about discipline, not self-indulgence

    Game Design is not Mind Control

    There is no perfect game

    You probably won’t be good at game design, at first

    Games are not just Mechanics

    Making a good game takes a LOT of time

    Piracy is everywhere (for “digital” goods)

    You’re an Entertainer, or a teacher, not a gift to the world

    “Fail Faster”

     

    Focus on the Essence

    My motto: "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."  (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

    Another form, about Japanese gardening, is "Your garden is not complete until there is nothing else that you can remove."

    If you’re making a puzzle, complexity might be a goal; If you’re making “an experience”, simplicity may not be a goal.  For most games, the goal is to keep only what you absolutely need

     

    Professionals design for other people, not for themselves

     [As this has been misunderstood by someone who didn't listen to the screencast, I interject the following: Your primary goal (for most games, recognizing there are specialized such as educational) is to entertain other people, not yourself.  The goal is to entertain, the design is for other people.  As such, any list of features that you think will make your game a surefire hit will likely turn into a soul-less mess.  So perhaps I could have worded the slide, "Professionals work to entertain other people, not themselves".]

    Your job is to entertain or enlighten other people

    You are not typical, or you wouldn’t be designing games!

    So what you like, may not be typical of what large groups like

    Don’t rely solely on your own opinions about the worth of a game

    I recently had a game published that I didn’t think was a Big Deal, just a nice little game – but others had different opinions

    And I have had games I thought were outstanding, but have not been published

     

    Professional game design is about discipline, not self-indulgence

    Many designers are self-indulgent, often thinking of themselves as “artists” who are blessing the world with their brilliance – so they do whatever they want

    POPPYCOCK! (Though you can do this if you’re not interested in selling any games . . .)

    Do player-centric, not designer-centric (or art-centric) design

    Game design is compromise.  It’s never “perfect”

     

    Game Design is not Mind Control

    Some designers want to, in effect, control all that the player is doing and thinking

    And if you think about it, a novel can be approached in this way

    Though most novelists want to influence, not control

    Linear video games can approach this ideal

    But most game players want to have the ability to control the outcome of the game (and want “agency” as well)

    Better to think of game design as offering players opportunities, not forcing anything on the players

     

    There is no perfect game

    There are dozens of genres for a reason

    Tastes of game players vary as much as tastes of music-lovers.  (I dislike rap.  I like classical.  Some people love rap.  Some hate classical.  And so on.)

    And there’s no room for perfectionism in professional design

    You need to get games DONE.  Especially in video games

    The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns sets in quickly for professionals, less so for hobbyist designers

    So at some point, you have to finish even though the game isn’t perfect

     

    You probably won’t be good at it, at first

    How often do you start to do something complex, requiring a lot of critical thinking, and yet you’re immediately good at it?  Never!

    Most complex things worth doing, take a long time to do well

    Even playing a game well can take a long time to master

    Some theorize that you need a great many opportunities to fail/succeed before you can become good at something

    And there’s the “10,000 hours” notion, too, though I don’t take the quantification seriously

     

    Games are not just Mechanics

    What matters is the impression you make on the player(s)

    MDA: Mechanics, Dynamics, “Aesthetics” (I prefer “Impressions” for the last)

    Collections of mechanics can feel soul-less

    If you choose mechanics based on a model, they tend to fit together; if they’re just collections, they’ll often not fit together

     

    Making a good game takes a LOT of time

    Most of what happens in game design takes place in the mind – of the designer, and of the players

    Outsiders/non-practitioners tend to minimize the difficulty because they don’t see it happening

    Moreover, it’s easy to get a game to 80%, it’s the last 20% that takes most of the game design time and effort

    And then, if it’s a tabletop game, scheduling and manufacturing can take many months

    Mayfair recently published a game they’d had for 8 years

    I have a game that may be published in 2015, publisher accepted it in 2005 [sic]

     

    Piracy

    Piracy of “digitally”-produced games is rampant

    And there’s practically nothing you can do about it

    Free-to-play helps (in video games), but even the in-app purchases in F2P are pirated regularly

    Fortunately, not much piracy in tabletop games (unless it’s primarily a rulebook, such as RPGs)

     

    You’re an Entertainer or a Teacher, not a "gift to the world”

    That is, if you want to be a commercial game designer

    Publishers are in business to make money (mostly, but especially in video games)

    Yes, you can self-publish

    But a lot more people want games to entertain or enlighten them, than want games to be “art”

    “We want to entertain people by surprising them, so I really don’t think we are psychologists – we are nothing but entertainers.” -Shigeru Miyamoto (Zelda, Donkey Kong, Wii Fit, etc. )

    Reiner Knizia (over 500 [sic] published games) also says his purpose is entertainment

     

    “Fail Faster”

    You want to find all the ways your game can fail, and eliminate or fix them

    So the faster you fail, the quicker you can eliminate or fix the failures

    Or start over!

    Get a playable prototype done as soon as possible – there is NO Substitute

    If you’re doing a video game, try to make a paper prototype first, to try things out

     

     

  •  

     
    This is repeated from my Gamasutra "expert" blog: My Blog 
     
     
  • About a week ago, I posted up a Video Game Music contest here on F:AT.

    Here's the link to it

     

    The Results: everybody who participated won! I'd like to send out a special thanks to Jeb, Rocketwiki, and mjl1783 for actually participating. Rocketwiki had 4 correct answers. Mjl1783 had 3 correct answers, and Jeb 2 correct answers and 2 instances of getting the series right, but not the specific game.

    The answers, with associated youtube links of the songs in-game and info blurbs about the games for the interested:

    1 - AXELAY for SNES

    A SHMUP in the same vein as Radiant Silvergun and other Shmups where you don't get powerups and stuff. You have several different guns you can switch between. Like Radiant Silvergun, has a high learning curve for a shmup and I was never very good at it. This game also features the worst abuse of mode 7 I have ever seen. EDIT: That is not to say that the game wasn't awesome.

    2 - Civilization IV for PC

    I'm surprised that only Rocketwiki got this one. No one else here has played or plays Civ 4? I have thoroughly enjoyed every Civilization PC game thus far, but this one is definitely my favorite.

    3 - Castlevania II: Simon's Quest for NES

    The tune is "Bloody Tears", which made its first appearance in this game and then became a recurring theme in the Castevania series because of its awesomeness.

    4 - X-COM: UFO Defense for PC/PSX

    aka. X-COM: Enemy Unknown in other parts of the world. :p This was one of the few actual tunes in the game that was more than an amalgamation of atmospheric sound effects. The tune in the contest video is actually from the PSX version of the game, but besides the quality in sound (PSX is better sound quality, PC had a midi version), they are the same song. Probably my favorite game of all time.

    5 - PERFECT DARK for N64

    This tune from the game features the Pefect Dark "theme" prominently. One of the best games for the N64. If you can get past the polygons, the gameplay has aged surprisingly well.

    6 - TYRIAN for PC

    A classic SHMUP that has more variety than I've ever seen in a game in the genre. You can play "arcade" mode, where you pick up powerups from enemies and you don't get much plot. Or you can play the "full game" mode, where there are little to no powerups and you buy stuff between levels and there's actually a plot. Maybe not a very deep plot, but The story/data cubes are, for the most part, hilarious. The game has a very "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"-esque sense of humor. Many of the planets have guidebook entries on them in-game. There's also "Super Tyrian" mode, which is in the vein of Radiant Silvergun, only the button combos to pull off certain attacks are sometimes really tricky (like complicated Street Fighter II moves or something). There's a TON of levels, and 6 difficulty settings. It's awesome (and free to download)!

    7 - HOMEWORLD for PC

    After putting the contest up, I sort of realized that this entry was way too hard for anyone to figure out. The tune is the "Turanic Raiders battle music".  Unfortunately, the track cuts off before the main instruments come in. I know I've heard the game mentioned around here, but I know it would be difficult to get even if you've played the game before. As far as the game goes, no other RTS I've ever played can match the amount of atmosphere in Homeworld. Playing the game is truly a unique experience. The only thing I don't like about it is that it's fairly slow-paced, but in a way even that adds to the atmosphere.

    8 - METROID for NES

    What a classic game. This was the one tune that all 3 people identified.

    9 - AGE OF EMPIRES II for PC

    The soundtrack of this game is basically one 30 minute tune. This is the beginning of it.

    10 - WOLFENSTEIN 3D for PC

    One of the pioneers in the FPS genre, and it's still great! It's the original "run and gun" FPS distilled to its essence, pure and undefiled, with good old fashioned Nazi killing. The way to play it nowadays is with the Wolfenstein 3D mod for the ZDoom engine. It's the same as the original, only with modern controls and stuff (its also free).

    11 - FINAL FANTASY TACTICS for PSX

    A highly regarded classic tactical RPG. It had a lot of depth, a convoluted plot, and a great soundtrack. I picked this tune because it features the FFT "theme" that permeates much of the game's music.

     

    So, is there any/much interest in another one of these? I have another video put together of just NES music; it seems like there's not too many PC gamers here, is there?

    Anyway, thanks to the three participants. Now feel free to discuss the games, the contest, whatever, or even give suggestions for possible future contests.