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  • A Kickstarter A Day

    Atheris Games will be backing a new Kickstarter every day for the entire month of October. 

  • A Little Bit More About Me

    I come from a time and a place when all board games,  proper board games,  had the Grand Canyon running through the middle.  Pop-o-Matic games were cult-of-the-new trash, fit only for acid-dropping hippies.


    If I could summon up the energy to get excited about sport it would be Rugby League Football. You know,  proper football.  None of this nancy boy Association Football (a game Americans think is fit only for girls to play and I'm inclined to agree with them), nor Rugby Union Football (too many rules to enjoy watching and too much broken play to enjoy, er, playing).  Nope,  it would have to be League. "Would" except for Rupert Murdoch and his big money ways. It now has to fit into his TV schedules, it's now a summer sport, it now has cheer-leaders and mascots, and the teams now have stupid names.  What was wrong with "Wigan" or "Leeds"? Why do we have to have "Wigan Warriors" or "Leeds Rhinos" or, God help us "Wakefield Trinity Wildcats". Why? Because any type of top flight football, no matter the form or code, is big business, mass entertainment.  Gone is any sort of civic pride or common spirit.  Anyone anywhere could claim to a "Bulls" supporter, buying (or not) the merchandise, and to blazes with the good folk of Bradford who spent Sunday after miserable,  sleet-sodden Sunday supporting their beloved team prior to the formation of the Super League.  Is Bradford R.L.F.C. a going concern?  I no longer know nor care.

    I do, however, recommend this YouTube delight.



    Lately I have been listening to late Baroque and early Romantic, leavened with the lighter Modernist offerings and, since I turned 50, the music of my youth: X-ray Spex (I was there),  Siouxsie and the BansheesMagazine,  Joy Division, and of course The Fall. It might be of interest to anyone with the initials “M” and “B” that I first saw The Fallback when Mark E Smith still had teeth.



    Waste-of-time sack-of-shite.





    I’m embarrassed to say that it has been a long time since I read a novel. I tend to go for audio books from the library or listen to Radio 4 on the BBC iPlayer. I used to be an avid reader, but sharing a bed and the change from Myopia to the need for reading glasses since the cataracts has pretty much put an end to reading for pleasure. Prior to the cataracts I was enjoying Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Mark Twain. “Treasure Island” is an all time favourite


    From the age of 12 to about 29 I read almost exclusively Science Fiction. Some detective, some horror/Lovecraft, and, except for Terry Pratchett , no fantasy. Fantasy is something I never “got”. Like many 9 year olds I read “The Hobbit”, but “Lord of the Rings”? Unmitigated arse gravy.


    S.F. versus Sci-Fi


    If S.F. is 90% crud, then Sci-Fi is 100% crud. I loathe and detest the very word (phrase?) “Sci-Fi”. Forty years ago Brian Aldiss wrote “Only would-be trendies use ‘Sci-Fi’”. Nowadays Sci-Fi seems to be Pseudo-Science Fiction written by those who neither know about nor care for science, to be consumed by a mass market which dislikes science fiction anyway. PDK is dead, alas.





    I’ve worked for over thirty years in I.T. one way or another, and have never felt it necessary to have a Blog. Until now. Nor I have deemed it a must to carry a mobile/cellular telephone. I don’t trust any computer I’ve not assembled myself. Apple products are infuriating with their auras of smugness.



    Fashion and Dress Sense


    I’ve started wearing grey cardigans and brown brogues, often at the same time. With my dad’s gaudy 1970s cuff-links.





    A bollock’s hair’s width away from Type 2 Diabetes. Hey! It’s genetic, okay?





    I have always liked playing most board and card games. Having said that I hate with a vengeance any game where you throw dice, or whichever, and do whatever the square or card tells you to do, and have done since I was four years’ old.


    I have always been attracted to strongly themed games, with masses of bits, but was always disappointed by the game-play. I have never played a science fiction game that has not left me feeling somehow cheated and let down by its false promise of S.F. goodness. Most pirate games are a let down, and fantasy themed games hold no attractions. I prefer competition over co-operation and direct confrontation (it’s an Aperger thing) .


    I so desperately want find that thematic game that scratches my eurogame itch, without the tedious spreadsheet calculating of Caylus or the programmed procession of Princes of Florence. I want drama and fuel for the imagination. Whenever I read Lovecraft  as a child I always wondered why, after letting the sense of dread and foreboding build up in the reader he pissed it all away by describing the previously “indescribable horror that lay beyond…” . I don’t care how well crafted that Cthulhu figure is; it’s never going to be a good as the Cthulhu of a 13 year old’s imagination, besides which this game is clearly “a theme with a pasted-on game”. Want a winning strategy for Axis and Allies? Throw lots of ones. And anyway a war-game is only a war-game if it has hundreds (thousands if it’s Napoleonic) of properly painted figures in 20mm (6mm seems to work well for ACW).


    So why come here?  Well thanks to the cataracts of 2007 I missed the Great Casting Out of the Unbelievers from Another Website (although the schism had been apparent for 2 or 3 years prior). Maybe here I can find that elusive Thematic Euro-like Bottom-Kicking Board Game. Or maybe I will learn to happy with my lot.


    I have a lot of mediocre games I cannot bring myself to get rid of  (it’s an Aperger thing) .


    I also have a few games I enjoy greatly: Martin Wallace economic-industrial-historically themes integrated into the game and turn-of-the-century Reiner Knizias. I’ve even been known to play Doom(as the Invader, natch).


  • A long time coming

    Sorting out unfinished business

    A few years ago I made a couple of passing references—one, writing about my Penumbra’s Talons; the other, writing about GW’s mighty Space Hulk 3rd edition—to a project which involved a nameless friend and a Space Hulk set. I am pleased, at long last, to be able to tell you that this friend- Matt Forbeck, who I met at Bill King’s wedding back in 2005, will soon be getting his hands on that set of Space Hulk 3 he’d almost, but not quite, forgotten about (who could forget Space Hulk 3?).

  • A Minor Complication, Pt. 1

    On Blades in the Dark and the surprising joy of failure.

  • A New Challenger Approaches!: Puzzle Strike Review

    Does anyone even remember days before deck-building games existed? I remember the first time I played Dominion, back in the fall of 2008. Even though it cribbed generously from both CCGs and efficiency Euro games, it did so in a way that felt completely fresh. I remember that sense of "awakening" that only a few games before have given me. And I wasn't the only one to feel that way either. Dominion has become one of the few genuine crossover hits in the hobby, up there with titles like Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride as games that will convince the average Joe to enter the dankest game store.

  • A Night at the Opera

    In honor of my gaming buddy Lyman Hurd, who often eschews gaming in favor of going to the opera (join me in heckling this bourgeois top hat-and-monocle mentality, won't you), I would like to present my review of TANNHAUSER. It's not about nazis. OR IS IT???

    This is a copy of an article originally published on the old F:AT blog. Read original comments.

  • A Novel Idea: Board Game Books and their ludicrousness

    Zendikar novel

    I'm a massive Magic: The Gathering fan, so I was pumped when the new Zendikar: In The Teeth Of Akoum novel came out - Zendikar is one of my favourite Magic settings because it's like Avatar only GOOD. Pretty much the world of Zendikar is James Cameron's Avatar designed by somebody who didn't need 3D effects to sell an idea. The Zendikar: In The Teeth Of Akoum novel on the other hand, it's pretty strange for me to read a novel set in the Magic universe, because I was a pre-Planeswalker player and it appears Wizards of the Coast are trying to market Planeswalkers as star characters of novels and in some cases comics.

    The problem with this isn't so much that Planeswalkers are bad as a new type of legendary character - but it's that more importance is given to the characters who are ultra-rare Mythic cards rather than what could have been a more compelling look at how smaller scale soldiers muster forces for skirmishes that decide the fate of a region in a world like Zendikar.

    The upside to this is that the Planeswalkers - although I've never got one in a booster pack or even used one in a game that I would have bought as a single - are kind of interesting characters who function as world hoppers that decide the fate of the Planes they set foot in. Zendikar: In The Teeth Of Akoum also gives you a pretty sinister if vague point of view of how disturbing the Kor really are in terms of them being quite unconventional for traditional White Colour creatures. They're pretty much described in the same light as the tribal people in Peter Jackson's King Kong remake, and I had no idea they spoke in sign language going from the cards in my Kor deck. I'll never look the same way at my Kor Sanctifiers again, I'll tell you that much. Some things related to female Kor customs you can't un-read...

    Licensed novelisations of board and tabletop games are a fascinating thing to behold, but they're not a new thing. Games Workshop's The Black Library has been selling Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 branded novels written by a lot of writers for beer money for years. But why do these books exist? Well it's quite simple really - tabletop gamers are the kind of people usually already indoctrinated into genre fiction - and licensed novels for Warhammer 40,000 and Magic: The Gathering give the game companies a chance to expand the lore a bit more, much like the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels work. They're tie-in novels to some of the more popular tabletop games - you wouldn't get this for a board game like Talisman but you're likely to see one for something like Blood Bowl for example instead of say, Monopoly or a Eurogame like Samurai which are much more rooted in gameplay mechanics instead of lore.

    Yeah, some of them are pretty badly written *cough* Dungeons and Dragons novels *cough* but so far I reckon the more recent Magic: The Gathering novels and a lot of the Warhammer 40,000 novels are ripping reads. That's the thing - in some ways the novels based on CCGs and tabletop miniatures wargames are more successful in quality because the writer actually has to imagine the motivations of a soldier like a Space Marine or a wizard as powerful as a Planeswalker. Dungeons and Dragons novels in my experience when I tried to read the ones in my school library came off as being like Dungeons and Dragons stripped of its core elements of interactivity in making your own stories.

    I also bought The Purifying Fire, another Magic novel based around Chandra - another of the more popular Planeswalker who got her own manga series in Japan based on this novel as an adaptation of the core story. And in that I'm not surprised - the Japanese are well known for reading what are called "light novels" - that is to say novels written for young people that read very quickly and are very genre based - some of them like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya got anime and manga adaptations. So while I'm surprised that Chandra is now a manga character to the Japanese I am not surprised at all she got her own manga based on a novel because the Japanese younger generation are used to reading light genre fiction that to us would seem akin to... Warhammer 40,000 fluff only more anime like really.

  • A picture says more than a 1,000 words | Is Codenames Pictures Just Better? (Hot Take?)

    Codenames Pictures is a Codenames version that uses Pictures instead of words - Is it just better?

  • A Piece of Americana

    Ladies and Gentlemen THIS . . . is the Singer 160th anniversary featherweight sewing machine. Fully modern in every way, it offers sixty stitches at your fingertips, a hopping foot built in and a high neck bend to facilitate meandering on wide quilts.


    It's obvious to even the most casual of observers that, though modern, it's designed to look and feel like the legendary black-painted Singer featherweight machines of 50+ years ago, many of which are STILL doing hard duty today and keep begging for more. My wife's 100th anniversary edition still runs like dream. It's just this simple -- if you're serious about sewing, you own a featherweight. Because as the old ladies in the quilt guilds will tell you, "once you go black, you never go back."

    Now you may be wondering why I would spend the time to present this fine piece of engineering and history and, frankly, art on a gaming web site, but the answer is obvious to the married men in the house. In spite of its 30%-off sale price and the Quilter's Guild discount, I have a matching $315 worth of "store credit" at the game store of my choice, so it's time to grab some suggestions on how to spend it. Fury of Dracula is already on the short list and there's a part of me that wants to put Lost Battles just underneath it. but now is the time to give me your wisdom. Take care to speak only of games that carry legendary status, for they will sit on the shelf next to this icon of sewing history.


  • A rash of enthusiasm for Combat Commander #1: Your fate lies in the cards

    An awful lot of Combat Commander

    Designer Chad Jensen's WW2 tactical boardgame Combat Commander has ruled over my gaming table since early 2007. More than 200 plays to date mean that it is second only to the majestic Up Front as my most played tacsim ever (it had been a close run thing with Squad Leader and ASL for a while but it's safe to say that CC is now well in front and showing no signs of stopping); is second only to Ivanhoe as my most played game in those 6 years (and that's all down to 2011's marathon run of games with Liam); and it shows a clean pair of heels to Dominion, which comes in third at 130 plays.

    So many games of CC mean that it has also been a regular feature here at RD/KA! since my first post about the game back in April 2007 (Combat Commander is the game most named in my Labels). In that time I've written:

    • Battle reports. These have done more than just report my games of CC; they have also driven and charted the development of RD/KA! itself as I learned new tricks with the GIMP so that I could better illustrate my articles:
    1. Basic crop jobs to provide crude illustrations: June 2007.
    2. Scenario sheets and simple setup maps: April 2008.
    3. Scenario background studies, scenario sheets and situation maps: April 2009.

    After so many games and so much coverage down the years here at RD/KA!, I've decided that it's about time I celebrated the Combat Commander series with the full 'A rash of enthusiasm...' treatment.

    Breaking new ground in cardplay

    Combat Commander: Europe was a minor personal landmark for me even before I got hold of my copy: it was the first game I ever bought after reading an online preview of the rules- routine practice these days, across which I'd stumbled quite by accident while looking for something else. Little did I know back then what I was getting myself into when I finally took that big box home and ripped off the shrinkwrap. At the centre of my gaming since then, I can honestly say that CC has changed my gaming life for the better in a variety of ways.

    Hexes, counters and cards: another definite viewpoint

    Anyway, that personal geek accolade aside, I'm convinced that CC is quite simply one of the most innovative designs to hit WW2 tactical wargaming since the publication of Up Front nearly 30 years ago; a seamless mash-up of Squad Leader, Up Front and Ambush (a debt which Chad freely acknowledges in the Combat Commander: Mediterranean Playbook) distilled into something far more than the sum of its parts. That 'far more' is an easy-play card-driven WW2 squad-scale tacsim complete with random events and other surprises as served up by the Action decks.

    When I enthused about Up Front and Memoir'44, the crucial feature arising from these games' card-driven command systems was that they establish a definite viewpoint for the player- analagous to a viewpoint character in a story, instead of delivering the more generic overview corresponding to no one in particular which is typical of boardgames. My argument was that this is doubly good: the more clearly defined viewpoint encourages immersion because it puts the player in the role of a specific commander; this viewpoint immersion meanwhile delivers a working model of command uncertainty and fog of war thanks to the card-driven C3i.

    Getting concrete with the abstract

    Part of Courtney Allen's design genius with Up Front was the way he stripped everything back to the cards. All other considerations aside, this neatly conveyed the viewpoint of the platoon leader; the lack of the familiar overview simultaneously expressed the leader's closeness to and distance from his men:

    • Closeness: hence the lack of the familiar overview.
    • Distance: hence, eg. the way that terrain 'arrives' in Up Front; obviously the men in the line can see terrain ahead, but terrain which meets the platoon leader's tactical requirements — the discovery of which is as much as matter of communication as anything else — might well be a different matter.

    So, if Allen's decision to abstract everything into the cards was the source of Up Front's greatness, Chad's decision to return to the familar hex and counter format- ie. to re-concretise what Allen had abstracted, was a key decision which underpins much of what makes Combat Commander so good. This decison was undoubtedly a practical one (Chad himself notes in the Combat Commander Playbook that this decision was what revived a stalled cards-only design which had hitherto been gathering dust), but the practicalities aside, this is again a matter of viewpoint.

    Combat Commander is a squad-scale company-level game. Following the logic of my argument about Up Front, this means that the players' viewpoint in CC is located at the battalion command echelon. Use of maps is commonplace in battalion command, so their use is appropriate in CC, with the result that immersion is retained- deepened even, despite the increase in scale and precisely because of the return of the familiar map and counters, especially the map. The thing is, in terms of units and number of actions/turn, Up Front and CC are quite similar- they both typically feature 10-20 units/side with 1-3 actions/turn. However, in UF, there are only 20 locations in the space 'between' each side (ID chits E & Z and -ve range chits are typically only usable/viable by special rule, so they can be ignored in this simple calcuation of raw statistics) Compare this to CC's 150-hex maps: that concretisation alone increases the gamespace by up to 750%, and that's before you consider the variations in units' positions. The reconcretisation of space, in short, delivers immersion and rich game space, which are patently crucial to CC's success.

    That wibbly-wobbly time-wimey stuff

    Time in tactical CDGs like Up Front, Memoir'44, and CC is abstract; that is, it doesn't flow in turns of some notional equal length (eg. ASL's 2 minutes/turn), it instead moves exactly as fast as the action each turn requires- and the same actions need not necessarily represent the same amount of time according to circumstance, typically the actions' success or failure or the responses they provoke; eg. not getting shot at while moving could suggest slower more cautious movement making maximum use of every scrap of cover to keep out of sight, which would take longer, naturally enough. This action-driven time enables phase-less IGO-UGO turns, a simple structure which doesn't intrude on the action- another plus on the immersion front.

    The net effect of this is that time is no longer a simple clock advancing to a certain end but instead becomes an uncertain resource which has to be managed- an essential feature of the card-driven mechanic as pioneered by Courtney Allen. Time is doubly uncertain in CC because of the time triggers which force early deck reshuffles and time advances. This peculiarly doubly open time in CC again deepens immersion because you're no longer outside the action looking at a clock, you're inside the game's time. This already open-ended time is rendered more immersive still because of tempo.

    Tempo in CC represents seizing time and using it to your advantage instead of just sitting back passively and letting time 'happen' to you. This goes to the heart of the psychology of hand management: when to play cards for orders/actions and when to discard in search of a better hand. You can only seize tempo by playing cards for orders and actions, but a poor choice of orders and/or a bit of bad luck can give you a subpar card-cycle which leaves the tempo dangling for your opponent to seize.  Cards held uselessly represent holding out against misfortune or distracting imaginary opportunities- ie. "I'll (be able to) do that if or when", but 'when' never comes and 'if' comes all the sooner because subpar card-cycling has surrendered tempo to the opponent. Cards properly discarded aren't just those imaginery opportunities ignored to the benefit of tempo; they are also the steely nerve which didn't hold out against future misfortunes- a concrete practical and psychological boon in other words.

    Further matters of the unexpected

    Combat Commander's model of concrete space and dynamic time would be good enough for an interesting game if that was that; what makes the game peerless is the extra measure of the unexpected the cards deliver. Events are most obvious here but actions are a second degree of variation from the norms of the map, counters and dice. Actions in CC are like stunt plays, ringing the changes on the familiar orders. The events are particularly satisfactory, neatly solving the problems of when and how to check for and reference events which make dice-driven events tables cumbersome to say the least. A working random events system is not just fun- and it is, naturally enough, it also enhances the viewpoint. Why? Because the viewpoint battalion commander would typically have other platoons and/or companies in action nearby, and the random events can be seen as those other actions impinging on the players' battlefield. Hosowever they are rationalised, the events' slick integration into the CDG makes them truly random and distinct events as opposed to being just the effects of extreme dice rolls, a fact attested to by the oft-repeated remark that CC games all have their own unique story.

    Viewpoint, viewpoint, viewpoint!

    I have already explained how much I like the way that card-driven tactical games deliver a strong viewpoint for the player, making them very immersive. Combat Commander scores very well for viewpoint: the card systems are slick so that the mechanics slip quickly out of sight; the return of the map and counters, and the events both enforce the players' battalion-level viewpoint quite neatly; and the time mechanic is uniquely immersive. The resulting immersion is in a game space rich with variation in dimensions- eg. the narrative dimension of the action-driven events system, hitherto unseen in WW2 tacsims. And that's why I can't get this peerless game off my gaming table! ;)

    NB. You can read the fully illustrated version here at RD/KA!@blogger.


    - A rash of enthusiasm for Up Front

    - A rash of enthusiasm for Memoir'44

  • A Shortcut to Mushrooms: Lord of the Rings - The Card Game

    When Fantasy Flight first began their "Living Card Game" business model, I told a friend that if they ever leveraged their Tolkien license into an LCG, I would be first in line. When they announced that very thing last summer at GenCon, I was all a-flutter. I'm a dedicated fan of Tolkien's classic novel, but all of the in-print LotR board games have left me somewhat cold. The best of the lot is the mammoth War of the Ring, but that was a game that was difficult to get to the table, since it required another reading of the rules before every session. And 2009's Middle Earth Quest was an easy game to admire from afar, but it faded fast down the stretch. Then of course, there's the classic Knizia design, one of the first of many cooperative board games. That was a very good design, but I had trouble actually loosening up and enjoying it. But I do think that the cooperative design is the best one for Tolkien's novel, since the villains are viewed in long shot. Fantasy Flight agreed with me, since The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is also a cooperative game. 

    Now's as good a time as any to admit that I have never really gotten into a collectible card game. Part of that was my own childhood, largely spent overseas. And then when I was in a financial place where I could support a hobby like that, thereweren't any that interested me. So this is my first foray into the world of customizable games. When I opened the box, I was not disappointed. This game looks really good. The cards are, as far as I can tell, entirely new artwork. And the threat dials and tokens all look sharp too. If first impressions mean anything, this game was already off to a great start. 

    And my first few plays bore that out. Playing largely alone, using two different decks, I worked through the first scenario without really breaking a sweat. The second scenario was also excellent, though it was more difficult. I tried that one a few times, but was never able to conquer it. There's one more scenario, where the players need to collect items to free a character from Dol Guldur, although I think it'll become more beatable with further cards. The scenario design is very impressive here. They all feel varied, and they work hard to forge some really solid narrative. After only a few games, I was completely ready to dive into the game and build decks, and keep chugging away at the more difficult scenarios. I was a real cheerleader for this game. 

     So what happened to make me ready to trade this game away? 

    As is often the case, it's a lot of little things. First of all, I have a feeling that the whole customizable card game scene (be it "living" or "collectible") may be one that I'm just not cut out for. Despite the strong narrative in each scenario, the game felt incredibly mechanical to me. Each turn is broken into a half-dozen phases, all of which take a couple columns of rules. This isn't tough to understand, and apparently it's par for the course with LCGs. But it wore me down after 8-10 games, and I grew weary of forgetting steps and needing to go back to redo something. No doubt this was exacerbated by the fact that I played mostly solo games, where it's easier for me to miss rules and steps. So I'm willing to say that this is on me, and probably not something that will bother an experienced LCGer. 

    And of course, in an age when our gaming dollar is stretched further than ever, it's exhausting to think about another expansion treadmill to run. I already have enough games where I've "fallen behind" on expansions. I need another one like I need a hole in my head. But of course, Fantasy Flight is very transparent about this. The game is marketed as a "Core set," so it's pointless to complain about any future purchases or perceived lack of content in this box. That's more a problem with me, and not the game. I can't criticize it. 

    But I HAVE played a lot of cooperative games, and I do feel like I can criticize the game here. Lord of the Rings makes the cardinal error of cooperative designs: it confuses difficulty for excitement. The second and third scenarios are both difficult, the kind of thing where you can try dozens of times before the game deigns you are worthy to taste the now-withered fruits of victory. Monsters keep pouring out of the encounter deck, and they keep piling up in your stage area. You see the game digging you in a deeper and deeper hole. This is common in a lot of co-ops, and I have no problem with it. But the game offers nothing in the way of a Hail Mary. There are very few moves you can make that run the risk of wild success or spectacular failure. The players have too many other things to juggle to really commit to something epic, and often the game gets out of hand early. When that happens, you can almost call the whole thing. It's challenging, but it's almost never thrilling. And any game with a narrative this strong deserves to have some amazing moments that will live in legend. 

    The difficulty also shows that perhaps the cooperative model is at odds with the LCG model. If I play an LCG against my friend, and we flail around wildly, at least one of us has the satisfaction of winning. Here, we mostly just feel like we played poorly. That's not a great incentive to continue buying cards. A game has to do more than offer "do better next time" as an incentive to continue playing. It needs to provide thrills in spite of wild failure. I've heard this game compared to last year's terrific Death Angel. If only Lord of the Rings had the wild tension of that game. 

    Am I being unfair? Maybe a little. It's not the game's fault if I can't get into the LCG model. And it's my own problem that I was a little wearied by the structure of the game. Experienced LCG fans won't have any problem with that. But I do have a problem with its relentless refusal to offer satisfaction beyond the experience of winning. A good cooperative game may not let you win once in 10 games, but it will make sure that you have fun each time you fail. Lord of the Rings doesn't do that. It just raps your knuckles and tells you to try harder.

  • A showbiz game... in an adventure game wrapper?

    So there's a game design I've been working on (and off) for the past year or so, called Jesters, where the basic idea is that each player is an indie jester working on the medieval entertainment scene. After a couple of early versions that didn't really work in playtests, the third main version worked reasonably well and drew some prototype requests from some small publishers who had read the rules. But the thing is, once I playtested that version, which was kind of a combination of worker placement, efficiency and area majority, I was thinking, yeah, there's some strategy involved here and the framework of the game system works at least (which I couldn't say about the previous versions), but it's *really dry* and it's just not really the kind of game I wanted to create or would want to play... (Imagine that, worker placement + efficiency + area majority = dry?!)

    So I kind of shelved the idea for a while and mused on some different ways to inject more life into the game. In recent months I started to get an interest in checking out some of the adventure games out there, which I hadn't really played before... Talisman, Prophecy, Runebound, Return of the Heroes, etc. I still haven't played any of those games (I travel a lot, and even when I'm home, those probably aren't the kinds of games my local game group would be into), but I've been reading up on them a lot, and suddenly it hit me that maybe Jesters could work as an adventure game. The first version of the game actually had individual jester characters with different attribute levels like Talent, Charisma, Energy (akin to RPG/adventure stats like Strength, Wisdom, etc.), and so I realized that maybe I was much closer to what I really wanted with that first initial idea; I just didn't go far enough with it to depict the kind of thing the theme described, and maybe putting it into an adventure game framework could help it come alive in the way the last version did not.


    For example, instead of traveling to perform "quests" or to find monsters to defeat, the players travel to find gigs and have to, in essence, defeat the audience (as in the showbiz term: "You really slayed 'em!"). Different gigs/audiences would have different strengths or preferences, so you'd have to gather different types of "material" and certain special abilities or items (ad libbing, pyrotechnics, props, etc.) that would help. The material would be represented by cards that have different types and strengths; songs, magic tricks, jokes, juggling, acrobatics, etc., some of which in each type are considered better than others, but which may change depending on the venue (the way a raunchy country song would bomb at an opera house but do great at a roadside bar). Instead of finding "allies" to join your party, you recruit people as part of your "entourage"... publicist, manager, groupies, roadies, tech guy, etc. Instead of finding or stealing treasure or magic items, you gain fans and money and fame and "satisfaction" (a "VP" substitute, which is one of the details I liked from the recent version of the game).

    Instead of the "big bad" to fight as the ending, there would be one big Woodstock-esque show that everyone performs for... how well you've developed your material and how many fans you have in the audience will determine how well that goes and who ultimately wins.

    So you get the idea... I think it fits really well and would give a much better sense of depicting and enacting what the subject is, as opposed to some boring worker placement Euro-ish kind of thing... I guess what I'm thinking about at this point is how to make it so I'm not just lifting the adventure style so directly. In other words, I don't want this to be just Runebound with a showbiz theme. Then it almost seems like a parody. Yeah, this is meant to be light in feel and there will probably be parody elements involved, but I'd still like the game to be considered unique for what it is, even though it will likely borrow some adventure game mechanics. So in a way, I do want to match some of the expected adventure game things, because it seems that they'll work well for this, but I also want to add some unique elements that will fit the theme even more specifically. I'll also want to add more interaction and keep the game within 2 hours... knowing that lack of interaction and game length are two of the main criticisms of the adventure game genre. In terms of interaction, I can imagine some aspect of players meeting up and working together, like when different bands connect to do a combined show at a club. Inasmuch as they do that in the game, they can gain benefits from that, but there might also be the danger that if you are on a bill with another jester, and you follow them, you'd better be better than them or they'll end up "winning" the event and maybe grabbing some of your fans and fame. So there could be some combination of cooperation/competition in that sense... you might want to make certain alliences or share certain members of your entourage to help others at certain times. I also might like to have a fully cooperative version, where the final event is a charity thing, and everyone has to collectively get enough fans to that event in order to raise enough money for the cause.

    With that in mind, I have some questions and would appreciate some F:ATtie feedback... First of all, I'm wondering if there are other games that have used the adventure game format but which have a totally different theme? I so, I'd like to check them out to see what's been done in that sense. I mean, can adventure games only have the orcs and wizards and dwarfs and monsters kind of theme?? If so, that seems kind of lame and repetitive. I suppose that's the theme that the board game buying market likes for that type of game, but I can picture a lot of different themes working well in that basic framework, so maybe it's just a case of people buying what the market is giving them, where the market could be more creative.

    Also, I'm realizing that a lot of different showbiz genres could work for this idea, so maybe I shouldn't lock myself into the jesters thing... perhaps something else could work better? For example, punk bands or stand-up comedians or hair bands or philosophers or blues singers or folk singers or magicians, etc. Any thoughts about that? Anything that involves a showbiz act that tours around a region could work well in this context. I'm not sure about the idea of a "band" thing, though... In one sense, I really like the idea of having to recruit and assemble a full band (drummer, singer, guitarist, bassist, etc.) as if that is your band of warriors, and having to deal with some of the problems that can arise from that (drummer quits, singer is a flake, bassist doesn't quite fit in, guitarist has a drug problem, etc.), but I can also see that adding more complexity and length than I'm comfortable dealing with for now.

    Anyway, I'd really appreciate any comments or suggestions as I go forward to work on this again.

  • A Space Hulk Problem

    So. I got 3 of the multiple copies of pre-ordered Space Hulk games in.  I had 3 pre-orders.  I was annoyed since I wanted a copy myself but... whatever.

    Now, one of my customers has cancelled his pre-order leaving me with a copy free.

    I'm not debating what to do with the copy.  My options seem to be:

    a) Put the game up and let whoever buys it, buy it at our normal pricing

    b) Put the game up, but jack up the pricing significantly since it's out-of-print already

    c) Keep the game for myself.

    d) Put the copy up as part of a prize for a contest.  What contest still seems to be the question.

    Option (a) doesn't seem to do much (well, beyond making 1 customer happy).  So it seems the least interesting. 

    Of the options available, I feel that option (b), while producing the most in profit, is probably not that great for the business.  After all, we're a discount board game store and jacking up prices just 'cause something is out-of-print seems rather counter-intuitive for what we want to do.  It's also likely to potentially alienate customers.  

    Option (d) seems to work somewhat,  but until I know what contest I take, I'm not sure what the result could be.

     Of course, option (c) is really what I want to do.  And is realistically, the worst option for the business but the best for me.

  • A Stranger in a Strange Land - Origins 09

    Ok this is old news by now. So sue me- I'm lazy.


    First of all Tom Hancock Sucks for not playing some cool games with us. That being said he seemed like an ok guy. (though obviously a poor priority for fun  or perhaps he is a really excellent judge of character.)

     This was my 1st Origins. It was both bigger and and smaller than I expected. Bigger in that it was spread out along the length of the convention center which was a block long and each of the rooms was the size of small warehouse. Smaller in that most times it wasn't that crowded. You could negotiate the place fairly easily and at off times some of the rooms looked almost barren (I'm looking at you miniatures room.)

     I went up with a group of people who go every year for the past decade so it was all old hat to them. we stayed off site on the cheap. The sprawling convention center made it problematic hooking up with them and so after the 1st hour there I stopped even trying. I have the attention span of a hummingbird so I was distracted every two seconds anyway.  After an hour or two I got my bearings and it reminding me of an a moderlately large airport more than enything else. There was the same decor, same metal benches and kiosks, and the same signs (concourse D and baggage claim up ahead.)

    So the 1st half a day I spent hitting the dealer room. I was anxious to scope deals on minis. The stuff I want no one is interested in so it was pretty easy to get some specific heroclix, old mage knight stuff and some terrain dirt cheap. After that I toured the other rooms and and hit the board game room. My Friend Janna Nelson had wandered in just about the same time so we registered and got our free Rio Grande games. 3 Commandments for me and Ysphathan for her.  I like her game slightly better and she already had both so we swapped. Thanks Janna!

     Before I go further let me mention that Rio Grande games Went WAY ABOVE AND BEYOND in sponsoring stuff. They offered free games (one upon registering, and raffling off hundreds more, the last day was stack of 10 games. Also they proivided free drinks.)  More than the freebie stuff though was the strong presence in the Dealer room when most larger companies have kinda written off Origins. Its too bad that I'm not into their games more- not enough giant robots with guns but otherwise I can't express how their presence really bolstered the board gaming community.

    I played a few games with Janna (aka lawmamma) and shortly after tried out the new Arctic Scavengers. I mentioned before that I thought it was a solid dominion variant, but way underveloped. I like waht they they did but it needed more variety to make a really interesting game. Screw self restraint - they needed to dive in theme first and come out kicking in screaming. instead its a valiant but restrained stab at remaking dominion. I'm not knocking the designer though- just get started on an expansion ASAP.

     I don't record what I game- I'm more of an "in the moment" guy. Needless to say we played some good games but nothing new (well unless you count tales of Arabian nights new. its definately an improvement on the old one and worth getting if you liked the previous incarnation.)

     Day 2:

    After checking out the auction room (stuff that didn't get bid on in auction) I decided to go hard core minis. The minis players are not overly engaging but I was determined to play something fun. 1st i jumped into a big WH seige. It was scheduled later in the day but I talked the guy running it to do a mini battle. It was tons of fun, though the actions never seems fast and furious enough. It also showed me how much I had forgotten. Like anything else with that level of detail there is a ton of minutiae that you can get into. 

    Buzzing from the bloodlust that my Battleragers of Khorn evoked, I jumped into the biggest dungeon crawl I'd ever seen. The table was 10' completely crafted from the Hirst art molds and filled with lavish detail. The guys playing it were more outgoing and it had two GMs to run parts of the game seperately. None the less it took most of the rest of the day to run. the highpoint of the game was raiding the central treasure chamber and being beset upon by a gaint Dracolich. Thre was a lot of laughing while it gobbled down players characters while other went on a looting frenzy.

    There was also a cool giant hot air balloon  game that I was dying to try but couldn't seem to find anyone who knew what was going on. The hot air ballons were 3' each and had cameras attached to them. they changed postions and altitude seeminly at random. They were too bizare not to try out. Aw well maybe next year.

     I finished up the night playing board games. I helped demo Richard Launius' latest offering. We've touted the game before as Game Z. I demoed it again this time with Tom Vassal and Eric Summers from the dice tower. I had never seen Vassal before and was expecting the protypical eurogamer- quiet, thoughtful, and...boring. Despite all the trash talking Tom has endured around here, take my word that he was definately not boring. This guy is Fun. I know fun- probably the only thing I'm realy qualified to evaluate- and this guy is fun. Next time we meet I'm going to get him drunk and we're going to get tatoos and go whoring. We had a blast playing Game Z and both he and Summers came away from game Z wanting more. I even saw Summers drift over to another game of it later.

     Day 3

    By now even the gallon of coffee I put down wasn't keeping up with my lack of sleep. I started off playing a battery of light games with Chris Tandimeier (a strange Aeon) his brother Matt and freind Ray.Talisman, Dungeonquest and some Thunder Road snapped me out of it. It was amazing how many people came by to see Thunder Road. Its friggin great game and NOBODY knows about it. Chris and both got into boardgaming after 30 years of RPGs and apparently have the exact same collection. Either that or he's just borrowing mine when I'm not looking. Later in the day I tracked down Chris (Lower??  A King in Yellow) and played  Last night on Earth. sometimes that game falls flat but this time it was exciting with some huge  sways of fortune and a slim margin of defeat. He played the game well as did his friends Regina and (Big humorous black guy??) After that I bugged out for a while to get some fresh air and wander Comfest.  Community Art Fest was a block away and had some really great bands. It was half hippie half college kid and half gawkers like me. Every other booth was some liberal organization or head shop.  I enjoyed looking around but all the idealism started to make my head swim. I coffeed up and headed back for more gaming. I hooked up with Janna for a few unremarkble light Euros. Out of the bucnh I liked "whitches brew" the best.  Chris was hating it and part of my enjoyement was watching him suffer through. The high point of the evening was another game of "Game Z" with two guys from  a up and coming company.The game is always tense but this one was particuliarly fun becuase I was giddy on two more ventis from Starbucks. They were was interested in looking at it further and we talked about the game dynamics for quite a while. It was interesting to hear the back side of the gaming industry as well as the trials and tribulations of the owners.

     Sunday morning I was ready for more shopping but everyone else wanted to go so all my wheeling and dealing for sunday clearance was for nought. on the upside I came home +$100 I had intended to spend. I had a great time and i'm definately going back. Hope to see ya there F:atties.


  • A Tale of Two Rule Books

    Sometimes you need to hit your thumb with a hammer to realize how good thumbs feel most days.

  • A Time to Kill?

    There's an article up on Time magazine's website that discusses the trend away from the death penalty in many states in America. While I would never be one to take games so seriously as to say that games and life are the same, I think that some of the discussion around criminal elimination and player elimination in games can follow along like-minded tracks.


    Player Elimination


    I'm sure many of the readers of F:AT will immediately jump to the defense of player elimination, as it is often considered one of the staples of Ameritrash. Likewise, the usual suspects that answer to the siren call of the Euro will decry the notion of player elimination as detrimental to the enjoyment of the game. Take this quote from the Time article and see if it sounds familiar-

    "The death penalty is not a deterrent, it doesn't reduce crime, it's expensive, and it's unfair."

    Obviously player elimination isn't going to match up exactly with the death penalty (there's no crime or expense to it) but I think the gist of what opponents to the death penalty say can resemble what opponents to player elimination say:

    • It doesn't add value to the process
    • It is unfair to the person eliminated

    For death penalty opponents, the first bullet above encompasses the notions that executions don't act as a crime deterrent, they don't reduce crime and they are expensive. In Euro terms, this equates to player elimination failing to keep opponents in the game (diminishing your play options) as well as immediately making eliminated players into spectators, and with the change, boredom. We don't have the technology to know if executed criminals turn into bored spectators, but depending on your belief system, there's a chance that might also be true.

    For proponents of elimination, both real and gaming, the first bullet is a mixture of falsehood and half-truths. Executions do deter crime (the person executed is sure to never commit another crime) and while they may not reduce crime, nor come cheap, neither do encarceration. There may be no more value, but there is certainly not less.

    For the AT gamer, player elimination is the *ultimate* deterrent. Play poorly, and you are out.Some of the most intense gaming moments for me have come when I am either on the brink of elimination or pushing someone else to that point. No move becomes more important than the one you make to save yourself from elimination. As to becoming a spectator? If that is such a harsh punishment, then you are most likely playing with the wrong group. You either have opportunities for filler games with your fellow "ghosts" or you entertain yourself.We're all adults, you can find some way to amuse yourself.


    The question of fair, for either kind of elimination,  is really kind of silly. Life isn't fair. This is why Jim Fixx dies of a heart attack and shallow humans like Paris Hilton live a life of luxury. Attempts to make things fair for anyone have, in both life and games, almost always made thing unfair for everyone.

    So where do you sit, F:AT? Is it fair to compare player elimination to the death penalty? Too simplified? Do the feelings you have for one translate over to the other?

  • A Trader Among Us

    This may surprise you, but game blogging is not a great way to make a living. I expected piles of money and beautiful women, but that has so far not been the case (aside from the beautiful woman I married, but I don’t think that was because of my blog). Because of that, I don’t have a lot to spend on games. Combine that with an almost-two-year-old son at home, and my gaming dollar is stretched pretty thin. So when I want to get a new game I do a lot of sleuthing. Unless there’s some recent windfall of cash, I usually buy used games, either from friends or people online. And of course, I trade my games.

    In fact, I’ve developed a reputation among my gaming buddies as the guy who trades everything away. That’s understandable, because I really do love trading. It’s a great way to get new titles onto your game shelf for little or no extra money (less the amount of the original game). And it’s a skill that every gamer should hone, because it gives you far more bang for your buck. There’s much less risk involved in buying a game when you know you will likely be able to get it to someone else for something you like more. So here’s some tips to become a great trader:

    Get over your collection
    When someone gets into the hobby, they tend to buy a lot. Since a new gamer is only just forming their tastes, they will often buy something that they end up not liking. Even if you do like a game, a constant influx of new titles will mean that you may only play a game once or twice, then let it collect dust on the shelf. But of course, you can’t get rid of the game, right? You’re trying to build a collection, and other people like to play it, so its worth holding on to.

    Bull, I say. I have many good friends who feel this way, but I respectfully disagree. You may be building a collection, but it’s a collection for you (and maybe a wife and kids). If you don’t love a game, it can probably go. And if your friends own the game anyway, you can usually play their copy as often as you’d play your own. It’s surprising how few games you need in your collection, and if you do get rid of a game and regret it, you can probably just get it again later on. A couple of years ago, I bought a used copy of the Vlaada Chvatil’s Dungeon Lords, a fun management game set in a cool dungeon environment. It was a fun game, but I began to wear out of it after about five games. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get rid of it yet, but I was able to find a good trade for it. And the truth is, I’ve never regretted making that move. The essential games in your collection probably comprise a very small percentage.

    And even if you love a game, it’s pointless if you never play it. It’s not there to be a museum piece. There are many people who would have the time or group to play the game as often as it deserves. A good rule of thumb: if you haven’t played the game in over a year, it’s time to think about trading it.

    Strike while the iron is hot
    Gamers can be idiots. When a hot title comes out, and then sells out, there will be about a four-month window where a game will be in enormous demand with almost nothing to fill it. A reasonable person would know that the game will be back in print in a few months, and bide their time. But a gamer will pay or trade something ridiculous to get it, often overplaying their hand. You can use this mental illness to your advantage.

    When a game falls out of print and isn’t available in stores, it will almost always get reprinted. Many publishers have a reprint cycle, where they print a small amount, let it run out, then print more a few months after they run out. But there are those who just cannot wait for three months. If you were one of those people who found the game early, you can flip it for way more than you paid. Even if you really loved the game, you will probably be able to find another copy in a few months at regular retail. It’s true that some games go out of print forever, but if it sold out that quickly most publishers will want to print more.

    Last year, a friend of mine was one of the first to buy 2010′s forgettable hotness, 7 Wonders. Like I mentioned above, the game sold out its initial print run, and then was unavailable for all of four months. But in that four months he was able to trade his $45 game for two copies of Memoir ’44, plus all of its expansions to that point. That’s almost $300 worth of game. True story.

    Find a good local game group
    This hobby is primarily a social one. We form connections with those in our community who have different tastes from us, and that’s a good thing. It allows us to try games before we buy them, which is important when possible. It allows people to test genres that they otherwise would avoid. And its great for trading.

    Trading in a group offers one great advantage: if you liked the game, you can still play it. It makes letting go of a title you liked much easier. And if you have a big enough group, you can try your hand at a math trade (more on those later). Some game stores have organized groups that can be a great resource for trading. If they have a mailing list or a Facebook group, it’s always nice to test the waters and see if there are any nibbles for your unplayed games.

    Find a good online community has a lot of faults, but one of the best tools the site offers is its trade function. You can list which games you own that you are willing to trade, and what games you want to receive. It’ll match you up with users around the world who want the games you have and have the games you want. This can be something of a mixed bag, however. Some BGG users have raised pedantry to an art form, and I suspect that a couple are actually computers who don’t understand human interaction. Because of that, many users do not have any interest in trading through BGG, and will ignore all requests sent their way. Check profiles to see if someone mentions their attitude towards trades, and always send a personal message before a trade request. It’s just more polite. You will probably get turned down for many requests, and some people might negotiate a different trade. That’s fine, and a polite refusal is almost always better than no response at all.

    Other boardgaming sites have active forums, and that can be a good place for established members to find trades and bargains on old games. Fortress: Ameritrash has a very good forum for this. I’ve bought many coveted games from those forums, and they also do one or two math trades a year. Which brings us to…

    Math trades!
    Math trading is one of my favorite things. They can be organized either within a local group, among online friends, or even during a game convention. It’s a fun way to get new games, and also provides a kind of cheap thrill of then unknown.

    Imagine you and your friends all have a list of games you don’t want, and you put them all in one huge list. Then for every game you added to the list, you say what OTHER games on the list you would accept in trade for your game. Do this for each of your games, and you have a list of games that you will take for your old games (called a “want list”). Everyone makes a list like that, and then someone who’s running the trade feeds all the want lists and the master list into a computer program. The program then spits out a series of trade loops that will result in games going to new owners:

    Nate has PUERTO RICO and wants IMPERIAL
    Colby has IMPERIAL and wants COSMIC ENCOUNTER

    See what happened there? The computer would tell Nate to give Puerto Rico to Brad, and to get Imperial from Colby. Brad gets Puerto Rico from me, and gives Cosmic Encounter to Colby. Everyone gets something they want.

    When the results and trade loops are given, there will likely be a big meeting where everyone arrives and makes the trades in person. This could be at game night, or it could be a big convention. Some groups (like Fortress: Ameritrash) ship the games to each other, usually agreeing to pay a certain amount of the postage. Every math trade is different, but a good runner will lay out any peculiarities and rules beforehand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

    The best part is that you can place your precious games in the trade with no fear of them going away. I’ve sometimes posted games that I love in a trade, just to see if it would entice other people to post more games that were attractive to me. If nothing catches my eye, I can simply say that there are no games I’m willing to trade my game for. A word of advice though: don’t put something on the list unless you actually want it. Most trades will try to get the most trades for the most people, so if you tagged some derpy game to the end of your list, thinking you’d never get it, don’t be too sure.

    A couple words of warning
    Don’t overestimate the appeal of your game. If you keep getting turned down for trades, there’s a good chance that you are asking for too much. Remember, different things are worth different amounts to different people. The best trade I ever made was when I traded a copy of the pleasant Zooloretto for a copy of the much more interesting (and then out-of-print) Nexus Ops. I definitely got the better half of that trade, but the other guy didn’t feel taken. He got a game he wanted, and I got one I wanted. Value is much more relative than most gamers will admit.

    And if you trade a lot online, postage can add up. There have been some titles that I’ve moved two or three times before I finally arrived at a “keep this forever” game. That’s not a very efficient way to do things, but sometimes it happens. Bear this in mind.

    So there you go, the Rumpus Room’s guide to trading. It’s a terrific way to get new titles and remove old ones you don’t play anymore. I definitely recommend this for the cash-strapped gamer, or for those who find they have a lot of games they don’t ever enjoy. Your collection will be a lot leaner, but it’ll also be a lot meaner.

    Check out my blog, The Rumpus Room. It's filled with other meaty articles, covered in the gravy of average writing.

  • A tribute to Octavian and his tireless work over at TOS

    Judge Dredd

  • A Trifecta of Gaming Goodness

    Wow. I am sitting here in a post game euphoria at some really great gaming tonight. Thanks to the rabid collecting habits (and gracious hosting ) of Frank Branham. I got to play Earth Reborn, Merchants and Marauders, and Viva El Presidente' (Junta Dice).

    My  hat is off to Zev who is releasing all three of some of the best games I've played all year (Roadkill Rally being another which was severely underrated).
    I'm going to let Frank lay it out for everyone just why these games are great but I'll tell you this. It is not innovative mechanics or clever ideas. It is solid fun game play.  All three of these games (four if you count RKR) are simple direct and intuitive. I hope this is a trend forming because if it is we are in for some incredibly good AT gaming.

    The evening started great. I had just missed setup and rules explanation for earth reborn and was able to sit in the fourth seat. This is my ideal gaming situation. I don't have to hear a single rule and have three turns of watching what everyone else did.  Then point me in a direction and tell me who to shoot.
    Earth Reborn- For all of its detail and extensively iconography. This game is a move your dude and roll some dice. The crux of the game is a bid to interrupt the other players actions at critical moments. There is a bit more to it and I'm sure Frank will give you the full deets soon. I *cannot wait* to play the advanced game.  I will say though that it really doesn't need any more complexity. The gameplay is fun and straightforward with interesting decisions because of the whole (If I do this he may interrupt me and do that...)

    Frank taught the others Cyclades while I insisted on trying Merchants and Marauders. The game was so well organized and simple that we were able to start playing within minutes after punching the pieces. My compliments to designer (or editor) who laid out the rules. After a quick glance of the player aid you can start immediately.

    Merchants and Marauders - Best pirate game I've ever played. I am a big fan of 7th Seas CCG which now takes a close second. The game has 'just enough'. Just enough conflict, just enough choices, just enough atmosphere.  The game play is solid and fun. It is incredibly well done. Simple but with enough details to feel satisfying.  We played a three player game- I was getting my pirate on, but it was the Merchant Jess who won the game (by kicking my raiding ass.)

    Both games ended at the same time and people were all over the place. I pushed for Viva LA Presidente while others fired up RockBand.  I've already raved about this game once before and I think Frank gave an overview somewhere here on F:AT.

    Viva LA Presidente- is so *direct*.  Get your bribes. Secretly decide who you want to attack or defend.  Play a few special cards for flavor and surprise. Then hopefully buy yourself another part of your villa (and 1 point closer to victory). Its a Great Game (tm)  It gives you all the fun of a negotiation game but with added the chance and surprises of dice and card play.

    Wow. What an evening.  I'm going to need a cigarette and some spooning after that one.

    Steve"great way to kick off the holidays"Avery

  • A Valentine to OGRE