Thursday, March 18, 2010


A few of my regular blog readers don't know Griffin, so I thought I'd just point out that I now know a professional game designer, as his first paid work just went up for sale on DriveThruRPG.

The work in question is Everytown, a supplement for the Twilight 2013 RPG. It presents a small rural town that can be dropped into just about any part of the world for the players to encounter. It sets out stats and motivations for the town's residents, a description of the important physical features of the town, and a recent history of the town and its internal politics. The names are left for the GM to set in order that they be appropriate to the region where the town ends up being placed.

I'm biased, but I think it's a solid piece of work that could easily inspire at least a few sessions of play just with what's there, and there are apparently follow up products planned that will present adventures that use the described setting.

It's pretty specific to the Twilight 2013 game and its post-war setting, but could work in some other similar settings. I could easily see it being used as a small town in a WWII game, or a different post-apocalyptic setting with only a few tweaks here and there.

So, congratulations to Griffin (and also to my friend Max McGloin who contributed to it), and I hope that anyone with an interest in the game will check it out!

Self Analysis 101: What I Like In Games

Lately I've been thinking about why I like certain games more than others and I think I've come up with at least one reason I hadn't thought of before: I like building infrastructure. I thought I'd share this as a way to maybe help others to identify what it is that they like about games because the more you understand about this the easier it is to find games that you'll like.

After playing Finca at board game night a few weeks ago, I was wondering why I don't enjoy it as much as I enjoy playing Agricola. They are both farming games, so it isn't the theme. I tend to be more successful at Agricola, so that might be a factor, but that usually only comes up if I can't seem to ever win at a game, and I've won at Finca, so I don't think that's it. The game mechanics of Finca are fine and I enjoy playing it if someone else wants to, so it's not that it's a bad game.

Then I realized that I was building something in Agricola, but not in Finca. That got me to think that maybe I liked games where I built stuff, but I realized that building just anything didn't make it interesting for me. A game about building a skyscraper or a pyramid wouldn't necessarily catch my attention. Building up a company that builds skyscrapers, or a civilization that builds pyramids, now that will get my attention!

Building up a good infrastructure can be rewarding whether or not I actually win the game. In Agricola you're building a farm that produces crops and raises animals. You gather resources in order to build stuff. You're creating infrastructure. I think this is also why I like so many 4x games (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) and civilization games. They usually involve building infrastructure. It also explains why I can lose interest in 4x games that are too focused on the combat, and why I tend to lose interest in real-time strategy (RTS) games so quickly, because while building your infrastructure is key to an RTS, the vast majority of the action is focused on combat, and that's not really what I'm playing the game for.

Taken further, I recognize that it's also one of the factors that attracts me to roleplaying. Over the years I've learned to appreciate the storytelling aspect of RPGs, but the development of a character in mechanical terms as you gain experience has also always been a big attraction: do things to improve your character so you can do more things, in other words, building infrastructure.

As I look at other games I've liked I see this as a pattern. It even applies to some of the wargames I used to play. I've always been a big fan of the Operational Combat Series (OCS) from The Gamers, although I haven't had the chance to break one out in years. The games are centered around combat, but you also have to manage the logistics to be successful. While the logistics model in those games is extremely simplified (actually they're probably appropriately modeled for the level of command the player represents, but that's something for another discussion), they do represent setting up a basic infrastructure before the player can take action.

Now that I recognize this trend in my tastes, I'll be keeping an eye out for games that include an infrastructure building element, and I suspect that I'll be more likely to identify games that I enjoy.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dogs In Shepherd's Rest Part 2

We wrapped up our Dogs in the Vineyard game, and it went pretty well. The players identified what they believed to be the root causes of the problems in Shepherd's Rest and came up with a solution that didn't involve shooting anyone in the head... maybe next time.

The short version is that while questioning one of the townsfolk about something completely different, one of the dogs uncovered an illicit affair between the two single women of the town. The dogs' solution was to quickly marry off both women to the two eligible men of the town. They had actually joked about this affair existing earlier in the game, but it was apparently a bit of a surprise when they found out it actually existed.

It was interesting to see how the group suddenly reversed their own successes from earlier in the game in establishing their chosen solution. The group had been focused on matching the younger woman with the younger man and convincing the older suitor to go after the available widow instead, and had run several conflicts in an attempt to further that goal. When it became apparent that the younger woman was actually the instigator in the illicit affair, they decided it would be better if she was married to the older man after all as he would be able to exercise firmer control over her (remember folks, this game is set in a fictional 19th Century Utah, and the players were playing characters that have bought in to the morality of the setting).

After arranging the marriages, the dogs then left Shepherd's Rest confident that they had set things to rights. Too bad they only discovered one of the two illicit affairs going on in the town...

We had a shorter session this time as there was a meeting of the NWARPG prior to the session, and so I decided to let the group implement their chosen solution without further conflict resolution. After the session was over, I probably got a bit too chatty about the affair they missed and some other details of the motivations of the NPCs, but I usually can't help myself from revealing those kinds of details after a game is over. In the future I'll try to restrain myself more, at least delaying the reveal so that the players can dwell on their own resolution for a few days first.

Overall, an enjoyable and satisfying session, and it's highly likely that we'll be returning to this game after trying out some others. I'll also probably get to try it as a player at some point as Liz has expressed interest in running a town either for RPG Night or for a NWARPG Game Day.

Sunday, March 07, 2010


Lately there's been a real fragmentation of social tools online. Maybe it's been around for a while, but I'm really starting to notice it now. I first started seeing it on Gary's Black Diamond Blog, which was something he noticed as well. I'd seen it a little here as well, but since I started using Google Buzz I've seen it a lot more.

When I update here, in addition to alerting whoever has subscribed to the posts, I've also set it to update my Facebook page and on Google Buzz. The result is that people are commenting on the posts in three different places.

This is great in that I'm getting more total comments, and feedback is great! Still, I have two concerns. First, I can't help thinking that if everyone posted in one place I'd get even more feedback as people play off each others comments. Second, Facebook and Buzz are both fairly ephemeral. Posts on Facebook scroll off in a matter of hours, and the only reason that Buzz doesn't disappear even faster is that I only have three friends that have even posted to it yet!

The blog is more lasting. Posts to the actual blog can be referenced any time that the blog is referenced, which allows people to comment days, weeks, or even longer after the original post was made, which I consider to be a good thing. I recently got an encouraging post on my Panzer Tracks blog that hasn't updated in nearly a year!

Then again, Facebook and Buzz allow for more casual comments and digressions into unrelated topics, whereas the blog itself feels a bit more formal and constrained.

For now, I'm just happy that people are commenting.