Thursday, May 20, 2010

Two Hundred Best Games

I thought I'd reviewed Hobby Games: The 100 Best here back when I read it, but either I did not, or I simply can't find it now in my archives. In either case, now that I've just finished Family Games: The 100 Best, I'm going to go ahead and review both.

The premise behind both books is to get 100 people involved in the gaming industry to each review one of their favorite games. The first book focuses on the broad category of "hobby games" covering everything from RPGs, to CCGs, to miniatures games, to board games. The second book narrows the focus a bit to cover games that can be enjoyed by the "family" and covers everything from, well, RPGs, to CCGs, to miniatures games, to board games.

The nature of "family" is only vaguely defined, but can be loosely interpreted to mean games that can be enjoyed by casual gamers, while "hobby" games are more geared towards people who consider themselves more serious gamers. Where Hobby Games includes Dungeons & Dragons, Family Games includes Faery's Tale Deluxe. Where Hobby Games includes Magic the Gathering, Family Games includes Pokemon. Where Hobby Games includes Flames of War, Family Games includes HeroScape. Where Hobby Games includes Squad Leader, Family Games includes The Game of Life.

Of course, there's some overlap, and Family Games even has an appendix listing games from Hobby Games that would also fit the criteria for Family Games if they weren't already in the first book.

One interesting thing about the core concept of both books is how the context of who is doing the review can sometimes be as interesting as the review itself. If a designer of a game I really like has chosen to include a game I've previously dismissed, then I will probably take a second look at that game. Also, if someone who I haven't heard of before has included a game I really like, I'll probably at least take a look at what they've designed, as we obviously have at least some sensibilities in common when it comes to games.

Of course, this can work the other way too. The fact that Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games chose to include Monopoly as his entry for Family Games just furthers my impression of him as a designer of games I'm unlikely to enjoy.

Both books are good, but if you can only afford one of them, then I'd recommend getting the first one. Hobby Games simply had more entries that I found interesting than Family Games did, and I think this will be the case for most gamers.

Family Games is still a good read, so if you really enjoy Hobby Games and want more, then get a copy of Family Games as well.

I'm pleased to have both books on my shelf.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Podcasts 2010

My podcast lineup has changed quite a bit since I last blogged about it. Only three of the podcasts I was listening to back then are still on my list: The D6 Generation, World's End Radio, and This Week In Wargaming.

The D6 Generation is still one of the top podcasts on my list. Although for a podcast that proclaims "no hate" they sure seem to have a lot of hate for some things. Their constant put-downs of Agricola are wearing a bit thin, as was the irrational hatred of Avatar, and even the rational hatred towards Twilight. I know they're trying to be funny, but it's one of the few cases where their patented "not too horrible" humor really is pretty horrible.

Mini-rant aside, it's still a great podcast with tons of good information and humor in every episode that covers a wide variety of games.

World's End Radio is my token GW podcast, but still pretty high on my list. The combination of Australian accents and some coverage of non-GW games keeps this one on my list. They really do put on a good show.

This Week In Wargaming isn't quite so high on my list, but is one I still listen to. The original host, Troy McCauley, had to leave the podcast, and I'm still getting used to the new host, Ken Whitehurst. I loved Ken's segment on music for gaming that was part of the D6 Generation, but his style of delivery isn't quite to my taste for a full podcast.

I really hate to criticize something like this in an amateur podcaster, but he has a rather monotone style of delivery that I sometimes find difficult to pick out of the background noise when I'm listening to the podcast, to the point where my mind will wander and I'll suddenly be thinking "wait, what did he just say?" I'm hoping that either he'll grow into a slightly more dynamic style of presentation as he gains experience, or else that I'll get more used to his delivery, because the content of the show is still excellent. I'm not suggesting that he try to be more dynamic, I just hope that he grows more comfortable with the medium that he'll become more relaxed and his delivery will develop naturally. Once again, I hate to even bring it up, but it is a major factor why the podcast is not higher on my list.

Now for the ones I've added since last year: First up is The Dice Tower. This is one of the bigger board gaming podcasts and has been around for quite some time. It probably should have been one of the first podcasts I listened to, and I'm not sure why it wasn't, but now it's up there at the top of my list, vying with the D6 Generation to be the first I listen to when new episodes are up.

The hosts have a good presentation (the co-host, Eric Summerer is actually a professional voice actor), and while Tom Vasel once had a reputation for loving every game he ever played, as time has gone by he's become more critical, which I think makes his reviews even more useful than they used to be.

Fear the Boot is a general RPG podcast that has been entertaining to listen to as I get back into roleplaying. It's not at the top of my list, but the group has a nice dynamic.

Actual People, Actual Play is another RPG podcast, but where Fear the Boot is more about theory, Actual People, Actual Play is about recaps of gaming sessions. This is more entertaining than I originally thought it would be, and actually more useful for me given that the games they've been playing are mostly ones I want to run or play. I started listening because their first game was Burning Empires, but I'm still interested even though that campaign ended. I'm currently several episodes behind because I thought I was subscribed when I wasn't, but I'll be catching up with it as soon as I'm able.

One more primarily board gaming podcast I'm listening to is Game On! with Cody & John. This one is borderline for me. The hosts are entertaining, but I know more about the games they talk about than they do. Admittedly, they don't pretend to be experts, their pitch is that they're just normal gamers. The problem is that I don't really get that much out of listening to them. This one is likely to be one of the first ones I let get behind if I get less time to listen to podcasts.

Ninja vs. Pirates is a somewhat unique podcast in that it's all about game design, and each episode is an interview with a game designer. While some episodes are more interesting than others, there are a lot of interesting interviews that have been done.

Voice of the Revolution is the "house" podcast for Indie Press Revolution. I'm giving it a try right now, but haven't decided yet if it will stick around on my list. For what is essentially an infomercial, it's interesting and leans far more heavily on the information than it does on the commercial.

Finally, there's 2d6 Feet in a Random Direction. This one is the most sporadic of the podcasts I listen to, but is always interesting and entertaining when it comes out. One of the hosts of the podcast is associated with Endgame, a game store in Oakland that I used to go to occasionally. I probably met him at some point, but I never got to know those guys that well. Both hosts seem to have a lot of friends in the industry, or at least the West Coast gaming scene, and a lot of them seem to make their way onto the podcasts.

That's pretty much it for now. I fully expect this list of podcasts to continue to evolve over time. As it does I plan on continuing to post about it in the hopes that maybe someone else will discover a podcast that they like from the ones I mention.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Game Nights Update

It's been a couple of months since I last talked about our Wednesday night board game night at Castle House Games. We continue to meet every week, and have increased the number of regulars. Including me, we now have around five players that are there on a semi-regular basis, along with one or two more that attend intermittently as schedule and interest permits. We're reaching the point where we can start thinking about having more than one game being played at a time. We're regularly maxing out the amount of players that the "featured" game can handle. Although we haven't been forced to pull out a second game yet, I think it's only a matter of time.

Magpie Gaming night, our RPG night, is pretty much a wash for May. A combination of factors means that we won't have another meeting until the 31st, although after that we should be meeting every Monday for either Magpie night, or Liz' Dogs in the Vineyard game. While the lack of activity this month is mildly frustrating, it appears to be a temporary thing, and not a real threat to the continuing viability of Magpie Gaming night. I'm looking forward to what we have planned with this group.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Third Imperium

When Mongoose first released their version of Traveller, I was fairly enthusiastic. With a few minor glitches, the core rules got things right. It didn't take too long though before the kind of slipshod editing and production errors that have come to be associated as typical of Mongoose products began to appear. Missing paragraphs, incorrect tables of contents and typos galore. Combined with a few questionable editorial decisions *cough* 760 Patrons *cough* I soon lost the urge to collect all the books as they came out.

I do still have to give credit for at least one thing they're doing right : the setting. They decided from the beginning to split the setting from the rules. This let's them use the core rules as a generic system, which they've already used to support supplements for Hammer's Slammers and Babylon 5. And, perhaps unintentionally, it lets fans of the Third Imperium just buy the Third Imperium books and pass over the rulebooks.

While the separation between the two isn't perfect (supplements like Fighting Ships are full of Third Imperium specific designs), it is good enough for my purposes.

Most of the decisions they've made regarding the development of the Third Imperium Setting have been good ones. They started by resetting the clock back to the year 1105 by the Imperial Calendar (5626 AD), the year that GDW started with back when they first created the setting. A lot of later developments in the setting weren't appreciated by all the fans, so by doing things this way, they don't totally alienate anybody.

Next, they picked a single region and chose to expand outwards from it. The original Traveller made the mistake of having two settings: The Spinward Marches, and the Solomani Rim. The problem was that while both are sectors of the Third Imperium, they are on opposite ends of the Imperium. Due to the sheer size of the overall setting, no campaign would ever end up using both settings. Mongoose wisely decided to just pick the Spinward Marches (the more popular of the two settings) and expand out from it.

The first Third Imperium product from Mongoose was a book about the Spinward Marches. While they didn't attempt to write the definitive text (after all this time such a thing would probably take multiple volumes), they did add some new things and set up the seeds for a series of possible futures, not just the one future that occurred in the original setting timeline. There's enough there for people new to the setting to get going, but presented in such a way that those already familiar with the setting now have a lot of new options to toss into the mix.

One of the biggest changes is the shift of focus in the political sphere. The focus of the original setting was Duke Norris of Regina. A clash between the Imperium and the neighboring Zhodani led Norris to take a prominent role in Spinward Marches politics, becoming the Sector Duke and eventually Arch-Duke of the re-established Domain of Deneb. In the Mongoose setting, Norris is still a relatively minor player who barely gets a mention. The focus is instead on Duchess Delphine of Mora, an important trade world. This simple shift in focus adds a lot of interesting new detail to the setting, and several different options for where to take a Spinward Marches campaign other than through the events developed in the original timeline.

Next, they introduced the first alien book, Aslan, covering one of the major races that has a presence near the Spinward Marches. In addition, they covered the entire Trojan Reach sector that lies immediately to Rimward (towards the galactic rim) of the Spinward Marches in as much detail as the Marches themselves were covered in the first book. They followed this up with the Vargr module and the Gvurrdon sector to Coreward (towards the galactic core) of the Marches.

The latest book is another sector book, like the Spinward Marches book, but this time covering the Reft Sector that lies to Trailing (Spinward refers to the direction the galaxy is spinning, while Trailing is the opposite direction) of the Trojan Reach. This sector includes the Islands Clusters subsectors that have been a part of the Traveller universe for some time. While in the original timeline these subsectors were cut off from the Imperium and waged a bloody multi-sided war that started sometime after 1106, this book changes things a bit by establishing a minor Imperial presence in the region prior to the outbreak of war, and presenting alternate future possibilities that don't necessarily end in war.

In addition, Mongoose has been releasing "map packs" for each sector they detail, which are simply a poster sized map of the sector in question.

I hope that Mongoose continues releasing information on sectors that connect to the sectors already released.

I also hope that they stick with their "snapshot" approach to describing the Third Imperium. So far every product has been created as if it were a snapshot of the situation as it exists in 1105. There is no attempt to move the timeline forward as each product is released, as was done with the original Traveller products. This lets a GM move the timeline forward on his own, either following the original metaplot, creating his own, or letting the actions of the players have more influence over the course of events.

At this point I don't really ever expect to run a game set in the Third Imperium again, but I do still like reading about it, which is why I'm still buying these books despite no longer collecting the rules.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

World of Dorkness II

As I suspected, the second session of Liz' World of Darkness campaign was more enjoyable for me than the first one was. I ended up choosing a Fairest Draconic as my Changeling template. This is a template that basically means my character is related to dragons in some way, increasing both my social and combat abilities.

I chose this in order to shore up my weaknesses instead of playing to my strengths. My strengths would have dictated that I go with something that would have increased my academic skills, but that seemed likely to be boring in play, so instead I decided to go with a template that would increase the areas that were weak on my original character. It worked out well.

The situation presented by the scenario consisted of two of us being sent out with a number of NPCs to hunt two of the other PCs for the amusement of the "big bad". The fifth PC was the, *ahem* "prize" for the most successful hunter.

The course of the story was fairly simple but in the process of working through it our characters all began to recall their past existence in the "real" world, and as a result all of them ended up becoming the hunted, not just the original two. This led to a final confrontation with the "big bad" that resulted in our victory and allowed us to escape back to the "real" world.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the simplicity, it was quite enjoyable. Lots of good table banter in addition to good roleplaying.

I've always wondered if I'd actually enjoy playing in the type of game I like to run, and since Liz' style of GMing is very close to my own, this gave me a good opportunity to find out. I liked it!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

May the 4th Be With You!

No, I'm not typing with a lisp, it's International Star Wars Day!

I just can't let this date go by without some sort of comment, so here it is!