Friday, November 09, 2012

"You Can't Handle The Truth!"

Yesterday, my friend Gary Ray put up a blog post about Kickstarter that has proven to be controversial. Since then he's been called illogical, "special," lazy, even "batshit crazy." His ability as a businessman has been maligned, he's been accused of wanting "all the money," as being unable to adapt to change. That last is especially funny for anyone who knows anything about Gary or his store, but I'm not going to do a biography here.

Just what was it that he said that pissed so many people off? Essentially, he said Kickstarter has been successful.

What's wrong with that? Lots of mainstream articles have pointed that out and not been pilloried for it, what was different about Gary's blog post? The problem is that he pointed out the results of that success for the retail game store: they can't sell Kickstarter products anymore.

Why can't they sell Kickstarter products anymore? Gary's critics claim it's because he's lazy, illogical, etc. That's not it though. The reason is that his customers have already bought any Kickstarter game they are interested in through Kickstarter.

To borrow an analogy from the recent election: Gary is Nate Silver, and his critics are the pundits. It's simple math. If you've already sold your product to a store's customer base, then there's no reason for that store to carry your product.

Of course, I've already admitted I'm a friend of Gary's, so how much weight does my opinion carry? It should carry less than Gary's, but since people are dismissing him let me tell you why you should pay attention to mine:

1) I want Gary to be wrong. I want retail stores to be able to carry Kickstarter products because I want them to carry all the games that I like. I'm saddened when I know someone would be interested in a game but I can't recommend it to them because it's simply not available.

2) I'm a customer. I'm the guy that usually buys games through a retail game store, but isn't buying Kickstarter games because I'm backing them on Kickstarter.

Anecdote time. When I bought Sentinels of the Multiverse from the last Kickstarter they had, I played it with some friends. They bought it and played it with some friends. There are now several sets of the game (including expansions) in the local gaming scene as a direct result, most of them sold through a new LGS. From what I can tell, all of those people have now backed the Kickstarter for the new expansion, which means that the LGS has no reason to stock that new expansion when it comes out.

This is what Gary is talking about.

It's not being "lazy" to refuse to stock something that won't sell. It's being smart.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Another Disturbance in the Force

As I suspected, Episode VII will be an original story, not an adaptation of the Thrawn Trilogy from the expanded universe. This has fans of the expanded universe going through another round of conniptions before they're even done with the one they had upon learning that Disney was taking over.

Anyone paying attention should know that the Thrawn Trilogy hasn't been a real option for well over a decade now. For one thing, the books feature Luke, Han and Leia. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher are simply too old to reprise those roles, and no sane person would want to see other actors in them, at least not in the role of Han Solo.

Speculation is now rampant that the movie will somehow "fill in the gaps" left by the Thrawn Trilogy. I'm afraid there are going to be a lot of fans of the expanded universe up for a great deal of disappointment. Disney isn't going to pay any attention to the Thrawn Trilogy when they make Episode VII, and here's why:

Disney isn't going to make the mistake of trying to introduce story elements that don't actually take place on screen. They are going to create an original story that references the previous movies, and that's it. They won't go out of their way to destroy expanded universe canon, but they will make no special effort to avoid doing so either, because that would get in the way of making the best movie possible.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Disney Wars

I think just about every geek in the world has already heard about Disney buying Lucasfilm. It seems like 90% of them are hating it, and I'm not sure I understand why.

Now, if this had happened back in 1997 I'd be one of the people leading in the weeping and gnashing of teeth over this, but at this point the franchise is pretty much dead to me anyway. The worst that Disney could do to it would be to completely fail to revive it, which would essentially leave it in the exact same position as it is now under Lucas.

Of course, there will be the inevitable crossovers with Mickey Mouse wielding a lightsaber, but let's face it, George just approved a Star Wars/Angry Birds crossover, so even that is a step up from what we have now.

Disney also has a decent track record when it comes to managing their big acquisitions. They're certainly a lot better than EA is when it comes to that kind of thing. Although Pixar may not be quite the same studio under Disney that it was when it was independent, Disney hasn't ruined it, and the Marvel purchase led to the Avengers movie!

The only real concern I have over the deal is what's in the fine print in regards to current licenses. I'm particularly concerned over what it might mean for the future of the Fantasy Flight Games license. While I still have some concerns over how the RPG is going to turn out, I'd at least like to get a chance to see the finished product. I'd also like to see at least a few more releases for the X-Wing miniatures game.

So, overall, I'm actually mildly optimistic about what this might hold for the future of Star Wars. If it turns out I'm wrong and Disney is just as bad at managing the franchise as Lucas has been, then we're really just back to the status quo.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Mobile Frame Zero Update

Still waiting on the final version of the rules, but I did get the Mobile Frame Garage kit that formed the bulk of my Kickstarter pledge, and I wanted to show what could be done with it. I probably paid significantly more than I would have if I'd put the order together myself on Bricklink, or even Pick-A-Brick. Still, even though I am now more familiar with putting together orders on Pick-A-Brick, I'm happy that I had this one put together for me.

It's taken me a few days to figure out just what I can do with the parts in the kit. The kit lets you make five basic frames for whichever of the three factions in the game you want to play. Just to be clear, you can only have five mecha build at a time, because the different designs share parts.

The three options are Chubs for the Solar Union, Scramblers for the Ijad, or Hi-Legs for the Free Colonies. You do not get the parts needed to make variants or alternate mecha like the leader version of the Hi-Leg, the artillery version of the Scrambler, or the Free Colonies Commisar and Conscript mecha. You just get what is needed to put together the basic frames, but that will give you a good starting force for any of the factions.

I believe everything in the garage is available through Pick-A-Brick. Unfortunately, the red sloped brick seen in the pics is the only color that particular brick is available in through Pick-A-Brick. That's why the Chubs I put together before use an alternate front piece. This is also probably the reason I will eventually place my first Brinklink order as I'd really like to get the piece in some alternate colors.

I'm really psyched to now have the ability to be able to field a basic Ijad or Free Colonies force against the Chubs I already have. It's also good that I now have the ability to field enough mecha for a three-way, or possibly even a four-way, conflict as I really want to try out this system with more than two players at some point.

Friday, August 17, 2012

FFG Star Wars RPG

Update:  There's now information up on the FFG site.  My comments on that below the original post.

One of Fantasy Flight Game's Gencon announcements has been their new Star Wars RPG. I've been getting information from different sources, so I thought I'd try to compile it all into a single blog post. (picture is originally from the D6 Generation on twitter).

According to Tom Vassel, the game will feature custom dice and apps, and the first apps will be released tonight. Also, Jay Little is apparently the lead designer. He was also apparently the lead designer on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition.

Jason Marker and Sterling Hershey have both tweeted that they are involved in writing for the game.

As can be seen in the picture, the game is called Edge of the Empire and they have beta rules out for it which they are selling at Gencon.

That's pretty much all the information I can find right now. There doesn't appear to be any information up on FFG's site yet.

I'm heartened by the apparent setting being post-prequels. I'm disheartened by the inclusion of special dice and having the same lead designer as WHFRP3, not because I have anything against him, but because it would seem to hint that the game might be based on the WHFRP3 engine, and I'm not a big fan of that. Still, I'm cautiously optimistic that this might be a game I'll actually play at some point.

Update Continued:  The setting is definitely post-prequel for all three games planned.  The first is going to feature the outer rim and the smugglers, bounty hunters, and other scum that populate it.  The second is going to feature the rebellion, and the third is going to feature the handful of force users that have managed to survive the Empire's purges.  I love this.  I think the rebellion era is still the richest one available for roleplaying in.

On the other hand, they want me to pay $30 to playtest the game?  I didn't realize that FFG included smoking crack as part of their design process.  I'll wait for the finished product, thank you very much.  If you want me to playtest, I'd be happy to, just show me where I can download a free pdf.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Going By The Book

What happens when you take a cop that does everything by the book, even when it means that doing so gets him busted from detective down to traffic cop, and task him with doing his absolute best to play the robber in a training exercise? You get a movie with a plot that could have been a film noir tragedy and turn it into an excellent low key comedy.

That film is Going by the Book, a 2007 Korean remake of a 1991 Japanese film called Asobi-No-Jikan-Wa-Owara-Nai.

Warning:  minor spoilers ahead.  Skip the next two paragraphs if you want to avoid them.

Faced with a string of unsolved bank robberies, a newly arrived police chief decides to carry out a realistic training exercise to restore public confidence in the police force.  He chooses Officer Jeong Do-man to play the role of the robber.  Officer Do-man objects stating that the chief may regret his choice, but accepts the role when the chief insists.

Of course, the chief soon wishes he had listened to Officer Do-man's objections as what was supposed to be a quickly resolved training exercise turns into a lengthy standoff due to Do-man's extensive planning and improvisation.

To go into any further detail would risk spoiling the gags or other elements of the plot.  I'll just say that if you think you might enjoy a mix of comedy and a caper movie like Ocean's 11, and don't mind watching subtitled films, then you should look this one up.  It's currently on Netflix.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why D&D?

Dungeons & Dragons has never been my game of choice.  This goes all the way back to receiving my very first RPG, the D&D Basic Box with the Moldvay cover.  I liked the game a lot, but what I'd really been wanting was that boxed set of Traveller with the Free Trader Beowulf mayday signal written on the front.

It wasn't even my favorite fantasy RPG for long.  I was an early convert to both RuneQuest and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay as fantasy alternatives.  I even preferred the Rolemaster derived Middle-Earth Roleplay.  Yet, today I have somehow managed to accumulate nine different core rules sets for D&D and its direct descendants.

This got me to thinking as to why that's the case.  The original reason is that D&D is what people play.  Whatever other games may be going on in a given gaming scene, there's inevitably at least one game of D&D being run.  Today that game might go by the name of "Pathfinder," but it's still D&D at heart.

Going back to college, which was my first period of regular gaming, every other game we played was D&D.  We played some Shadowrun, TORG, DC Heroes, and Star Wars D6 among others, but we always came back to AD&D because it was the one game you could always get a majority of our group to go along with.

Of course, that doesn't explain why I still have so much D&D in my collection today.  Now that I play with groups that have far more interest in other games I could easily do without D&D.  I could claim that it was all leftover from my college days, but that would be a lie.  I actually got rid of most of that stuff during my great gaming "drought" in the years after college.

The main reason I have for having D&D today is that for all its flaws, it works.  The classic six stats with level based advancement, hit points, and Vancian magic is something that most gamers seem to instinctively grasp.  When stripped to these essential elements the game plays fast and fun in ways that many other systems ultimately fail to do.

I find this less true of more recent iterations of D&D (3.5, Pathfinder and 4th), where I find the emphasis is more on character "builds" than building characters, but that was a discovery I made only slowly and that eventually brought me around to the games of the Old School Renaissance (OSR), my favorite example of which is Swords & Wizardry.

I'm even planning on running a game of Stars Without Number soon, a sci-fi game that uses the OSR rules as a base.

So, while D&D might not be the best simulation, or have the most evocative setting, or the best set of rules to encourage roleplay, it's still a good game.  Something that only took me a couple of decades to fully acknowledge.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bourne Legacy

I enjoyed Bourne Legacy. I can understand why it's been getting mixed reviews, but I enjoyed the film and am looking forward to another Bourne installment starring Jeremy Renner. Proceed at your own risk from here on in as there may be some spoilers, although I will attempt to keep them minor.

I need to get that out of the way in the beginning because I'm going to go into some criticisms and I want to make it clear that I liked the movie in spite of them. There are two main criticisms that I think people have with the movie, one valid and one less so. The less valid criticism is that you're going to have a harder time following what's going on in the movie if you haven't seen the original trilogy. To me, that's a strength.  It lets them build off the previously established situations and events. If you come into the fourth movie of a series having never seen any of the prior movies that's your fault, not the movie's.

The bigger problem with the movie is that there is no third act. We go straight from the rising tension of the second act to the closing credits. There's leaving room for a sequel, and then there's not finishing your movie, and Legacy errs on the latter side of things.

One thing that helps excuse this for me is the truly awesome motorcycle chase that precedes those closing credits. The only thing that keeps me from calling it the best motorcycle chase on film is the often questionable camera work (shaky cam abuse). The chase through Manila is both interesting as a chase, and as an exotic locale. It also helped that it was a believable chase scene. There wasn't a single stunt that made me think special effects were involved. I don't know if it was, but it all looked like legitimate stunt-work, not magic performed in the editing room.

The rest of the movie isn't bad either, but I'm prejudiced towards the chase scene as both a fan of chase scenes and as someone who has actually been to Manila, so the scenes set there were even more engaging to me than they would have been otherwise.

It's not the best movie in the series, but if you liked those earlier films then it's still worth watching.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mobile Frame Zero First Play

Jonathan and I got in a game of Mobile Frame Zero using the draft rules I got from backing its Kickstarter. I'm really impressed with the game despite our match-up not really capturing all its strengths.

Normally the first step to a game of MFZ is force creation. Each side, and there can be up to five sides, creates its force in isolation. The limits on a force vary based on whether you are going to play a skirmish or a battle, and how many people are participating. We were playing a two player skirmish, so each side could have 4 to 6 mobile frames and 3 stations (objectives).  

Each frame can have from 0 to 4 attached systems, with each system being either defensive, movement, surveillance, or attack.

Since we were using the two forces I'd put together a while back, we skipped this step and moved on to calculating the asset value of the forces I'd constructed. This led to our first problem.  I'd created two forces that while not identical, were the same size in terms of number of mobile frames and total number of attached systems. This was a problem because we didn't get to see how the system handles asymmetrical situations, which is supposed to be one of its strengths.

There is a rule for dealing with this situation that forces asymmetry, but despite looking for it multiple times, I somehow kept skipping over it. The way we ended up resolving it worked, but I think it probably gave Jonathan a significant handicap in play.  We simply rolled off to see who started with the initiative. The fact that I kept it the entire game after winning the roll supports the idea that doing it that way gave me an advantage.

Carnage in the middle of the table near the end of the game.

Once we started playing we did most things right, and the actual play was a lot of fun. The action order was a little tricky to grasp at first due to an interrupt mechanic that can trigger the actions of a string of mobile frames that haven't gone yet whenever one is targeted that hasn't yet had an action that turn. Once that had happened a couple of times though, it was quite simple to deal with.

There were only two situations that I can find that we handled wrong in play. First, we were overly generous to the attacker when determining cover.  The rule of thumb in the game is to be overly generous to the attacker when determining line of sight, but to be generous to the defender when determining cover. So let the attacker take the shot if he can see any of the defender, but give the defender cover if any part of it is behind suitable cover.  

The other situation was one that I had to go onto the forums at the Mobile Frame Hanger to find the answer to. Whenever a mobile frame takes damage during the middle of its action (which happens a lot due to the interrupt mechanic I mentioned above), that damage doesn't take affect until after it is done taking its action.  We got that right. What we got wrong was that there's an exception in the case were a mobile frame is completely destroyed in the middle of its action. In that situation the mobile frame is destroyed immediately and does not get to complete its action.

I'm really looking forward to playing this more now, and to getting the final version of the rules. My only reservation is that due to the nature of LEGO, I probably won't be taking this off my property to play. Too easy to lose the pieces. For now I'll just have to host any games I play in.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Are the Origins Awards bad for the Industry?

This is a bit late, but I wrote most of it back when the awards were first announced.

I'll admit, it's a sensationalist headline, but I think it's a question worth asking.  As certain elements of gaming get more public exposure, people are going to be looking for ways to distinguish the good from the bad. One way they'll be doing that is to look for the most visible and established awards.

The Origins Awards have the unfortunate combination of being one of the longest running and visible sets of gaming awards while at the same time being an absolute joke when it comes to those categories most likely to be of interest to the larger public.  Specifically the awards dealing with board games.  For an example, let's look at this year's nominees and winners:

Best Board Game

Conquest of Nerath - Wizards of the Coast - Richard Baker, Mons Johnson, & Peter Lee
Automobile - Mayfair Games - Martin Wallace
Hibernia - Closet Nerd - Eric Vogel
High Noon Saloon - Slugfest Games - Cliff Bohm & Geoff Bottone
Pastiche - Gryphon Games - Sean D. MacDonald

Winner: Conquest of Nerath

Best Traditional Card Game

Cthulhu Gloom - Atlas Games - Keith Baker
NUTS! - Wildfire LLC - Matthew Grau
Red Dragon Inn 3 - Slugfest Games - Geoff Bottone, Jeff Morrow, and Cliff Bohm
Star Trek Deck Building Game - BANDAI - Alex Bykov
Struggle for Catan - Mayfair Games - Klaus Teuber

Winner: NUTS!

Best Family, Party or Children’s Game

BEARS! - Fireside Games - Anne-Marie De Witt
Faux∙Cabulary - Out of the Box Publishing - Matthew Nuccio
Get Bit! - Mayday Games - Dave Chalker
Scavengers - Zombie State Games - John Werner
Space Mission - Schmidt Spiele - Matthew Worden

Winner: Get Bit!

Best Board Game is Conquest of Nerath?  In a year where games like Eclipse, Ora et Labora, Mage Knight, and so many other better games came out?  In fact, at the time I write this, there are 67 games listed as coming out in 2011 that are ranked higher than Conquest of Nerath on BGG!

I'm not sure what their exact definition of traditional card game is, but the fact that Yomi isn't at least nominated pretty much negates the validity of the category.  The winner, NUTS!, has a 5.90 rating on BGG right now, where anything under a 6.0 is usually a poor game.

Best Family, Party or Children's Game... first, it's a terrible category that pits games of widely different suitability against each other.  Second, the winner here is the only game on the whole list I actually own, and I wouldn't have nominated it for anything!  It's just not that great a game.

So how does this potentially hurt the industry?  People who don't know any better pay attention to these things, go out and buy the games that win, and then come to the logical conclusion that if the piece of crap they just bought is the best there is, then board games must suck!

Honestly, if Origins isn't interested in improving the way they select awards, then I wish they'd just drop the board game categories and stick to the other areas where they still have some relevance.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Total Recall

Warning:  I try to avoid blatant spoilers in the first part of this review, but it's impossible to discuss the movie without giving something away, so proceed at your own risk.  I will give another warning when I get to anything that I consider to be a major spoiler.  Short version is that this movie has good and bad points, but I enjoyed it for the visuals.

I went to go see the new Total Recall with my wife and while it wasn't a great movie, it wasn't a terrible one either.  The biggest strength of the movie is its visuals.  I'm not sure I've seen better images of a cyberpunk dystopia since Blade Runner.  Quaid's apartment and the surrounding areas of the Colony have a classic cyberpunk feel, and the early scenes that take place in that area are worth the price of admission just for the virtual tourism.

The later scenes in the United Federation of Britain (UFB) are less dystopian and cyberpunk and more standard urban sci-fi.  The visuals aren't bad, but nothing really stands out, which I suppose may have been what they were going for in contrasting the dynamic Colony with the bland UFB.

Unfortunately, despite some excellent visuals, there are some real problems with the rest of the movie.  The biggest being major holes in both the plot and the science.  First, the science.  I realize that different people will have different thresholds for their suspension of disbelief, but the movie passed a couple of mine.  The world has been devastated by chemical warfare, but there's no explanation as to why certain areas of the globe have avoided that devastation.  It's understandable why Australia might have come through unscathed, but Britain and parts of Europe survived where Africa and South America didn't?  That requires some explanation that is never provided.  There's also no explanation as to why the UFB never becomes contaminated from the adjacent blighted zones.  There's no sign of a dome or energy field keeping the blight at bay.

The second hole in the science is the gravity train known in the film as "The Fall."  The idea of a transportation system passing through the center of the planet is an old one (going back to the 17th Century according to Wikipedia), but it has some significant problems that the movie does not address.  The two biggest being the molten core of Earth and the friction inherent in any system that isn't a vacuum.  Neither of these are addressed in the film.  There's also the problem that if such a system actually worked, it would take around 42 minutes to get from one side of the planet to the other, not the 17 mentioned in the film.

So much for the science.  The plot has similar holes.  

Warning:  OK, past this point I'll be discussing the plot of the movie, so major spoilers ahead.

There's never any explanation as to how Cohaagen originally planned to use Quaid to expose Matthias.  It's clearly stated that the Rekall incident was unexpected, yet that's the only thing that triggers Quaid to go looking for Matthias!  So why was Cohaagen keeping Quaid around?  It wasn't to turn him back into a loyal Houser, because he obviously could have done that at any time based on his ability to try to do it after Matthias is dealt with.  The whole thing makes no sense as presented in the film.

While we're on the subject of the plot, I want to touch on the point that some involved in the production of the film claim it was based on the short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," rather than the previous film. That's obviously false. It may have drawn some inspiration from the short story, but it's arguably further from the source than the original film, and it shares various elements from the first film that aren't present in the short story, including the protagonist's name of "Quaid."  It's "Quail" in the short story. This is a minor point for me, since I think the short story would actually make for a lousy film, but I find it annoying that some would claim it as an influence where it obviously wasn't.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. It wasn't perfect, but it had some good action scenes and the great visuals I mentioned before.  Still, the first film, with all it's Schwarzenegger cheesiness and dated special effects, is the better one.  Although I do think the new version has a better triple-breasted whore.

Friday, May 11, 2012

What I've Been Modelling Lately

No, I haven't picked up the X-acto or the paint brush lately, but I have been putting together miniatures for use in a tabletop wargame. That game is Mobile Frame Zero. It's a game of mecha combat using miniatures and terrain made out of Lego. I'll go over the game itself some time after I've had a chance to play it, but for now I want to share some of the mecha I've put together.

The core frame is called a "chub" and was designed by a gentleman who goes by the name of [Soren]. I got a parts list as one of the updates from backing the Mobile Frame Zero Kickstarter and then ordered parts to build a few through Lego's Pick-a-Brick service. I understand that I could probably have gotten them cheaper and with a greater variety of colors through Brick Link, but I've ordered direct from Lego before, and so went with the service I know.

The accessories are largely my own designs, and have been put together with pieces from kits I've purchased.  Mostly those $5-$6 baggies you see at the checkout lines.

In the end, the model cost is comparable to or less than that of equivalently sized GW models if you only buy the pieces you need, and that's without factoring in the cost of paints and other hobby supplies. Since games are played with no more than eight frames per side, and can be taken apart and reassembled into different configurations with ease, the overall cost to play the game is significantly less. It's still a miniatures game though, so it will still cost more to get started than most board games. Of course, if you already have a good selection of Lego, that cost may be lessened considerably.

So, here's some of what I've done so far:

You can see a few more on my Flickr album, but these give a good impression of what I've been up to.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dice Tower Awards 2011 Nominees

Apparently Tom Vasel over at the Dice Tower is having difficulty getting so called "serious" gaming news sites to post anything regarding the Dice Tower Awards.  This is a shame as those same sites will regularly post news about the travesties that are the Origins Awards and other lists of "best games" that make people who actually play a lot of games go "WTF?"

As a result, Tom has sent out a call for bloggers to post this year's nominee listing in an effort to get greater visibility for the awards, and I'm more than happy to oblige given that the Dice Tower Awards have consistently provided a better look at the truly deserving games out there than any other award I'm aware of aside from possibly the Diana Jones Award, which is both broader in what it covers, and narrower in the sense that there is only a single winner each year.

So, on to the nominees (note, I'm not providing links or pictures, if you want those click through to the link to the Dice Tower Awards):

Best Game of the Year:

  • Eclipse
  • Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
  • Quarriors!
  • Risk Legacy
  • Star Trek: Fleet Captains
  • King of Tokyo
  • Die Burgen von Burgund
  • Mage Knight Board Game
  • The Ares Project

Best Family Game:

  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue
  • Kingdom Builder
  • King of Tokyo
  • Quarriors!
  • Say Anything Family Edition

Best New Game Designer:

  • Jason Little for Blood Bowl: Team Manager
  • Kevin Lanzing for Flash Point: Fire Rescue
  • Brian and Geoff Engelstein for The Ares Project
  • Christopher Baddell and Paul Bender for Sentinels of the Multiverse
  • David Gregg for Nightfall

Best Game Reprint:

  • Can't Stop
  • Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War
  • Evo
  • A Game of Thrones:  The Board Game (Second Edition)
  • Puerto Rico: Anniversary Edition

Best Production Values:

  • Dungeons & Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt Board Game
  • Mansions of Madness
  • Risk Legacy
  • Super Dungeon Explore
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon Board Game

Best Small Publisher:

  • Indie Boards and Cards for Flash Point: Fire Rescue
  • Plaid Hat Games for Dungeon Run
  • Rallyman for Rallyman
  • Greater Than Games, LLC for Sentinels of the Multiverse
  • Fireside Games for Bears!

Best Party Game:

  • Crappy Birthday
  • Dixit Odyssey
  • Reverse Charades Junior Edition
  • Faux*Cabulary
  • Train of Thought

Best Game Expansion:

  • Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1 - Team Asia & Legendary Asia
  • Thunderstone: Dragonspire
  • Small World Underground
  • 7 Wonders: Leaders
  • Summoner Wars: Master Set

Most Innovative Game:

  • The Ares Project
  • Ascending Empires
  • Paperclip Railways
  • Quarriors!
  • Risk Legacy

Best Game Artwork:

  • Dixit Odyssey
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
  • Mansions of Madness
  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue
  • A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition)

Best War Game:

  • Sekigahara: Unification of Japan
  • Band of Brothers
  • A Few Acres of Snow
  • Julius Caesar
  • Sergeants Miniatures Game

Best Game Theme:

  • Dungeon Petz
  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue
  • Last Will
  • Yggdrasil
  • Takenoko

Best Digital Boardgame:

  • Asension: Chronicle of the Godslayer
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Forbidden Island
  • Ghost Stories
  • Elder Sign

There you have it, the 2011 Dice Tower Awards Nominees... a far more deserving list of games than you're likely to see from any of the other more established awards this year.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kickstarter: One Year and 33 Projects Later

Do by Daniel Solis launched on Kickstarter in early April of last year, and I signed on in the first couple of days as a backer. Since then, I've backed a total of 33 projects with pledges ranging from $10 to $175 (I'm not going to post the total amount I've pledged on the off chance that my wife reads this post...). Most of the projects I've backed have been either board game or RPG related, but I've backed a few other projects along the way.

Here's the breakdown:

RPGs:  9
RPG Adventures: 1
RPG Accessories: 1
RPG Fiction:  3
Board Games: 11
Board Game Expansions: 1
Computer Games:  3
Miscellaneous:  4

Funded:  30
Ongoing:  3 (2 RPG Fiction, 1 Computer Game)
Failed:  0

Received:  14 (5  Board Games , 6 RPGs, 1 RPG Accessory, 2 Miscellaneous)
Pending:  15 (6  Board Games, 1 Board Game Expansion, 3 RPGs, 1 RPG Adventure, 2 Computer Games, 2 Miscellaneous)
Special Status:  1 RPG Fiction which is an ongoing project for which I have received the first installment

Out of everything so far, the only category I've been displeased with is the board games.  So much so, that I've decided to refrain from further board game pledges unless it's a game that I already have solid information on.  For example, a reprint of an existing game, a game by an established designer that I trust, or an expansion for a game that I know is good.

A preview of the game, even by a normally reliable source, just isn't going to cut it anymore.  For the record, out of the five board games I've received, I've only really been pleased with one of them.  The others have all either had poor production quality or simply failed to be good games.  The latter is subjective, and I know that some people appear to be perfectly happy with games that I am less than pleased with (edit:  the average user rating on BGG for the four games I disliked is 5.69, while the one I liked has a 7.48 rating, so while subjective on a personal level, it's obviously a subjective view shared by others).  That's true of just about any game, but the problem is magnified by the Kickstarter model.

A traditionally published game will usually have a lot of information out there even before it's available, with reports from Essen and elsewhere being posted in various forums so that a little research will generally give you enough information to let you know whether or not you would like a game before you have to commit money to it.

With Kickstarter projects, there's rarely anyone who has played the game outside of the designer's playtest group prior to your pledge being finalized.  In those rare cases where someone else has played it, it's generally been in the form of a paid preview rather than a critical review.  This means that any glaring deficiencies tend to be glossed over.

For example:  Miskatonic School for Girls.  This was a game that got a lot of hype, largely due to theme, good artwork, and the fact that it's a deck building game that was Kickstarted when deck building games were near the height of their popularity.  I finally gave in to the hype near the end of the pledge period, and now wish I hadn't.

Two glaring problems with the game were immediately apparent when I opened the box and read the rules.  First, it relies on a player elimination mechanic to determine the winner.  That's been unacceptable in any game involving more than two players since at least the beginning of the millennium (werewolf and its clones being the exception that proves the rule).  Second, players draw new cards at the beginning of their turn instead of the end of their turn, which means you can't plan your next turn while the other players are taking theirs.  This inevitably leads to more downtime and longer games.

In hindsight, I can go back and look at the Kickstarter page and see where they talk about the sanity loss mechanic that eliminates players from the game, but nowhere do they explicitly say that this results in players being removed from the game before it is over.  This would be the kind of thing that should be emphasized in just about any objective review of the game.

Even when a game does have solid information available on it, I am still less likely to pledge than I once was.  Both Steve Jackson's Ogre Designer's Edition, and the Sentinels of the Multiverse expansion and re-print are projects that meet my criteria, and which I would have pledged to a few months ago.  Now though, I am likely going to pass on  both of them due to my general dissatisfaction with board games on Kickstarter, combined with a decision to spend less on board games in general.

On the other hand, I will continue to pledge to RPGs happily.  I haven't had a single RPG dud come from Kickstarter.  Admittedly, there are probably a couple of games I will never get to the table among the ones I've backed, but even there I've enjoyed reading through the books and feel that I got my money's worth.

It's too soon for me to tell whether RPG fiction or computer games are worth supporting on Kickstarter, but the comparatively low buy-in price to get a complete digital copy of either makes taking a gamble on them a better bet than board games.

So that's my stand on Kickstarter after a year:  great for RPGs, not so great for board games, and I don't have enough experience to have an opinion on any other categories.  I will say that I haven't had a single negative experience in terms of being scammed.  Even the projects I've ultimately been unhappy with have had more to do with communication issues or factors outside of the publisher's control than any deliberate attempt to make a sub-par product.  As with all of commerce, caveat emptor applies, and you should do your best to find out what you're getting into before committing to it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Marvel Comics Digital Failure

This is a follow up to my earlier post about Marvel Comics Season One.  This is a look at Marvel's digital pricing policies, and how I think they fail both the company and the customer.

As I get back into reading some comics, I've decided not to go back to having boxes and boxes of physical comics to store and care for.  So I'm doing my comic reading digitally, on my iPad.  I started with Atomic Robo, which is a great comic with some really affordable collections available digitally.  I then decided to check out a few DC titles to see how their "New 52" was.  I'll save my conclusions on that for later, but whatever I felt about the re-boot, I was really impressed by their digital pricing scheme.  It's a simple scheme:  full price for the latest issue, but all back issues are $1.99, with the price falling to that level as soon as a new issue comes out.

As long as I don't mind being a month behind on my comics, I can keep up in an affordable manner.  Possibly more important for DC, if I want to get into a new series digitally, I have an affordable way to catch up on back issues, which has always been one of the big obstacles to starting a new comic.

Then Marvel Heroic Roleplaying comes out, and I decide to check out some of Marvel's current comics.  Until I see what they want me to pay.  The new price for Marvel digital comics is $1 more than that of DC, and they have issues that are a couple of years old still priced at that full price.   The result is that even though I'm specifically looking to check out Marvel comics, I've still probably spent ten times as much on DC.

This might make some sense if they were trying not to undercut the sales of their reprint volumes, but in many cases those reprint volumes themselves are out of print!

A rather glaring example of the stupidity of Marvel's digital pricing is with the Season One comics I discussed before.  I was going to buy them online, but they are charging $20 for what was essentially a collection of four issues (five if you count the "current" issue, but I didn't care about that one).  Then I checked on Amazon, and found that they are going for less than $15 for a hardcover physical copy!  In addition, each physical copy comes with  a code you can redeem for a free digital copy!

It's cheaper for me to buy a physical copy and throw it away in order to get my digital copy than it is to just buy my digital copy!

As an aside, I've read comments from publishers that it isn't fair to compare the price of a digital copy to the price Amazon charges, because they can't control the price that Amazon charges for their books.  I actually somewhat agree with that argument to a point, but unfortunately for those publishers, this is a case of life not being fair.  Pretty much every consumer out there is going to compare the cost of the digital copy to the lowest cost they can get a new copy of the physical book for, and that cost is usually the one Amazon charges.

More signs that Marvel doesn't really get digital pricing come up once I redeem my digital code.  First, I have to redeem the code on Marvel's site instead of through the Comixology site that I've been using for most of my digital comics.  That's annoying, but not a big deal, as I just have to download an extra app to use it.  The bigger issues is that when I sign up for Marvel Online, I start getting offers from them.  The problem is not the offers themselves, which I can opt out of, but the nature of those offers:  if I buy a particular digital comic they will give me a $5 coupon... for use at a local comic store to buy physical comics!  Clue time:  I don't want physical copies, that's why I'm buying digital!

All this together seems to point towards Marvel being one of those publishers that would just rather the whole issue of digital publishing would go away, and that's too bad, because with the new game out and the movies doing so well, there's a real chance to increase their sales online if they just made the slightest effort to give people what they want.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Marvel Comics Season One

Comics used to be a passion of mine.  I read the occasional Marvel comic as a kid, and got really into them as a teenager to the point I ended up working at a comic shop in college.  At that point I switched over to DC comics and later indie comics before getting out of comics completely for about a decade.

The Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game has me thinking about Marvel again.  Along with the new Marvel movies, it reminds me about what I've always liked about Marvel comics.  Unfortunately, Marvel comics themselves don't interest me too much anymore, for a couple of reasons.  One is that I'm not really a fan of the way they seem to be continuously having a big crossover storyline going on.  Stories like Secret Wars were special largely because they were special.  Now that they're the norm, why even have individual comics?  Why not just have one comic called "Marvel Universe?"  I could also go on about the state of several different iconic characters in the Marvel Universe, but it would just be "comic book guy" style ranting, so I'll refrain.

The other reason is Marvel's digital strategy, or lack thereof, but I'll go over that in another post.  

One exception to my general disappointment with Marvel is with the Season One comics.  There are obvious similarities to DCs Year One stories, but there are significant differences as well.  First, Year One stories are mostly original stories, covering stuff that was never really detailed in the original origin stories of the characters involved.  Marvel origin stories have always tended to be a bit more complete than those of DC, so instead of completely original stories, Season One stories are more re-tellings, or possibly re-imaginings.  One of the biggest differences is that they bring those stories into the modern age, a jump of almost 50 years for some of these stories.

For example, X-Men Season One opens with a teenage Jean Grey talking on an iPhone, and the Fantastic Four Season One has their initial flight being part of a plan to develop a space tourism business to raise money to support Reed Richards' other projects.  While details like that are changed, the broad outline of the original stories remain the same, and those broad outlines are great.

You can really see the potential of these characters, and see why they became so popular.  I'm left wanting to see what happens next, it's just too bad that's not really an option, but I'll get into that in a moment.  They're still good stories on their own, and the best outlet for scratching that nostalgic itch that I've found so far from modern Marvel.

Now the rant on wasted potential.  Where I want to continue the story from Season One, instead, each Season One ends with an issue of the comic that was current when the Season One story was first published, and they are a pretty mixed bag.  The X-Men one is just sad.  There's exactly two characters that are in Season One that are also in the "current" X-Men storyline:  Cyclops and Magneto.  If I was using Season One as a starting point, there would be nothing interesting to me in the current comic.  They might as well have included an Avengers comic for all it had to do with what I just read.  Most of the characters I was just introduced to (including the main point of view character) are gone.  It's even more jarring since Season One sets up the budding romance between Jean Grey and Scott Summers, only to have our introduction to the "current" X-Men showing Scott and Emma Frost as an item.

Fantastic Four is a bit better.  There are no changes in the lineup in the "current" storyline, but there have obviously been big changes elsewhere.  Season One ends with Sue Storm lamenting that Reed Richards will probably never marry her, but that she loves him anyway.  The "current" issue opens showing Val and Franklin Richards, Reed and Sue's kids.  

Thus, while good stories on their own, Season One also hi-lights just how badly the Marvel Universe is in need of a re-boot.  It's in worse condition than the DC Universe was prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths (there's even a multi-dimensional zombie apocalypse going on in the Marvel Universe at this point... some might find that cool, I just find it silly).  At least they can still make good possible starting points for my own Marvel Heroic Roleplay games.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Retconning Gone Wrong

Warning:  Extreme Geekery Ahead!

I love Star Wars, but I increasingly dislike most everything outside of the original trilogy.  There's simply too much out there, to the point that people are forgetting why some things were introduced in the first place.  Case in point:  back-up hyperdrives.

The back-up hyperdrive was invented to cover a plot hole in The Empire Strikes Back.  When the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive goes out in the Hoth system, they somehow are still able to make their way to the Bespin system.  How did the Falcon travel from there if its hyperdrive wasn't working?

This was solved early on in the West End RPG by saying that all ships larger than a starfighter have a back-up hyperdrive.  Much slower than the main drive, and with less endurance, you'd still want to get the main fixed as soon as possible.  It was basically the equivalent of a "donut" spare on a car.  Thus, a plot hole in the movies is fixed to nearly everyone's satisfaction.

Fast forward a couple of decades and back-up hyperdrives are now an accepted part of Star Wars lore, but the people behind the new Haynes Millenium Falcon Owner's Workshop Manual seem to be clueless as to why it was introduced in the first place.  Instead, they see it as introducing a plot hole, because why would the Falcon have needed repairs if they had a back-up?  Thus, they say that due to the extensive modifications made to the ship, the primary and back-up hyperdrives share a motivator, so when the motivator goes out on the Falcon it takes out both!

Congratulations, you just undid the whole reason the back-up was introduced in the first place, and we must once again wonder how the Falcon got from Hoth to Bespin without Han and Leia having died of old age during the journey!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The DarkStryder Campaign

The DarkStryder Campaign is a series of products that are now over 15 years old, created for the West End Games Star Wars RPG.  It is an attempt to create an extended campaign for the system spread over one boxed set and three modules.  It provides some great adventure ideas and character concepts, but as a playable campaign out of the box it's a failure.  I'm reviewing it now because I only recently had the chance to read through the whole line while preparing for a Star Wars game I'm running.

I'll be including some possible spoilers in this review, so on the off chance that you expect to actually play in a DarkStryder Campaign I'll summarize here and suggest that you not read the rest:  don't do it, unless the GM is simply using the published material as inspiration.  If they are actually going to try to run it as published, then expect to be both frustrated and disappointed.

First, the good stuff.  Much of the setup is great.  The New Republic is stretched thin trying to mop up the Imperial remnants following the Battle of Endor.  They have just liberated the capital of the Kathol Sector, decisively defeating Moff Sarne, although the Moff himself got away.  Kathol Sector is a backwater sector on the edge of what was once the Empire, and now that the Moff has been defeated, the New Republic fleet must move on to more important matters, leaving only a token force to track down the defeated Moff.

The players are that force.  They are given the FarStar, an aging Corellian Corvette formerly under the control of Moff Sarne.  The ship had been undergoing a complete refit and conversion under the Moff, being retrofitted with a docking bay for carrying fighters, along with some other upgrades.  Getting it spaceworthy in time to be useful requires a great deal of effort and jury-rigging.

The crew is a mixed bag with a handful of elites along with unwanted castoffs from the rest of the fleet, and a large number of volunteers recruited from the newly liberated world.  The latter includes a volatile mix of both victims and servants of the former regime (most of the latter attempting to keep their pasts a secret).  Many of the pre-generated characters have interconnected backgrounds that could provide fodder for great roleplaying.

The result is a crowded ship with every spare corner filled with supplies, cables and conduits running everywhere, and a crew that is sometimes suspicious of each other and often irritable due to the conditions.  It reminds me a bit of the atmosphere of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.

Several of the adventures that are scripted for the FarStar to go through have good ideas, and the nature of the situation they are in provides a lot of inspiration for other ideas.

Now for the bad stuff.  The situation provides some good ideas for carrots and sticks to keep the players on track, but the campaign as written doesn't use them.  Instead, it sets the FarStar solidly on a set of rails and gives it a solid push to get it going.  This is possibly the most railroaded campaign I've ever seen.

If the player characters include the command crew, as is suggested, then they will often find major decisions taken out of their hands and instead decided by GM fiat.  If they don't include the command crew, then they will simply be spectators as the major events of the campaign go on around them.

In addition, many events over the course of the campaign are fated to happen in a specific way, including some characters leaving the campaign through death or desertion (remember, these are likely to be player characters, not NPCs), as well as major plot points both good and bad for the players.  In some cases deus ex machina appears to have been the first resort of the designers rather than the last.  This applies from the first scene where two of the main characters are removed from the story no matter what the players do (remember, these are likely PCs) to the climactic battle where multiple fleets inexplicably appear to join in the battle, somehow managing to navigate through an incredibly dangerous area of space that the FarStar itself only managed to get through because they had the only navigator known to be able to do it!

There are also a lot of plot holes in the story when it's looked at too closely.  The DarkStryder technology that is supposed to be the reason why the New Republic can't just let the Moff get away doesn't really seem to be that powerful.  It consists of ultra-rare, one-use items that only have a limited effect on a small scale.  A far bigger threat is the Moff's fleet, which includes multiple Star Destroyers.  The reasons why the Moff doesn't use this fleet to retake the capital after the New Republic fleet moves on are flimsy.  The reasons why the FarStar doesn't immediately fall back and call for reinforcements after learning the Moff has Star Destroyers are non-existent.

In fact, there's very little explanation as to what the FarStar is supposed to do once they find the Moff.  There's talk about them calling for reinforcements, but it takes months for the FarStar to get to its destination, and yet they expect reinforcements to arrive almost instantly?  Admittedly part of the time involved is because they have to find star charts along the way, but it would still be a lengthy trip for anyone following them, especially due to the navigational difficulties mentioned earlier.

The final book in the series includes some designers' notes that shed some light on how these problems likely came about.  A lot of the adventures in the series were written on a very short schedule that would have left little time for review of the finished work before publication, let alone any playtesting.  Also, external factors sometimes altered the original intent, such as when the choice to use cover artwork that included a Star Destroyer forced the last minute inclusion of a Star Destroyer into an adventure that hadn't previously included one.

Overall, the DarkStryder Campaign is worth mining for inspiration, but appears to have been created with little regard to how gaming groups actually operate at the table.  Something that may have been excusable had it been written back in 1985, but which designers in 1995 and 1996 should have been better able to take into account.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Board Game Afternoon

Attended my first regular board game event since the end of BGN.  A successful get together of nine people total, only one of which I've played games with before.  I got to play in three games, including two I've really been wanting to get to the table.  The best thing about it was that I wasn't the one running it!   That means I can arrive late and leave early, or skip sessions entirely, without it wrecking the event.  Something that's important for me to be able to do.

The location is a bit cramped, but friendly.  Bears by the Maul Gaming Lounge is an interesting location that takes up a narrow two story section at the end of a warehouse.  In addition to the cramped gaming area in the basement, you have to go outside and around the corner to get to the restroom, and they're pretty much a CCG only shop in terms of merchandise.  On the positive side, the staff is friendly and open to our playing board games there despite their not actually selling anything we play, and their hours of operation are good.

They're also located close to the bypass, which makes it more convenient for gamers from the north to drive down to play.  BGN's old location in the center of Fayetteville made that harder for some people.  Another thing that makes it easier for those people is the time slot:  Sunday from 2 to close, which seems to be around 7 to 9 depending on how late the staff can stay.  This means people working regular 8 to 5 jobs don't have to rush to get to the event.

With a time slot like that, I should also finally be able to get some of my longer games to the table, maybe even Die Macher, finally!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What I'm Up To

What I'm up to in gaming:

Roleplaying:  Still hosting the weekly Magpie Gaming Night, although we're also still trying to make it a bit less Magpie-ish.  The last few games have all been multi-session rather than one-shots, although a couple of them have featured only one adventure spread over multiple sessions.  These games have included Dungeon World, Ashen Stars, Pendragon, and a playtest of Jason Morningstar's upcoming game Durance.  That order also indicates the order of overall satisfaction that the group appears to have had with each game.  No intended slight on Durance, as it was a playtest after all.

Pendragon is the current game of choice for most of the group, although we intend to re-visit Ashen Stars, and possibly Dungeon World.  We're attempting the Great Pendragon Campaign, but disinterest from one of the players may eventually derail it before its conclusion.  This is a pretty ambitious project for a group called "Magpie," but it's something that I've wanted to do for a long time now, and there's a great deal of enthusiasm for it from some of the other players.  We'll just have to see how it goes.

Board Gaming:  Board Game Night is still on hiatus.  We started discussing a return at the beginning of December, but that's been derailed by developments discussed below, and will likely continue to be something that I'm unable to take the lead on.  I'd love to attend one if someone else would step up to run it, but that doesn't seem to be very likely at this point.

Miniatures Gaming:  Dead.  I get the itch to do something with miniatures every once in a while, but I haven't even found the time to go play a game where the miniatures were being provided by someone else, let alone try to work on some of my own.

Computer Games:  Star Wars the Old Republic is the "development" mentioned above in board gaming.  I've been playing the heck out of this.  The license combined with overall solid game play has hooked me in more than any MMOG since the last Star Wars MMOG first came out.  There's a few bugs, and the end game needs a bit of polish, or possibly just more people I know to hit 50...