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.