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Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Tenth Dragon

When Godd created the Wurld, she saw that it was beautiful, full of green mountains, white shores, and blue seas.  Godd wanted to display the Wurld to all of Creation, and so, she hung the Wurld in the Heavens, suspended by nine chains gripped by nine dragons.  A tenth dragon circled the Wurld carrying a great Torch, which gave warmth and light to the Wurld.

But now, something is wrong with the tenth dragon.  You can see the great Torch receding, and feel the Wurld growing colder.  Snow is falling in the harvest month.  The crops are withering and dying.  And furred beasts are descending from the north and ravaging the village.

Knowing that time is precious, you gather supplies and prepare to journey north, to the mountains, to the Shrine of the Tenth Dragon.  Only there do you have any hope of discovering how to return warmth to the Wurld and saving your village.

This is a game idea that occurred to me this morning.  I was supposed to be sleeping in, because Saturday is the only day that I can catch up on my sleep.  Instead, though, I was mostly awake, and kept having random ideas.  One of them was a game title, The Tenth Dragon.  I rolled with the idea, and came up with the background you just read.

I am currently envisioning the game as card-based, for one or two players.  In solitaire mode, the player must work to overcome various obstacles in a journey to the Shrine of the Tenth Dragon.  In co-op mode, two players will work together to overcome the different challenges, while should hopefully scale in difficulty.  I have a few ideas about how the game might work mechanically, but this will probably be on the back burner for a while as I focus on research for another project on which I am currently working.  For now, I just wanted to get the inspiration "on paper" so I can refer back to it when I have the time to work on the game.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Sewer Rats

I want to put some thoughts to paper (figuratively speaking), but don't want a lot of people reading them as of yet.  This idea is still quit undeveloped and needs to simmer, but writing about it well help me gel the concept.

I plan on writing a role-playing game.  It may just end up being a module for a game system that already exists (I hear that the GURPS system is pretty versatile), but I kind of like the idea of designing my own system specifically for this setting.

In the not-too-distant future, the world's oil supply suddenly and rapidly dwindled to nothing.  The infrastructure of the United States, so dependent on gasoline, crumbled.  Power outages swept across the country as power stations ran out of the coal, gas, or oil necessary to keep them going.  The economy collapsed, and the nation's leaders, huddled in their underground bunkers powered by hydroelectricity, cowered and waited for the country to dissolve.

Then came the Corporation.  It approached the United States' panicked legislators with a new, renewable energy source.  While not environmentally friendly, it could rapidly replace oil as a source of fuel, restoring the country as the dominant nation of the world.  All the Corporation asked in return was control.

And control it received.

No longer governed by the people, no longer protected by the Constitution, the United States became the Incorporated States.  The Corporation dissolved all American businesses and established a communist totalitarian state.  All citizens were required to attend Corporate schools, work in Corporate jobs.  In return, the Corporation restored energy to the nation.  It provided jobs, housing, food, clean water.  Everything a citizen could ask for.

All for the price of freedom.

Thirty years later, you are a member of the resistance.  You live off the grid, underground, or in abandoned buildings.  You do what you need to do to survive.  And you fight and hinder the Corporation in any way you can.

You are a Sewer Rat.

That's the basic backstory.  I may, later, change the way that the Corporation came to power, but I like this one because it makes some sense, and this new energy source could cause it to be dark, rainy, and unpleasant all the time, which would fit the pseudo-post-apocalyptic mood.

The basic idea of the game is that the players take on the roles of Sewer Rats.  They try to take down the Corporation using any means necessary--stealing from them, subverting employees, whatever they can do, they'll do it.  And while their cause, it is just, they also have to eat occasionally.  Which will often mean that they must steal from the very citizens they are trying to free.  Moral dilemmas galore.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Game Concept: Enki-Des

I didn't set out to come up with a concept for a game.  Admittedly, I knew it was a possibility, but it was not the goal.  My intention was to have a nice thought-exercise in creating a mythology.

So here is what I came up with:

The Ukri are a people constantly at war.  They developed along the western edge of Baltien, but despite ready access to the ocean's vast resources, did not develop sailing techniques for centuries.  Forced to eek out a living without being able to fish on a large scale, they eventually rejected small-scale pearl diving and fishing in favor of raiding their wealthier neighbors to the east.  They became a very warlike people, and their mythology reflects this.

The Ukri believe that death brings them to the Enki-des, or Soul Gates.  The Enki-des is a series of seven gates, and the Ukri spend their lives preparing for the seven trials they must face in order to pass through the Enki-des to reach Furrma, or Paradise.

The first six trials are combative.  A deceased Ukri must battle and defeat a powerful guardian to pass through the first Enki-des, then the second, and so on until the last.  The final trial is not a trial by combat, however.  Instead, the Ukri must present his or her Enko-ori, or essence pearl, to the Enki-Rochimga, roughly translated as Guardian of the Soul, who is usually depicted as a giant white bear standing upright on two legs.  If they are able to present their Enko-ori to Enki-Rochimga, the Ukri are permitted into Furrma.  Obtaining these Enko-ori is critical to the Ukri--without it, their battles through the first six Enki-Des will be for naught, and Enki-Rochimga will devour them.

There are two ways to obtain one's Enko-ori.  It may be obtained in life if one lives a long, honorable life.  In such cases, one's Bilchidru, a sort of observing spirit, will grant one his or her Enko-ori immediately after death.

For those who do not live long enough or honorably enough to be granted an Enko-ori freely, there is still hope.  They must search the Enki-des for their Enko-ori.  This search may take a very long time, and they will be fighting the guardians of the Enki-des the whole time.  

Subsequently, the Ukri prepare their entire lives to fight.  From the time they can walk, they are told to run.  From the time they can lift a stick, they are shown how to use a spear.  They are trained to fight, and they do so exceptionally well.

Interestingly, they are not bloodthirsty warriors, like many of the warrior nations that developed in Baltien.  This is likely because of their quest to obtain their Enko-ori by living a long and honorable life.  While they are willing to fight and raid as a way of life, they do battle as bloodlessly as possible, seeking to leave their opponents alive, but incapacitated.

So, the game concept is pretty straightforward.  It's a solitaire game, wherein the player takes on the role of a deceased Ukri warrior, and must battle his or her way through six unique guardians.  After defeating a guardian but before advancing to the next stage, the player may search the area for his or her Enko-ori.  If he or she does, they must battle the guardian again, regardless of whether or not they are successful in finding their essence pearl.  Alternatively, their may be a way to search the area while doing battle, but the player will be distracted and thus take damage from the guardian.  I haven't worked out how this might work mechanically, yet.

If the player is able to reach the final gate of the Enki-des and present his or her Enko-ori to Enki-Rochimga, he or she wins.  Otherwise, he or she loses.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Solitaire Print-and-Play Contest

I am getting close to finishing my newest game design project, called Derelicts of Sin: Heresy.  Heresy is the first in a series of games that seeks to combine the feel of old-school text adventure games with modern board game design sensibilities.  It is a solo RPG-esque game with a sci fi/horror theme, designed for the Solitaire Print and Play Contest.

The player uses a series of randomized room tiles to slowly create the derelict ship throughout the course of the game.  Gradually, the player will also gather items and solve puzzles in order to restore power to the ship, at which point he or she has multiple options for winning game.  Time is of the essence, though; once the player runs out of oxygen, it's game over!

Version 1.0 of the game book can be found here.  Version 1.0 of the tiles are here, and the data cards are here. The player sheet is here.

For background purposes, you should know that I'm a bit of an oddball.  My synapses are always firing, and occasionally, out of the blue, a word or phrase will pop into my head and I'll think, "That would make a cool title for a movie/game/novel/whatever."  One Thursday, 5 May, a phrase popped into my head while I was at work: "Derelict of Sin."

"That sounds cool!" I thought.  "How can I use that?"

I started brainstorming, and very quickly came up with a rough storyline in my head.  I decided I liked the idea of a sci fi puzzle adventure, like the old text adventures we all know and love.  (Or is that an older generation thing?)  I even considered making it a text adventure, but thanks to some suggestions and encouragement from various BGG members, I decided to attempt it as a board game.

Derelict of Sin has since evolved into a concept for a series of games called Derelicts of Sin.  The first game, Heresy, involves the protagonist, Kyle Mason, exploring one of the Derelicts of Sin in an attempt to survive.  His ship was destroyed by sabotage, and by sheer luck, he was able to reach the Wreckage, a Cursed zone declared off-limits by the Theocratic Council.  As Kyle explores the [i]Heresy[/i], he learns more about what happened to the ship, and must face the truth about the Council--that it is not the holy governing body it pretends to be.

I had several design goals while creating this game.  Feel free to let me know how well I accomplished these goals:

1. Create a tabletop game that evokes the feel of a text-based adventure.

2. Create interesting decisions for the player--i.e., moments where the player must decide, "Should I do A or B?  Which would be a better use of my resources?  Which will help me win the game/achieve the ending that I want?"

3. Weave the storyline into the story in such a way that it doesn't crowd out or distract from the gameplay.  In other words, make the game playable without the storyline, and add in the story so that those who are interested can enjoy it, while those who simple want to play or replay the game can do so without getting bogged down.

4. Allow for multiple "good" and multiple "bad" endings.

5. Push the player to a particular "preferred" ending.  This was a minor goal, but since I have a few sequels in mind, at least some of which will likely involve more of Kyle Mason, I wanted to guide the player to an ending that made sense, yet would continue the Derelicts of Heresy storyline.

Check out Joe's wicked awesome graphical update to the game here.

Also check out the "stealth" version, Pocket Derelicts: Heresy, based on the popular Pocket Dungeon print and play game by Jonathan Gilmour.  The PocketMod player sheet for Pocket Derelicts: Heresy can be found here.  The rules can be found here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Compact Heroes

I want to take a moment to endorse a really cool endeavor.  Rob Waibel, a retired Army veteran and long-timed RPG designer, has created a card-based role-playing game specifically designed to be small and portable.  This is very handy for soldiers, who may want to play a good RPG but can't afford the weight and space of the plethora of books required for many RPGs.

Rob is using Kickstarter to fund the initial printing of the game, called Compact Heroes.  Not only is the game perfect for anyone that needs to be able to pack up their stuff and move easily (I'm looking at you, college students), but for every copy sold, Rob will donate $1 to a Veteran's Charity.

I encourage you to support Rob in his new game design.  It's fun, portable, and a unique take on role-playing games.  And it happens to support those who put their lives on the line to defend us and our country.

Compact Heroes

Little Box Contest: Zodiac

I would apologize for the long stretch without any posts, but since no one actually reads this blog, I doubt it caused anyone much distress.

Last month, I submitted several games to a print-and-play design contest called the Little Box Contest.  The challenge of the contest was to create a game that would fit inside a small box--roughly two-thirds the size of a paperback book, I would say.

The first three submissions were mine, and all three were pretty terrible.  I will freely admit that.  I did learn a lot from designing them, though, so I don't feel like my time was wasted.  (The time of anyone who actually printed out and tried any of the games, though, may have been wasted.  Sorry.)

The contest has closed for submissions, and is now in a voting period.  Anyone who wishes can print out any of the game submissions, cut the components (the majority of the games are card-based), play them, and vote for their favorites.

If I was a dishonest or a prideful man, I would vote for my own games, but I can plainly see that they are the worst of all the submissions.  So that option is out.

I have tried several of the other games, though, and the one that got my vote is called Zodiac.

Zodiac is a game about trying to influence the twelve signs of the Zodiac in a race to build up enough power to gain control of the different planets in the heavens.  It is for two- to four-players and takes anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour to play, depending on the number and experience of the players.  According to the designer, John Burnson, the idea was to create a game like Dominion, but without shuffling.  I think he was successful, and I find the game to be very enjoyable.

The way the game works is this:  There are twelve cards arranged in a ring, each card representing one of the twelve signs of the Zodiac.  Each card has its own ability.  For example, Crab allows you to claim an additional card during your turn, rather than the usual one.  Twin allows you to activate a sign twice.  Bull allows you to gain 1 sway token.

Within the ring of twelve signs are five planet cards, each one worth a different number of points--3, 5, 7, 9, and 11.  A player must be able to pay sway tokens equal to the number of points on the planet in order to claim it.  The game ends when all five planets have been claimed.  Since each planet can only be claimed by one player, the player with the highest number of points wins.  In order to build up enough sway tokens to gain a planet, the players must claim signs and use their abilities.

Only six of the twelve signs are "visible" each turn.  The visible signs are marked with a moon counter in the corner, and they are the only signs that can be claimed or activated.  Each turn, the sky advances by one sign, so players must plan ahead when deciding which signs to claim and which abilities to activate.

Signs can be claimed by as many as three players.  However, each player must pay double the previous price in order to claim the sign.  So the first player must only pay one sway token, which he or she places on the 1 circle of that sign.  The second player must pay 2 tokens in order to claim the same sign.  One of those two tokens is place on the 2 circle of that sign, while the other goes away.  The third player must pay a whopping four sway tokens in order to claim the sign, one of which is placed on the 4 circle, while the other three go away.

Any player who has claim on a visible sign can activate it once during his or her turn.  For example, if Jimmy has claimed rank 1 of Waterbearer, he can activate it's ability during his turn, "Gain 2 sway.  Each other player gains 1 sway."

A turn goes like this:  First, the player must "advance the sky."  This means moving the moon counter from the last sign in the sky counterclockwise and placing it on the next available sign clockwise.  Thus, the sky moves around the circle of signs, constantly changing which abilities are available and what cards can be claimed or affected.

Second, the player gains one sway token automatically.  This really isn't a lot.  It's very important to use the signs to gain additional sway each turn.

Third, the player is allowed to use any or all sway available to him or her to claim a card.  This can be either a sign or a planet, but the player must be able to afford the price in sway, and he or she is only allowed to do this once.

Fourth and finally, the player is then allowed to activate any visible signs over which he or she has claim.  Each sign can only be activated once per turn.  This tends to be the most interesting phase, particularly late in the game.  A player might activate Twins so he can use Maiden twice and gain a total of six sway tokens, then activate Ram to advance the sky, thus making Crab visible, allowing them to use their newly-gained sway to claim a planet.

I was able to play the game last night with my wife and a couple of friends.  My wife ended up winning, which is probably a good thing.  She doesn't normally care for the more strategic games that require a lot of analyzing and concentration, but I think she had fun, and clearly our two friends did, as well.

Because the placement of the twelve different signs is always randomized, and because only six of them are ever visible at any given time, the game can be a real mind-bending puzzle at times.  The positions of different signs in relation to others can be extremely important.  For example, the Twins + Maiden combination (activating a sign twice + gaining one sway for each other visible sign besides Maiden that you control) can be exceptionally powerful, but it's difficult to pull off more than once or twice a game if they are on opposite sides of the sky.

If that sounds even remotely interesting to you, I highly recommend checking the game out here.  You can also find the Little Box Contest here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Print and Play Games

I have recently discovered a phenomenon that has opened up a whole new world of game design for me: print-and-play games. I had no idea such things existed! But there are tons of them. Heck, there is a podcast by a guy with a soothing British accent devoted solely to reviewing print-and-play games.

Nearly all of these games are free to download.  The few exceptions are things like rules for miniature war games.  They might charge you a few bucks for the fifty-page pdf document that explains how to play the game.

Anyway, print-and-play games are exactly what they sound like: you download the pdf, print it out, cut out and assemble the pieces, and you're ready to play!  Admittedly, this is more time and effort than it takes to prepare a game off the shelf.  You can't just buy it, take it home, and play it.  But on the plus side, it's free.  So there's that.

Another potential downside to print-and-play games, though, is the fact that they're self-produced.  This is not an inherently bad thing.  There are many game designers out there who have developed and produced fine games.  But games published professionally have to get past a "gate keeper."  A professional saw the game and was willing to spend money--a lot of money--to produce and sell the game.  This same professional has probably seen dozens or hundreds of OTHER games that were rejected for various reasons.

Print-and-play games do not have to get past any gate keeper.  There is no one to stand up and say, "Actually, this game isn't very good because of X, Y, and Z.  You may want to work on these issues."  Which is not to say that they're bad.  It's just that they MIGHT be bad.

Still, being able to acquire a new game to play for the low-low price of some ink, card stock paper, and an hour or two cutting and assembling seems like a pretty darn good deal to me.

Boardgamegeek.com has an entire section devoted to print-and-play games.  Some of the more popular ones include Aether Captains (a dice-based game of zeppelin combat in a steampunk world), BattleCON (although only four of the dozen or so characters are available in the free print-and-play version), Pocket Civ, Elemental Clash, TactDecks, and Zombie in My Pocket (which, in fact, became so popular that Cambridge Game Factory decided to help the designer fine-tune it for multiplayer and publish it professionally).

Having discovered this amazing new world of design space, I have begun work on two of my own print-and-play games.  Neither is terribly good, but I think they're interesting and unique.  I'll probably discuss them in further detail when they've been developed further.  For now, I'll say that one is called Dream Shift, and involves battling nightmares in a constantly shifting dream world in order to symbolically overcome your fears, guilt, grief, and loneliness.  The other game, which is similar mechanically to Dream Shift, is called Dungeon Shift.  It's a fairly standard dungeon crawler for one player, wherein the player must utilize the tools and weapons he or she finds to traverse through a dungeon full of pits, traps, locked doors, and monsters great and small.

I am really excited about both games, and am considering making a whole line of print-and-play games using the shift mechanic, with various tweaks.  I am also really intrigued by the whole print-and-play genre of games, and anticipate buying a rotary paper cutter of some sort in the semi-near future to facilitate fast, even cutting of various cards, tiles, and tokens.

Whee!   Free games!

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Sounds like a good name for a game convention, right?  It's actually the title of an interesting fighting game that may or may not be coming out this year.  (I think it's short for Battle Connection.)

The game is based on good ol' 2D fighting games like Smash Bros. (which is technically 3D, but the mechanics of the game only utilize 2D space), Mortal Combat, Soul Caliber, etc.

Each player fights with a chosen character and that character's corresponding pre-constructed deck.  Attacks and defensive moves are made by creating "attack pairs."  Each character has his or her own unique style, which, combined with basic moves such as Strike or Drive, create a move.  Each character can combine at least three unique styles with the seven basic moves to create a wide variety of attacks and blocks.

(I was totally going to copy and paste a cool image from the BattleCON website, but it doesn't want to load.  Sigh.)

I'd go into more detail about the game, but an excellent write-up can already be found here.

What I really wanted to talk about was the fact that the game might NOT get published.  That would make me very sad.  The designer is producing the game himself, and has already calculated the cost required.  He has a print company lined up to produce the cards and such, he just needs to be able to pay them!  Here's where you can help.  KickStarter.com provides ordinary people like you and I the chance to pledge money to projects such as this.  Those who pledge thirty dollars or more will receive a copy of BattleCON, as well as one of three promotional characters who will not initially be available in stores.  Which basically means you're preordering the game.  Those who pledge forty dollars or more will receive BattleCON and all three promotional characters.  Which basically means you're preordering the deluxe edition of the game.  There are additional prizes for larger pledges.

You don't have to pay the money right away, and if the project does not reach its goal of $6000 by April 21, you don't have to pay anything at all.  If the project does reach the target amount, then your Amazon account will be charged and you will be sent prizes according to the amount you pledged. 

More information about BattleCON and its KickStarter project can be found here.

Help support the cause!  Let's make this cool fighting game a reality!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fantasy Flight Games' Living Card Game Model

For many years, I was addicted to Magic: The Gathering. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I'm no longer addicted, although I do occasionally through together a deck on Magic: The Gathering Online if I want to kill some time.

One of the frustrating things about Magic was that it's an incredible money sink. Roughly eight-hundred new cards are released every year. I'm not a collector, so I never tried to acquire a copy of every single card, but if I had, it would have been extremely expensive. No, I approached the game not as a collector, nor even as a gamer, but as a deck-builder. I enjoyed creating new and interesting decks. I liked tuning and tweaking decks until they were just right. The problem was that I would finish a deck and move right on to the next one. I wanted to build something else. The pleasure for me was more in the creation of decks, less in the playing of them.

I discovered, after ripping open far more booster packs than I'd care to admit, that there was a way to play the game designed specifically for people such as me. It's called drafting. Each player is given three booster packs of fifteen random cards each--eleven commons, three uncommons, and a rare card. Each player opens their first pack, selects one card from the pack, and passes the remaining fourteen cards to the player on his or her left. He or she then takes the fourteen cards passed from the player on his or her right, selects one of those cards to keep, and passes the remaining thirteen cards to the player on his or her left. This continues until the pack is depleted. Each player then opens his or her second pack and repeats the process, except everyone passes to the right. The third pack is passed to the left. Each player ends up with forty-five cards. Using those cards, plus any number of basic land card, each player creates a forty-card deck and plays each other.

This was an amazing revelation for me. I could go into a game store every week, build a new deck, and play it right then and there! Unfortunately, this really drained my wallet. I won't say how much money I've spent on Magic cards over the years, but it was a lot. Way too much.

So I gradually weaned myself from the game. I still find it enjoyable, but I cannot afford to keep it as a hobby. It is too expensive for me, both in time and money.

Most people will eventually fall away from collectible card games because of the expense. One of the major contributing factors to this expense is that collectible card games come in random booster packs. Consumers never know exactly which cards they will get. This makes certain cards--particularly the tournament-level rare cards--extremely difficult to acquire. Players who participate in Magic tournaments today could spend four- or five-hundred dollars or more to assemble their decks. One card that sees a great deal of use is called Jace, the Mind Sculptor. A single copy of this card retails for around one-hundred dollars, and most of the decks that use it will run the maximum of four copies in the deck. That's just for four cards of a (typically) sixty card tournament deck.

That's quite the money sink.

Fantasy Flight Games seems to have caught on to this dilemma. They currently have three games that follow the Living Card Game model. (Those games are: A Game of Thrones, Call of Cthulhu, and Warhammer: Invasion, based on George R. R. Martin's book series, H.P. Lovecraft's mythos, and Games Workshop's fantasy world, respectively. An LCG based on The Lord of the Rings is set to be released this year.) Instead of releasing randomized packs, new sets are released in their entirety. Every single card is bundled together in a single pack. No more hunting through booster boxes, hoping for the right cards. No more competing over rare cards. Every card, all in one purchase.

This may not be exciting for collectors, who love the thrill of the hunt. A Living Card Game is too easy for them. There is nothing to chase after. But for gamers and deck-builders, this is fantastic. Everyone has easy access to the same cards. How those cards are put together, then, as well as the skill in using those decks, will make the difference between victory and defeat. I have lost many a Magic game because my opponent had a deeper wallet. He could spend money to acquire the most powerful and ridiculous cards, while I struggled to put together something remotely competitive. This is not a problem with LCGs. Everyone is on an equal playing field.

I didn't like Mr. Martin's fantasy series, so A Game of Thrones is not for me. The Warhammer fantasy setting is not nearly as interesting to me as the Warhammer 40,000 science fiction setting, so I probably won't try Warhammer: Invasion. The Lord of the Rings game might be intriguing, but it's not out, yet. But Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos is very intriguing to me. Admittedly, most of the actual stories were pretty terrible. But the mythos behind them is fascinating, and I would love to explore that world further. Subsequently, I have purchased some Call of Cthulhu LCG products.

One thing I noticed was that the Call of Cthulhu Core Set, which is supposedly the jumping off point for beginning players, was not a good product for beginners. For one thing, although a maximum of three copies of a given card is allowed in a deck, only a single copy of each card is included. This means that the game designers were able to squeeze in many different cards, and therefore introduce new players to a wide variety of concepts.  This also means that players do not get a clear idea of how to build a good, streamlined deck.  Players must either assemble sub-par decks consisting entirely of singletons, or purchase three copies of the Core Set.  That's a high initial cost to get into the game.

The Core Set does provide a decent rule book to introduce players to the complex game.  It does a very good job of explaining all the basic mechanics of the game and how gameplay work.  It does not, however, do a very good job explaining tactics or deck-building. 

All told, I would say that this game is very difficult to get into unless you are already familiar with other collectible card games.  The Core Set provides cards, a game board, and tokens with which to play the game.  It contains a rule book that explains how the game works.  It does not, unfortunately, provide new players with tactical or deck-building advice, or even very much internal guidance within the cards themselves.  (There is, for example, a subset of cards that give bonuses to Cultists, but there are only three or four such cards--not enough to build a deck around.)

Thankfully, FFG apparently noticed some of the problems of the Core Set.  The set remains the same, but newer Call of Cthulhu LCG packs (called Asylum Packs) now come with a full three copies of each new card.  This helps facilitate efficient deck-building, which I can approve of.  New Asylum Packs are released every month, each containing three copies of twenty new unique cards.  They tend to retail for ten to twelve dollars a piece, which isn't bad at all.

Currently, I haven't found anyone to play the game with me, which is slightly frustrating.  My wife does not wish to learn the game, and I can't blame her, because this game is at least as complicated as Magic.  She prefers simpler games, which is fine.  I haven't managed to hook any of my friends, yet, and the game hasn't taken off at my friendly local game store.  I'm sure it's only a matter of time.  For now, though, I am not in an arms race to create decks that smash all my opponents, which means that I haven't purchased a lot of product.  I have made it known at the game shop that I am interested in supporting a monthly Call of Cthulhu game night, though, and apparently I am no the only one that has expressed such interest.  Hopefully within the next few months I will have a regular group of people with whom to play.  Until then, I'll be playing it solitaire--which, let me tell you, is also not the best way to learn a new game.  Maybe someone should suggest a starter pack of two ready-to-use decks to Fantasy Flight Games?

I do like that the game provides the thrill of opening new cards, finding interesting and powerful card combinations, building fun and unique decks, and playing intense strategic games against opponents.  I also like that this game is much easier on my wallet than any other trading card game I've seen.  Having only played the game against myself--and with subpar decks--I can't say for sure whether it's the best thing since television shows on DVD.  I've had fun, though, so far, and hope to continue to explore the world of Cthulhu, Miskatonic University, Yog-Sothoth, and the Order of the Silver Twilight.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Shoot Many Robots!

Demiurge Studios is preparing to release their first original IP, a video titled Shoot Many Robots. I'd say the title is pretty self-explanatory.

As a way to promote their new (and very entertaining-looking) game, they're holding a contest called Design Many Robots. You can find more information here.

If I had any sketching skills at all, I'd totally jump on this.  Sadly, art is not one of my strong suits.  Sigh.

Anyway, I thought I'd help spread the word.  If you have the skills and if your design is chosen, you can have your robot included in the first expansion of Shoot Many Robots!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Game Design Challenge

I recently started following a blog called Inspiration to Publication, all about two game designers and their quest to publish their games.  They've already had moderate success, and their newest game, Train of Thought, looks to become a "new classic."  I know it's an oxymoron, but apparently that's what you call such things.

Anyway, one older post, they provided a game design challenge for budding game designers.  They gave it just after a post about where inspiration comes from.  The challenge was to come up with a game concept drawing inspiration from five different categories: theme, mechanic, title, genre, and components.

I thought I'd take them up on their challenge, so here are my ideas.

Theme: Using small robots to prevent a mine from completely caving in

This would be a cooperative board game with a lot of randomization.  The players are miners who have become trapped by a cave-in, and need to use their remote-controlled robots to move to different areas of the board and prevent various disasters--flooding, cave-ins, damaged power cables, etc.  A disaster deck would pile on the tension while players try to coordinate their efforts and free themselves from the cave.

Mechanic: Multiplayer card game where cards flip when players change sides/roles

This is a sci fi/horror themed game for three to ten players.  One player starts as the Host with a Host deck and goes around infecting the other players.  All other players start as humans, with Human decks.  Their cards are split down the middle width-wise, and when they become infected, they turn the cards over and use the Infected side to help the Host.

Title: Counting Coup

A chess-like game on a six-by-six board where pieces represent Native American warriors attempting to gain the most coup by showing their bravery using different maneuvers and tactics.  Certain moves are very risky but earn a great deal of coup, while others are safer but earn less coup.  The player with the most coup at the end of the game wins.

Genre: Party game

A card-based version of musical chairs.  Players each have a starting hand of four cards, except for one player who begins an extra card. Players must rapidly exchange cards on a one-to-one basis until someone has a complete matching set of four cards.  That player wins bonus points, but cannot have a starting hand of five for the rest of the game.  Each player gains points for having a pair or three of a kind.  But watch out!  The player with the Dud card gets no points that round!  Play continues until all players have had a starting hand of five cards.

Component(s): Rubber bands

I have a few ideas for using rubber bands in a game.  The one I like the best is a building game.  Players take turns rolling a D3 (a six-sided die with two 1s, two 2s, and two 3s) and balancing that many blocks on top of each other.  Then each player takes a turn shooting a rubber band at a particular stack to try and knock it down.  They must shoot from the opposite side of the board, and their hand cannot be over the board when they shoot.  The first player to successfully stack five blocks atop each other wins.

Monday, February 21, 2011

SaltCon! Part Two

SaltCon touts itself as a family-oriented game convention, which is cool, I guess.  What this meant for Cassie and I was that the con didn't open until 10 am or so on Saturday.  We slept in and had a killer breakfast at the hotel's buffet.  We had planned to visit the Hogle Zoo while we were in Salt Lake City, but alas, the weather was pretty terrible.  So after breakfast (and a brief nap to take the edge off of our respective food comas--we ate a lot of food), we headed to the convention.

There was another Munchkin tournament in just a few minutes, so we signed up.  This time, it would be Munchkin Fu, the Kung Fu movie-themed Munchkin game.  Neither of us had played that particular version before, but we figured the basic rules would be the same, and indeed they were.  The only major difference is that Munchkin Fu has Styles and Classes, rather than Races and Classes.  I never did get an interesting style, but my wife got one with a really long name that game her a +3 Bonus for each empty Hand.  This was important later, when some of the players tried to stop her from reaching Level 10 and winning the game by stealing the weapon she held in her hand, not realizing that the +3 Bonus from the weapon wouldn't actually go away, thanks to her Style.

There were six players in the tournament: myself; my wife, Cassie; three people who were blood relatives of some form or another; and a fat guy who was friends with the three relatives.  I got the feeling that they all wanted someone they knew to win, because then they could all take home the prize (the copy of Munchkin Fu that we were playing) and play it with each other.  So it felt a bit like it was four players versus two.  Hence why I didn't feel bad when I helped my wife win.

Here's how it went down.  Cassie shot to Level 9 fairly quickly, and had a good assortment of equipment to give her a lot of power in combat.  The guy across from me--the nephew of the guy in the opposite corner from me, a teenager supposedly playing Munchkin for the first time--had managed to reach Level 9 on his last turn and was banking on winning the game his next turn.  He just had to stop my wife from winning, first.  He thought he had it in the bag.  When she kicked open the door and revealed a dinky Level 1 monster, he threw down some kind of magic mirror that would have made the monster disappear.  Fortunately for Cassie (and me), the guy's uncle also threw down a Wandering Monster card with a small Level 8 monster.  His nephew tried to tell him that he didn't need to do so, but he said he'd already played it, so it stayed.  I'm not sure why he did that, but it worked out.

What this meant was that Cassie still had a monster that she could kill to reach Level 10 and win.  So everyone threw down everything they could to try and stop her.  One person stole her dagger.  Another destroyed her armor.  Another pumped up the power of the monster a bit.  It still wasn't enough until the nephew, the other guy at Level 9, used a card he'd probably been hoping to save for himself to make the monster even bigger, just enough to tie with my wife's combat strength.  So I finally got involved.  I tossed down a potion that made my wife even more powerful. 

No one else had anything to change the combat, so my wife killed the monster, reached level 10, and won the game.  Everyone else was at least a little disappointed, but the guy who had played the Wandering Monster did the most grumbling.  Not sure I really understand that.  It was his fault that she was able to win that turn.  I'm convinced that she would have won the next turn, regardless; I had stockpiled a bunch of cards to stock people from being able to win, and was pretty confident that they wouldn't be able to stop her a second time.

Anyway, we got to take home the Munchkin Fu game as a prize.  So that made game number two that we received without having to pay for it.

After that we hit up the Opportunity Games table to try out Karnaxis for the first time.  A young man we'd met yesterday while playing Munchkin--Taylor, I think--joined us, as well as the designer's wife.  I believe her name was Morgan.  The designer was Andrew, although I remember that better because it's on the Karnaxis box.  Andrew set the game up and explained the rules, then acted as banker so we could concentrate on learning the game rather than doing lots of arithmetic.

It's a straight-forward enough game in some ways, but there are a lot of options at every turn, and each decisions can have great consequences.  For example, I hesitated to take out a loan to start a business until the fifth turn, while Taylor and Morgan did so two or three turns earlier, and subsequently were able to grow their respective businesses significantly more than I was.  Additionally, the two of them managed to make a killing on the stock market.  So they kind of creamed my wife and I.  Kudos to my wife, though.  She didn't bother starting a business or investing in the stock market.  She just put herself through school and got a job, and still finished the game with more money than me.  And apparently this was one of the few times when trying a new game for the first time didn't stress her out, so you know it's good.

See the game here or here.

We were both pretty worn out by then, so we decided to do one more game and call it a day.  We selected Forbidden Island from the game library and snagged a fellow named Daniel to play it with us.  It's a quick cooperative game where players take on the roles of explorers trying to snatch priceless artifacts from a sinking island.  The island is represented by sixteen tiles.  Players are represented by wooden tokens.  There is a deck of cards, each card corresponding to an island tile.  Each turn, a player is able to perform up to three actions.  These actions could be to move one space (horizontally or vertically, but not diagonally), to "shore up" an island tile, to give artifact cards to a player on the same tile, or to gain an artifact.  After those three actions, the player draws cards from the artifact card deck.

Then, a certain number of cards are revealed from the top of the location deck.  (The number of revealed cards is equal to the water level, which in our game started out at two and quickly rose to three.)  The tiles that match the revealed location cards are then either flipped over (the opposite side having the same picture and title, but in muted blue tones) or removed from the island completely, if they have already been turned over.  This represents that part of the island becoming partially submerged and then completely flooded.  Shoring up a location means flipping back to its normal state, which can buy the players some time.  Mixed in with the artifact deck are cards that cause the water level to rise, so as the game progresses, the island floods even faster.

The goal of the game is for players to acquire four cards of a given artifact, reach a location that has an icon that matches that artifact (there are only two locations per artifact), then use an action to discard the four cards and gain the artifact.  Once all four artifacts have been acquired, players have to reach the helicopter pad and escape the island.

Each player has a different special ability that helps them.  For example, I was an Engineer.  I could shore up two tiles per action instead of just one, which came in handy.  I went around shoring up the important locations--the ones that had the artifact icons on them--while Cassie and Daniel were lucky enough to rapidly draw the cards necessary to acquire three of the artifacts, after trading some cards back and forth.  They snatched up those artifacts while I grabbed the fourth, then we booked it to the helicopter pad.  With planning and luck (and, admittedly, forgetting to begin flooding the island until the second turn) we were able to beat the game together.

It was fast-paced, exciting, and a lot of fun.  And I hear that the game is pretty inexpensive.  Daniel looked it up on his fancy-pants iBerry or BlackPhone or whatever and found that Walmart sells it for twelve bucks or something.  Cassie and I may have to pick up a copy. 

Before we left, I managed to find a guy willing to trade some of his board game he'd brought for some Magic cards.  I'd brought a whole bunch of them, since I'm trying to get rid of them, and I knew I'd be surrounded by gamers.  The guy wanted to get back into Magic so he could play with his kids.  I gave him enough cards to start two or three decks.  He gave me Ticket to Ride, the one with the German map.  Cassie enjoyed it when we played it at my brother's house last Christmas. 

That made the third game that we didn't have to pay money for.  Even accounting for the used condition of two of the games, we're looking at something like seventy-five dollars worth of games for nothing.  Well, not NOTHING.  Tickets for two people for two days cost us sixty dollars.  Still, I feel like it was totally worth it, and fortunately, my wife agrees.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

SaltCon! Part One

This weekend, my wife and I attended SaltCon, a board game convention in Salt Lake City.  It was our first convention of any kind, so we weren't completely sure what to expect.  It ended up being a lot of fun, and we walked away with three board games, none of which we had to pay for.

They had a game library set up with over three hundred board games available.  The first game we tried was Dominion: Alchemy, the only expansion we haven't tried.  Another gamer, a fellow Dominion fan, joined us.  We played with five Actions cards from the base set and five from Alchemy.  I can't say I found it terribly interesting, to be honest.  Most of the Action cards require Potions to purchase.  I'd be okay with that if Potions were costed at, say, three coins or less, but four?  For a card that doesn't do anything except help me purchase four of the available Action cards?  Those Action cards had better be good!

But they really weren't.  The guy who joined us, Ben, picked up a whole bunch of copies of Familiar, which is "+1 Card, +1 Action, Each other player gains a Curse."  My wife tried Herbalist, which is "+1 Buy, +1 Coin," and has an ability that basically allows you to float a Treasure card on top of your library.  When you place Herbalist in your discard pile, you can place a Treasure card you have in play on the top of your library.  There really weren't any Alchemy cards on the table that I thought were interesting, so I went with a Mine/Remodel strategy, hoping to use Mine to turn my Coppers and Silvers into Gold and purchase as many Provinces as possible.  Towards the end of the game, I used Remodel to turn my Golds in Provinces.  I was also able to use Remodel to get rid of five or six of the Curse cards that Ben was so happy to put into my deck.  I still had nine Curses by the end of the game, though, which allowed Ben to edge me out by a few points for the win.  I was kind of annoyed; my wife and I tend to avoid aggressive strategies, in general, and Curses in particular.  It's just not fun to have a deck full of cards that do nothing but prevent one from winning.  At least twice that game, I draw a hand of a Victory card, three Curses, and a Treasure card.  What can you do with that?

Anyway, I didn't really see much in Alchemy that would encourage me to purchase it.  It doesn't innovate, at all, beyond making the Action cards more difficult to purchase.  Dominion: Intrigue made Victory cards more relevant and interesting.  Dominion: Seaside played with time with Duration cards.  Dominion: Prosperity pushed the power level with Platinum and Colony, and a lot of high-priced Action cards.  Dominion: Alchemy just doesn't do anything interesting or unexpected.

 My opinion of the expansion probably wasn't helped by the weird feeling my wife and I goy from Ben.  My initial thought was "child molester." When my wife mentioned it to me later, away from Ben, she suggested rapist.  Either way, there was something off about that guy.  

Anyway, we next joined a Munchkin tournament.  It was fun, but obnoxiously, the guy who won did so by playing a card that stole the monster I was fighting (to go from level 7 to level 9, I think) and caused it to fight him, instead.  He was at level 8, so defeating this big monster would win him the game.  He couldn't actually defeat it, himself, though, so he convinced a girl to help him out.  She was at level 9, and was an Elf, which meant that she would also go to level 10 by helping him.  They both won.  I didn't mind losing, and I didn't mind them winning.  I was just annoyed that I didn't even get to kill that big monster and go to level 9 before losing.  It was like my second-place finish was stolen from me, or something.  Anyway, I was annoyed.  Still, the Steve Jackson Games guy handed out a bunch of little prizes, including a cute little stuffed toy that my wife and I took home.

At about this time we discovered that my wife's name had been drawn to receive a door prize.  We were presented with a copy of Karnaxis, a modern economics game.  The designer and his family were there, demoing the game and selling it at a discount price.  We had chatted with them earlier and had planned to try their game at some point.  I had already decided that I wanted to buy it if it ended up being fun, but then we got a free copy.  So, we didn't have to buy it, which was cool.  We didn't have a chance to play it that day, though.  That would have to wait until the next day. 

View the game here.

After picking up the game, we then played Small World for the first time.  We played with gentleman whose name I cannot recall, other than it sounded French.  He had only played once or twice, before, but thankfully we had a volunteer from the con help us out and explain the game to us.  It was a lot of fun.  The idea is to draft from the available races and use them to take over as many sections of the map as possible.  At the end of his or her turn, the player receives coins for each section he or she controls.  The coins count as victory points, although they can also be used to draft the best races.  Cassie was lucky enough to smash face with Trolls.  Those things are really tough to move once they set up their defenses.  She ended up winning by a few points.  It was a lot of fun.  We may have to pick up a copy.

The last game we played that day was called The Resistance.  Apparently it's a lot like Werewolves, which I've heard of, but never played.  It's for five to ten players.  Each player is dealt a character card which they do not reveal; it tells them whether they are loyal to the resistance, or a spy.  All players then cover their eyes, and the spies are allowed to reveal themselves to each other.  Then, the resistance attempts five missions to bring down the oppressive regime.  Players take turns being the fearless leader.  The leader selects several other players to join him or her on the mission.  The exact number of players on the mission varies depending on the total numbers of players and on the mission.  All players then vote on whether or not they accept the assignments for the team.  (If the traitors know that a traitor is on the team, they will vote to accept the team.  If the loyal resistance members are certain that a traitor is on the team, they will vote no, although it's difficult for them to know for certain, so they will usually accept the team.)  On a majority, the team is accepted.

Then, each team member on the mission hands the leader a face-down card, either a red card or a blue card.  These are shuffled so that no one is certain who put in which card.  All the cards are then revealed.  If there is even on red card, the mission failed.  Otherwise, the mission is a success.  The players must try to determine who the traitors are before it is too late.  If they succeed in three missions, they win.  If three missions are failed, the traitors win.  It's a fun and interesting game, and really very quick, but it can get very "yelly" as suspicions are thrown about.  "You're a traitor!  You must be!"  "That's ridiculous!  You're only accusing me to throw suspicion off of yourself!"

I was a traitor, which of course my wife knew almost immediately, because she can read me like a trashy magazine.  Thankfully, not everyone else was as sure.  I was on the first mission, along with the leader (I think his name was Daniel) and one other person.  I can't remember her name.  One of the traitors had a temporary special ability that turn that allowed him to peek at someone's character card, and he used it on the female on the team.  He promptly and loudly accused her of being a traitor.  Then, I slipped a red card into the mission to fail it, so everyone assumed that she really was a traitor.  It threw suspicion off of me quite superbly.  Subsequently, I managed to get onto the second mission and fail it without anyone being sure if I was a traitor.

We almost had the game in the bag, but we got unlucky with the third mission.  One of the traitors--the only one that at this point everyone was 95% certain was a traitor--was the leader that turn.  He failed to accurately predict what the NEXT leader would do, and so he chose his team poorly and revealed that certain players were definitely NOT traitors.  Thus, the resistance was able to complete the third, fourth, and fifth missions and steal the game.

Still, it was a lot of fun, if a little too stressful for my wife.

We then left for a dinner appointment and to check into our hotel.  We hit up the con the next day, as well, but that's a post for another day.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Goblin Factory: Update

We just started writing up Challenge cards to allow for competitive gameplay in the base game. Most of the challenges are for cooperative play, but now at least two of them will allow players to compete against each other. They're fun variants, but let me tell ya, they can be really tough!

Goblin Factory

Hello, all.

So, as most of you know, my wife and I have been working on designing a card game. Well, I'm happy to announce, it is pretty much done. We have all the numbers tweaked to where they need to be, which involved cutting the deck down from nearly 150 cards to eighty-six and reducing the point costs of each card to smaller, simpler numbers. The card layouts and colors are nearly done (we're still up in the air about a couple of colors, and we're debating how much information needs to be included on the Challenge cards.)

Right now we're working on the art for each card, by which I mean my poor wife is working on the art. I can't draw anywhere near as well as she can, and I have had no real experience with graphical programs. I greatly appreciate her hard work! Thanks, sweetheart!

(By the way, the art is the hardest part, because it's so crucial to making the game look professional and not like crap. Also, there is a huge amount of it. As my wife says, "Saying that everything is done except for the art is saying that we're about twenty percent done.")

We hope to have the artwork finished in, say, a month, at which point we can get a prototype made at www.thegamecrafter.com and start testing and presenting the game to the world at large. There is a big convention in Salt Lake City in May, and fingers crossed, we'll be there with a bunch of copies of Goblin Factory to demo and--hopefully--sell.

Now, I don't think this game will actually bring in a ton of money for us, but it'll get our names out there, for sure, and if it gets picked up by a game publishing company, who knows?

For those who haven't seen the game, it is a cooperative card game designed for one to six players. Each player takes on the role of a goblin working in a factory in their mountain home. Players must work together to assemble a machine in a strict time limit. The Challenge cards vary the type of machine that must be build, and occasionally alter the time limit, as well.

Each turn, you draw two cards from the community deck and add one to the machine. The other card is placed in the community discard pile. The idea is that parts are being sent down the assembly line faster than you can grab them, so you have to take the most useful piece and use it. You also have the option of discarding both cards and drawing a third card for that turn; however, you MUST add that part to the machine, no matter how good or bad it turns out to be. This is like reaching up into the assembly line and grabbing the next available part without looking at it. This strategy is useful if both the cards you draw fail to help you assemble the machine you are trying to build.

Once time is up, the point costs of the machine parts are added up. The players have won if they have achieved the requisite point costs specified by the Challenge card.

There are a small number of Disaster cards that force players to remove parts from the machine. (For those who helped playtest the game, you'll be happy to know that I decreased the chance of drawing a disaster card by about half, from a little over 2% to a little over 1%.) This adds an element of danger to the game, as well as strategy--if the removed part detaches a whole section of cards from the Starter Piece, those parts will not count towards the point totals at the end of the game, so you had better find a card to reattach them!

The machine parts all have symbols on the edges of the card, either a red square, a blue circle, or a green triangle. In order to add to the machine, players must match the symbol on the edge of the card they want to add with the symbol on the edge of a card already attached. Only one edge must match--for example, the red square of a Laser must be attached to a red square of a Connecty Bit. It doesn't matter if one of the blank edges of the Laser is laid alongside a green triangle edge of a Power Source card, or if the blue circle of the Laser is laid down adjacent to the red square of a Piston. Only one edge has to match in order to add a card. You're goblins, after all. As long as you can attach the part properly in one spot, you can hammer the rest into place.

The game is fast-paced and a lot more fun than I can probably describe. The rules are simple enough that everyone to whom we've demonstrated the game was able to grasp them after a single play through. It's a quick enough game that you can play it as a warm-up for game night, and fun and interesting enough that you can play multiple games in a row without getting bored.

I think that my wonderful wife and I have made something fun and unique. I really think that, with the right marketing approach and a little luck, we can get the game picked up and sold to a mass market. Which would be great; it's a really fun game that I think many people would enjoy, whether they be a hard-core gamer, a social gamer, or a parent looking for a game to play with his/her kids on family night.

Further updates, and probably artwork, will be forthcoming.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The 40K Dilemma, Part Two

I've already discussed my struggles with deciding whether or not to jump into the Warhammer 40,000 hobby.  One of the issues is which army to get into.  I skipped over that problem in my last post because I knew it was the stickiest of all the issues.  With this post, I would like to discuss the issue.

There are fourteen supported armies in the 40k universe.  Most of those are quite customizable, which means there are a LOT of options.  (The Necron army is the one exception.  There are so few options that there is really only one way to build the army.  Supposedly, they will be getting a new codex next winter.  Hopefully that will expand the options for all the Necron players out there.)

I've thoroughly read the main Warhammer 40,000 rulebook, and have decided that close combat armies that focus on assault are not for me.  That rules out several armies, namely:  Blood Angels, Space Wolves, Tyranids, and the most popular builds of Chaos Daemons and Orks.  The last two can be built to focus on longer-range shooting attacks, although they rarely are, which I can only assume means that they're not actually that good at it.

I like the idea of an army that utilizes a lot of long-range shooting, taking out enemy units from a distance.  It seems, though, that a lot of the traditionally "shooty" armies are paper tigers.  They can hit hard, but they're really fragile.  I'm not sure I like that.  I think I'd prefer something with a bit more durability.  Although Tau, Necrons, Dark Eldar, and Eldar are all supposedly good at ranged warfare, they are also all relatively fragile.  (Again, the Necrons are an exception.  They're actually fairly tough to kill, but they have a special rule that nerfs them pretty badly.  If you kill a high enough percentage of the army, they "phase out," vanishing into the vapor, which is cool and flavorful, but not so good for the Necron player who wants to play an interesting game.  Most Necron opponents ignore the game objectives and just go for phase out.  BORING.)

That leaves five potential armies:  Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, Daemon Hunters, Witch Hunters, and Imperial Guard. 

Space Marines represent the most basic army.  They're fairly durable, decent at shooting, decent at close combat, versatile, customizable, and have multiple vehicle options for tanks and transports that are all very good.

Chaos Space Marines are very similar to Space Marines, but they serve the Chaos gods.  I'm okay with playing an evil army, especially since they have some interesting customization options when devoting units to a particular Chaos god.

Daemon Hunters are a branch of the Inquisition of the Empire of Man that defends humanity against the Chaos gods and their daemonic minions.  They have access to all the branches of the Imperial armed forces to aid them in their war against the Warp spawn.  Their elite Grey Knight space marines use powerful psychic attacks alongside conventional weapons, and Imperial Stormtroopers, with their powerful Rhino and Chimera troop transports, are feared across the universe.

Witch Hunters are devoted to weeding out heretics and the Warp-tainted enemies of the Empire of Man.  Their laws prohibit them from having "men at arms," so the Witch Hunters of the Inquisition recruit loyal women of the Imperium.  The "nuns with guns" are some of the most loyal and zealous soldiers in the universe, "purifying" the wicked with their blessed flamethrowers. 

I could have dismissed the Imperial Guard for being yet another paper tiger.  They are good at shooting, yet very fragile.  However, they make up for this with numbers.  The Imperial Guard conscripts and recruits billions of soldiers from across the Imperium.  An individual Guardsman is completely expendable, because there are plenty more as replacements.  Guardsman have access to some of the most fearsome tanks in the game, and their foot soldiers can lay down an devastating amount of firepower each round.  I haven't dismissed them as a possibility because, although individually they are very easy to kill, whole units survive because of sheer numbers, giving them a surprising amount of durability.

Now, there are also a slew of interesting fan-made codices as well, such as the Soul Drinkers, the Adeptus Astartes, or the Iron Fists.  But they do not have their own models, which would mean I'd have to convert the models from other armies, and that's just more work than I am really interested in putting into the game at this point. 

So, I can narrow down my options to five armies.  If I look at ideology, I can narrow it further.  Space Marines are, quite frankly, really boring.  Their fluff is just kind of blah.  Tactically, they may be interesting, but for generating a storyline, they fall flat.  Then there's the Witch Hunters, with their Sisters of Battle.  While the models are surprisingly interesting (a lot more cool armor and a lot less cleavage than you would expect), they're a little insane and zealous for my taste.  They kind of scare me.

Now, I can get behind Daemon Hunters, Chaos Space Marines, or Imperial Guard.  I just can't figure out which one most appeals to me!  I can't even decide if I want to commit to the whole Warhammer 40k hobby.  My life is so difficult.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The 40K Dilemma, Part One

I am a huge fan of science fiction. I don't think I could explain why; science fiction just somehow fascinates me. There are a wide variety of science fiction universes out there to choose from. Star Wars. Star Trek. Halo. Alien vs. Predator. Terminator. Asimov's Foundation series. Dozens of intellectual properties (or IPs, for those who want to save their breathe) to feed my hunger.

One IP that has particularly intrigued me for the past year is Warhammer 40,000, commonly referred to as Warhammer 40K, or just 40K. It is a grim depiction of humanity in the 41st Millenium. (That's roughly 39,000 years in the future, for those who haven't been paying attention.) The Empire of Man is vast, spreading across many thousands of solar systems, connected by the Warp, an alternate dimension that can only be safely navigated by psychic "astropaths." Mankind zealously worships the Emperor, dead for millenia, and rigorously pursues all perceived threats to humankind--daemons, heretics, and xenos.

Daemons are sadistic creatures of the Warp who enter our universe to serve the will of the Chaos Gods. Heretics are humans who have succumbed to the seductive power of the Warp and turned their back on the Emperor's Will. Xenos are the many alien races that inhabit the universe: orks, eldar, tau, necrons, dark eldar, and tyranids.

The champions of the war against these threats are the space marines. Although divided into thousands of different chapters, with storied pasts and varied tactics, all space marines are devote in their defense of the righteous, and zealous in their punishment of the guilty.

One of the things I find fascinating about this IP is that it is not a hopeful view of the future. Technologically and culturally, humankind is in shambles. Techpriests worship the Machine Spirit, an embodiment of the Emperor, and are the last threads linking humanity to their once-powerful technological achievements. Despite their love and devotion to the technology of the past, however, techpriests are forbidden to innovate and create new, "dangerous" or "heretical" technologies. Technology, thus, is not merely stagnant, but in decay.

The Empire of Man is constantly at war. That's largely their own fault, since they refuse to get along with any of the xenos that share the galaxy with them, not even the ones who would likely be willing to play nice, like the eldar or the tau. It makes for some exciting story-telling, but it also drains economies and forms an incredibly paranoid society.

For the past year or so, I have been immersing myself further and further into the Warhammer 40K universe. I have listened to podcasts, read blogs, read novels, dabbled in computer games, and recently acquired a card game based in the IP called Space Hulk: Death Angel. (That game is definitely the geekiest thing I own. It's based on a popular miniatures-based board game from the 80s called Space Hulk. The minis game requires several hours of assembly before it can be played, so Fantasy Flight Games developed a cheaper, card-based version that can be played right out of the box.)

One step I have yet to take is the tabletop war game. Like Space Hulk, it is played with miniature figurines, which must be assembled and, typically, painted. The game takes place on a 4' by 4' or 4' by 6' table with sculpted terrain that can be moved around or replaced to make for varied gameplay. The two-inch-tall army men get to march around the table in six-inch chunks, attempting to kill each other by rolling lots of dice and hoping for very high numbers. It's super-duper geeky, but actually seems really fun.

There are several issues keeping me from diving into this game, and it's nerdplosion isn't one of them. Looking like a nerd doesn't scare me. I used to play Magic: The Gathering.

There is, however, the issue of cost, both in time and money. To play a single game requires the purchase of a minimum of a dozen miniatures, which is something along the lines of a hundred dollar investment. Then, there's the matter of having to glue together the figures and paint them. On top of all that work, one has to purchase at least one codex--a guide book that details how a particular army functions. Purchasing the codex of every army is recommended, though, just to be prepared. You're playing a wargame, after all; you should know your enemy.

So let's say I take the plunge and commit to purchasing and assembling a miniature army, and to purchasing and studying several codices. Now I have a second hurdle: finding an opponent. I already know that a local game store holds a 40K night every Thursday night, so that's an option. But I don't really know anyone who plays the game. At least some of my friends play Magic, or Dominion, or Munchkin. Warhammer 40K? Not a single acquaintance. With other games, I can usually get my wife to happily participate. I really don't think she'll want to clear a table-sized area in our tiny apartment to set up two plastic and/or metal armies and roll a bunch of dice. She is willing to help me paint the figurines, which is kind of her. I have the best wife ever. But actually moving theme around with a tiny tape measure and declaring what I want to shoot at? I can see the exact expression on her face at the suggestion, and it involves rolling eyes.

The third part of the dilemma involves the big decision of which army to build. The hobby is expensive enough that supporting multiple armies is infeasible. I could go on for quite a long time about THAT issue, so I'll write another blog post later details my struggles.

So, as much as I enjoy the 40K universe, I'm still undecided. The miniatures game. Is it worth it? I don't know. I can't decide.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Death of the Game Store

The explosion of Internet services had changed the way America shops.  Merely a decade ago, nobody had hear of Cyber Monday.  Now, the Thanksgiving holiday doesn't JUST mean awesome in-store deals on Black Friday.  It also means that there will be numerous sales online.  I'd bet dollars to donuts that you, dear reader, purchased at least one of your Christmas gifts online, and received at least one Christmas gift that was purchased online.

I can't really blame you.  After all, shopping online tends to be cheaper.  Physical, brick-and-mortar stores have to raise prices in order to accommodate their overhead costs--insurance, electricity, employee paychecks, leasing or buying property.... Depending on their size, most online stores either don't have to deal with such things, or only have to worry about them in a limited sense, such as paying for storage space or paying for server upkeep.  Because of the lower upfront cost, online stores can afford to offer discounts with which brick-and-mortar stores can rarely compete.

There's also the convenience of sitting at home watching reruns of The Office while shopping on your computer. If you're willing to wait up to four weeks to receive the product your bought, that's hard to compete with.  Brick-and-mortar stores win when it comes to speed--if you need a crescent wrench to fix that broken pipe, or an emergency birthday gift, or fresh batteries for your wireless mouse, you aren't going to wait for an online store to ship it to you.

But if you're willing to wait, online stores are hard to beat.  And that's the problem.

Game stores sell (surprise!) games.  Most people are not desperate to get the next expansion of Dominion or Munchkin the day it's released.  Gamers are willing to wait a couple weeks.  They've got plenty of other games, after all, with which to occupy themselves while they wait.  This works out well for online stores.  But brick-and-mortar game stores are really hurting.

In the recession economy, board games and card games did and continue to do surprisingly well.  Yet game stores have struggled to capitalize off this.  They struggle to get gamers into the store, spending money.  Too many gamers are like my wife and I:  We enjoy games, but don't really do the tournament thing.  If we want a good multiplayer game, we just invite some friends over.  Subsequently, we don't hang out at the local game stores.  There's a game shop within easy walking distance, Dragon's Keep.  I have been there perhaps five times over the past year.  Let me tell ya, as much as I enjoy games, I don't like going to this store.  There are too many stereotypical smelly gamers that hang out there.  It makes for an unpleasant environment for those of us who shower and eat the occasional vegetable.

Game stores can't really do much about their parasitic customers--you know, the D&D freaks and the fat Magic: The Gathering players who lack the ability to interact with females.  If you have games and a few tables, such players will be in your establishment.  It just comes with the territory.

Here are some suggestions that game stores can use to make visits by less-frequent customers more frequent:

1.  Be personable.  When new faces walk into your store, smile and make pleasantries.  I loved going to a small game shop not far from my hometown in Illinois called Just for Fun.  The owner was in the store all the time, and he clearly loved his job.  He always greeted customers, asked to help them out, and was quick with suggestions and advice.  He was just a pleasant person to be around, which made shopping in his store a treat.

2.  Know your products.  When I go into a game shop, I am either browsing and looking for a new game, in which case I will find games on the shelf about which I will ask generic questions; or, I have done research and want to know more about a specific game.  In each case, I expect the employee with whom I am speaking to be able to answer my questions.

3.  Take lessons from chain retailers.  Barnes and Noble gets customers into the store (or onto their website) by tempting them with coupons and discounts.  "Sign up for a membership!" they say.  "You'll get ten percent off of everything you purchase!  It's just twenty-five dollars a year."  As a consumer, I think, "Heck, I only need to spend $250 to get that money back.  I spend at least that much on books and DVDs in a year."  Which is true, but I wouldn't necessarily spend that money at Barnes and Noble if they hadn't offered some incentive to do so.  In addition to the member's discount, they also offer coupons.  "Fifteen percent off your next in-store purchase."  It's brilliant.  It gets customers into the store.  And as every store knows, if you can get customers into the store, they will spend money.

I would recommend that game stores attempt the same thing.  Obviously, you can't be as ambitious as a huge chain like Barnes and Noble, but you could still attempt some sort of interesting membership.  "Become a member for fifteen dollars!  For every one-hundred dollars you spend at the store, you will receive a coupon for ten dollars off your next purchase."  The consumer thinks, "Heck, I only need to spend two-hundred dollars to get the membership fee back.  I spend way more than that on games in a year."  Which is true, but now this consumer has a reason to spend that money at your store.

In this hyper-connected world, brick-and-mortar stores no longer just have to compete with other brick-and-mortar stores, but with online stores, which steepens the competition significantly.  Presenting a pleasant atmosphere, being knowledgeable about the games, and creating customer loyalty would help generate revenue for stores that really ought to be doing better than they are.

Also, I wouldn't mind a better snack selection.  Having spent eight hours in a game store for weekend tournaments before, it would be nice to have something better than chips, chocolate bars and soda.  Just a thought.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Silly FPS, that's not how you hold a gun!

I don't tend to enjoy first-person shooters very often.  This is partially because killing lots of people/zombies/aliens/robots/whatever is not inherently enjoyable to me, and partially because FPS games tend to be unintentionally ridiculous.

Now, in many ways it's not their fault.  There is an inherent problem with FPS games:  user interface.  The player's field of view is limited to a flat computer screen, sound is not necessarily correlated with location (unless you get to play with surround sound speaker, you lucky bastard), there is no sense of touch or smell, and the players feet are not actually touching the ground.  These are all sources of information we use to orient ourselves.  Without them, first-person shooters can be a little ridiculous.

Let me give you an example.  I am playing through Deus Ex right now.  Hopefully this time I will be able to finish it, unlike when I played it in high school nearly a decade ago.  The story line and themes of the game intrigue me, and I appreciate the fact that I can play through the game pacifisticly--I rarely have to actually kill anyone, if I am patient, sneak around a lot, and use non-lethal weapons.  In one area, terrorists had seized a subway station and were holding several hostages.  I found a convenient ventilation duct (why do architects make the ducts so large?) and was able to sneak down to the station undetected.  Unfortunately, the ductwork was unlit. (Duh.  Why would anyone put lights in a ventilation duct?)  I lacked night-vision, and would occasionally find myself surrounded by darkness.  I could not orient myself by feeling the sides of the duct and crawling forward, like I would be able to in real life.  Instead, I had to pop a flare every so often to see where I was going, which lead to the occasional confrontation with a gun-wielding badguy, who otherwise would not have known I was there.  I can't fault the game for being this way, but I still find the situation a bit ridiculous.

Aiming is also an issue with FPS games.  For some reason, you always have to be able to see your target in order to shoot at it.  This does not mimic battlefield conditions, where shooting around corners or over a trench without actually peeking are commonplace.  Sometimes you just need to lay down unaimed suppressing fire to make the enemy combatants keep their heads down.  First-person shooters, however, are not designed to allow--or even really capable of allowing--you to move your hands independent of your head.  You can't run for cover while shooting sideways at the enemy, like every action movie hero does.  Your face, torso, and legs must always point the same direction in these games, and your gun must always be oriented to coincide with what your face is doing.  Who actually does that?

Here is an image from a standard first-person shooter.  Now, say you just saw a combatant enter the building and want to keep your gun trained on that entrance in case violence ensues.  Makes sense.  However, you also want to check to your sides and behind you to make sure you're not getting flanked.  Can you do both?  Nope.  You either keep your gun forward, or you look around for enemies to the sides and rear.  If you do the latter, then you have to look with your gun, not just your eyes.

Here is an image from another popular FPS.  The player is in combat, and thus has his or her battlerifle at the ready.  The stock is pressed firmly into the shoulder to deaden the recoil and allow for accurate firing.  That is a very good way to hold a gun when firing.

But just taking a stroll?

This is another shot wherein the rifle is being held in the exact same fashion.  My question is:  why?  The player seems to just be having a conversation with another soldier, possibly about the giant ostrich egg the blue soldier discovered.  There is no reason to hold the gun at-the-ready.  But it is.  All the time.  No matter what game, no matter what gun, it is always held ready-to-fire.  If I went around like that all the time, my arms, back, and neck would ache after just a few minutes.  Yet these super-soldier characters we play as seem to be able to do it for days.

Now, I can't blame video game companies for this.  There are flaws within the FPS interface that are not their fault.  However, these minor inconsistencies with reality make it difficult for me to completely suspend my disbelief.  It makes the game slightly more difficult to get into.  That is not an issue when the game has a plot, character, or setting that intrigues me.  But I can only shake my head at all the various iterations of Tom Clancy's Medal of Battlefield Warfare II:  Call of Recon Duty.  They all just seem the same to me.

(Seriously, can you tell which World War II shooter this is from?)