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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!