Fortune and Glory – redux

So, quite by accident, I discovered the board game Fortune and Glory.  The game is meant to provide the excitement and suspense of old pulp.  Heroes rush around the world, trying to recover artifacts from ancient tombs.  And, of course…Nazis!

I enjoyed the game the first time I played it, however, with two players, it was missing something and seemed a little too simple.  A two weekends back, I played again, but this time, with six players, and damn, the game was miles more enjoyable.

The core of the game is the retrieval of the artifacts, which requires heroes to accomplish several different tasks (challenges that a tomb might put in front of you) before they can claim the artifact.  If they fail a challenge, there is a ‘cliffhanger’ challenge that must be attempted on the following turn.  Now, if two players are trying to get the same artifact, they race to it, each player getting to do a task before the other.  This is what was missing from my first game – there were more artifacts than players, so there was no reason to interfere with each other.

The game is random, and some won’t like that.  I can get past it – the challenges don’t need to make sense to me, in the context of where the artifact is and the like.  It’s pulp.  Weird stuff pops up from time to time, like an ice cave in the desert, or pygmies in the Alps.  There’s also zombies, so, really, these weird encounters don’t bug me.

In the first game I played, it ended rather fast, ie, once someone was in front, it was pretty much over.  In the second, it was a much different game.  We had three players that looked like they would win at the end of any given turn, only to have them suffer a major setback either due to bad dice rolls or card effects that others played against them.  So, that was pretty exciting.

There’s some neat mechanics, great components and well, I have fun, and that’s the point.

 

Let the wookiee win

My son is starting to get older (granted, he’s still only 3) but we’ve begun to play more structured games, which got me thinking.

If/when we start playing competitive board/video/etc games, should I let him win from time to time?

The obvious answer is yes, you should!  But, I’m not so sure that it’s that clear-cut.  Like most parents, I think my kid is pretty smart.  Won’t he figure out that I’m not trying very hard?  Will that teach him that I don’t think he’s an opponent worth putting my full energy into?  Alternatively, will winning all the time teach him to dislike a hobby that I really would like him to enjoy with me?

I think ultimately, it will depend on him and the game.  Some games make it easier to hide that you’re making bad choices, and there are plenty of games that have enough randomness that I probably don’t have to do anything to help things along.

Ultimately, I know that I should be teaching that having fun with me is more important than the outcome, but show me a person that doesn’t like to win time to time.  Absolutely, having fun is the #1 goal, but I remember myself as a young kid – I wanted to win.  I expect nothing different from my kids.

I think this is one of those tricky spots in parenting, or, maybe I’m just reading too much into things.

Taking risks

I’m not one that typically makes real new years resolutions.  Sure, I say, I should lose some weight, eat better, blah blah.  I don’t mean it.  Generally speaking, I’m satisfied with all that crap.

But, this year, I decided that I needed to make some changes.  I was turning 30 and I was (am) a introvert and avoider of doing stuff that might make me uncomfortable.

So I decided (after some discussions with @AliKira) that this year, I’d take some more risks, try to stop worrying about stuff out of my control, and damnit, have some fun.

What does this mean?

Well, for one, I’m trying to meet some of my local twitter followers.  These people that I interact with regularly online, so why can’t I do the same in person?  If it gets too weird, we can just sit at the same table and tweet each other, right?

Secondly, if I’m having a get together and I’m inviting my friends, it isn’t (really) up to me to ensure everyone has a ‘group’ there.  Invite the people I want there.  They can find conversation with new people (or choose not to attend).  That’s all out of my control (and not worth my worry)!

Finally, make some time to do the things I want to do.  Go out and have fun with friends.  Find the time around my family’s schedule.  Yea, maybe it’s going to be later at night and I’ll have to miss my bedtime.  If I keep telling myself I like to play games and do stuff with friends, damnit, I better actually go do it, rather than bitching about not having the time to do it.

So, James, let’s do Picolino’s in April.

A writing block and Memoir ’44

So, I’m sure the dozens of readers noticed that there was another lapse in my posting yesterday.

I had a post.  I did.  It read:

Here is today’s post.

Oh, that would have been an awful post.  I decided that a post just to say I did it wasn’t really appropriate.

But damn, I had no ideas of what to write.

However, today, I want to talk about Memoir ’44, which is a light wargame by Days of Wonder.  I discovered this game through Memoir ’44 Online.  After playing the digital version of the game, I quickly realized that M44 was a game that I really wanted in my collection.

Since making the initial acquisition of the base game, I’ve purchased several expansions and made a trade to get a second copy of the base game.  In short, I should have no shortage of scenarios to play.

Why do I like M44 so much?  It’s quite simple.  There’s enough strategy to be interesting across many plays and of course, having two sides to play on each scenario will result in very different tactics.  There’s tons of support for the game.  Lots of official and unofficial scenarios.  New options for play like Campaigns, Overlord, Breakthrough add to the experience.

Is there luck involved?  Yes.  This might turn some off.  But ultimately, I feel the luck of the dice roll suits the theme fairly well.  An overwhelmed force might be able to fight off a superior attacker.  A superior force will attack more frequently and the odds will even out.

Are the scenarios balanced?  Not always.  This is reasonable though – the battles they are simulating weren’t balanced.

I can teach M44 in about 10 minutes.  A typical battle will last about 60 minutes.  There’s plenty of depth for what I want.

So, if anyone is interested in playing this game with me, let me know (comment here or let me know on Twitter or Facebook).  I’d love to add some people to my list of potential opponents.

Cross-platform gaming

In the increasingly digital world, there are more and more options for playing “traditional” games in a digital way.  Since the dawn of the computer network, individuals have been using their computers to play in a variety of RPGs, be it on MOOs, MUDs, MUSHs, or Forums.

Today, the MOOs, MUDs, and MUSHs have been mostly replaced with the ever popular MMO, with the likes of World of Warcraft and most recently, Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Play by forum still exists and is the only way some people are able to scratch their gaming ‘itch’.  There are also a number of new tools, known as Virtual Tabletops, which allow people to play their RPGs online with others, in a instantaneous manner.

It didn’t occur to me that there were users playing boardgames online in the play by forum format until a few years ago.  Then, I discovered virtual tabletops (ie, VASSAL) that I hadn’t even considered previously.  So, boardgames were roughly as accessible as RPGs online.

Now, with the rise of tablet computers, boardgames have yet another way to be played.  Tablets allow players to play some of their favorite games with zero setup time.  You launch the app and you start playing.  Many support online synchronous and asynchronous play.  This is an amazing opportunity for gamers to be able to play games more frequently (and conveniently) and with an interface that better matches the game’s true look.  On top of all this, these apps are fractions of the cost of a printed game.  Consider Ticket to Ride – the App is $7.99 and you can buy the USA 1910, Europe and Switzerland expansions for a total of $8.97, for a grand total of $16.96.  If you were to buy all of this in print versions, you’d be spending around $125.

Is playing an app version of a board game as satisfying/enjoyable/fun with a bunch of people at the same table?  I don’t know, I’ve not tried it myself.  But, now I can easily play with others online whenever is convenient.  If I’m not sure about a game, I can now try it for a very reasonable price and make a decision on if I want the physical game or not.

Some of the app titles are ‘stripped down’ versions.  For instance, Cyclades and Small World are only two player.  Elder Sign only features Azathoth as the Great Old One.  Is it disappointing?  In some respects, yes, it is.  But, you don’t have to make the purchase if that’s a deal breaker for you.

I think having the opportunity to play games in a wide variety of ways is great.  Being able to play how/where/when you want is great, and only helps publishers in the end.

Boardgaming

Back in 2008, I met some people who brought me back into the world of gaming, which I believe I’ve talked a lot about since then.  It started with a return to pen and paper RPGs (which, in all honesty, hadn’t really left, I just only played online), and was quickly followed by boardgaming.

I was pretty satisfied with playing my handful of RPG titles and Arkham Horror, until one day, my friend pointed me at the Fantasy Flight Games website, specifically to look at the game, Android.  Android looked like a really cool game, so I started to look at more games.  I quickly found that I had been stuck in a very narrow world of ‘mainstream’ boardgames.

Fast forward to now.  My closet is pretty much full of games now.  I made some trades with various individuals to get things I wanted in exchange for things they wanted.  With all that said and done, I have more unplayed (by me) games than I do played, I think.  The collection can be viewed here: Boardgame Geek

Thankfully, I was able to play two games for the first time last weekend.

First up was Small World.

The object of Small World is to generate more victory tokens than your opponents in the number of turns available (which varies based on the number of players).  The mechanics of the game are pretty simple, to conquer a territory, you need to attack with 2 more attackers than there are defenders.  Your territory must always have one of your units on it in order to collect victory points for it.

There are a few things that I like about this game.  First, it comes with 4 different maps, each designed for a different number of players, which forces interactions between the players.  The second is the way the races and abilities match together.  There are a number of races, with special abilities, plus additional special abilities that grant additional bonuses.  Finally, the in decline mechanic is neat, which adds a layer of strategy to the game – when should you pull the plug on your current race?  Very neat.

The second game that we played was Pandemic with the expansion, On The Brink.

Pandemic is a co-operative game where the players race against the game to cure 4 (or 5) viruses that are plaguing the world.  Again, a very simple game with simple mechanics, but we found it to be a good challenge.  Each player has a different role, which grants them special abilities.  These roles are assigned randomly at the start of each game.  Through our play, there are clearly a few roles that make the game much easier (Medic, Dispatcher).  The game does a good job of raising tensions, as drawing the wrong card can really make things difficult.  The expansion adds new ways to play, which also ramp up the difficulty.  In three plays, we only won once (which, in hindsight, was luck on our part), which gives the game replay value, as we still have to work on the strategy on how to beat the game.

I really enjoyed both games and I look forward to playing them again in the future.

Board Games

[Cross-posted, originally posted on Canadian Geek]

I’m going to go off in a different direction for this post – I’m going to talk about Board Games.  I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but I find several different titles quite enjoyable.

 I don’t know alot about what goes into designing a board game (of course, by extension, one could argue that I don’t know anything about RPG design either, which isn’t stopping me).  What I do know is what I like – which is what I’m going to focus on in this post. 

Here’s a few board games you should check out.

Diplomacy

Diplomacy was introduced to me by a very close friend.  The draw that Diplomacy has to me is that chance is not a factor to the outcome of the game (unlike Risk or Axis and Allies).  Personally, I really disliked Risk because of a few games that burned me due to die rolls screwing me over.  Axis and Allies had a bit more strategy involved, but it was still possible to watch a single infantry unit eliminate a vastly superior force.

Originally, Diplomacy was designed to simulate the dealings of the major powers prior to World War I.  The players take up the helm of one of: England, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungry, Russia and Turkey.  Each turn, the nations confer with each other, looking to make alliances and determine strategy.  Orders are submitted and executed simultaneously.  This is where the fun begins.  Who kept their word?  Who didn’t?

Diplomacy is an excellent study of game theory, which in itself, is a very interesting subject.  This could be why I enjoy the game so much.

Players worldwide have developed many different variants.  Some simply modify the basic board (changing the starting units, modifying the layout of supply centers) and some develop entirely new boards to reflect different areas (and times) of the world.  Articles on strategy are abundant.

Diplomacy is an excellent game, especially when played with a number of skilled players.

 Settlers of Catan

I really don’t know what to say about Settlers.  I really like this game.  I’ve only played a few times and I’m sure that I haven’t even scratched the surface of the strategy and awesomeness of the game. 

Settlers also has several expansions that add new rules and change the experience.  I’ve yet to give any of these a try, but they look cool.

Just play it.  You’ll understand.

Arkham Horror

I had the opportunity to play Arkham Horror for the first time this past weekend.  I quite enjoyed how the game played, even though we lost.  It definately is a game for ‘gamers’.  It’s also co-operative, which is pretty different.

There’s several expansions available, which changes how the game plays, with more on the way, to make sure each play is vastly different than the previous play session.  I’d like to play again to get a better grasp on the rules, but overall, It was very fun.

 So, obviously, the recommendations this month are:

  • Diplomacy
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Arkham Horror

If you like board games, at least one of those games will suit you just fine.

Why not role-play?

I had recently been invited to contribute to another blog (with RPG content) at a community I frequent called Canadian Geek. For my first article, I did a bit more thinking on my post “What’s the Difference” and came up with the following – it mostly contains the same ideas, written differently and incorporates few of the original comments. Nothing much new, just re-written for a new audience.

[Cross-posted, originally posted on Canadian Geek]

I started role-playing when I was in my pre-teens. My ‘gateway drug’ was Star Wars d6 from West End Games – of the reasons I ended up playing this game, the biggest was because it was Star Wars. My gaming groups weren’t larger than 3 or 4 and after my first few adventures, I ended up being the GM for everything. Eventually, one of my friends came across a number of Dungeons and Dragons materials at a garage sale. He picked them up and promptly handed me everything so that I could learn the system and run a game. We ran one D&D session. I really wasn’t interested in running a game in that system, which made it difficult for me to really provide a great game for my players.

I was able to put together a few Star Wars games, but nothing that really lasted long-term. Eventually, I began looking online for an online group to game with. I eventually found an established Star Wars play-by-post community which I played with for a few years. Again, because I was reliable, knew the rules, I was asked to GM. I put together a few games, but unfortunately, with play-by-post, games with new players tend to die as the players go ‘poof’. As time went on, I moved up the site’s administration ranks and took the reigns. I made a number of changes that I felt would improve the community, which I feel it did. What I did realize however, was that I was completely bored of Star Wars. To this end, I founded a new community, to meet my need of ‘not-Star Wars’. This community infused me with a new outlook on role-playing.

With this newfound interest, I searched out more communities to find out what I could do to improve mine and improve my skills on both sides of the table. I found a number of very interesting podcasts which gave me a number of thoughts. Why do people shy away from role-playing? Is it because they haven’t had an experience or a poor experience? What is the difference between a standard board game and a pen-and-paper RPG?

As I thought about it, my opinion became such that I don’t believe that board games are any different than role-playing. I asked my friends about it, and I did receive a number of responses that showed me that many of them had tried an RPG, but found the experience lacking in some way, compared to a board game. The most common reason for not playing RPGs was the time. Based on the knowledge of RPGs of the people involved, I completely understand the concern, but I think there are many other options available that do not require long-winded campaigns. Another comment was the differing reward structures between RPGs and board games. A direct quote: “RPGs reward effort, whereas board games reward strategic thinking”. Again, I think this attitude comes from playing online in a D&D/Experience Points based system – there are plenty of other systems that emphasize the story rather than character advancement. Does this enhance the strategy aspect of the game? Maybe not, but other systems exist that provide more out to the players than just than dungeon-crawling.

There are so many different game systems available, in more settings than you can imagine. So many great games like Mutants and Masterminds, Spirit of the Century, Star Wars: Saga, Dungeons and Dragons, and Vampire: The Requiem, to name a few. If you’ve never played an RPG, I’d love to talk to you about it. If you have and didn’t like it, I’d love to know why. You’re reading this blog, so you’re not afraid of being called a geek. So my question to you is, why not role-play?

Whats the difference?

Recently, I’ve been listening to a number of roleplaying centric podcasts, for a variety of reasons. One, to get some ideas on how to be a better gamemaster. Two, to find new games to play to get out of the ‘d20′ rut that I find myself in. Three, to find ideas on how to keep a play-by-post community thriving. While listening to these podcasts, it got me thinking – am I truely the only person in my group of friends interested in traditional tabletop roleplaying? Are pen and paper RPGs really that different from playing Settlers/Monopoly/Carcassonne/Diplomacy/etc? The more I consider it, the less I believe it to be any different.

So why don’t people play RPGs? Are they afraid to be labeled as a ‘geek’? This is the case with some, but alot of people who are deeply interested in board games call themselves geeks. Is it because there isn’t a physical playing surface? Play your game using miniatures. Is it because they just haven’t had the opportunity to try? I don’t know. I’d like to know.