March 14, 2011
Here’s the deal folks; I don’t care which store you support. I don’t care how you support it. I just want you to get off your butts, go to your friendly local purveyor or all things geeky and put some dollars in their cash register. See, times are tough. In case you haven’t noticed it the economy isn’t doing so great. And it’s the small businesses that live in the margins that wind up feeling the bite in these times.
Why am I going off about this? Because it needs to be said. Without gaming stores the geek community is pretty well doomed. Sure there’s online resources for board and card games. There’s MMORPGs (Mr. Gyggax says you’re welcome since you can’t spell MMORPG without RPG) and PDF versions of a lot of gaming supplements. So. Bloody. What. Those things are not a community. They aren’t a bunch of people getting together for the mutual love of a hobby and sharing commonly enjoyed experiences. And that’s a major part of the geek life; the social connection. Without our gaming stores we really are just what most people outside the hobby think of us as; a bunch of socially backward misfits lurking at home pretending to be elves while real life goes on without us.
With the gaming store we’re a community. We are a bunch of people coming together and enjoying one another’s company. We look out for one another. We fundraise. We find out about each other’s lives. Hell, some of us meet our spouses at gaming stores! And then we go on to make little baby geeks who continue the whole magical cycle of nerdosity long into the future.
Now, I realize that quite often online retailers offer stuff at a more economical rate than the brick and mortar shops can. And as one of life’s perpetually broke people I can certainly respect the urge to get what you want less expensively elsewhere. But in doing that we screw our fellows. We take money from the guys who provide us with a public venue for our hobby. And that can be the death knell for a shop if it happens too often.
Most of these places are running on a pretty close margin. A bad month can mean bankruptcy. A good month can mean a few more months serving the community and providing a fun place to get together with your friends and check out all the latest cool stuff. Game store owners may seem rich folks but for the most part, they ain’t. They are working class folk getting by day to day and sweating the rent and the light bills just like you and I. Difference is, we don’t make our light bill we get some candles. They don’t and they can lose their livelihood.
So please, the next time you see a cool game online, don’t click the “buy it now” button. Pick up the phone and call your local emporium. Ask if they have it. If they do, ask if they can hold it til you get there. If you have the money to “buy it now” online then you have the money to “buy it now” from a guy with a family to feed. If they don’t have it, ask if you can order it. Offer to pay some or all of the price in advance. After all, they just went out cash to get the item. It’s only fair that you at least make the attempt to put the money in their hand while you have it so they don’t eat the cost.
In the end we all win when the stores prosper. Game publishers have more incentive to keep producing the stuff we love. Comic book companies are able to stay in business, providing us with thrilling adventures of spandexed derring-do. We have places to hang out with our friends. Conventions have places to advertise that a hotel is getting invaded by a thousand or more geeks, nerds and other assorted oddballs. And the guys who work surprisingly hard to keep us in good times when I absolutely guarantee you most of them could be making a boatload more money at something else get to keep doing their thing to our mutual benefit.
That’s all for now. Y’all have a good one. And, as always, Keep It Fun.
March 8, 2011
Today’s rather late post (thank you five am wakeup call grrrr) is not about gaming. Instead it’s about how my Sunday went, a series of event so off the wall I would honestly not have been surprised if, at some point, Wile E. Coyote, Suuuuuppppper Genius rolled up on me and asked if I’d seen a Roadrunner pass through recently. Read, enjoy and bear in mind that, apart from some anti-profanity editing this is how the day went with zero embellishment.
Right, so I start my day on the bus at 9am on my way to work. I find myself sitting in back next to a large, bearded man who proceeds to share the following information with me. He is a liver transplant patient. His new liver has 4% function remaining. His doctor needs to shut the fuck up and mind his own business about his drinking. (This punctuated by pulls off a fifth of apricot brandy. At 9am. On a Sunday. On the bus) Furthermore, he is only awake at this hour because he smoked the last of his meth (“Look, see, it totally effed my teeth”) and his dealer can only meet with him before 10am because that is when he is leaving to take his kids to Sunday School. I get off the bus, decide that the day can’t get any more fucking surreal. The universe takes this as a challenge.
Work is busy. I get a text. It is a woman I was once acquainted with. We stopped associating because she and her husband repeatedly brought me pornographic gifts at parties where my pre-teen niece was a guest and falsely accused one of my best friends of rape. The mentally deficient, white trash headcase idiot person wants me to write her husband a personal character refference!
I get on the bus to go home. I call to let my family know I’m inbound. I keep getting sent directly to voice mail because every time I try to call one of my wives that wife is calling me at the exact same moment. I finally get to the train station where they are going to meet me. I bang my head on a metal upright as I leave my seat, trip down the stairs leading from the very back of the bus to the front and bounce facefirst into the back door. Then I walk right the eff past not one, but two ticket machines that I’m looking for to reload my bus card so I can continue to get to work before spotting one. On the opposite side of the train platform not ten feet from where I got off the bus.
I get in the car. We go book shopping. We stop at Walgreens. I tell the clerk my story and ask how his day went. He responds , totally straight faced “Oh, it was great! My dad took me to Sunday School!”
The moral of the story is twofold. First; With surreal shit like this being my boring-assed day to day I have no need to do drugs. Second: Never indicate that you think your day can’t get any more fucked up and weird. The universe will take it as a challenge.
Interesting little post script. I am, as some of you may know, a savage, screaming Pepsi addict and have been since Buddah rode a Big Wheel. My preferred poison is Pepsi Throwback, the stuff with the cane sugar rather than that ick-tastic corn syrup drek. I’m always on the lookout for more of it since it’s not very common any more. Tonight, my beloved Wife #3 picks me up at the train station, this time without me bouncing into, off of or down anything that might bruise me and we stop at the local Tom Thumb. There we find a stack of Pepsi Throwback 12 packs shoulder high to me. Seventeen of em to be precise. I know because I counted. A phone call is made. Questions are asked of She Who Handles The Bills. Numbers are thrown around. Confirmation is requested and received. The two Middle Eastern clerks are looking at me with a distinct air of “What the eff?”. Finally, I thank SWHTB, hang up, carry one 12 pack to the counter and explain I’ll be taking it and all sixteen of it’s little friends with me.
There is some confusion. More questions are asked. More confirmation is given. The nice men generously lend me a cart and let me go out the back door of the store because loading 17 12 packs of pop by hand would be a bit of a chore. Several minutes are spent dragging a shopping cart loaded down with 2,448 (12 cans times 12 ounces times 17) ounces of pop or roughly TWENTY GALLONS OF PEPSI through the snow to the car. The car is loaded, the cart is returned. The guys shake my hand and go back to their conversation in Arabic which I can tell by the laughter includes some variant on “Can you believe that guy? You know nobody’s gonna believe this right?” is at least partly about me. I get home a happy little addict with a three month supply of my drug of choice.
The moral of the post script? We are all, at some point a character in somebody’s Day of Weird. It all comes down to timing and perspective.
Cheers all! And keep it fun!
March 2, 2011
Let’s be honest with ourselves shall we? Deep down inside, most of us suspect that those sweet, innocent looking girls in their Catholic school uniforms are actually agents of evil and mayhem. And we’re right. The folks at Atlas games quicked to this little fact fifteen years ago and have been making money hand over fist ever since.
Lunch Money, and it’s sequel Beer Money are a pair of fun, fast little games by the folks at Atlas that have been around for some considerable time now. The concept is pretty straightforward. Catholic school is a hotbed of frustration, repression and mixed messages. You and your friends are fed up and decide to let off some steam. Speciffically, you decide to let it off by beating one another into a semi-comatose state.
You start out with a hand of five cards and fifteen health points. You end the game either victorious or out cold. Play goes around the table from person to person playing attacks and defenses as in most fighting card games. The range of attacks and the damage they do is pretty broad. A simple slap can ding you for two points while certain combos can rock you for seven, taking half your health in a single attack.
Weapons are a factor as well. Because let’s face it; what right thinking member of a tool-using species hits someone with their bare hand when there’s a pipe, hammer or handy chunk of concrete laying around. The key difference between weapon attacks, apart from their damage is what happens after you play them. With a normal attack, say a Pimp Slap or Hail Mary, you discard the attack card after you play it. Play a Knife or a Chain (preferably upside the skull of another player) and it goes back in your hand for reuse on your next turn. Unless, that is, your opponent has a Disarm card. In which case the attack fails, you lose the weapon and you are now unarmed against someone with every reason to be cranky with you . Lucky lucky lucky you!
Naturally, as with any good fighting card game there are ways to heal as well as hurt. Wouldn’t want the suffering to end too soon now would we? First Aid cards can be played on your turn. Each one heals two points of lost health and you can play as many as you like at a time.
The only real complaint I have about this game is the relative complexity of the rules. Most fighting games are simple, streamlined affairs without a lot of gray area in what happens when you play particular cards. The rules for Lunch Money
tend to be a bit more convoluted. Players both new and old will frequently find themselves referring back to them in an effort to understand exactly what is supposed to happen or under what conditions a card or combination of cards can be played.
Despite that little wrinkle, this is a solid piece of work. To my knowledge it’s one of the first brawler-type card games and it has stood the test of time for a reason. Fast paced, fun, possessed of a good core concept and terrific, creepy artwork, Lunch Money has every right to the longevity it has achieved. Pirce and portability are also factors. At $19.95 for a single core game and $9.95 for an expansion Lunch Money is priced for most budgets. Plus it’s small enough to fit in your coat pocket. Toss in a handful of D20’s to track your Health points and you’ve got a solid, fun, go anywhere gaming experience that’s going to appeal to a broad range of potential players.
So grab your rosary, say your prayers and make your peace with your dear and fluffy lord. And as always, keep it fun.
February 28, 2011
Right. So, in my years of gaming one of the things I’ve noticed is a contradictory trend among gamers. Everybody wants a gaming group. Everybody wants support for their favorite game. Everybody wants somewhere to go and spend an evening playing their game of choice with a bunch of like minded people. And nobody wants to shift themselves to step up and make it happen!
Seriously people, WTH? I spent ten years as an MIB for Steve Jackson Games. I had so many people showing up I was turning them away. And yet I was literally the only person in the entire state of Minnesota stepping up and running games for that company!
And it wasn’t just the Munchkin crowd doing it either. Everywhere you look it seems like unless it’s Magic The Gathering people can’t be bothered to get organized. You say you like Fluxx but don’t have anyone to play with? Get off your butt, talk to your FLGS and ask them if you can put up a flier! Then put the word out on the websites and show up. It’s not hard.
You say your local convention doesn’t have a decent gaming track and you think that sucks? Show me the gun to your head stopping you from changing that. Remember; the gaming industry is a business. The point of any business is to make money and a key component in making money is marketing. If you go to the company and say “Hi there! I’d like to use my own time to promote your product at my local cons and/or FLGS.” odds are someone there is going to be willing to help you out.
Granted, it might be to a lesser degree than you like. Companies are run by people and people vary widely in terms of smarts and willingness to get off their butts and act in their own best interests. Atlas Games produces an amazing line of games. I own most of them and like them a lot. But their support for their volunteer staff is almost nonexistent.
Steve Jackson on the other hand makes a great product and mostly supports their volunteer staff to the hilt. I say mostly because the reason I no longer volunteer for them is due to a personal dispute over the handling of a disagreement between myself and another person in the program. I won’t run their games any more at events as a result. But I still maintain that, in terms of convention support they are the gold standard. If you can get into the program I recommend it.
In between these two extremes are a wide number of very good game companies with varying degrees of support for their products. Fantasy Flight and SlugFest are usually pretty good about backing their people up. SlugFest takes a bit longer to respond but when they come through it’s the jackpot.
Thing is, the only way to know what you’ll get in terms of help is to get off your butt and ask them. Worst case scenario you get told “Sorry, we don’t do convention or demo event prize support but hey, thanks for being such a loyal fan.”. If you’re smart, you go out anyway, do the events without the support and still have a good time while building a rep among your local community as someone who always brings the fun.
They key thing here is to remember that nothing happens unless we make it happen. Sure, it takes time and energy and effort. So. What? You spend a few hours planning some stuff out, you shoot off a few emails and you get your butt to the store. People show up or their don’t. Either way you’ve spent time focusing on a hobby you enjoy and less time hitting yourself in the head with the +9 Hammer Of Stupid Making that is most of the drek on TV these days. And if you’re lucky you make some cool industry contacts and score some wicked free swag out of the deal.
Plus you never know who you’re gonna make friends with. My family connection to John Kovalic? Met him through the SJG volunteer program. Now one of my wives does his web support and it’s been a springboard to a lucrative enough career for her that I can get away with being choosy about what jobs I take during the current economic dump-fest. But it doesn’t happen if you don’t motivate yourself.
And the onus is not just on the fans either. Industry pros, pay attention. In case you haven’t noticed it, the economy currently resembles the inside of a completely un-maintained porta-john at the end of a weeklong biker rally. Money’s tight. Every penny, every sale counts. And you’ve got people willing to take time out of their lives to promote your products for little to no pay. Certainly a damned sight less than you’re probably paying most of your in-house staff.
And let’s face it guys, we all know the margin on these products. I won’t divulge any numbers here but we know that the money you might spend on sending, say, six copies of a game that retails for $19.95 so that some nerd in Idaho can give out five copies to players at a local convention and keep one for himself is going to pay off huge in the long run.
The nerd is gonna run the game. Other nerds are going to play the game. Only one nerd in each group of nerds is going to win a copy of the game. The other nerds are going to decide that they need a copy of the game, run to the nearest place they can buy it and get all their nerd friends hooked on the game if it’s any kind of good at all.
Even the people who don’t play the game are going to have increased awareness of its existence due to the fact that there will likely be flyers screaming “Hey! We’re running a game at the con! And it’s really cool!” hanging up around the event site. Congratulations, you’ve just spent [redacted by author] dollars in product support to make anywhere from one to twenty sales and gain a boatload of free advertising. How is that a net loss?
But in the end it comes down to us, the fans. This is a sedentary hobby, no question about that. But it is only sedentary in the sense of it taking place in chairs and around tables, generally well supplied with the kind of pseudo-foods that make cardiologists and dentists wealthy. A game might be the coolest game in the world. It might be fun, engrossing and more addictive than Ben & Jerry’s Heroin Chunks ice cream. Heck, it might even be more addictive than Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies. But if no one knows about it or knows that there are people out there playing it that won’t matter.
And if a game is good enough to merit you laying down your hard earned and getting snitty about not having anyone to play it with it’s good enough to deserve you making a few phone calls, doing some copy and paste action with available images off the net to make a flyer and dragging yourself down to the venue of choice and making the fun happen.
So please, if you like a game but don’t have anyone to play with don’t whine or fuss. Get organized. Get involved and make something happen. And, as always, keep it fun.
February 23, 2011
Sorry for the lack of an entry on Monday readers. The new job is kicking my *** and I needed a day to simply turn my brain off. Today’s review is the just-released Pirate Fluxx by Looney Labs.
Now, on the off chance that you are a gamer and don’t know what Fluxx is here’s the deal. Fluxx is a game that starts simple and gets mindbashingly complex within a turn or two. The rules start out as simple as you could hope for. Get dealt three cards. Draw one. Play one.
Easy enough, right? Right. Until the rule changes come in. Play two. Draw four. Hand limit three. New goal. Oh! Did we mention goals? No, I guess we didn’t. Goals are how you try to win the game. Operative word being try.
Y’see, among the cards you have the potential to play are Goal cards. Have the cards in front of you that meet the conditions on the current Goal card and you win. The problem is that the Goal can literally change from person to person. You might have played Powder Keg on your turn in anticipation of playing either the Gunpowder or Keg cards on your next turn but someone else might chose to play Pirate Pets on their turn and if they’ve already got the Monkey and Parrot cards in play you lose.
And that, my friends, is Fluxx in a nutshell. The idea stays the same. Win. How you do it changes from minute to minute, person to person. There is no killer combo, no game-breaking strategy. Fluxx is about as close to a purely luck-based game as you can get with a deck of cards. And the concept has worked so well Looney Labs has come out with six main versions of the game. Original Fluxx, Martian Fluxx, Zombie Fluxx, Family Fluxx, Eco Fluxx , Monty Python (more properly called Holy Grail Fluxx) Fluxx, and, of course, Pirate Fluxx. There’s even a Stoner Fluxx out there for you burnouts who, swear to God officer, have glaucoma and need to smoke your medication for it. And they can be combined with one another. So you uber-geeks can, in fact, play Zombie Martian Monty Python Pirate Fluxx and create a blackhole of nerddom that will no doubt swallow the entire known universe, leaving behind only a few Twinkie wrappers and the odd can or two of Mountain Dew.
So what makes Pirate Fluxx so special? Two words. Pirates dummy! Let’s face it, unless they are the modern day, yacht hijacking, senior citizen murdering, lots of large bullets to assorted internal organs until daylight shows through their torsos needing kind, pirates are cool. Pirates are so cool they are even cool when portrayed as drunken, probably-but-we’re-not-totally-sure heterosexual semi-competents sword fighting with Orlando Bloom.
But that might be a reflection of how cool Johnny Depp is. In any case, historical pirates, separated as they are from us by hundreds of years and thousands of miles are cool. And Fluxx is cool. So naturally these two cool things were destines to come together and make one ultra-cool thing for me to write about when I should be making breakfast and getting to sleep some time before the alarm goes off at 530am.
The spin on this version of Fluxx is squarely on the iconography of old-timey Caribean yar me buckos and so forth pirates. Arr! There’s the previously mentioned parrot and monkey cards. There are ship cards and Goals that require at least one ship to win. There are jewel cards and Goals that require at least three of them to win. And of course there’s no shortage of piratically themed screw-your-buddy cards too. Rough Seas, Shipwreck and Scurvy come to mind.
I could go on in this vein but here’s the short and sweet of it. If you’ve ever played Fluxx you’re going to like this game. If you’ve never played Fluxx but like pirates you’re going to like this game. In short, unless you simply don’t like fun you’re going to like this game. So hoist sail for your nearest game store, plunder your wallet for the seventeen bucks it costs and, as always, keep it fun ye swabs!
Capn’ Mech out!
February 16, 2011
Space! The final frontier! These are the voyages of…. Oh wait! Let’s back it up before I get sued back to the stone age shall we? Today we review Mag Blast by local little engine that kicked kicked *** Fantasy Flight Games.
If you’re like most gamers you’ve a bit of the science fiction nerd in you. And if that’s the case you’ve probably spent a few hours minimum dreaming of being out in the black (yes, I am genetically incapable of stringing one hundred words together without making a Firefly reference. Deal with it ok.) commanding your own mighty spaceship or better still armada of same. Travelling the star lanes , meeting interesting new life forms. And blasting them to subatomic particles with your laser cannons and quantum torpedoes. Well, Mag Blast gives you the opportunity to live the dream!
Like most good games, and certainly the overwhelming majority of ones that are going to see a positive review in these pages, simplicity and fun are at the core of Mag Blast. At the start of the game each player is dealt a Mother Ship card
This is the core of your fleet. All Mother Ships have three things in common. They all have eight hit points. They all have some sort of special ability that, were I eager to meet Mr. Lucas’ legion of attorneys I might refer to as a Jedi power but I won’t. And if they get destroyed the person playing them is out of the game.
Next you receive six Fleet cards.
All ship have Speed, Health and Weapons to varying degrees. You pick four of these, arrange them around your Mother Ship and then take a hand of five Action cards.
Action cards are how you do stuff in the game. They allow you to attack, defend and reinforce your fleet. Play starts with the person with the lowest total Health on their fleet and continues clockwise around the table. Mostly this involves shooting at your fellow players or otherwise screwing with them.
There are a variety of ships in Mag Blast and most of them have a weapons turret or two located in the lower left hand corner of the card. The color of the turret determines what you can attack with. Each ship can attack once per turn and can only attack with a weapon that matches the turrets on their card! Unless you have a card that says otherwise of course.
Mostly the ships attack by shooting at one another. There is however, on exception. Carriers. Carriers can either shoot with their guns or launch Squadrons. Squadrons consist of Bombers and Fighters and there are advantages to using them. To being with, you can unleash a fair amount of damage if you have sufficient Fighter or Bomber cards in your hand. Also, unlike Blast cards Fighters and Bombers go back into your hand at the end of the attack. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that if your target has a Carrier and Fighters they can launch defensive squadrons. In that case Fighters destroy Bombers and go back to the defenders hand while Fighter vs Fighter combat ends with both sides scattered across the battlefield in bitty little pieces. There’s also the small wrinkle of Squadron damage going away at the end of the attackers turn. So it’s best to use Squadrons against already damaged ships.
Speaking of damaged ships there’s two ways to deal with damage done to your own fleet. The first is to reinforce. The second is to repair. Reinforcing your fleet is done one of two ways. First, there is an Action card called Reinforcements. Playing this allows you to draw the top ship from the Fleet deck and deploy it into your Fleet.
The second is to expend Resources. As you play you will notice that some cards have either a yellow moon, a blue star or a green diamond up in one corner. These are Resources and you can either discard one of each or three of a kind to reinforce your fleet just as if you had played a Reinforcements card. This can be a bit of a gamble but it sure beats watching your Mothership get a multi-gigajoule remodel from one of your fellow players.
Repairing your ship is done by playing a Spacedock Action card on it. This allows you to discard one blast from the ship of your choice. Any ship in your fleet except your Mothership can be spacedocked.
Play continues until there is only one fleet left. One interesting little quirk about the rules of combat in Mag Blast. In order for an attack to be successful you must make some sort of weapon-sounding noise. Pew pew! Kaboom! Zot! Quack!
Waitasecond. Back it up. Did he just say quack ? Yes, he did. This is a little house rule that we have among my gaming circle. Years ago back when we were playing the second ed version of this game a friend of mine kept getting his eleven point Dreadnaught picked apart by one point laser blasts, the weakest weapon in the game. He laughed and mentioned that it was like getting nibbled to death by ducks. So, naturally, the next time he was attacked with a laser blast the person responsible said “Quack!” for his weapon sound. And a tradition was born.
Mag Blast is illustrated by the Lord of Dorkness himself John Kovalic of Dork Tower and Munchkin fame.
The illustrations are cartoony and humorous and the play reflects it. The game itself costs $24.95 and comes in 4×8 inch box. So it’s good for gamers on a budget or on the go. Depending on how many people you’ve got and how good they are at defending themselves play typically lasts about a half hour. So you can get several games in during a session or play the one and then move on to something else.
Overall this is a solid, very fun game that people of most ages can enjoy. I’ve played it with everybody from little kids who could barely read to my sixty year old father-in-law and the response has been universally favorable. If you’ve got a couple bucks to spare and are looking for something cool to play, click on the Fantasy Flight link above or wander over to your favorite game store and grab a copy.
Until next time keep it fun!
February 15, 2011
Good morning readers! I suppose the obligatory thing to do today would be to write up a Valentines Day post about nerd love or somesuch but I’m not going to. Instead, I wanna talk about something more topical to our little community. I wanna talk about a local event taking place this coming weekend. I wanna talk, about Con Of The North.
Con Of The North or COTN is a Twin Cities gaming convention that takes place every year around this time. Unlike other cons that are sci-fi or anime or literature based and then have a (frequently token) gaming track, COTN is dedicated one hundred percent to our beloved hobby. Three glorious days of hanging out with your fellow geeks playing a whole rainbow of board and card games.
The convention takes place at the Holiday Inn St Paul East
located at 2201 Burns Ave in St Paul. I’ll be posting a link to both hotel and convention website a bit later in the article. If you want to stay in the hotel –and in all fairness it’s a pretty nice place – you can get an $89 rate by using the code “CON” when getting your room. Or you can just go, game and come home.
located at 2201 Burns Ave in St Paul. I’ll be posting a link to both hotel and convention website a bit later in the article. If you want to stay in the hotel –and in all fairness it’s a pretty nice place – you can get an $89 rate by using the code “CON” when getting your room. Or you can just go, game and come home.
Well, they’re running it at least once this year so you get get in on the action with a bit of luck.
A couple personal favorites are the Lego D&D and the Aliens movie scenario. That one is not to be missed, even if all you’re doing is watching. And be sure to stop in for the Clay Olympics where you get to build and battle your own Play-Doh™ monster. It’s a perennial favorite either to play or watch. And yes there’s plenty of Magic The Gathering action on offer as well.
Advance tickets to them are now closed you can still stop in and pick up tickets. You just won’t be getting first dibs is all.
Now, as with any convention there are a few basic rules. First off, no weapons. So you cosplayers are gonna have to leave your big honkin swords at home. No alcohol so you idiots who think it’s fun to get inebriated and then go game are going to have to either stay sober or stay home.
It’s also not a daycare. If you are a parent reading this and think it might be a good way to get some much needed time off from your little darling by dumping them at the convention for a few hours by all means, go right ahead. Just do so in the knowledge that the convention organizers are not responsible for your kid . You made em, you raised em, you mind em. And really folks, this should be viewed as an opportunity for some quality time with the kids.
Go to the con, find a couple events you can enjoy together and a couple more you can enjoy separately and spend a day or two sharing your hobby with your little ones. The next generation needs direction. What better way to direct them than towards the gaming table? Look at it this way; if they’re gaming they aren’t out running the streets making extra work for the cops or at a church somewhere getting fondled by a priest.
I’ve attended COTN several times over the years and I gotta say, it’s a good time. The events usually start on time. The venue is nice and clean. There are a wide range of gaming events to enjoy. Granted, there are no panels, or masquerade but so what? You can get that at plenty of other places. There also isn’t much in the way of local restaurant options so I’d encourage you to bring your own cache of supplies or get the number of the nearest Dominoes on your phone before heading over. Trust me; you don’t want to subsist on junk food for three days straight. Pack some basic supplies and keep at least semi-healthy.
I would also like to reiterate and older rant of mine. Remember our good friend Mr. Soap?
Please, for the good of everyone involved spend some quality time with him! I know I went off at considerable length once before on the importance of geek hygiene http://mechgogogames.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/it-burns-it-burns/
but it needs restating. Conventions take place in enclosed spaces. They bring hundreds of people together. Three days in a hotel with 2,000 other gamers can be a very pleasant experience. Unless a bunch of them fail to wash. That stink builds up and it detracts from the overall fun of the convention. So please, soap. Water. Daily.
One final thing before I sign off on this entry. If you go to COTN you are probably going to have a good time. If you do, please remember that your fun is the by-product of a lot of people working very hard all year long to give you a party. I would encourage anyone who enjoys themselves at COTN or any other convention to make some inquiries into volunteering for next year. It’s a good way to give back to your local gaming community and make some great friends. And who doesn’t like that?
For more information go to the convention website at
Hotel info can be found via a link at the convention website or here
If finances and time permit I’m going to try and go either Saturday or Sunday and hopefully I’ll see a few of you there. Either way, have a good week and, as always, keep it fun!
February 10, 2011
Right, first things first. Sorry for the delay on this. The new job is getting in the way of the rest of my life and I had some problems with the pics I needed for this post. Now, it happens that I had the good fortune to attend a demo event last week at Air Traffic in the Mall of America. The game was Small World
And I gotta tell you, it was pretty good. Now here’s the deal. I do not, as a rule, particularly care for strategy games like Risk and Catan. For me, they tend to suck the fun right off the table. Small World is the exception. The game is simple, fun easy to understand and has enough flexibility that people with a number of different play styles stand a decent chance of getting in the occasional win.
In many ways Small world is a lot like Risk. The ultimate idea is to have the most points at the end of nine turns but the mechanic behind that is territorial acquisition. Each person starts off with a randomly selected race. Each race has one innate ability. Giants have an easier time conquering territory adjacent to mountain regions, Rat Men start out with more initial troops than any other race, that sort of thing.
Each race also has one random ability. This is selected during setup. You stack the race markers next to the random ability markers and as new and different races become available for play you take the top of each stack and add it to the available lineup.
This adds to the overall level of play value and keeps any one race from being a game breaker. We’ve all seen it in other strategy games where people who play regularly all vie to be one or another particular group because they are the ones with the best overall chance of winning. Not so in Small World. One game might see a race with a killer combo, the next they’ll just barely stand a chance of winning. Keeps things fresh in my opinion and keeps it fun.
Speaking of flexibility, the creators of Small World decided to tailor their game to varying numbers of players. You aren’t just stuck with the one board like you are in so many games. The number of players determines the size of the board. This keeps things moving as space is limited and people are forced to come into conflict. Overall it’s a nice touch and, I think, enhances the experience.
As the game progresses your chosen group will take hits as it marches across the board. Troops will get discarded due to losses from other players conquering territory that they formerly occupied. Eventually you’ll get to a point where it seems non-viable to keep them. And that’s where another interesting mechanic comes into play; Decline.
In games like Risk when your troops drop below a certain critical threshold it’s all over but the crying and the “Deeply Regret To Inform” letters to the families of those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of you wasting a few hours with your friends. In Small World you throw your old group on the scrapheap and get new troops!
This is can actually prove to be a highly effective tactic. A potentially very powerful race and random ability combo may be waiting on deck as play goes on, needing only a couple of cycles of Decline and new race selection to put it into your grasp. There’s just two catches. First, when you go into Decline that’s all you do that turn. In a game with only nine turns, doing this too often is going to hurt you more than help you. The other thing is that you don’t just decide “Well, I think I’ll take the Dragon Master/Halfling combo now. Yoink!”. Instead, you have to pay. See the coins piled up on the markers below?
Well, if you don’t like the race/random ability combination at the top of the lineup you have to pay for the privilege of passing on it. And you keep paying to pass until you get to the one you like. So you have to decide it it’s really worth it because coins equal points in this game. Of course, everyone else who wanted to pass on the other races had to pay too. So you might spend five or ten points to get fifteen or twenty in the long run. It’s an investment/return calculation but if you do it right you can score big. I went through three races in my session of this and wound up winning the game. But that’s no guarantee that using the Decline mechanic will get you the big win. It could have just as easily bit me in the rump. So weigh your options and chose wisely.
Overall I’d say that Small World is a worthy addition to most libraries. The price is more than I usually like to pay; $49.95 retail. But you get a lot of cool stuff for your fifty bucks. You get solid play value, massive replayability and a game that will appeal to a pretty broad selection of gamers. And possibly even a few broads who are gamers as well.
Ok, I deserved that. But it doesn’t make Small World any less fun or any more narrow in appeal. There was a pretty even gender mix at the demo I attended and everyone had a great time. Everyone understood the rules despite being brand new to it and everyone walked away at the end of the event figuring out how soon they could add it to their collection.
Small World can be played with up to five people but seems to be best with four so it’s a good family game. The minimum recommended age is eight years old but the average age at our table was mid-30’s. Probably more due to it being a school night than anything else when we played. So it’s not just for little kids. The nine turn mechanic makes it a good party or convention game because you won’t be spending sixteen hours at it like some games which shall remain nameless. There are a couple of expansion packs available and the Day of Wonder website
has an online version you can try.
Personally, while I don’t own this game right now, I gotta tell you; if I’d had the money at the time of the demo I would. It’s a solid little product and very much on my personal “to buy” list. I strongly suggest you add it to yours.
Until next time, keep it fun!
February 7, 2011
A bloody game! Here’s the thing folks. I have been gaming a long damned time. I got into gaming for lots of reasons. Partly because the jocks in my high school were a-holes, the goths were a good ten years from existing and my upbringing was too restrictive to get me in with the burnouts. Probably just as well, that. With my moral flexibility I’d have celebrated my 21st birthday in a cell rather than a bar if I’d gone that route.
Mostly though I got into it because I was looking for something fun to do. D&D, board games, card games, mini’s; they’re all supposed to be fun. And mostly they are. That’s why it is so utterly f-wording baffling to me when I see people in this hobby who completely miss the point!
Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the deal. Ours is not a pastime for the light of pocket. A cheap game will cost you twenty bucks. A mid-range one fifty and an expensive one eighty or more. And that’s just board and card games. Dice?RPG’s? Mini’s? And don’t even get me started on Magic The MethHabbit!
So why in God’s name would you drop all this money and time and put yourself very deliberately on the fringe of society when ours is a universally xenophobic species only to not have as many laughs as possible? It’s a game you morons! The average age of intended play is between eight and thirteen FFS!
It’s not a contest to see who has the most microscopic di…. I mean knowledge of the rules lore! It’s about getting together with your friends, eating food possessed of less nutritional value than the packaging it came in and making obscure jokes about fifty year old Brit comedy shows! And maybe moving some pieces around a board or getting some cards onto a table if it happens to work out that way.
You know what I’ve seen in my time? Grown men. Let me just repeat that GROWN MEN , -and I’m talking guys in their 30’s and forty’s here-, cheating at miniature games when their opponent isn’t even in high school yet! Moving their pieces out of turn, telling the kid-the frigging child for cripes sake!- that they are playing against that they can’t make a particular move and then making the same exact move themselves on their turn, and endless other examples of playtime d-baggery! And then patting themselves on the back when they win! Or invoking some obscure bit of minutia within the rules that makes their move technicallylegal but takes a big steaming dump all over the spirit of fun and community that is supposed to be at the heart of this little subculture of ours.
And I know I’m not the only one! We all know a few of these idiots! The guys with no girlfriends (gee, what a shock) hardly any social skills (connection maybe? I think maybe so!) and not much in the way of friends of the platonic persuasion either and aren’t we just stunned as a box of tasered baby ducklings at that! And they show up and their whole point is to win win winety win win no matter what.
And we all know what we’d like to do, don’t we? Deep down in our secret little heart of hearts? Of if you’re like me not-so-secret? That’s right. This right here.
Now, because I’m a good guy I’ve tried to engage the butt-tards in conversation a few times. I’ve tried to figure out what makes them tick, other than the two pounds of Semtex I wired to their chair while they were distracted. I mean, they’re part of the tribe right? The normal world doesn’t see much difference between us and them. And you know what I’ve heard? “The point of playing a game is to win.”
Noitaintjerko! The point of playing a game is to have fun! It is to laugh! It is to blow money you could be spending on girls and retirement and a new car on books that make you that much more proficient at pretending to be an elf on Saturday nights! Winning is just a nice little bonus that may or may not happen depending on how things happen to land for you that particular evening. It’s like going out with a pretty girl. If she kisses you at the end of the night fantastic! But as long as she doesn’t pepper spray you or her six foot seven psycho ex doesn’t show up with a crowbar and an alphabetized list of your bones it was still time well spent! Say it with me and say it slowly; Fun is the point, winning is optional.
Thing is, they don’t do it by going out and getting drunk or making a success of themselves or even getting into fistfights. Not that I advocate getting drunk or picking fistfights as a way of de-stressing or showing up people who were a-holes to you back in the day mind. But I’d actually respect some of them more if they did pour a bottle of vodka down their throat and puke into the open sunroof of some luxury automobile that you just know belongs to the kind of overpriviledged little wankstain who thinks it’s the height of hi-effin’-larity to make fun of us geeky types.
No. Instead they go out to public gaming events, bust out the obscure rules trivia and an ironclad sense of Always Needing To Follow The Rules As Written (except for when it gets in the way of them winning of course! Colon-clowns!) and generally rain doody all over everyone else’s good time. And for an added good time, try sitting near a table full of these types! You can always tell which ones those are because the silence is deafening and there’s an air of tension at the table you could bounce a 2-liter bottle of pop off. Yeah, that’s the group of hard-partying laugh-factories I know I wanna spend my free time with!
Seriously folks, it ain’t life and death here! I mean come on! How seriously can you take a bunch of grown adults pretending to be Orcs (let’s play make believe!) or building an imaginary railroad ( I has a choo-choo! Whee! Ima conductor! Toot toot!) or farm (Old McDonald had a …..)? If you’re not laughing, you’re not doing it right. And if you’re one of the cheating, rulebook-humping win-at-any-cost types I’ve been ranting about for three pages now guess what? This
might be how you see yourself at night’s end but for most of the rest of us it’s actually a little bit closer to this right here.
Until next time, keep havin’ fun and remember; if you’re not laughing you’re not doing it right!
February 2, 2011
Ok readers, first off, allow me to apologize for Mondays lapse. As some of you may have heard, we had a wee small fire here at the house recently. Not to worry, no one was hurt and the damage was relatively minimal. Thing is, the only thing worse than the disruption caused by a minor blaze in the living room is the disruption caused by a major blaze in the living room. The last couple days have been a laugh-a-minute merry-go-round of packing up my entire living room, moving it to other parts of the house, replacing the carpeting and then moving it all back. And lemme tell you; you buy a couch as comfy as mine you’re paying for weight too. Five hundred pushups a week I do folks and that sumbitch nearly wrecked me.
In keeping with recent events I thought I’d review a game about another little phenomenon that has been known to shake things up ever so slightly; total global nuclear annihilation!
This week’s review is Atomic Highway by Radioactive Ape Designs. Ahhh, Armageddon. The very word summons up images of gritty, hard bitten warriors waging war for a tank of juice in a desolate no-mans land that looks suspiciously like the less tourist-friendly parts of Australia. That, or Ben Afleck getting chased around an oil rig in his underwear by a shotgun-wielding Bruce Willis. Good God do I watch too many movies or what?
But, as usual, I digress. Remember this guy?
Well, back before he went completely off the rails he made two amazing post-apocalyptic movies and one that proves even box office giants will do damn near anything to make the mortgage. These and a great many other films of varying quality were the inspiration for Atomic Highway.
Atomic Highway is set in a future where civilization has gone down harder than a drunken debutante at a frat party. Where gleaming cities once marched across the landscape and humanity numbered in the billions there are now scattered little settlements of ragged-arsed survivors barely hanging on from one day to the next. Roving gangs raid travelers and tribes of nomadic neo-primitves roam the wastes looking for food, shelter and whatever bits of old-tech they can scavenge. Life is hard, dying is easy and genetically twisted mutations abound.
Into this merry setting stride our intrepid heroes. That’d be you all, the PC’s . While Atomic Highway doesn’t offer classes and races as such it does provide players with a list of potential Rearings and Pursuits to form the foundation of their character. Rearings are where you’re from, how you were raised. Pursuits are what you do for a living. Each one gives you a starting set of Skills as well as some basic gear that you can build up further using the four initial skill points you get to start with.
Once you figure out who you want to be you get to build it. As with the Serenity RPG, Atomic Highway is based off a point-build system. In this case, you get eighteen D6 to spread around between seven Attributes. These are Muscle, Understanding, Tenacity, Appeal, Nimbleness, Toughness and Senses. Just for fun take the first letter of each word and tell me what they spell. Nice touch that, on the part of the writer.
After selecting your Attributes you get to pick you skills. The list provided in the book is not ultra-comprehensive and you can make up new ones if you feel the need. Everyone starts with four skill points to start. In both cases, Attribute and Skills the number of points you have represents the number of D6 you get to roll when performing an action relevant to that Attribute or Skill. Any sixes you get are successes. Ones are….not your friend. Remember what I said about dying being easy? Yeah, like that.
Of course, nuclear fallout doesn’t just clear out the sinuses. It’s been known to relocate them over the left side of your noggin. Or possibly your elbow. To that end Atomic Highway offers players the option of playing mutants. During your character creation you can either opt to be a mutant of essentially human stock with a few hiccups in your DNA or a humanoid animal. The rules for both are pretty easy to understand and there’s even a very small section on optional psychic powers. So if you’re a Furry who has dreamed of taking your telekinetic otter persona on a motorcycle tour of the end of the world you now have the means to do so.
Of course, being a mutant isn’t all spandex and green-skinned women who can double as a flotation device. In fact, in Atomic Highway it’s hardly any of that at all. Mutants, while possessed of some advantages, such as natural armor, claws or echolocation are also damaged. Dull senses, speech impediments and an inability to digest any food outside of a very limited range of items are among the potential genetic speedbumps waiting for you down Mutie Lane if you decide your character really would look better with prehensile feet and toxic saliva. And that’s not even considering angry mobs of bigoted norms or bounty hunters who see you as a potential payday. So think before you freak.
Of course, no game about life after the collapse of civilization would be complete without a selection of armed and armored vehicles tearing across the wastelands in a hail of crossbow bolts and automatic gunfire. True to its name, Atomic Highway delivers in this regard as well. Certain Pursuits, such as the Outrider, Raider and Road Warrior get a beginning pool of points to build their own custom vehicle with.
The chapter on vehicles provides a list of basic templates to start off with. From there you can customize your ride, adding weapons, armor the like. The addition of vehicular combat adds an extra level of fun to the games and encourages the use of mini’s. Plus it stays true to the genre’, enhancing the experience of being in your own post apocalyptic movie or novel.
There’s a good selection of gear, of both the general day to day stuff everybody needs and weaponry. As a bit of a gun geek I tend to be pretty unforgiving of less-than-lethal firearm statistics in a game. Let me just say that I didn’t have that problem here. The sample character offered up in the character creation section is a pretty buff dude with sixteen Health. A single attack from an assault rifle has the potential to do thirty health damage. So don’t get overly itchy to start spraying the lead around unless character creation is your favorite part of the whole RPG experience.
The book offers up a short opening adventure scenario and a few sample beasties and bad guys but with such a wealth of supporting films and fiction it isn’t really necessary. Ditto with the gear and skills. If you don’t see it and think it’s needed, stat it out and put it in.
Now, lest you think this is one big love-fest there are a few flaws with the book. Mostly it comes down to relative placement of information. For instance, how you get Fortune points –a device to help you stack the odds in your favor- is located two pages after how you use them. Ummmm barkeep? One large Whiskey Tango Foxtrot please. Neat. Same thing happens with the weaponry stats. Call me crazy but it seems you should at least put a paragraph on the mechanics of burst and auto-fire in next to the descriptions of the guns themselves. Instead of waiting thirty additional pages to give you that information!
All in all though, this is a solid game. It started out as a labor of love by the creator Colin Chapman and turned into something far more playable than the average “Hey I think I know how to design a game.” project. The company website
has additional tips and errata. Plus there are some supplements available either for download or hard copy purchase though you need to go to either Amazon or your FLGS for the hard copy. Irradiated Freaks offers an expanded look at mutations with additional flaws, species and benefits.
All in all this is a solid game. The $30.95 price tag makes it a decent buy for gamers on a budget. The fan support in the forums offers additional resources in the form of art work, PC’s and NPC’s, paper mini’s to print and adventure scenarios. Plus the nature of the game lends itself equally well to extended campaigns or a beer n pretzels smash-‘em-up.
So if you’re looking for something fast, fun and gritty to play, pay a visit to your local FLGS. Lay down your thirty bucks, strap on some leathers and spike and head out into the wasteland!