Sunday, March 30, 2008

Board Game Review - Carcassonne

Here we go again, with another week of Gaming stuff.

This week, I'm going to review the board game Carcassonne. For those of you who need it, you can still see my board game review system.

So here is my analysis of Carcassonne:

Strategy: 3
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 3
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Useful
Expected Length: One hour

The game consists of a number of square tiles. Each one depicts a grassy field, a portion of a medieval walled city, or both. There may or may not be any roads on a certain tile, and some of the tiles that have no city segments may display a monastery. Each player has a number of small wooden people. One of these people is placed on the scoring track. The rest are used as markers throughout the game.

A single tile is laid in the playing area, and players take turns drawing a new tile and laying it next to a tile already in play. The new tile must line up with all features on the adjacent tile. That is, you cannot place a tile so that a city segment abuts a field, and if there is a road on one tile, there must be a continuing road on the adjacent tiles. After having placed a tile, that player has the option of putting one of his markers on that tile. He cannot put it on any tile aside from the one he just placed. When he places a marker, he must decide what role that marker will play. There are several options:

  • A marker placed on a road becomes a robber. Robbers are scored when the road is completed.
  • A marker placed on a city segment becomes a knight. Knights are scored when that city is completed.
  • A marker placed on a monastery becomes a monk. Monks are scored when the monastery has eight adjacent tiles.
  • A marker placed in a field becomes a farmer. Farmers are scored at the end of the game.
Roads are completed when both ends terminate in tiles showing an interruption (usually denoted by a marker on the tile, but also sometimes when the road enters a city gate). At that point, a robber scores a number of points equal to the number of tiles the road covers. Cities are complete when they are completely surrounded by an unbroken wall. At that point, knights score a number of points equal to the number of tiles that the city covers. Monks are worth eight points, when the monastery is completed by surrounding with adjacent tiles. Farmers are more complex, and will be discussed in a moment. In all these cases, after scoring your marker, you return it to your supply to be used again.

However, it is important to note that you cannot claim a city or road that already contains a marker, whether it be your own or an opponent's. The only way for two players to score the same city or road is if two separate sections are later joined by new tile placement. In this case, both players will score the same.

Farmers are different. For starters, they are placed on their side, rather than standing, to denote that they are not removed until the end of the game. This is the great weakness of farmers: they can be very valuable if played right, but sometimes, the fact that you are making a permanent sacrifice of one of your pieces can outweigh their value. The other scoring options are more flexible, since you get the marker back once they are scored. As with roads and cities, you cannot place a farmer on a tile if that tile is connected by an unbroken line of fields to a tile containing another marker. At the end of the game, farmers are worth two points for each completed city that they supply (that is, the city is connected by an unbroken line of fields to the tile containing that farmer). However, if more than one player is supplying a city (because of two sections being joined by subsequent tile placement), then only the player with a larger number of connected farmers gets the points.

This review (as any review of the game) is much harder to understand than actually playing the game. Once you've seen it demonstrated, everything makes much more sense.

My personal opinion of the game is that it's not bad, but it's not great either. The randomness of tile draw makes it difficult to plan where to place your markers. Several times, I would place a marker in what I thought was an ideal location, only to find that I was never able to score that marker because the quirks of the tiles drawn afterwards prevented that marker from ever being able to score. Granted, I've only played the game once and watched it played one other time, so I may grow to like the game more as I learn the idiosyncrasies of game play.

But that's my review. I hope you enjoyed it!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Anthropomorphics

It's Easter today! What goes with Easter? Bunnies! Why? Because the Christian Church stole the holiday from pagans, who celebrated Easter (or Ostara; nobody really knows what it was called before the Christians got hold of it. All are merely guesses) as a fertility rite. Thus, symbols of new spring (like baby bunnies and newborn chicks) were common, and the Church just knicked those and said, "They're symbols of Christ's resurrection! Yeah, that's it!"

So to tie in this week's gaming post with the bunny theme, I will discuss an idea that I worked on, briefly, with a friend of mine many years ago. The idea was "Anthropomorphics." We had originally intended it to be a GURPS sourcebook, but that idea never came to fruition.

The idea was that you would play animals. There were three campaign styles: realistic, cinematic, and silly. Realistic is just that: you play an animal in a realistic manner. This campaign style is generally best suited for people who (out of some masochistic reason) want to play someone's pet. However, it can include things such as the Watership Down setting. That is, all the characters are playing one type of animal, living in a colony (a warren of rabbits, a pride of lions, a murder of crows, et c.).

Cinematic campaigns have various levels. They all include some amount of unrealistic behaviour, from the simple and straightforward (such as Lassie, in which the animals behave normally aside from their ability to use rather human-like thought patterns and to communicate effectively with humans despite their lack of speech) to the more overt (such as films like Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, in which the animals can speak to each other and exhibit remarkably human-like behaviour).

Silly campaigns are the straight-up unrealistic ones. The most obvious classification is the Saturday morning cartoons, with characters like Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. It needn't be that overt, though; the film Mousetrap shows an example of a silly campaign without anthropomorphising the animals (physically, at least).

There are other potential uses for this idea as well. What about a person that gets transformed into an animal through some spell? Just one example is The Tenth Kingdom, in which Prince Wendell gets transformed into a dog for the majority of the series.

We had even started developing optional rules for cross-species communication. The basic idea was that, if using these rules, an animal could communicate with someone from the same genus but different species at a -2 penalty. Different genus but same family, -4. Different family, but same order, -6. And different order but same class, at -8. Thus, a house cat (class mammalia, order carnivora, family felidae, genus felis, species catus) would speak to other housecats normally, to a black-footed cat (genus felis, species nigripes) at -2, a tiger (family felidae, genus panthera) at -4, a dog (order carnivora, family canidae) at -6, and a lemur (class mammalia, order primates) at -8.

Anyway, not sure how interesting that is to anyone, but if you're interested, I recommend the Animal Diversity Web from the University of Michigan. It's good for descriptions of animals, as well as discerning their taxonomic classifications.

That's it for this week! See you next week.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

GURPS Divination: part 2

This week, I'm going to return to the GURPS Magic System for the Divination spell. If you need to review so you know what I'm talking about, you can read the original post. This week, I will detail those variations that involve telling the future by observing an event. We start with:

Alatimancy - This is one of three forms of divination involving salt. The first (alomancy) was detailed in the original post, and dealt with patterns in scattered salt. This variation is the reading of patterns formed in salt deposits left behind by the evaporation of salt water. It requires a special ceremonial bowl, and takes several hours (often a full day or more, if there is a large amount of water). The amount of water used depends on the nature of the question, as well as the level of detail desired. Prerequisites: 3 Water spells and 2 Earth spells.

Anthracomancy - The observation of burning coal. Any coal will do, so long as the spell is properly enacted before igniting the coal. The spell requires at least an hour of observation. The answers to the caster's question are obtained by watching the movement of the coal and the behaviour of the fire as it burns. Prerequisites: 5 Fire spells and 3 Earth spells.

Capnomancy - Divination through the observation of smoke. Answers are revealed through watching the behaviour of the smoke as it rises from the fire, and through shapes seen in the smoke. Any fire will work, as long as it is outdoors. The spell takes ten minutes to cast, but is normally cast at -4 unless some sort of sacrifice is burned in the fire. A minor sacrifice (such as a loaf of bread) reduces the penalty to -2. A moderate sacrifice (such as an effigy that took time and care to create) will negate the penalty entirely. More substantial sacrifices (such as animals) will replace the penalty with a bonus, from +1 for a small, unimportant animal (like a sparrow) to +5 for a large and valuable animal (like a horse). Prerequisites: 5 Fire spells and 3 Air Spells.

Halomancy - The third and final divination involving salt, this is the act of throwing salt onto a fire and observing how it burns. Answers are revealed in the sounds and lights generated as the salt ignites. Casting takes 5 minutes. Prerequisites: 5 Fire spells and 5 Earth spells.

Lampadomancy - This is in essence a form of pyromancy, but whereas pyromancy uses a full flame, lampadomancy is based on the flame of a lantern or candle. Also, unlike Pyromancy (which involves staring into a fire until one sees visions or hears voices, Lampadomancy divines the future from the movement of the flame itself. Casting takes ten minutes. Prerequisites: 7 Fire Spells.

Lecanomancy - Divination by observing the ripples on the surface of water into which pebbles have been dropped. This requires a special ceremonial bowl and set of pebbles ($30). Casting takes five minutes. Prerequisites: 5 Water spells and 3 Earth Spells.

Sideromancy - This is the divination by burning straw. Normally, the straw is dropped onto a hot skillet, and will twist, blacken, and ignite, and the diviner receives his answers by observing these actions. If there is no skillet or other suitable surface available, the caster can cast the straw directly into a fire at -4 to skill. Prerequisites: 5 Plant spells and 4 Fire Spells.

Sycomancy - The name "Sycomancy" is derived from the Greek word "sukon," which means "fig." Originally, this form of divination was cast using fig leaves specifically, but it can be done with any leaves, or even with scraps of paper. In its purest form, the caster writes several possible answers to his question on a series of leaves, and the leaf that dries out first is the one that contains the correct answer. If using slips of paper, some other element must be introduced to replace the drying-out action; normally, this is done by rolling the papers and placing them in a sieve above steaming water, so that the first paper to unroll will reveal the answer. In any variation, one leaf (or paper) must be left blank. Watching leaves dry takes several days, but using papers and steam reduces the time to an hour. Prerequisites: 5 Plant Spells, 3 Water spells.

Ureamancy - Divination by observing fresh urine. Rather than scattering the urine (as in Urimancy), the urine itself is observed. Answers can be revealed in the colour, bubbles formed on the surface, and sometimes by taste. Casting takes 5 minutes (and someone who is currently capable of urinating, obviously -- the urine can't be more than a few minutes old!). Prerequisites: 5 Water spells and 5 Body Control spells.


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Gamer Types

Greetings again to you, my faithful readers! This week, I shall discuss the Lawsian Gamer Types. A prominent creator of gaming resources in the gaming industry, named Robin Laws, wrote an amazingly useful book called Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering. Although this book is geared towards GMs, it has some very useful information for players as well.

One example of these doubly-applicable tidbits is the idea that gaming is supposed to be fun. You know, that sounds pretty obvious, but the problem is that a lot of people forget that gaming is a collaborative effort, and work hard to have fun at the other players' expense. The book suggests that everyone involved work to have fun together as a team, rather than antagonistically.

But that's not the topic of this week's rant.

Today, I thought I'd talk about Gamer Types. This was particularly useful for me, both as a GM and as a player. I'd struggled for years with the others in my gaming group, getting upset at them for ruining what I thought was an otherwise incredible game by insisting on doing nothing but killing the enemies for personal glory. It never occurred to me that different people play role-playing games for different reasons. And for that, I owe a debt to Robin Law.

So here we go. There are seven player types described in his book (which he says that he adapted from other sources, but I don't know what those sources are). They are as follows:

The Power Gamer


The Power Gamer comes to the gaming table because he enjoys the feeling of power that he gets from gaming. He tends to see his character as "a collection of super powers optimized for the acquisition of still more super powers." However success is defined in your particular gaming system, he wants more of it. This is the character that looks for ways to get great abilities at minimum cost. In D&D, he's obsessed with gaining more Feats (and spells, if playing a spellcaster class), and possibly even looking to gain Prestige Classes. In Vampire, he's after ever more dots in Disciplines and seeking to commit Diablerie as often as he can. In GURPS, he's after cool equipment, higher skill ratings, and spiffy advantages. Shadowrun sees him seeking newer and fancier cyberware and weapons. He games to be powerful, in whatever way power is defined in his game of choice.

The Butt-Kicker


Like the Power Gamer, the Butt-Kicker seeks power, but the Butt-Kicker always channels his power into the ability to commit massive acts of violence. Whereas the Power Gamer seeks power as defined by the game system (for example, he may desire political power in the heavy potential for political intrigue in Vampire), the Butt-Kicker only appreciates one sort of power: physical. No matter what game he's playing, he will write up a character that is capable of dishing out bloodshed and raining down the pain on his enemies. He only wants to play games in which the GM provides him with masses of enemies that he can kill (or at least seriously maim).

The Tactician


This player type seeks the thrill of the clever strategic gambit, the rush he gets from seeing his well-planned tactics result in a near-effortless victory for him and his companions. He prefers games in which he has many opportunities to use his mind, setting up plans and finding the best way to "win." This player type in particular loves to see the GM squirm as his plans are effortlessly foiled by a clever player. Anticlimax is the Tactician's ultimate success, as the tension of a climax is a result of uncertainty, and the Tactician lives to think up ways to guarantee success. He despises characterisation, because good characters are seldom tactically sound.

The Specialist


This is a sort of catch-all category. It describes those players who have a certain character type that they like to play, and want to play every time. The most common type of Specialist is, of course, the player who wants to be a ninja every time. I've known Specialists who insist on being magic-users in every game. I once knew someone who was a "fairy princess" Specialist. Whatever their chosen speciality, they want to find some way to make their character into that, regardless of setting. They're likely to play an Assamite in Vampire, or an Akashic Brother in Mage, or a physical adept in Shadowrun.

The Method Actor


Method Actors see gaming as a dramatic exercise, similar to acting on stage. For them, gaming is an improvisational theatre, and they game for the chance to develop a bond with their character. They develop complex personalities, and refuse to take any action that is out of character for their PC. Even if this derails the plot (which often leaves him at odds with the Storyteller [below]), or is tactically unsound (which causes tension with the Tacticians), or prevents combat (which rouses the ire of the Butt-Kicker). The character is everything to the Method Actor.

The Storyteller


Players of this ilk want a plot in their games. They expect the action to follow the format of a story, with exposition, conflict, climax, and resolution. Combat often bores them, unless it's essential for the storyline. They can be seen to break character if it is helpful to the story to do so. And they get angry at other player types when their actions ruin the flow of the story.

The Casual Gamer


These are the players who are gaming because it's what everyone else is doing. It's not something they dislike (else they wouldn't do it), they just don't have the passionate desire to game that other player types have. If everyone else games, so will the Casual Gamer. If no one else is gaming, the Casual Gamer will not be upset. Some people tend to see the Casual Gamer as unimportant, but they can often be vital to the survival of a gaming group, both in character (because they fill out the ranks and supply vital abilities that no other player has chosen) and out of character (because they tend to play important roles in the group's interpersonal dynamics).

Of course, it's entirely possible that you may be partially one type and partially another type. I, myself, am about 60% Storyteller and 40% Method Actor. For me, the most important thing is the story, but since I believe very strongly that the most important part of a story is plausible, believable characters, the Method Actor can be a large part of my personal dynamic. I will usually follow the needs of the story, but I have been known, on occasion, to be true to my character's personality even if it derails the plot.

Anyway, it's often a good idea to get a feel for which character type(s) you are. This makes it easier to find a gaming group that will satisfy you. I've been in more than one group where the enjoyment was ruined because I was pissed at the other players for killing everything in their path instead of finding a more plot-satisfying way of doing things. I GMed for a group for a while that was mostly storytellers and method actors, but there were two butt-kickers in the mix, and they caused a lot of tension with the other players. Eventually, the two butt-kickers dropped out of the group, and all subsequent sessions were seen as vastly improved. This is not because the butt-kickers were bad players, but because they wanted different things.

Anyway, this is something that everyone should think about. And that's this week's entry!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Game Dork Logo

Welcome back! Time for another fun-filled episode of The Game Dork's Gaming Corner!

This week, I thought I'd discuss the logo I have at right. -->

It all started many many years ago. I had a friend, a very
imaginative and creative friend, named John Trobare. John has a tendency to launch into some lengthy speeches, which are astoundingly funny and will have everyone in the area laughing uncontrollably for twenty minutes or more. Of particular noteworthiness was the time he described the time that he and his friends Mike and Stephen went to Alaska in an attempt to make $30,000 each in a single summer aboard a fishing boat.

But the instance that started this whole mess was when he described the species laevus ludorum, commonly known as the Game Dork. He described their habitats, behaviour, and mating habits. In particular, he devised the Game Dork Mating Call.

I don't remember if the original description of the Game
Dork Mating Call included the horns or not, but even if he didn't mention the horns in the original description, they soon came to be an essential part of the Game Dork Mating Call. So now, whenever anyone makes the Game Dork Mating Call, they accompany the sound by putting their hands to their forehead, fists clenched, with the palm side facing away, and as they make the sound, they raise both index fingers so that they represent "horns." This results in something like this:

The Game Dork Mating Call Horns


So there you have it. Any time you want to make the Game Dork Mating Call, you can do it properly, even using appropriate gestures! This is very useful any time you want to show how big a dork you are. Usually, this is done to indicate that you have done, are doing, or are about to do something particularly dorky. Maybe you've just tripped over something, and said, "I guess I botched my Dexterity check!" Then you can follow this uber-dorky statement with the Game Dork Mating Call, and everyone will know that you are, indeed, a complete dork.

So that's where the logo comes from. It's the "horns" for the Game Dork Mating Call superimposed on one of the dorkiest dice that exists: the d100. Wallah! The Game Dork Logo.