Saturday, December 12, 2015

Worker Placement Games

Last night was the Backer Party for the Loot & XP Board Game Cafe. It was a blast! I had so much fun hanging out with awesome people, playing great games, and even making some new friends and reconnecting with some that I haven't seen in years!

In addition to playing Sushi Go and The Red Dragon Inn, I also ended up playing a game called Alchemists. I may do a proper review of that game later, but I just wanted to share a few thoughts I had as a result of playing that game last night.

I described the game to a spectator as a worker placement game with elements of Clue and just a soupçon of Compounded. I stand by that description. The core element of the game is a deck of eight alchemical ingredients (including toads, mandrake root, and raven's claws), each with specific alchemical properties. The exact properties are randomised by an app on your phone, and you have to spend a large portion of the game combining ingredients to see what potions result from them, and then using that information to deduce the alchemical properties of the ingredients.

But the main game mechanic is worker placement. You have a (ridiculously small) number of action cubes, and you use these to determine which actions you will take in each round. Available actions include: forage for ingredients, transmute ingredients, sell potions, buy artefacts, publish or debunk theories, and test potions (either on yourself or a hapless student of the alchemical arts).

This is not the first worker placement game I've played; Coal Baron and Lords of Waterdeep are pretty much straight worker placement games, although games such as Aquasphere and Dominant Species have mechanics that are closely related to worker placement. Puerto Rico is a variation on worker placement, but rather than placing a single 'worker' to claim your action, you need two (in most circumstances) to produce goods: one to harvest the raw materials, and another in a factory to process them.

I was thinking about it this morning, and I think I've begun to be able to express what it is I don't like about worker placement games.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying I dislike all worker placement games, nor that I won't play them. Especially if it's an interesting variation on the core theme (as seen in Dominant Species and Puerto Rico), it's entirely possible that I will really enjoy and want to play worker placement games.

I'm just saying that there's an inherent disadvantage to many games that use this as a core mechanic.

The inherent disadvantage is this: it can be very difficult to remember the complexities of each of the different possible actions. In most games (to pick one example pretty much at random: Betrayal at House on the Hill), even if there are a fair number of possible actions available to a player on any given turn (using the example of Betrayal at House on the Hill, you can move, attack, explore, drop or pick up items, and depending on which scenario you're playing, take other actions to try to meet the objectives of the current game), each of those actions is pretty straightforward. It requires a couple of paragraphs, at most, to describe how that action works.

But in many worker placement games, each different action can be quite complicated. For example, in Alchemists, it took two pages in the rulebook to explain the 'Sell Potions' action. Not every action was this complex; the 'Transmute Elements' action only took a single column on one page. But several of them were (especially the 'Publish Theories' action; that is almost a game unto itself!).

This can be problematic when trying to teach the game to new players (or, even worse, when you're trying to read the rules for the first time and then explain how the game works to other players who've also never played before, as I was doing last night!). Even once you've played the game once or twice, many of the details can still take some work to understand. I was rereading the rules this morning, and several times, I've said, 'Oh, that's how that was supposed to work!'

Things only get more complicated when actions are superficially similar but vastly different on closer inspection. For example, in Alchemists, the 'Test Potions' actions (whether you're testing on a student or on yourself) are nearly identical, and the 'Sell Potions' action is in most ways very similar to the 'Test Potions' action but is just different enough in the small details that it can be a lot to get your head around.

Anyway, that's what I was thinking this morning. Again, I'm not saying I dislike worker placement games, or that I won't ever play them. I'm just saying that in a lot of them, there's that inherent disadvantage of having too many rules to keep track of in too many different situations.

I think that'll be all for now. I'm not sure if I'll post next week or not; I know I won't the week after next, as it's Boxing Day. But until I do post again, I bid you a fond

Game on!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Empathy

I just finished reading an excellent article. It's about empathy: what it is, why it's important, how we came to have it, why it's declining in modern culture, how to cultivate it, and how it will improve your life.

It's kind of long, but I think it's well worth the read. The highlights:

  • Humans are empathic creatures. We evolved in a social environment, and we need that social interaction to feel happy and complete.
  • Empathy is declining. With the rise of technology, we are getting our social interaction more through our phones and computers than face-to-face, and this is reducing our ability to be empathic.
  • Empathy is important. The article suggests some ideas on how to improve your sense of empathy.

I won't rehash the whole article. You really should go read it. It has some videos embedded in it. They're good videos. Watch them too.

You may be wondering why I'm talking about social issues in a blog about games. There are two reasons:

  1. I believe strongly in the importance of equality for all people. I've been on the short end of the social power stick before, and I know how much it sucks to feel like that; to feel like you're not wanted, you're not accepted, you have no worth and no value, and the world would not care at all if you just didn't exist. I am aware that I had it so much better than many other people; I was not a minority (ethnically, gender-wise, religiously, etc). If I felt that badly being excluded, how must others feel in worse settings? So I feel it is important to work to end bigotry, discrimination, and exclusion.
  2. Games can help in improving empathy.

Let me be absolutely clear: I'm talking about what have been described as 'analogue games.' Not computer games. Games in which you're sitting at an actual physical table around which are seated other human beings. It doesn't matter if it's a board game, a card game, a roleplaying game, a miniatures-based war game, or any other type of in-person not-on-a-computer game (unless it's something like the original You Don't Know Jack, in which you're still playing with other people present in the room with you). These sorts of games promote the interaction that leads to empathy. Having a computer between you and the other player (that is, playing over a network, like XBox Live) doesn't help; you're not truly interacting with another person when all you have is his voice and a computer-generated character on a screen.

I talked about social issues a little bit back in my post about social bias in gaming. And this topic ties in very strongly with that. Direct physical in-person interaction will lead to a greater understanding of other people's points of view even more surely than playing different genders, orientations, ethnicities, etc. Especially when you're playing with people of different genders, orientations, ethnicities, etc.

This is a timely issue for me, as the Loot and XP board game cafe is set to open here in just a couple of weeks. Soon, people from around the city and even all over the central area of my current home state will be able to come together to play games with one another in a friendly, relaxed setting.

Sorry for the digression. Obvious plug is obvious.

Anyway, my point is this: playing games makes the world a better place, as long as you're doing it in a way that promotes empathy (which means stupid debates like gamergate are harmful to the end goal of improving the world; don't do it). So go play more games.

Really. Play more games.

And with that, I bid you

Game on!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Board Game Review: Scoville

A few months ago, a friend introduced me to a very fun board game called Scoville. The point of the game is to grow, crossbreed, and harvest peppers, which are then combined in recipes. I really enjoyed it, so let's take a look at it now, shall we?

We start, as always, with the numbers:

Strategy: 4
Randomness: 2
Complexity: 2
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Ideal
Average Length of Game Play: 1 hour

The game board in Scoville represents a plot of farming land. There are a few other spaces around the board that are important for turn order, special victory point prizes for being the first to plant certain peppers, and other things, but the farming plot is the most important. It's made up of several squares, each of which has a pepper-shaped cut-out in it. The game starts with a couple of the least spicy peppers in the two central squares, and each player has a few of these peppers in his inventory.



Players bid on turn order each round; this can be crucial, because the harvesting phase goes in reverse order. Sometimes, you want to plant first, and thus will want to bid higher on the turn order; other times, you want to harvest first, which means you want to place a lower bid.

The planting phase involves players placing peppers from their personal pile in the empty squares on the farm plot. The harvesting phase involves moving your farmer meeple along the spaces between the peppers in the farm. Movement is limited; you can't turn around and you can't move through a space occupied by another player. But when you walk between two peppers, you pick up a new pepper. The colour of the pepper you pick up is determined by the colour of the peppers between which you walk. Normally, walking between two peppers of the same colour gives you another pepper of that colour. Walking between two different primary colours gives you a secondary colour (for example, walking between a blue pepper and a yellow pepper gives you a green pepper). Mixing secondary colours starts getting you more advanced peppers, like the brown, black, or white peppers. And if you can mix black and white peppers, you can get the hottest pepper of them all: the clear colourless pepper.

Once you start accruing peppers, you can use them to make recipes. Sitting alongside the board are several recipe cards. They range from simple, not-at-all-spicy recipes like 'Born to Be Mild,' which requires a yellow pepper and a purple pepper, to melt-your-face-off recipes like 'Phant-om-nom-nom,' which uses three colourless peppers and two brown peppers. The spicier the recipe, the more victory points you get for it.

There are a few other steps, like buying crates that give you bonus peppers, but the only other really important aspect of this game (at least in terms of reviewing the game) is the fact that each player has a small screen behind which he keeps all his peppers, scored recipes, awards, and other items. Thus, you never know how many points the other players have. In fact, these screens caused me to be very surprised when I won the game I played; although I had managed to score some high-point value recipes at the end of the game, I was worried that they wouldn't be enough to exceed the point values scored by the many lower-point recipes that the other players had been accumulating throughout the entire game. But because I couldn't see what recipes they had, I simply didn't know how far ahead of them I really was.

I really enjoyed this game. I may have to pick up a copy for myself some day. But I will leave you with that for now. Until next week,

Game on!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

An Overview of Shifters

It has been a very crazy couple of weeks. I haven't posted according to the schedule in some time. But at least I've got the beta playtest draught of Shifters ready to go. So this week, I thought I'd give you a quick overview of how the game works.

Characters have five primary attributes:

  • Strength: An overall measure of physical sturdiness, covering body mass, lifting and carrying capacity, health, endurance, damage capability, etc.
  • Agility: A rating of flexibility and co-ordination, which includes the basis for most physical skills and proficiency in weapon use and combat.
  • Reason: A description of general mental capacity, including logical thinking and rational cognition. It doesn't cover knowledge, though.
  • Psyche: This is the attribute that covers what you know (rather than the ability to use what you know in a logical manner). Also governs social ability.
  • Essence: This is the supernatural ability. It covers willpower, but also ability to use magic, psionics, and most superpowers, as well as resistance to these.
Each is rated from 2 to 10. The ratings are then subtracted from 12, to give you that attribute's target number (thus, if you had a Reason of 7, your Reason Target Number is 5). You purchase levels in attributes using Character Creation Points (CCPs), with each level in an attribute costing 5 CCPs. Normally, you start the game with 150 CCPs, but the GM may alter this depending on what sort of game he's running.

Don't spend all your CCPs on attributes, though; you need to save some for skills. Each skill is rated as Simple, Average, or Hard. Regardless of skill rating, each can be bought at Novice level for 2 CCPs, at Advanced level for 4 CCPs, or at Expert level for 6 CCPs. If you don't put any CCPs in a skill, you are considered Untrained. When rolling with a skill, the level of the skill modifies the Target Number of the attribute being used, as follows:

Untrained Novice Advanced Expert
Simple Skills Target Number +1 Target Number +0 Target Number -1 Target Number -2
Average Skills Target Number +2 Target Number +1 Target Number +0 Target Number -1
Hard Skills No Roll Possible Target Number +2 Target Number +1 Target Number +0

To make any roll, you will roll 3d. The type of dice depends on the difficulty of the roll as set by the GM. Very Easy rolls use d12s, Easy rolls use D10s, Average rolls use d8s, Difficult rolls use d6s, and Very Difficult rolls use d4s. If no dice equal or exceed the effective Target Number, the roll is a Failure. If one die equals or exceeds, the roll is a Partial Success. If 2 dice equal or exceed, it's a Complete Success. If all 3 dice equal or exceed, it's an Epic success.

However, one of the three dice must be easily distinguishable from the others; this is the Botch Die. Is no dice equal or exceed the effective Target Number, and the Botch Die shows a 1 (both of these must be true; if the Botch Die shows a 1 but one or both of the other dice equals or exceeds the Target Number, this does not count), then you have achieved an Epic Failure.

Combat is different in Shifters than in most other games. Initiative uses a circular track; each action has a Tick Rating, which describes how long that action takes. After taking an action, you move your marker along the track a number of spaces equal to the Tick Rating of that action. Thus, there are no rounds; characters may not get an equal number of turns.

An attacker makes a roll, but if the attacker's target is able to defend (dodge or block), the target can take either an initiative penalty to his next action, or a penalty to his next Target Number. This can be up to three, depending on how many levels he has in the appropriate skill. This defense modifies the attacker's skill roll. If successful, the lethality rating of the attack becomes the Target Number for the victim's damage roll (-1 to Lethality Rating if the attack was a Partial Success; +1 to Lethality Rating if it was an Epic Success). If the Damage roll is an Epic Failure, he immediately dies. If it is a Failure, he will die unless he receives medical attention quickly. If a Partial Success, he may fall unconscious. In either of these cases, he takes a Serious Injury, which increases all subsequent rolls' Target Numbers by 1. If the damage roll is a Complete Success, he takes only a Flesh Wound. Every two Flesh Wounds modify subsequent target rolls by 1. An Epic Success means no significant damage is accrued.

There are no hit points. This system more closely mimics the way injuries happen in real life.

That's a very basic overview. I took the initiative system from Exalted, the damage system from Blue Planet, and other bits and pieces from various other games, and merged them with my own idea for using the type of dice to reflect the difficulty level of a roll, and thus I call the system used in Shifters the Merge Engine.

But please, download the pdf, try it out, and let me know what you think. Until next week,

Game on!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Shifters Ready for Playtesting

I have mentioned here before that I am working on creating a new roleplaying game. It is finally ready for playtesting.

I have created a pdf of the beta-version rules set. I illustrated it myself, because I couldn't find anyone else to do it. Which means that the illustrations are crappy beyond belief. Some of them are photoshopped photographs, others are tracings of photographs done with pencil (some of which are finished in ink, others not). A couple of them are, in essence, completely brazenly stolen. I justify this theft with the fact that this is only a beta playtest version; if playtest goes well and results in a workable product, I will probably try to put this game on Kickstarter. If successful, one of the things I plan to include in the budget is paying for a professional illustrator (or possibly more than one). Every illustration I made will be discarded, the layout will be finalised and made more pleasant, and real actual honest-to-goodness illustrations will be included.

So, with that said, I would like to make available to you, my faithful readers, the pdf of the playtest edition of Shifters.

As you read this, and as you and your friends play it, please take notes so that you can offer me feedback: do the rules work? Does the chargen system work? Do point costs for traits need to be adjusted? Does the setting work? Does it make sense? Do the options made available to players make it more or less accessible? Are there grammatical or spelling errors? Are there inconsistencies in the rules?

Please download it, try it, let me know how it goes. I greatly appreciate your help.

Until next week,

Game on!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Board Game Review: The Lord of the Rings

Not surprisingly, many games have been created based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. However, my favourite is the co-operative board game by Reiner Knizia, in which players take on the roles of the hobbits in the fellowship and attempt to carry the One Ring to Mordor where they must drop it into the fires of Mt Doom. Very much like the story in the books, no? Perhaps that's part of why I like it so much!

Let's look at the numbers, shall we?

Strategy: 3
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 3
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 1½ hours

The game consists of several smaller boards: one main activity board and two double-sided scenario boards. The main activity board shows the overall progress of the group on their journey from The Shire to Mordor. Each side of the scenario boards represents one of the main conflict areas from the story: Moria, Helm's Deep, Shelob's Lair, and Mordor. It looks something like this:

The larger of the two boards, labelled 'Moria,' is the first scenario board. The smaller board above it is the activity board. The activity board has two parts: the upper part shows a sort of cross-section view of Middle Earth, with the Shire on the left, the Misty Mountains in the middle, and Mordor on the right. A token representing the fellowship starts in the Shire and is moved to the next area as the players complete each section. The lower part is the darkness/lightness track. Each player starts with his hobbit at 0, on the left, in the pure light, untainted by darkness. Another token representing the Eye of Sauron starts on the right (for easy games, all the way to the right on 15, for moderate games, at 12, and for hard games, at 10). As the game progresses, the players may have to move their hobbits towards the darkness, or events may cause Sauron to move closer towards the light. If ever a hobbit lands on the same space as (or passes) Sauron on this track, that player has completely succumbed to the darkness, and is removed from the game (if that player is the current ringbearer, the game ends with victory for Sauron!).

But most of the activity in the game takes place on the scenario boards. Moria is the first of these (unless you're using the Friends and Foes expansion), and is shown in the picture above. Once this scenario is completed, you flip the board over to reveal the Helm's Deep scenario. After that expansion is complete, you grab the second scenario board and play out the Shelob's Lair scenario, then flip that over for the final scenario, Mordor.

Each scenario board has three activity tracks, except Mordor, which has four. One of these activity tracks is the primary track for that scenario; once the primary track is complete, the scenario ends. The tracks cover one of four activities: travelling (represented by the feet icon), hiding (represented by a tree), fighting (a sword and battle-axe icon), and friendship (two hands clasped in a handshake). The main activity track in Moria, Helm's Deep, and Shelob's Lair is fighting, whilst the main activity track in Mordor is travelling.

Also on the left side of each scenario board is a list of six events. Some of these events can be somewhat beneficial, if you've completed certain requirements; if you haven't, the events are bad. Those events that don't have a potential beneficial option are just plain bad. The lower you go on the list, the worse the events are.

On each player's turn, he draws an event tile from the shuffled stack of event tiles (the Sauron expansion gives you a draw bag that makes it easier to work with the event tiles). Roughly half of these tiles have one of the event icons listed above (tree, handshake, feet, or sword and axe); if you pull one of these, then you move the marker on that track (if it's for an activity that's not on the current scenario board, treat it as a wild card). The other half are bad things, including: moving the ringbearer one space towards the darkness; moving Sauron one space towards the light; forcing the group to discard cards, shields, or life tokens; or move the marker to the next event on the scenario board and follow the instructions listed there. If you draw one of these bad tiles, you must suffer its effects and then draw again. You keep drawing until you get an activity icon.

Once you've done this, you may play up to two cards from your hand. Most of these have one or more activity icon; some have a star icon, which is wild and may be used as any icon. Some cards are grey and some are white; you can't play the same colour card. You have to play one of each. Whichever icon you play, you move the marker along that track on the scenario board. Most spaces give you something; many give you a shield (shields are most often used to purchase one of Gandalf's spells, but have other uses as well). Others give you one of three life tokens: a heart, a sun, or a ring. These are necessary at the end of each scenario board; for each one you don't have, your hobbit moves a space closer to the darkness. Some spaces have other effects, like giving you special cards (like Shadowfax, which has two travel icons, or Glamdring, which gives you two fighting icons), allowing you to move your hobbit one step back towards the light, or requiring you to roll the die (which is usually a Bad Thing).

There are also some yellow cards, which do not count towards the 'one white and one grey' limit, and have unusual effects, like ignoring missing life tokens, or allowing one player to pass a card to another player. Also, the ringbearer may put on the ring to skip over one or more spaces on any of the activity tracks. He normally suffers some ill effect for doing so, determined by a roll of the Bad Things die.

So for each scenario, you want to balance the main activity track (which gets you out of there quickly) with the other activity tracks (which usually have most of the life tokens, as well as offering other benefits; also, certain events require one of the other activity tracks to be completed to avoid suffering unfortunate effects), but don't wait around too long; the longer you're in a scenario, the more bad tiles you will draw!

Once you complete a scenario board, you suffer the effects of missing life tokens, and whoever has the most ring icon tokens becomes the new ringbearer. Then you move on to the next scenario.

If you manage to make it to the end of the main activity track in Mordor, you must make a series of rolls to see if you can resist the siren call of the ring and throw it into the pit of Mt Doom. This requires careful planning, teamwork, and more than a small amount of luck. But fear not; each player has a special ability (depending on which hobbit he is playing): Frodo can use any white card as a wild card; Sam can ignore some of the bad effects of rolling the die; Merry can ignore a single missing life token in each scenario; Pippin is immune to the 'one white, one grey' rule, and may play any two cards on his turn; Fatty gets to draw extra cards at the end of each scenario (I know he wasn't part of the original fellowship; he's included in this game anyway!).

Like most co-operative board games, I like this one a lot. It's fun, but suspenseful, and requires a lot of thinking and group planning. Plus, it captures the essence of the novels, which is a bonus!

Anyway, I think that's enough for today. I'll see you here next week! Until then,

Game on!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

My Ranking of the Star Trek Films

I'm going to do something a little different this week. I spent a good chunk of this morning reading some articles about how other people rated the Star Trek films, and it got me thinking about how I would rank them.

I know it's not about gaming per se, but Star Trek is at least as nerdy as gaming, and besides, there have been more than one game (some of them roleplaying games, even) set in the Star Trek universe. Anyway, it's my blog, and I'll blog about what I want.

So here we go.

Before we get started, I want to give you a little background. I grew up on Star Trek. As a young boy, I loved looking up at the stars and thinking about the vast cosmos in which we lived. So naturally, any story set in outer space strongly appealed to me. I watched Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica. I was a fan of the original Star Wars trilogy (although, apparently unlike other young male fans, I wanted to be Luke Skywalker instead of Darth Vader) ­– the new trilogy destroyed my love of the series so thoroughly that I no longer count myself a Star Wars fan at all; after I saw Episode II, I took a long hard look at the entire franchise and realised that the only thing about it that had kept me a fan was nostalgia – remembering the joy I had once gotten as a child from the films, but no longer had.

But of all of these, Star Trek has always remained my favourite. Unlike other fictional universes based around space travel, it focussed more on exploration and lofty ideals than on action.

As a child, I would watch the reruns every chance I got. When the first episode of The Next Generation aired, my father let me stay up late to watch it, even though it was a school night. I didn't get to see many episodes when they first aired; the time slot was too late at night. But I've since seen them all. Many of them didn't appeal to me; I found them boring or too focussed on technology instead of ethical issues or exploration. My favourite episodes are the ones that deal with fascinating moral dilemmas, like 'The Pegasus,' 'Who Watches the Watchers,' or  'The Measure of a Man.'

I also tend to enjoy those episodes that serve as character study (such as 'Lower Decks') or dealt with particularly interesting physics or temporal issues (like 'Cause and Effect'). But as a whole, I much preferred the original series, in large part because the characters were more compelling. Especially the three main characters (Kirk, Spock, and McCoy), who had a fascinating dynamic and played well off of each other. My favourite original series episode was 'The Tholian Web,' because I got to see Spock in command of the Enterprise. Another favourite was 'For the World Is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky,' in which not only are some fascinating social issues examined, but we get to see Dr. McCoy take centre stage.

I was never very fond of Deep Space Nine; the characters didn't appeal to me, and the stories weren't all that interesting. I did, at the suggestion of a friend, watch the entirety of Voyager, which was good, though not as good as the original series or TNG. There were some really good episodes (my favourite being 'Prototype,' which analysed some hefty social issues), but also some really hokey ones (in particular, I found the episodes dealing with spiritual topics, like 'Barge of the Dead,' to be most annoying, as they violate the Star Trek universe's lack of supernatural phenomena).

Anyway, that's a really lengthy prelude, but I think it's important to understand why I rank the films the way that I do. And with that out of the way, let's get to it!

Needless to say, there will be spoilers ahead.

Did you catch that? Because it's really super important. Let me say it again, just to be sure: if you have not seen the films I'm describing below, you will encounter spoilers ahead. One more time, for emphasis:

SPOILERS AHEAD.

12. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

This movie blows chunks. Ok, sure, several original series episodes dealt with the question of god or gods, but finding 'god' at the centre of the galaxy (to say nothing of the tired trope of 'there's an extreme radiation barrier at the edge/centre of the galaxy) was a little obnoxious. Not to mention that this film tried too hard to recapture the success of Star Trek IV with its lighthearted-humour, only to fail miserably. The worst moment was when Scotty hit his head immediately after saying that he knew the ship like the back of his hand, only to be captured upon knocking himself unconscious. If he had hit his head and continued on unimpeded, it would have been funny. Instead, it was lame.

The characters didn't have their usual charm, the story was lame, the humour fell flat, and the very premise was odious. I watched this film once in the cinema, and was so disgusted that I have not seen it since.

11. Star Trek: Insurrection

This movie was boring. As the Next Generation crew did not appeal to me like the original series crew had, it was harder for me care about what happened to them. But in this film, I just could not bring myself to care about what was happening. Especially since the script didn't seem to have been written by anyone who knew anything about the characters. For example, the scene where Troi and Crusher discuss the effects of rejuvenation on their boobs was appallingly out of place.

10. Star Trek: Nemesis

As much as this film was confusing, incoherent, and nonsensical, it didn't bore me as much as Insurrection did. Data's death was a serious anticlimax, and the story didn't make much sense. But at least I wasn't bored watching it. I don't really know what else to say about it. I've watched both this one and Insurrection at least twice (the second time, fairly recently, primarily to remind myself what happens in the films, as they were apparently not sufficiently memorable. Turns out I wasn't failing to remember anything important).

9. Star Trek: The Motion Picture

This film was actually, in some ways, the most boring of the Trek films. However, it had one thing going for it that Insurrection and Nemesis do not: it had the original cast. Getting to see Kirk et al helps to make up, at least in a small way, for the lack of affection I feel when I'm watching Picard and his crew. Especially getting to see the kolihnar ritual on Vulcan; that was a nice touch. And besides, the idea of a man-made probe returning to earth to seek out his creator is at least a moderately interesting concept, even if they did drag it out for twice as long as was really necessary and try too hard to achieve Star Wars-style special effects and a 2001: A Space Odyssey-style narrative feel.

An interesting side note, however: as I was fact checking this article, I found a video on youtube that condenses this film down into 10 minutes. It was surprisingly improved. I think that 10 minutes is probably a little too condensed; if someone were to edit this down into 45 to 50 minutes, I think it would probably be a really good film that was worth watching.

8. Star Trek: Generations

This movie had potential. The attempt to connect the crews from the original Enterprise and the Enterprise D was a noble effort. Unfortunately, there were too many weak characters and shaky premises. I wonder if, had the film had a stronger script and didn't rely on so many of the obviously contrived deus ex machina elements necessary to bring Kirk and Picard together, the film would have been a better success. But from the first scene, with the slowly rotating champagne bottle, the pace was set a little too slowly, and it remained that way through most of the rest of the film. The bizarre scene on the 17th century sailing vessel in the Enterprise D's holodeck didn't really do much to add to the feel either.

7. Star Trek: First Contact

A lot of Trek fans really like this film. Quite frankly, I don't understand why. Sure, it's got the Borg, but I don't seem to find them as intriguing as most other Trek fans do. Sure, it's got a lot of action, but I don't watch Star Trek for the action. I'm here for character, exploration, and idealism. All of that is lacking from First Contact. They made the character of Zefram Cochrane an unlikeable jerk, they robbed Dr Crusher (probably my favourite character from TNG) of screen time, they focussed too heavily on the Borg Queen, and they spent too much time packing in action. About the only saving grace is watching Picard's inner turmoil regarding his experience with the Borg. I'd much rather watch numbers II through IV, VI, or one of the Abrams reboots.

6. Star Trek: Into Darkness

This may get me lynched by other Trek fans, but I don't care. Sure, it's a rehash of previous material. Sure, it tries to cheat its way into success by copying scenes from Wrath of Khan. Sure, it kills Kirk in a rather gimpy manner, only to play take-backsies by bringing him back to life. In fact, pretty much everything that happens after the restart-the-engines scene (including that scene itself) could be deleted from the film and the overall quality would skyrocket. But everything up until that point is still, in my opinion, good fun. I liked the character interaction between Kirk and Spock, as well as the development of the relationship between Spock and Uhura. The loose cannon aspect of Kirk's character in the opening scene is a nice touch. And sure, McCoy didn't get nearly enough screen time or character development, and sure, there's not much in the way of exploration, and only a hint of idealism, but I can't help it. For the majority of this film's duration, it's just fun. I can't help but get swept up in it all. I can't put it any lower on my list than this.

5. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock 

This is, admittedly, not a great movie. But as was pointed out in the cracked.com article that ranks the Trek films, Search for Spock is sort of the middle chapter of an unofficial trilogy, and that pulls it up a bit in my rankings as well. The characterisation is a bit weak, the villain a little pointless, and (I'll admit it) the lack of Kirstie Alley in the role of Saavik make this film a little harder to watch that it really should be. But the quest to rescue Spock after the climax of the previous film, the emotionally charged destruction of the Enterprise, and the resolution in which Spock is restored all serve to secure this film's place in the top 5 for me.

4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

'The one with the whales.' That's how the Dork Spouse always refers to this one, as she is not as much of a Trekkie as I am and can't keep the movies straight by their numbers. And even worse, she always gets it wrong. I say, 'Star Trek 3 (or whatever number),' and she asks, 'Is that the one with the whales?' The one time I said, 'Star Trek 4,' and then looked at her expectantly, she said, 'That's not the one with the whales, right?'

Sigh.

Anyway, I hate to say it, but because of the comedic aspect of this film, it was perhaps the most popular with non-trekkies before the Abrams reboot, and I kind of resent that a little bit. Still, for all of that, it's a good film, with a strong story, good characterisation, and the humour is enjoyable. It's earned its spot at number 4.

3. Star Trek (the J.J. Abrams reboot)

There's not much idealism or exploration in this one. There is quite a lot of character development though. And, so help me, it is just fun. I'll be honest; I'm really disappointed that Abrams has abandoned Star Trek for Star Wars; I was really hoping that, now that he's got the rehash out of the way in Into Darkness, he'd be able to follow up with another really good reboot film that returns to the essence of what Star Trek is really all about: exploration, character development, and idealism that doesn't shy away from tackling some tough social and ethical issues.

2. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Not everyone likes this one as much as I do. I don't know why. The character development was superb, it talks about some very meaty social and ethical issues, there's some level of exploration (maybe not always exploring space, but still...), and there's even a decent amount of action and a sprinkling of comedy. What's not to love? Seriously, director Nicholas Meyer brings with him the exact same magic that made Wrath of Khan so wonderful. The only thing, in my opinion, that keeps this from equalling or exceeding Khan is the fact that we don't have the extreme tension resulting from the interplay of two old rivals who are very nearly evenly matched. This is the only film other than the reboots and Khan that I will be excited to watch multiple times.

And finally, the grand prize winner, in the top spot...

Drum roll please...

1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Yeah, no surprise here.

Anyway. I think that's plenty for this week. I'll see you back here next time. Until then,

Game on!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Social Bias in Role Playing Games

As I get older, I learn more about how modern society tends to have implicit social biases. Not everyone in a society holds these biases, and those that do don't always have the same biases. These can take the form of racism, sexism, anti-immigrant attitudes, homophobia, transphobia, religious bigotry, political bigotry, and many other forms besides.

It may seem silly to be talking about this on a gaming blog, but I believe that games can help shape attitudes, as well as vice versa. I remember noticing many years ago that almost all of the characters that were created for games in which I played were Caucasian, and the majority of them were male. Even before I'd noticed that, it had occurred to me that I didn't always have to play a character of the same gender as myself. I've played many female characters; some of these I count amongst my most enjoyable gaming experiences. Michelle, the Silent Strider Theurge from Werewolf: The Apocalypse, was one such character; another was Sarah Storm, the cyberpunk piskie from Changeling: The Dreaming. I've also tried to break out of my own ethnicity as well; Michelle was of Egyptian descent, and I recall at least one character that I created who was African American (I never actually got to play that character, sadly).

Even as a GM, I can try to bring in under-represented minorities as NPCs. The session I ran last night involved a Native American NPC. The additional NPCs who will be making appearances later on in this story include a Kenyan, a Qechua, an Arabian, an African American, and a Japanese. One of these is also homosexual.

These are small details, and the players may well not even realise that they're there, but in my opinion, every little helps.

For that matter, I remember reading a short essay by Beth Kinderman on her old geocities page 'Revenge of the Gamer Chick' (which, thankfully, appears to have been archived). I found the paragraph regarding her Noghri Jedi character to be especially disheartening. The relevant portion of this paragraph is as follows:

I once participated in a Star Wars campaign where my character was a female, a Jedi, and a Noghri.  The Noghri are a race of small, lizard-like beings that are not terribly attractive to humans to begin with, and to make it even worse, I took the flaw Albino.  By all rights and purposes, this shouldn't have been much of a problem—the Noghri are rare enough that the average human in the Star Wars universe hasn't ever seen one, much less have the ability to apply a standard of beauty to them.  But my poor little Noghri encountered more hostility from players and characters alike than any other character of mine—even Lupe the three-eyed werewolf!  The other characters made fun of her appearance constantly (fellow Jedi included... way to roleplay their compassion for all life-forms, people), and she had a devil of a time getting any respect from NPCs.  I wouldn't have had a problem with a little friendly ribbing if it weren't for the fact that one of the male players had actually taken Unattractive Appearance as a flaw for his human male PC, and never suffered a social stigma or had the slightest problem because of it.  And after several sessions, I was even asked to make another character that would "fit in better with the rest of the PCs."  (I refused.)

This worries me. I understand that this is supposed to be a game, and we're all supposed to be having fun. It's not really the place to be tackling serious social issues. But I firmly believe that these little details add up. If we can't try to make a difference in these little ways, what does that really say about us? Besides, having a minority character in the gaming group shouldn't detract from the ability of that group to complete their mission, or from the ability of the players to enjoy the game. So why not add a little variety to the party?

I, for one, will continue to push the envelope of what I can play. I will also encourage others to do the same. I hope that you will too. Until next week,

Game on!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Board Game Review: Sushi Go

Hello and welcome to another week of the Game Dork's rantings! It's time for another board game review, and this time around, we're going to do a card game called Sushi Go, by Gamewright Games. It's a fun little card game with an interesting mechanic! The object is to score the most points by picking the tastiest (and therefore most valuable) items from the conveyer belt at a sushi restaurant.

Let's start things off right:

Strategy: 2
Randomness: 4
Complexity: 2
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 30 minutes

Players start off with a hand of cards depicting various kinds of sushi, or other items associated with sushi (such as chopsticks or wasabi). The hand size depends on the number of players. Each player chooses a single card to play, and they all play that card simultaneously, so you don't know what anyone else is going to play until you've already played your own. Then (here comes my favourite part), each player passes his entire hand to the next player. This means that you won't know what cards you'll have available to play until the next round. This is important, because most of the cards rely on multiple-card combinations!

Let me show you what I mean:



Nigiri is the most straightforward of the cards. Each nigiri card is worth 1 to 3 points (egg nigiri is 1, salmon nigiri is 2, and squid nigiri is 3). However, if you play a wasabi card, it's not worth any points on its own, but it does triple the point value of the next nigiri card you play! So it can be worth a lot of points, but playing it can be risky, because not only do you not have any way to be sure that there will be any nigiri cards in the next hand that is passed to you (or any subsequent hands; the nigiri doesn't have to be played immediately after the wasabi, it merely applies to the next nigiri card you play), but now that you have a wasabi card showing on the table in front of you, the other players will know that they don't want to pass you a hand containing a nigiri card (especially if that card is a squid nigiri!).

Dumpling is the only other card that is worth points by itself. However, the more dumpling cards you have, the more they're worth! A lone dumpling card is worth 1 point. Two dumpling cards together are worth 3 points. Three of them give you 6 points, whilst four and five are worth 10 and 15 points respectively. So they can be worth a lot if you have enough of them, but it can sometimes be hard to get a lot of them, especially if the other players notice what you're doing and start playing the dumpling cards before they get to you so that you can't have any!

Maki rolls are worth points to whoever has the most of them (and it's not the player with the most cards, but the most maki rolls; you may notice in the photo above that the maki roll cards—the red ones on the lower left—have one, two, or three maki roll symbols in the top. At the end of each round, players count the number of these symbols that they have in total). The player with the most gets six points, whilst the player with the second most gets three points.

Sashimi and tempura are worth points if you have combinations of them. Every two tempura cards you have are worth 5 points together, whilst you get 10 points for every three sashimi cards you have.

Chopsticks cards aren't worth any points by themselves, but if you have a chopsticks card on the table, you can swap it out for another card in your hand at any time. It's a placeholder that essentially allows you to play two cards at once on a later turn. This can be very useful if you've got a wasabi card and a squid nigiri card in the same hand and you want to play both of them!

The pudding cards are the most complicated. They are also not worth any points by themselves. Like maki rolls, they give points to the player with the most of them, but they're not scored at the end of each round, like maki rolls are. They're scored at the end of the game. The game consists of three rounds; players are dealt hands, and play through all the cards in those hands, three times, scoring the cards they have in play at the end of each of those rounds. Then, at the end of the game, the player with the most pudding cards gets six points, whilst the player with the fewest pudding cards loses six points! So you don't want to skip these cards, because even if you don't get any points from them, not having any will guarantee a big loss!

This game is super fun, quick and easy. I always enjoy it when we play. It's fun to weigh your options; do I play the wasabi and hope that I get a good nigiri card later on? Or do I play it safe and stick with a dumpling that will guarantee me at least one point? On the other hand, the player next to me already has two sashimi cards; do I want to pass him this hand with the sashimi card still in it and give him ten points? Or do I play it to prevent him from getting those points even though it means I won't get any points either?

Anyway, that's it for now. Tune in next time, when I talk about something completely different! Until then,

Game on!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

What Lawsian Gamer Type Are You?

As I prepare the Changeling campaign I'm running for a couple of friends, I turn my thoughts (as I often do) to the player types I have in my group.

Those who've been following this blog for a long time now may remember that I posted, several years ago, a description of the different player types. I always like to get an idea of the types of players for whom I'm GMing, so I can try to tailor the story to their needs and desires.

As this particular group is still so new to gaming, I imagine it will be a month or two before I start asking these questions. But to that end, I've created a survey on Google Forms that they can take when I feel the time is right to ask them to think about these things.

And then it occurs to me that it might be interesting to know what gamer types I have reading this blog.

So, to that end, I present to you the Lawsian Gamer Types survey!



Let me know what you think! Feel free to take the survey! If you want to know the results, leave your request in the comments below, and I'll respond with your stats. I can either leave them in a response to your comment (in which case everyone can see them), or I can email you directly (just let me know which you prefer, and provide me with an appropriate email address if necessary).

Short and sweet this week, but I think it's a worthwhile topic! I look forward to hearing back from you! Until next week,

Game on!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

External Resources

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about player aids. I've recently been able to start a Changeling game for a couple of friends, and I reworked an idea I'd used in the past. I think that will make an interesting topic for this week's entry.

Those of you who are experienced gamers may be familiar with a concept called "bluebooking." If this is a new idea to you, let me explain: some gaming groups began using blue books (small booklets of blank ruled paper, normally used in american universities for essay exams) to continue action of a game outside of a normal gaming session. If there were scenes that players wanted to play out in private, away from others in their gaming group, those scenes could be written out in blue books, which were cheap and easily available. GMs would then review those scenes and respond to them, if necessary, and could incorporate events of such private scenes into their game setting without other players being immediately aware of what was going on. Other types of scenes that could be acted out through bluebooking included scenes that occurred in a long lull in main action (i.e., if a couple of years of in-game time passed between gaming sessions, players could describe what their character was doing during that time), or if there was a scene that a player didn't feel comfortable roleplaying in front of other gamers, and so on.

This is just one example of an External Resource. External Resources are tools used outside of a normal gaming session to enhance stories being told.

Several years ago, I created a Yahoo! group for my gaming group. We could discuss our game in a forum, upload and share files that were of use to them, and so on.

My new Changeling group is brand new to this hobby. They're experienced video gamers, but I discovered that they'd never even played Dungeons and Dragons. I hosted an introductory one-shot Changeling session for some players in my game club, and I invited two of these friends to join. They had such a good time, that they not only began asking me to continue running a game for them, they told two of their other friends, who also became interested in trying it out.

As such, I'm working very hard to make sure that they're able to enjoy themselves as much as possible. One thing that I know can be overwhelming for new players is understanding and remembering so much new information ("What does Chicanery Art do again?" "Oh yeah, I forgot I had that ability!" "What do you mean, 'telepathy doesn't work on a computer?'") So I wanted to create a site where they could find this information easily.

This time around, since all players already had Google accounts, I chose to use Google Sites and Google Groups for this resource. I created a main page, which linked to a 'useful files' page, a 'character notes' page, and a forum. 'Useful Files' includes several maps, chargen pdfs, and similar files available for viewing or downloading. 'Character Notes' has a complete description of each level of Arts that each character possesses, as well as their Legacies, Merits, and Flaws, and if they have a chimerical companion, that companion's Redes and Banes as well. This allows them to easily re-read and remember what they can do. 'Forum' allows players to discuss previous game sessions (including summaries of in-game events from previous sessions), as well as talking about what they like or don't like about our game thus far, offer suggestions, etc.

This is just one example of External Resources. I'm sure that many other people have come up with even more ideas. If you have any suggestions for External Resources, please share it with me in my comment section below!

That's all for this week. I will see you again here in a week's time. Until then,

Game on!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Board Game Review: Colosseum

It's time for another board game review, and I've got a good one for you this week. We're going to look at the game Colosseum by Wolfgang Kramer and Markus Lübke, published by Days of Wonder and Edge Entertainment. Players own colosseums in ancient Rome, and are competing to put on the greatest show.

Let's start in the usual place, with the numbers:

Strategy: 3
Randomness: 2
Complexity: 3
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Nice
Average Length of Game Play: 2 Hours

There are so many pieces involved in playing this game, it can take a while to set up. The board serves as a pretty, but ultimately excessively large, organisation area in which many of the pieces are organised. But the bulk of the pieces are placed in front of the players themselves, or in storage to one side, with no organisers at all.

The board consists of three main parts: the score track around the outer edge, the nobles' track, which follows a rectangular path just inside the score track, and the marketplace, which is the where five sets of three tiles are placed in the centre of the board. The game takes place in five rounds of five phases each.

In the first phase, players take turns making a single purchase. They can purchase an expansion to their colosseums (each player starts out with two end pieces placed at specific points along the nobles' track, and can add up to two central pieces to their colosseums during this phase), a season ticket section (which is good for 5 bonus points each round), an emperor's loge (which grants bonuses to how you move the nobles in phase 4), or a new event programme (more on these in a moment).

In the second phase, players take turns bidding on tiles in the marketplace. Each tile represents a component of a show that they may put on in their colosseum. They include things like gladiators, comedians, musicians, priests, chariots, horses, lions, scenery, cages, and torches. A player bids on a set of three tiles, and then other players have the option of attempting to outbid that player. Ultimately, each player must buy a single set of tiles. The sets are replenished before each player's turn at bidding, but if a player gets outbid on his turn, the sets are not replenished until the next player's turn begins.

In the third phase, each player gets an opportunity to try to trade asset tiles with other players.

Ultimately, it leads to the fourth (and most important) phase: putting on a show. Each player starts the game with two small event programmes. During the fourth phase, each player has the opportunity to put on a show using the asset tiles required for their event programme. For example, a player may put on the 'Cavalry of Spartacus' show, which requires three gladiator tiles and three horse tiles. If the player has all six of these tiles, the event is worth 12 points. There is a chart at the bottom of the event tile that displays how many points the show is worth if you don't have all the tiles (for example, if you're missing one of the tiles for Cavalry of Spartacus, regardless of which tile it is, the show is only worth 10 points. If you're missing two tiles, it's worth eight points. And so on.

Before you put on your show, though, you roll a die. The dice are numbered as follows:  I-III, II, III, IV, V, or VI (yes, the dice have Roman numerals printed on them. This can be hard to read, especially when a IV or VI come up, as it's easy to mistake one for the other, and this is one reason I gave the game a 'Nice' rating under 'Attractiveness'). You move one of the nobles clockwise along the noble track that many spaces (if you get the I-III, you get to choose whether to move a noble 1, 2, or 3 spaces). If you have an emperor's loge on your colosseum, you get to roll two dice, and either move one noble the combined total, or use one die for one noble and the other die for another. There are three consuls on the track, two senators, and an emperor. If you have a noble in your colosseum when you score, you get bonus points (three points for each consul, five points for each senator, and seven points if you have the emperor).

After moving the nobles, you score your event. The base score is shown on the event programme, plus bonuses for nobles, and other additional points (+5 for each season ticket section you have in your colosseum, +3 for each podium [podiums are awarded in phase 5], +5 for each event you've already put on, and +4 for each star performer [the player with the most -- minimum three -- of each kind of living event tiles: gladiators, lions, horses, comedians, etc.; non-living tiles like scenery and torches don't have star performer bonuses. So the player with the most gladiators gets the gladiator star performer tile, the one with the most lions gets the lion star performer, and so on]. Emperor tokens, which are normally awarded if you get a noble to land on certain marked spaces on the noble track, can be redeemed for three additional points as well).

The important thing about this game is that points are not cumulative. You get points equal to the highest-scoring show you've put on. Thus, if you perform a show for 20 points in round one, and a show for 40 points in round 2, then your current score is not 60, but 40. If you perform a show worth fewer points in a round than you had in a previous round, then your score does not change. It stays at the value it was at previously.

But that doesn't mean it's not important to score points in each round; you get money for each show you put on. However many points you score in a round, you get an equivalent amount of money in Roman Coins. These may be used to make purchases in Phase 1 as well as bid on tiles in Phase 2, and can also be used during the trading in Phase 3.

The first event programmes you have in the game are the 'small' events. You can eventually buy 'medium' programmes, which require you to have expanded your colosseum by at least one space, and 'large' programmes, which require a full four-space colosseum. The larger the event, the more tiles it requires, and the more points it's worth.

Finally, in phase 5 (which is skipped in the final round, as it's not necessary), players must discard one of the tiles used in their event. Also, the player with the most points earns a podium to add to his colosseum, and the player with the fewest points gets to steal an asset tile from the player with the most.

I really like this game. It's a lot of fun, and it involves more than just strategy. You must carefully balance which tiles you have and what tiles you expect to be able to acquire later with what event programmes are available. You also need to be able to negotiate trades, bluff players during bidding, and balance the events you're putting on now with the ones you expect to put on later. My one complaint is that some aspects of the game are poorly designed. There's a lot of wasted space on the board, as beautiful as it is, that could have been better utilised in organising the many pieces that each player possesses. In front of me, I may have as many as twenty asset tiles, a pile of coins, a few star performer tokens, emperor tokens, and up to five event programmes. These can be hard to organise, and it would have been nice to provide players with small boards that make this task easier.

But that's a small concern. I will usually not turn down a chance to play it. And that's all I have for this week. Until next time,

Game on!


Saturday, September 5, 2015

A brief overview of Changeling history (part 3)

In the last installment, we had just arrived at the point in which the sidhe had returned from Arcadia. At first, most of the kithain were overjoyed, as this seemed to signal a new Spring, a symbolic end of the hardships of the previous six hundred years, as Glamour began to return to Earth.

Their hopes were soon dashed, however, as the sidhe looked around themselves and said, 'Your rulers have returned. Bow down and serve us once more.'

Obviously, the commoner kith were none too pleased at this development. The sidhe had, after all, abandoned them to potential Undoing at the hands of Banality, only to return and demand fealty once more without even so much as a 'Good job in our absence.' Tensions mounted, until in most areas of Europe, the Americas, and Oceania, war broke out between the commoners and the sidhe. In some ways, this conflict was most severe in the Americas, where hostilities began with the Night of Iron Knives, otherwise known as the Beltaine Massacre. The sidhe had agreed to meet with the commoner leaders and forge a peace treaty. The leaders were instead betrayed, as the sidhe slew every one of them with Cold Iron, obliterating their faerie souls for all eternity.

The beginning of conflict wasn't so violent in other parts of the world, though the conflict itself was harsher. In the British Isles, the sidhe won a decisive but brutal victory, and returned to rulership. The Iberian peninsula suffered a similar fate. The Scandanavian commoners, on the other hand, chose to hand the crown back to the sidhe willingly; perhaps they had had their fill of self-rulership and were only too pleased to return to the traditional system of governance. In North America and (more slowly) Australia, the sidhe won the war, but then met with the commoners and agreed upon a compromise: the sidhe would resume their traditional positions of monarchical leadership, but their rule would be tempered by the existence of a Parliament of Dreams which could override the king. Furthermore, positions of leadership would be opened to non-sidhe changelings for the first time. In fact, with all of North America unified into the Kingdom of Concordia ruled by David Ardry, the continent was subdivided into several lesser kingdoms (Apples in the New England area through New York and Pennsylvania, Willows in the South, White Sands in Florida, Grass in the midwest, Burning Sun in the Southwest, Pacifica on the west coast and Hawai'i, Northern Ice covering Canada and Alaska, and all of Central America as the Feathered Serpent), the Kingdom of the Feathered Serpent was ruled by a troll monarch.

The Galatian Confederation was the oddball amongst the conflicts. The commoners in Eastern Europe all the way to Germany united to defeat the sidhe invaders. After their success, they formed the Galatian Confederation, a commoner paradise. There are very few sidhe here at all; most of them fled to France, which became the Kingdom of Neustria, a traditional monarchy in the style that had existed before the Shattering (the collapsing of the portals into the Dreaming). In fact, because of the influx of sidhe from Galatia and the commoners fleeing the harsh treatment of the sidhe, Neustria's changeling population is 90% sidhe.

For several years afterwards, there was peace and prosperity amongst the kithain. There were political intrigues, conspiracies and secret societies, and no shortage of adventures, but most were content. Things began to unravel in 1997 though, when David Ardry went missing shortly after his wedding to Faerilth ap Eiluned. Concordia began to unravel as many competing factions vied for the newly-vacant throne. Eventually, the sidhe Danwyn ap Gwydion ascended to the throne, and began warning the kithin of the return of the Fomorians.

His rulership did not have the auspacious beginning that he might have hoped. The kithain of California rebelled, and eventually won their independence. They formed the Golden Confederate Republic, a democratic state free from the monarchy of the rest of North America. Many of the existing sub-kings fell or disappeared, and Danwyn had to replace them.

Then more global omens began. Originally, only eight of the thirteen noble houses of the sidhe had returned from Arcadia (not counting those Scathach sidhe who'd remained on Earth after the Shattering). But after the secession of the Golden Confederate Republic, the reamining five houses appeared. Shortly after that, new kith began to appear from the deep recesses of the Dreaming. Although the Fomorians have not arrived yet, these omens along with prophecies from noted seers indicate that it is coming. It is only a matter of time.

Thus ends the history of the fae (thus far).

I should note, at this point, that some of what has been included in this history is of my own devising. Some of the events in the recent history (such as the creation of the Golden Confederate Republic and the ascension of Danywn ap Gwydion) are the result of games that I have GMed, and so were influenced by gamers in my games. Others, such as the existence of Dark Glamour and a Dark Dreaming, are of my own devising based on my personal philosophies on the nature of the game's setting.

But, even with that in mind, I hope that you have enjoyed reading this history of Changeling: the Dreaming. I will see you here again next week! Until then,

Game on!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A brief overview of Changeling history (part 2)

Last week, we looked at the earliest part of the history of the fae, from their genesis to the time that Banality sealed them off from the Dreaming. The sidhe had just abandoned the commoners to their fate, clogging the portals back to the Dreaming as the helpless commoner kith watched those portals collapsing.

Today, we will continue the history.

So the commoner kith found themselves trapped in an increasingly inhospitable world, without even the leadership of their traditional rulers to guide them. To be fair, a handful of sidhe did remain (most notably those of House Scathach -- pronounced SKOO-hah), but there was now a massive power vacuum. Some of the commoners tried to form new royalty, others looked to more progressive styles of government, and still others simply fell to chaos and petty infighting.

But the foremost problem was dealing with the threat of Banality. How to protect themselves from an energy which, merely by being exposed to it, could erase your very soul?

The solution: the Changeling Way. The remaining fae clothed their faerie souls in human bodies. This began a cycle of life, death, and rebirth. A faerie spirit would be born into a human body, and lie dormant for several years. The changeling would live as a human, perhaps not fitting in with his community, but still thinking he was just an odd human. Then, something would happen to awaken the fae spirit. Usually, this happened around puberty, but sometimes as early as age 6 or as late as age 25. The changeling would then live in two worlds simultaneously; they had to balance their human lives (working as a normal human worker to provide the necessities of human life; food, shelter, clothing, etc.) and their fae lives (indulging in the Glamour-fueled pursuits that were essential to their faerie souls, such as going on mythic adventures and living lives as courtiers at grandiose royal courts).

Eventually, one of several things would happen: the human body would die, in which case the faerie soul would wait to be reborn into a new one, or the fae spirit would be made dormant once more. This dormancy could be the result of excessive Banality, or through battle with faerie weapons. Sometimes, the fae spirit would reawaken, but other times, the changeling would live out the rest of his life as a normal human. In any case, even if the faerie soul was dormant, once the human body died, the fae would be reborn into a new human body some time later.

Of course, it's also possible for a faerie spirit to be destroyed entirely, usually by death with Cold Iron, but sometimes as a result of a massive amount of Banality. The human body, if it survives the experience, continues as a normal human until it dies, and then the changeling is simply gone forever.

Not all European changelings underwent the Changeling Way. Some, who felt themselves more tied to nature than to humans, became the Inanimae. These housed their faerie spirit in some natural object, such as trees, clouds, rivers, boulders, volcano calderas, or other items. There are also several varieties of Undersea Fae, such as the Merfolk, who have a ritual similar to the Changeling Way.

As European explorers travelled the globe, the kithain (as the European changelings called themselves) went with them. They encountered the Menehune of Polynesia, and the Nunnehi in the Americas, and the Hsien in eastern Asia, and other beings besides. These new creatures learned the Changeling Way from the kithain, and began a similar cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

As the Europeans became, in many ways, the dominant force in the Western World, so too did the kithain become the dominant fae in both Europe and the Americas. Africa is still largely forbidden to them; the strange and mysterious fae beings in that continent have resisted western fae incursions. Most of Asia is similarly inhospitable, though for different reasons... in many places, the Banality is simply too great. Eastern Asia, on the other hand, is simply too strange for the kithain to feel comfortable there. The Hsien, despite superficial similarities to the changelings, are so radically different that most kithain just prefer not to venture there.

So it went, for some six centuries, until the year 1969. It was on 21 July of that year when the convergence of two events caused an event known as The Resurgence. Following so closely on the Summer of Love, 21 July saw the first steps of a human being on the moon. As humanity looked toward the moon, which some believe to be the location of Arcadia, and began to dream and wonder again, a global concentration of Glamour blew open the previously collapsed portals into the Dreaming, and the sidhe emerged from Arcadia once more.

The Resurgence had massive worldwide effects. So massive, that they will have to be discussed in the final installment of this series, next week. Until then,

Game on!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A brief overview of Changeling history (part 1)

I consider myself very fortunate at this time, because I have managed to get a group of players sufficiently interested in Changeling: The Dreaming to get a new game started. I will be meeting with them next week to walk them through the process of character creation, and I have developed the backstory for the major NPCs in preparation for creating the story we'll be exploring.

So I want to spend the next few entries describing the general history of the fae.

It all began in the Mythic Age, at the dawn of humanity, when the first humans dreamed, and those dreams became the first fae. Dreams of honour and virtue became the trolls; dreams of nobility, beauty, and finesse became the sidhe, dreams of cozy homes and humble craftsmen became the boggans. Dreams of travel and adventure became the eshu, whilst dreams of hedonism became satyrs and dreams of playful animals became the pooka. There were darker dreams as well; dreams of antisocial workaholics became the nockers, dreams of ravenous horror became the redcaps, and dreams of things that go scritch in the night became the sluagh.

The fae kept themselves mostly separate from humanity for centuries; sometimes, they'd cavort with the humans for sport, or toy with them as playthings, or seek their devotion as gods. But generally, they remained aloof, both fascinated and repulsed by these pitiful creatures with little to no magic, despite the fact that the fae relied on humans as the source of Glamour, the energy of dreams.

But there was another aspect of humans that the fae did not understand.

It did not take long for humanity to discover that they were able to use their intellect to shape their environment to their wills. It started slowly, with the crafting of stone tools to make their lives easier, making weapons to hunt food and tools to shape the remains of their prey into clothing, shelter, and other useful items. Eventually, after learning to work with soft metals such as copper, they discovered how to work with their first hard metal: iron.

The discovery of iron was a watershed moment for humanity. More than any other innovation, the taming of iron allowed man mastery over his world, and showed him that with careful application of reason and knowledge, he could conquer any obstacle before him.

This created the force known as Banality.

Iron, being the substance that sparked this realisation in the collective human psyche, is thus perpetually infused with Banality. Banality itself is the turning away from dreams, of looking at the world with a lack of wonder, of thinking only of the ways in which you might tame the world instead of revelling in the beauty of it.

At first, the fae were unconcerned with this new energy. It was insignificant, and not yet the omnipresent force that we know today. They continued to ignore the humans, thinking of them as their subjects or their prey, if they considered them at all.

In those early days, there were many other creatures of dream as well; just as the fae subsisted on dreams, there was another type of creature that fed off the darker energies. There was what is known as Dark Glamour. Whereas Glamour represented hope, creativity, love, trust, and marvel, and Banality represented despair, sterility, indifference, impassivity, and commonness, Dark Glamour was the energy of depression, destruction, hatred, suspicion, and monstrosity. The beings that subsisted on Dark Glamour were known as the Fomorians, and these monstrous beings were the sworn enemies of the Fae.

There was war with the Fomorians for years, and at last, the sidhe led a campaign to defeat the Fomorians. The enemy was sealed away in the deepest recesses of the Dark Dreaming, where powerful magics prevented them from visiting the mortal world again. Due to the sidhe's brilliant leadership, the fae made the elven leaders into their kings and queens. The noble sidhe ruled over the other fae for many years afterwards, often mimicking the style of human rulers as a form of amusement to themselves.

What you have read thus far predominantly describes the fae of Europe. There were other types of fae in other parts of the world; in the Americas, the Nunnehi represented the dreams of harmony with nature. Polynesians dreamed of the perfection of their social heirarchy, and these dreams became the Menehune. African and Asian fae were even more different still. But all subsisted on Glamour of some sort.

As the centuries progressed, and humanity came to rely on logic more and more, their collective turning away from dreams and wonder served to increase the amount of Banality. The fae soon realised that humans were a force with which to be reckoned. All attempts to curb the tide of Banality failed, and finally, the rulers decided to abandon the mortal world forever. The exodus to Arcadia had begun.

Arcadia, the mystical homeland of the fae, existed deep in the heart of the Dreaming. Some scholars have hypothesised that Arcadia actually lies on the far side of the moon, but it is reached by travelling through the chaotic world of the Dreaming until you have arrived as far from the mundane world as is possible.

So the sidhe began their arduous trek towards Arcadia. Being the royalty, they insisted that they be allowed to return before any of the commoner fae would be permitted to begin their journey. The commoners watched with growing dismay as the sidhe clogged every portal leading into the Dreaming, whilst those portals collapsed one by one. Finally, as the last of the sidhe passed through the last portal, that portal sealed shut behind them, and the commoner kith were trapped on a Banal earth forever.

When we continue the history of the Changelings next time, we will see how the fae adapted to a hostile world, and how the changing world affects the different fae beings. Until next time,

Game on!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Board Game Review: The Red Dragon Inn

I often talk about the heavy, thinky-thinky type games that I really enjoy playing. But, as I hope may be evident from some of the games I review on here, those aren't the ONLY types of games I like to play. Sometimes, it's a lot of fun to play a simple, light, fluffy type of game that's enjoyable because it's silly or funny. The Red Dragon Inn is one such game. Here are the numbers:

Strategy: 2
Randomness: 4
Complexity: 2
Humour: Implicit and Inherent
Attractiveness: I'm torn between Average and Pretty...
Expected length of Game Play: Varies with number of players; usually about 15 minutes for two players, and add an extra 7 or 8 minutes for each additional player.

The core game contains the equipment needed for four players. There are four 'sequel' games (Red Dragon Inn 2 through 5), which can be played as standalone games for up to four players, or combined with one another. You can have a number of players equal to the number of base sets times four. You can also buy expansions, which are individual characters allowing you to add one player per expansion.

The premise of the game is this: each player takes on the role of an adventurer from a D&D style adventuring party. The group has just completed its latest dungeon crawl, and has returned to town to celebrate their victory and spend their loot at the Red Dragon Inn.

Each player chooses one of the available characters. The base set(s) plus any expansions you have determine which characters are available. The first base set contains Deirdre the Priestess, Fiona the Warrior, Gerki the Thief, and Zot the Wizard (with his familiar, Pooky the rabbit; who, by the way, can be played as his own character if you buy his Allies expansion). Zot the wizard is so far my favourite character.

Anyway, each character has his or her own unique character deck. This deck provides the actions and reactions that a player can take. About a third of the deck is cards that all characters have in common, but the rest are specific to that character, and represents that character's strengths and weaknesses. Fiona, for example, is good at dealing out damage and intimidating the other characters into not targeting her. Gerki is good at stealing gold from other players and defending his own. And so forth.

In addition to the character decks, there is also a drink deck. Each card in this deck represents a drink purchased from the bar, ranging from the lightweight (such as 'Light Ale,' worth 1 alcohol point) to the intense (like 'Red Dragon Ale,' worth 4 alcohol points) to the dangerous (like 'Orcish Rotgut,' which has no alcohol points, but does 2 damage) to the restorative (like 'Coffee,' which heals 2 drunkenness points, or 'Holy Water,' which heals 2 damage).

In front of each player is a play mat, which has a space for their character deck, a space for their discard pile, a space for their drink cards, and a fortitude/drunkenness track. At the beginning of the game, you place your drunkenness token at 0 and your Fortitude token at 20. Each character has one drink card on their play mat, and a hand of seven cards drawn from their own character deck. Each player also has 10 gold pieces.


The play mat also lists the steps to be taken on each player's turn.

  1. Discard and Draw: You may discard any cards you do not want. Then draw up to seven cards.
  2. Action: You may play a single action card from your hand. Depending on which character you're playing, these cards may range from attacking other players (doing them fortitude damage), stealing their gold, forcing someone to take an extra drink, skipping your own drink phase (step 4, below), and so forth. Certain actions are available to every character, such as starting a round of gambling or tipping the serving wench.
  3. Buy Drinks: Take the top card from the drink deck and place it on top of the stack of drink cards on any other player's play mat.
  4. Drink: Reveal the top card from your own stack of drink cards and suffer the listed effects.

As you progress, drinks will cause you to gain drunkenness points (you move your drunkenness token up 1 for each alcohol point you consume). Other players' actions (and, occasionally, some drinks) will also cause you to take fortitude damage, moving your fortitude token one space down for each point of damage you take. If ever your fortitude and drunkenness tokens meet, your character passes out, and you're out of the game. If ever you run out of gold, you're out of the game. The last player remaining is the winner.

That's pretty much it. There are a couple of minor complications, though:

  1. Event cards: Some cards in the drink deck don't represent drinks, but are events. One example is the 'Drinking Contest' card, which causes all players to draw a new drink card, suffer its effects, and the player who had the largest alcohol content on his card wins 1 gold from all other players. There are also drink cards that say 'with a chaser' (for example, 'Dark Ale with a Chaser'). This causes you to draw an additional drink card and suffer its effects along with the current card.
  2. 'Sometimes' and 'Anytime' cards: Some of the character cards are listed as 'Sometimes' cards, which can be played under certain circumstances, often on other player's turns, to affect, alter, or negate a game effect. For example, Zot the Wizard has a 'sometimes' card called 'No, Pooky, that's my friend!' It may be played when another character causes you fortitude damage. It causes the player who did you that damage to suffer 2 damage as well (the image on this card is great; it shows Zot trying to restrain Pooky the Rabbit, who has gone rabid with rage at his master being injured). 'Anytime' cards are played at any time, and do not count as an action. One example is Deirdre the Priestess's card 'My Goddess Heals Me,' which heals 2 fortitude damage.
  3. Gambling: Some action cards begin a round of gambling. When this happens, the game is suspended temporarily as a 'mini-game' takes place. Each player antes one gold into the pot, and whoever began the round of gambling is considered to be 'in the lead.' Then you go around the table and each player has an opportunity to play a gambling card to put themselves in the lead. Once you've made a complete circuit of the table with no players playing cards, whoever is in the lead wins the pot. There are 'sometimes' cards that can affect this, such as ones that allow a player to sit out of a round of gambling, or to leave midway through a round, or to end the round with the pot going to the house (these cards are usually called 'I guess the wench thought that was her tip'). But the most enjoyable ones are the 'cheating' cards which put their player in the lead  (my favourite of these is Zot's card 'Pooky, stop looking at other players' cards!' The illustration on this card is adorable). There's even an expansion that allows player to actually gamble instead of the simple 'take the lead' cards that are the total of gambling in the core set.

And that's it.

This game is a lot of fun. It's hysterical, as the wacky hijinks of the characters interact to produce unending hilarity. It's not the sort of game that should be taken seriously; the vast majority of the fun is in being silly as you play D&D characters partying hardy after their last adventure. Far more so than with most games, this one is not about who wins, but the funny things that happen in the course of the game.

The last thing I want to say: the attractiveness level of this game was really hard to determine. The artwork is beautiful, with cute but well-done illustrations on every card. The play mats are lovely, made to look as if they are on wooden tavern tables. Even the gold coins are pretty, with lavish illustrations on cardboard tokens. But that's the problem; it's all on cardboard. As lovely as those cardboard tokens are, I can't help but think that they would have looked better as plastic coins. Now, I understand that The Red Dragon Inn 5: The Character Trove was just a few months ago successfully funded on kickstarter, and one of the add-ons available for that was metal coins. That sounds amazing! But I don't know if those are available elsewhere. So I feel as if the artwork alone should merit the 'Attractiveness' category being rated at 'Pretty,' but the fact that it is just printed on cardboard should limit the game to 'Average.' So I leave that one undecided.

I really want to pick up a copy for myself some day. Until then, I'll have to rely on my local board game cafe to get my fix...

And with that, I bid you farewell for another week. Until next time,

Game on!