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 and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take.

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

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.

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!