Sunday, October 30, 2016

Loot & XP

It has been nearly a year since the local board game cafe opened. I'm sure you remember me posting about it when their Kickstarter went live. I also briefly mentioned in another post that I had attended their backer party the night before they opened. But I haven't yet written an article about them.

I will rectify that right now.

Loot & XP (the gaming hub of Norman) is the local board game cafe. They began a successful Kickstarter in August of last year, and opened their shop on 12 December 2015. The venture was undertaken by five friends who owned a massive game library, and decided to share their love of games with their home town. They held a series of public events at the local library to generate interest, which paid off in the long run.

As you walk in the front door, you see before you a long rectangular shop. The door is against the left wall, and to your right, there are three couches arranged in a U shape around a coffee table with a tabletop-sized video game cabinet on an end table beside them. Along the left wall in front of you are several shelves with their supply of retail games. Opposite that is the counter, where the cash register sits alongside their cafe. They sell various coffees and teas, pastries from a local bakery, bottled drinks and snacks like Ruffles and Butterfingers. They also have working arrangements with three local restaurants: Pizza King, Asian Cuisine (warning: the Asian Cuisine website has loud music autoplaying on most of its pages) and Billy Sims Barbecue. You can order from any of those restaurants, pay at the counter without leaving the shop, and have their food delivered right to your table!

There are a few taller tables with barstool-height chairs between the counter and the retail shelves. But it's when you get past the counter that the fun really begins. They have ten or so large tables, with at least six chairs at each, and both walls are lined with shelves that are chockablock with games of every sort. From Candy Land to Twilight Imperium and everything in between, including older selections like Frank Herbert's Dune and small indie releases like Asphodel. For a mere $5, you can purchase a game pass, which is good for the full day, even if you leave and return later on. With this game pass, you can play any game in the shop's library, as many times as you want (until they close, of course). If you don't know how to play, the staff can teach you; they know how to play pretty much every game there. And they're constantly expanding their library with new releases!

They have events, such as tournaments and trivia nights, and are in the process of becoming an official sanctioned Magic: The Gathering site. They even have roleplaying games available, and some groups meet there for their weekly gaming sessions!

It's hard to compare them to other board game cafes, because I've never had an opportunity to visit any others. But if there's something that is missing from Loot & XP, I sure can't think of what it might be!

So if ever you happen to be in or near Norman, Oklahoma, I highly recommend stopping in and playing some games with these great people in this great store! That's all for now. Until next time,

Game on!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mobile Games

I've mentioned before that I'm not a fan of computer games. There are a few that I enjoy, but on the whole, I don't play them. Usually, it's because (as I've described previously), I enjoy games because they allow me to engage in social interaction in a less-stressful manner than normal.

You Don't Know Jack is an exception. Whereas most computer games are either single player, involve taking turns so that you have to switch places with the other player, or are played over a network so that you're not actually in the same room as the other players, YDKJ has all the players with their hands on the keyboard simultaneously. This makes the game more social in nature.

Hypothetically, games on smartphones would be similar, right? To an extent, they are. However, there are a couple of games that serve to foster interactions, rather than replace it. I just discovered one last week.

It's called Spaceteam (that link is for Android devices. The following is for Apple products). Two to eight people, each with a mobile device connected to the same wifi network, run the game on their device. Each player sees a screen with three sections. At the top, an image of your ship flying through space. Below that is a small line where instructions will appear. The bottom half of the screen is an assortment of buttons, dials, slider controls, and switches. Each one is labelled with a humorous technobabble name, like 'flux gravitometric input' or 'Eigendryer.' Sometimes, they will be funny non-technical names, like the the button labelled 'Lose' on the control panel named 'Complete Control.'

As the game begins, instructions will appear in the middle area. They might say 'Set flux gravitometric input to 3' or 'Engage Eigendryer.' But normally, the instructions that appear on your screen are not for the controls on your screen; they're for controls on someone else's screen! Thus, you have a group of people all shouting at each other, 'Activate thrust differential! Who's got the thrust differential? Activate it, you idiot!' And it's even more hilarious when you get the non-technical names like 'Lose complete control.' And funniest still, when someone says, 'Turn on dangling shunter! Someone turn on the dangling shunter! Who's got the dangling—oh wait, I've got it. Never mind.'

This sort of game leads to hilarious interactions, especially since there's a countdown timer for each instruction. If the instruction is carried out correctly before the timer runs out, the ship in the top portion of the screen moves forward a little bit. If the timer runs out without the correct control being operated, the ship moves backwards. And behind the ship, there's a constantly growing explosion getting closer to the ship. If your ship reaches the right side of the screen, you move on to the next level. If the explosion reaches your ship, then it explodes and the game is over.

Another game that facilitates, rather than negates, interaction is 'Heads Up Charades.' This game is a word guessing game similar to Taboo, in which one player gives clues to the other, but is not allowed to say the word itself, nor any part or form of that word. The app makes clever use of the phone's accelerometer to keep score. What happens is this: one player holds the phone against his forehead, so that the other player can see the screen but he himself cannot. The screen then displays a word or phrase in the chosen category (for example, 'Batman' in the 'superheroes' category). The partner must give clues that the player holding the phone must guess. When a word is correctly guessed, the player tilts the phone down. This lets the app know that the word was guessed, so it awards a point and brings up a new word. If, however, the players choose to pass, the phone gets tilted up. The app then brings up a new word without increasing the score.

Once the timer runs out, the app displays the words given in the round, and indicates which were correctly guessed and which were passed. It shows the score for that round.

I like these kind of apps. As mentioned, they are designed to facilitate interaction between multiple players. If you know of any others the do the same, please leave a comment to let me know! Until next week,

Game on!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Board Game Review: CV

A couple weeks ago, I got to play an interesting game called CV. That's short for curriculum vitae, which is Latin for 'the course of life.' Although the term is used in the UK to refer to a usually two-page document similar to what Americans call a 'resume,' this game is based on the idea of telling the story of a person's life.

But we're here to hear the story of a game. So let's start with the statistics:
Strategy: 4
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 2
Humour: Implicit
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 1 hour
Gamer Profile Ratings:
  Strategy: Low
  Conflict: Low
  Social Manipulation: Medium
  Fantasy: Medium

An overview of CV

A game of CV in progress. The three decks are arranged at the top of the board, with one goal card beside them. Five cards are available to purchase along the bottom of the board. In the foreground, one player's tableau of purchased cards is visible. The special dice, can be seen, as well as the bonus tokens, scorepad, and a player aid.

Players will take turns rolling dice and using the results, plus any bonus from cards they already have, to purchase additional cards to add to their tableau. At the end of the game, they score points for cards they have, as well as card combinations available from goal cards. In so doing, you are creating the story of a person's life, as each card represents aspects of a person's life story (health and relationships and jobs and possessions and so forth).

How Does it Work?

The game consists of a board that helps organise the cards, seven special dice, and the cards themselves. The cards come in three decks: childhood, early adulthood, middle age, and old age, as well as the goal cards. With the exception of the childhood deck and the goal cards, these are shuffled and placed in the appropriate place on the game board. Each player receives a goal card. A number of additional goal cards are placed on the board equal to one less than the number of players. The childhood cards are distributed, three to each player, who chooses one and passes the remaining two. Choose another from the two new ones you've received, and pass the remaining card to the next player, who keeps it. In this way, you start off with three cards to help you in the game. Deal the first five Early Adulthood cards onto the available spaces on the board. Now you're ready to play!

The point of the game is to build your tableau by buying from the available cards. The resources you use to buy cards come mainly from the dice. You get four dice (plus any from cards you possess, up to a maximum of seven). These dice are rolled Yahtzee style, keeping the ones you like and rerolling the rest, up to three times. The dice have the following symbols:
  • A medical style cross: this allows you to buy cards that have to do with health.
  • A light bulb: this allows you to buy cards that have to do with knowledge.
  • Two stick-figure icons: this allows you to buy cards that have to do with relationships.
  • A dollar sign: this allows you to buy cards that have to do with money and possessions.
  • A smiley face: this serves as a wild card. In addition, if you have three of these icons, you can use them to buy any available card.
  • A grimacing face: this locks the die so that it cannot be used or rerolled. In addition, if you get three such faces, you must discard one of the cards in your tableau (it doesn't end your turn; you just lose a card and keep going if you so desire).
These icons are used to purchase the available cards. The cost is listed on the card beneath the title and above the illustration. For example, in the photo above, the 'Manager' card (the third one on the board) costs two health icons, a relationship icon, and a knowledge icon.

Take any cards you've purchased and add them to your CV (that is, place them in your tableau). You must keep them in stacks according to their type. Most cards belong to the same type as the first four dice faces listed above (health, knowledge, relationships, or money). In addition, there are CV cards, which represent jobs you have (or had). The card that is currently on top of a stack grants you certain bonuses, represented by tokens, which are the same as the die faces. These bonuses are listed at the bottom of the card, below the artwork. For example, in the picture above, the 'Intern' card seen in the CV pile grants you one money icon and one relationship icon each turn. These are used to purchase cards, in addition to whatever you roll on the dice.

One other card type exists: events. These are not placed in your tableau as the other cards, but are held in your hand. They can be played for a one-time-only benefit of tokens. The icons work the same: the ones on top are the cost to purchase, and the ones on bottom are the benefit granted when that card is played. In the photo above, you can see an event card in the discard pile to the left of the board: 'Lottery Jackpot.' That card costs two smiley faces to purchase, but when played, acts as five money icons.

You may purchase as many cards as you can afford. Once you are done, move all remaining cards as far as you can to the left and draw new cards to fill the empty spaces. Turn then passes to the left. Once each player has had a turn, discard the leftmost card on the board before drawing new ones.

When the Early Adulthood deck is exhausted, start drawing from the Middle Age deck. Once this deck is empty, start drawing from the Old Age deck. When there are fewer cards in this deck than players, the game ends immediately.

Scoring in CV

There is a chart on the board that shows how many points you get for health, relationship, and knowledge cards. The points progress exponentially, so that a second card is worth more than a first, and a third is worth more than a second, and so on. Also, each possession (the yellow Money icon cards) grant victory points as printed on the cards themselves. In addition, players reveal their private goal cards and score them. These are scored by sets. For example, the currently displayed goal card in the photo above ('Activist') grants players two victory points for each full set of one Health card and one Relationship card. Thus, the current tableau is worth 6 points from this card, as there are three sets of one Health and Relationship card each.

Finally, players look to see who has the highest score according to each of the publicly-available goal cards. Whoever has the highest score according to that card gets it, and is awarded the points from that card. The winner is the player with the highest score.

Final Thoughts on CV

I wasn't super-impressed with this game. It was fun, and I wouldn't be opposed to playing it again. But it's certainly not in my list of favourites. The artwork was humorous (like the 'Lottery Jackpot' card, which shows a woman praying as money falls from the sky). It's an interesting concept. And although there is a little bit of thinky-thinky going on in this game, it's not enough to overcome the lack of storytelling for my tastes. I don't know, it just wasn't super appealing to me. There wasn't really anything I didn't like, but there wasn't a whole lot that I did like, either.

But of course, that's just my impression. Don't be put off by what I didn't like. Give it a try for yourself! I'd love to hear what other people think of this game. So go try it out, play more games, and as always,

Game on!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Board Game Week at Geeks Are Sexy

The fine folks over at Geeks Are Sexy decided to spend a week looking at board games. If you don't regularly follow that site, first off, why the heck not? And secondly, here's a list of the five articles they posted as part of that theme:

I thought that these articles were fairly well written, for the most part. I especially liked days 1 through 3.

I kind of disagreed with Day 4, though. Perhaps it's just my personal preferences, but I wasn't impressed with their picks. The first suggestion, Pick-omino, I had never heard of. But even after watching a video tutorial, I'm still not super impressed. The second one, Zombie Dice, runs into my dislike of zombie themes. I've played it once, and wasn't too keen on it anyway. Their final suggestion is Fluxx (or some variant thereof). I've played a few different iterations of this game, and they are all basically the same. And my problem with them is the same as well: they have very little player agency. Sure, players get to decide which card they want to play on their turn, but the winner is basically chosen at random by whoever happens to draw the needed cards when the correct Goal card is in play.

Here's a few games I would suggest instead:

  • Bananagrams — Sure, players can't jump in in the middle of a round, but the rounds are so short that it only takes a couple of minutes before someone else can join in. The rules are so simple that spectators can easily learn them just by watching a game.
    Plus: word games!
  • Scattergories — Technically, this game occurs over three rounds. But there's no reason to play a series of unconnected rounds letting people join in after each new one. Rounds are pretty short (and can be made shorter by setting the timer for a lower time), and the scoring phase at the end is quite quick. Again, spectators can usually get the idea of how a game works by watching.
  • Superfight — No matter how many players there are, only two of them are active at any given time. Thus, it doesn't matter who joins in between each round. Again, the game can be learned by watching. And since there isn't really a score (the winner of the current round competes in the next round; otherwise, there isn't really a 'winner'), new players won't be at a disadvantage for joining in late.
  • Tell Me a Story — I just reviewed this game last week over at PinkFae. But the important thing is this: 1 player gets a point each round. However, this game isn't fun because of who wins, but because of players telling amazing stories together. So there's no reason you couldn't just dispense with scorekeeping and simply play round after round until everyone is ready for something different. By dispensing with the scores, new players can quickly and easily jump in at any time with no penalty.
Day 5 was a little bit of a disappointment for me as well. Most games, I don't care overly much for expansions. If I like the base game, I usually don't see a need to add to it. There are exceptions, of course; I'm very glad I got the Friends and Foes expansion for Reiner Knizia's The Lord of the Rings game. Some card games need expansions to keep things fresh (Cards Against Humanity and Superfight! being two classic examples). Expansions that allow additional players (like for Catan, Firefly: the Game, or Gloom) are also very useful. But otherwise, I just don't have a lot of interest in expansions.

The thing that disappointed me is that they chose expansions for one game I've never played and two games of which I'm not a big fan. Minor disappointment, I know. But still, I would have had Friends and Foes for The Lord of the Rings on my list. In most of the scenarios in the base game, event tiles are almost always Bad Things. But in the Bree scenario from Friends and Foes, the first couple of events are actually desireable. This lets players take it a little easier at first, not panicking at the prospect of an event tile being drawn. 

I'd also have included the Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansion for Firefly: The Game. That expansion not only adds up to two new players, but also allows for some inter-player conflict that was lacking from the base game.

Anyway, that's my take on their articles. But don't take my word for it! Head on over and read them for yourselves! Until next week,

Game on!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Little Guys

I've recently begun reading Redshirts by John Scalzi. I'm only 50 or so pages in, and already I love it. Not only because it's clearly a look at the plight of being a redshirt in the original Star Trek series, but because it's telling a story from the point of view of the lowest-ranking crew members on board.

The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode 'Lower Decks' is one of my favourite episodes of that series. It's a great story in its own right, but seeing the operations of the Enterprise from the perspective of junior officers, who don't know what's going on, was a fascinating change from the usual stories told in most media.

A friend once told me of a disagreement he had with someone, in which he was describing the reasons he didn't enjoy playing Dungeons and Dragons. The other person's response was that he 'liked playing characters that were larger than life.' That is very much a part of American culture, and informs a great deal of the stories told in this country. Nearly every movie, every TV show, even a majority of books and comics and other stories tend to have the leaders as the main characters. From Star Trek to Battlestar Galactica to the X-Men franchise to A Song of Ice and Fire to iZombie, the protagonists are always the ones with access to resources and in some sort of leadership position. That leadership may take the form of being a lone wolf (as is the case with The Doctor from Doctor Who, who works with a single companion at a time, or Conan, who works alone most of the time unless he knows he needs help), making him the leader of a gang of one (so to speak).

Very seldom do we see characters who don't have access to the resources normally viewed as forefront in the heroic archetype. If there's information a character lacks, he's usually able to gain access to it somehow (pulling strings with friends, hacking into a computer system, sneaking into an office to find documents, etc). One of the things I really like about 'Lower Decks' is that the main characters are specifically forbidden to have the information that is driving the story. Most of them know some small piece of information (Nurse Ogawa is aware that there is a Cardassian aboard the Enterprise, Ensign Taurik is involved in making a shuttlecraft appear to have been damaged in a firefight, etc). But each of them is under orders not to share that information with the others.

A similar arrangement appears in Redshirts. The main characters are a group of five ensigns who have just been assigned to the starship Intrepid. At first, they become aware that something very strange is going on aboard the ship, but nobody will tell them anything. Eventually, they start to find small pieces of information on their own, and other crew members begin revealing little nuggets of knowledge. But so far, they still are mostly clueless about the events they're witnessing.

I see a lot of story potential in this setup. Although most players may be drawn to the free-wheeling power that comes with having characters who are at the forefront of their field, the dramatic tension of withholding vital knowledge can be instrumental in weaving a fascinating tale.

Warning: The next paragraph contains a lot of spoilers for the TV series Lost Girl. Proceed with caution.

Of course, in doing this, it's important to avoid the same sort of mistakes made by the Canadian television series Lost Girl. I really liked that show in the beginning, when the main character, Bo, chose to break from tradition and forge her own path in fae society. But the series made the mistake of foreshadowing too much. In the first season, secondary characters would constantly make comments out of Bo's earshot about how she would one day become the most powerful fae. Starting in the second season, that prophecy was dropped, and they started preparing a great deal of build-up of the role of Bo's father. This was so intense, that when they started the Wanderer storyline, viewers thought that 'The Wanderer' was Bo's father, and certain things that were seen and said reinforced this. But at the beginning of season 4, when we finally meet The Wanderer, he's not Bo's father after all. We don't even see her father at all until halfway through Season 5. Despite building up the tension of her father, he's not seen until two seasons later.

End of Spoiler Alert.

The point is, be careful that, in withholding information from the characters, you don't change what's going outside of the character's awareness. Whatever the plan was you had at the beginning, stick with it. If you change what the tidbits of information meant after they've been revealed, the story will have a disjointed and dissatisfying feel.

The exception to this is if the players start making predictions that not only work, but work better than the plan you had to begin with. Sometimes, making the character's predictions be right at the cost of some behind-the-scenes retconning can be more satisfying than sticking with your original plan, as long as it doesn't disrupt the flow of the story.

Anyway, I think this story format has a lot of potential. Playing the low man on the totem pole can be fun! Give it a try some time! And if you do, let me know how it turns out. Until then, remember to

Game on!