Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

The Black Hole

Jul 05 2012 Published by under Miscellaneous

A frustrating day at work. I discovered that a hotel over-charged me for an upcoming trip, because I wasn’t paying attention. I felt despair upon realizing that. Silly, but true. I knew I’d have to call and explain and try to work it out. I felt like a child.

Travel arrangements frequently bring out a feeling of helplessness in me. I feel overwhelmed, even though I have few things to do. I worry that I’ll completely foul it up. I worry that I’ll end up stranded in a foreign city, with no options.

Tomorrow, I have to call the hotel and work this out, dreading every minute of it. Blah.

So I came home and watched some light anime, starting with two episodes of Kids on the Slope. This is the latest series by the director and composer behind the legendary Cowboy Bebop. When I heard it was about teenagers playing jazz together, I was curious. When I watched and discovered it’s a story about growing-up set in 1966 Japan, I was intrigued. Then a piece of Yoko Kanno jazz music hit, and I felt it in my gut. I had so missed that.

Then, three episodes of the original Dirty Pair OVA: girls in metal bikinis, wielding laser guns and causing massive property damage as they pursue criminals. Absolute fun fluff, drawn with care in the inimitable 1980’s anime style. A perfect diversion.

Meanwhile, I continue attempting to keep up with game registrations for Indie+, an online tabletop gaming convention that starts Monday. We’ve established too many beachheads for information, and keeping them all in sync has been a headache. The good news: We have quite a few games scheduled.

Finally, I took a few minutes to cull through the photos I took in the past month. I present them here as a slideshow:

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

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My Board Game: Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls

Jul 02 2012 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Miscellaneous

Months ago, I watched a bizarre short film called Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls which threw together clips from various cartoons and space opera serials of the 1930’s. The film didn’t do much for me, but the name stuck.

I mentioned that name to Michael R, and we fantasized a competitive board game in which zeppelins fly over a lost world, descending for treasure as their crews fight off pterodactyls.

Today, after much play-testingthat game is officially born:

Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls action shot

Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls action shot

I spent several months play-testing the concept, discovering confusing rules and improving gameplay. It’s always had the same basic concept: the players lay out terrain cards to form a lost world, then each player controls a zeppelin. On your turn, you move your zeppelin to an adjacent card or attempt to steal the loot on the terrain card below you. If you move onto an unexplored card, flip it over to reveal its loot: extra cannon balls, extra armor, or a treasure. You can also fire a cannon ball at one of the pterodactyls flying around. Separately, all the players move pterodactyls and cause them to attack nearby zeppelins.

A lot has changed. The terrain cards were initially square (hexes get around the question of diagonal movement and look cool). Early iterations had a lot of empty terrain cards; now there are no empty terrain cards, but some with minimal rewards. Controlling pterodactyls went through many iterations before I hit on the current system that involves flipping over a pterodactyl card on your turn to control that pterodactyl. I also tried several ways for players to track armor and cannon balls, from setting a 20-sided die to the current number, to placing stones on a paper track, to the current system of tokens.

As with my 50 Games in 50 Weeks challenge (and this counted as one of the games!), I learned a lot:

  • Rules must be airtight, written without ambiguity.
    • Much play-testing experience is needed to learn which phrases people find ambiguous.
  • Players benefit from a summary of the rules that can be used during play. Ideally, this summary fits on a card or one side of a sheet of paper.
  • A game will not appeal to everyone.
    • Better to create multiple versions of a game to appeal to different demographics than to attempt one game for everyone.
  • We now live in a world where I can upload a bunch of images and text to The Game Crafter, and within a few minutes, anyone in the U.S. can buy my game.

Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls is a family game for 1–6 players that plays in 30–60 minutes. If you’d like a copy, it’s US$30 on The Game Crafter.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks, Complete

Jul 01 2012 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Miscellaneous

'Game closet' by lkbm on Flickr

‘Game closet’ by lkbm on Flickr

In July of last year, I took stock of myself as a gamer. I wanted to understand games better, and eventually design games. I realized that I suffered from a deficiency: I could play a few games well, but I knew only a few of them.

I decided to fix this by setting myself an impossible-sounding challenge: 50 Games in 50 Weeks. I would play 50 games that I had never played before, all within the next 50 weeks.

Last night, at the stroke of midnight on the last day in June, I finished my fiftieth game: Houses of the Blooded.

Looking back on the past year, I’m struck by a few things:

  • There’s a huge variety of games and mechanics. I feel like I’ve plunged two feet into the ocean.
  • I have learned a lot. I’ve discovered many different mechanics and rule approaches. The challenge worked.
  • In a “bad” game, the mechanics don’t fit the kinds of actions the players want to take. Indeed, the mechanics are often the same generic mechanics used in popular games. “Good” game design involves finding appropriate mechanics and fitting them together in ways that fit the game’s concept and offer the players interesting choices.

I do realize that I’ve fallen behind in posting my game summaries; I’ll write and post those in the coming months.


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The Problem with Blogging

Jun 07 2012 Published by under Miscellaneous

'Journal #41' by paperbackwriter on Flickr

'Journal #41' by paperbackwriter on Flickr

I love having a personal blog.

Yet it sits in an awkward place, like the new boyfriend at the dinner table. It’s not a cathartic private journal that records one’s angers and fears. Neither is a blog about anything other than the self. I’m too much of a Renaissance Man to give my personal blog a single topic like politics or cooking.

As such, this has become a wildly inconsistent record of my interests and thoughts. On one hand, I feel frustrated at a site that updates so infrequently and inconsistently. On the other, well, sometimes I haven’t much to say here, while I’m throwing bits on Google+ or Dr. Worldbuilder.

So. Expect more blogging here. I want to be personal again.

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Please do not buy candy from Munchies Sweets and Treats

Jan 19 2012 Published by under Miscellaneous

Bottom line up-front: I ordered a bunch of candy from Munchies Sweets and Treats, only received half, and they’ve ignored my requests for the rest of the candy I paid for.

Candy BarsThis past Halloween, I wanted to buy a bunch of full-size candy bars for the trick-or-treaters. It’s always fun to see their eyes bug out when I offer them a pail full of big candy bars. And I figured I could buy them in bulk.

After an hour of Googling, I found Munchies Sweets and Treats <>. They had low prices and a large selection. Perfect! I ordered my bars, plus about a dozen unusual candies I can’t get in my area. The total came to a little over a hundred dollars. I gulped, and clicked “submit” on my order.

A week later, a large box arrived. I hauled it into the kitchen, split it open, and found most of the full-size candy bars, but none of the unusual candies. Inside was a packing slip, with all the candies I’d ordered listed.

I though, Well, maybe they’re shipping in two boxes. I waited a couple of days. No second box arrived.

:sigh: Okay, well, their materials listed a phone number. This was undoubtedly a mistake; I’d just call them and get the rest of my order. I dialed their number, and the call went straight to their voiccemail.

Which was full.

Now that’s an ominous sign.

I returned to their website. They had no live chat, but they did have a contact form. I filled that out, explaining that half my candy was missing from my order.

Need I say more?


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Halloween Music Challenge!

Oct 31 2011 Published by under Miscellaneous

There’s a lot of terrible Halloween music out there: fake “horror” sound effects set to Casio keyboard demo music and banal lyrics.

Here’s part of my Halloween playlist to get us started. What’s your favorite Halloween music?

Halloween music

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Seven Dragons

Sep 14 2011 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Miscellaneous

Just finished playing a game of Seven Dragons, a strategy card game by Looney Labs. It manages to find an excellent middle ground between ease of comprehension and strategic options.

Seven Dragons card game

Seven Dragons © Looney Labs

The rules can be easily explained in 10 minutes (though I botched one of the rules’ aspects). After you begin playing and once you hit the game’s midpoint, your strategic options become complex and interesting.

It’s something of a pattern-matching game. A silver dragon card is placed in the center of the table, then each player draws 3 dragon cards and one goal card (all kept secret from other players). The dragon cards have differently-colored dragon panels on them, and the goal card has one colored dragon. Each turn, each player draws a card into their hand, then lays down a card next to an existing card on the table, with the goal of connecting seven panels that all have the same color as the player’s goal card.

The draw pile also contains action cards that let players swap goals, swap hands, move a card on the table, etc. This makes the latter half of the game particularly intense, as chains built earlier are abandoned for new goals and precise placement becomes much more important to prevent other players from completing chains.

It’s not Risk, of course, but for a US $12-$15 game that you can teach quickly and get through in 30 to 60 minutes, I’m impressed at its depth. Bonus: elements of the system can be easily dropped to make the game easier for kids to understand.

You can buy Seven Dragons directly from Looney Labs.

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Road Trip, Day 1

Sep 02 2011 Published by under Miscellaneous

I’m off on the first day of my great cross-country road trip. I’ve stopped at a small Italian restaurant in Maryland.


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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Fortune & Glory

Aug 24 2011 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Miscellaneous

Fortune & Glory board game coverFortune & Glory is a new board game of pulp adventure. Each player is an Indiana Jones-style adventurer, traveling the world, looking for treasure, fighting Nazis and mob bosses.

The board shows the world, split up into maybe two dozen zones for major countries and areas.

Each player gets a specific character card to play, each of which has a couple of stats. The game includes a bunch of different card types, several of which are used to generate treasure and place them in locations around the world board. Each character starts out in his or her home city.

The mechanics are all based on cards and six-sided dice. Each turn, all players roll dice for initiative, then roll dice for the number of countries they can travel through.

If one or more characters are in a country that has a treasure, they each start going through dangers. Each treasure lists the number of dangers required to acquire the treasure, and the amount of glory points you get for successfully going through all the dangers.

Fortune & Glory play sampleEach danger card lists the challenge (rock slides, pit traps, thugs, plane crash, hostile natives, etc.), and the abilities that can be used to overcome it. I love the notation for this:

Lore (5+) • •

This means you need to roll the number of dice you  have in your Lore attribute. Any rolls of 5 or above are successes, and you need 2 successes (the dots). Clean and clear.

If you succeed, you can stop for this turn or push forward with another danger. If you fail, you may take damage, or you may fail the entire challenge, in which case you flip the danger card over to reveal the Cliffhanger you must face next turn. No matter what happens on the Cliffhanger, you must start the challenge over again.

Collect enough damage and you’re sent back to your home city (which may not be a bad thing, depending on where the treasures are on the board).

You get glory points for completing each danger, and for collecting treasure. You can travel to any of the cities on the world board to transmute your glory points into fortune points. Whoever gets 15 fortune first wins.

There are a bunch of other twists, too. Some dangers will spawn Villains, who are tough to beat, and may claim the treasure instead of you. When your character enters a city, you draw a City card, which may have its own dangerous conflict or may be helpful. You can spend fortune in a city to get gear and allies that help you in your adventures.

The pieces are beautiful: high quality, vibrant, with a good hand feel. Glory points and fortune points are represented with plastic coins.

I was lucky enough to play this with a group of RPG and game experts, so it almost had to be fun. I had my typical bad luck with board games, and was very close to last place, but the game was a blast.

It is expensive, though: US $65 or so. You can buy it at Boards & Bits.

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The Business of Art

Jun 14 2011 Published by under Miscellaneous

"September 3rd sketch" by jon_a_ross on Flickr

"September 3rd sketch" by jon_a_ross on Flickr

I pay artists. If you’re an artist, and you’re charging money for your work, please read this post.

I love artists. But they’re often, well, frustrating to deal with. I’ve had to terminate my relationship with too many artists. Here’s how to avoid that for your clients:

Figure out what you will and won’t do. Communicate that. This is obviously important for taboos like sex or violence towards children. But it also applies to the business side of things: Will you sell art for commercial use? Can customers re-purpose your art? Re-sell it?

Make sure you communicate this to each customer, too. It’s great if these restrictions are posted somewhere on your website, but don’t assume that every customer has read them.

Figure out a schedule for your work. Communicate that. How long until the work’s complete? I don’t need a specific date that’s graven in stone; just a rough estimate in weeks.

This works even better if you can subdivide that schedule into a few deliverables: a rough sketch in two weeks, then the complete drawing two weeks after that, for example. If I have to wait three months and then all I get is the final piece, that leaves no room for resolving problems. And there are always problems.

Communicate changes. If your mother gets sick and delays your work for a week, that’s perfectly okay, as long as you tell me when it happens. If you wait until after the deadline and then tell me about delays that occurred weeks ago, that’s not okay. Let me know.

That’s it. Just figure out your boundaries and a rough schedule, and communicate often. That’s all I ask. Please.

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