Published on 5/29/2014 Written by 1 comment

It's Not What, But Rather Who.

Most of my posts here have been about specific games, game mechanics, and other topics along those lines.  Today I'm going to deviate a little and instead talk about the players.  A key component to good gaming, is a good gaming group.  I have a few sets of players I get together with regularly, and they all have wildly different levels of geek cred, dedication to gaming, and styles of game they like. But I love playing with all of them.  The interaction is different in each case, but it is always good.

So what makes a good gaming group?
Yup, looks about right.
The first key is people who are willing to be social.  I am generally quite introverted.  It's something I've been working on changing over the last 10 years, and I've made some progress, but still if you take me to a party where I don't know anyone, I'll be the person sitting alone in the corner, or constantly on the hip of the person who brought me.  I don't choose this, its just the way it is.

Even losing money can be fun with the right group.
However, I recently was introduced to a group of gamers though my wife.  She was at work, so I got to games night before her, walked in to a room of 6 people I had never met before, and sat down to play a game.  That's where the magic happens.  There is common ground in the game; something we all HAVE to talk about, and that helps open the proverbial door.  No stilted conversation of "what do you do?" "Where are you from?".  All these things do end up getting discussed, but the game works to break the ice and get people introduced to each other without the pressure of forced small talk.  There are games that facilitate this better than others, such as the co-op games I talk about here, or games where you show your personality like Balderdash, or where you have to discuss your motivations like The Resistance. Once you know the people at least a little better, you can really get to see their personality with Dixit or Cards Against Humanity... Playing together and being social is one of the key components to a fun tabletop experience.
The next thing that helps is a shared interest in a gaming style.  With one group, we often play Catan, Alhambra, Carcassonne, etc.  All games with a similar mechanic style, but more importantly, all games where the game play is separate from the person.  There are no characters, no role playing, no player stats to worry about.  Through our first few play sessions, it quickly became obvious what these players didn't enjoy, and as the main game provider for the group, I know what to introduce them to in the future, and what they will not have a good time with.

In contrast, the group mentioned further above is full of hard-core gamers, and they will play any style.  While I like playing games with anyone who will sit down and have fun with me, this group is my favourite.  Every time we get together, usually about once per month, it is guaranteed there will be at least one new game we haven't played before.  Exploring new games together is another fun activity, with everyone learning it at the same time, so I always look forward to these dates.

The last "who" I'll mention is the buddy system.  It's a wonderful thing to have a friend or coworker you can sit down with and have a quick game whenever you feel like it. Unfortunately my gaming coworker moved on to another job a couple of years ago, so this has been missing for me for some time, and I haven't found a replacement yet.  There's such a stress relief at work to be able to sit down at lunch and have a couple of rounds of Tsuro, Clashing Blades, Blokus, etc, and forget about that email you need to send, or the presentation you have to prepare, even if it's just for 15 minutes.

Who are your favourite people to play with?  Do you adjust your style to different groups?  Other thoughts you think I should here?  Tell me in the comments!
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Published on 5/27/2014 Written by 6 comments

The Worst RPG Covers of All-Time (Part 2)

Last week my wife and I walked you through some of the most godawful terrible covers in the history of RPG artwork. How could we possible top such horrendous abominations as the sad goth beholder and Space Infanmry? Oh don't worry. We saved the best (worst?) for last.

Let's get down to business. We'll start with the worst RPG of all time which not coincidentally also has one of the worst covers:
This cover (much like the game inside) is just wrong on SO many levels. Was the chick having sex with the angel/demon-looking dude in a mine shaft when they were interrupted by smurfs? Why is said dude wearing a banana hammock? Wouldn't the inhuman guy be less modest? Why does he have such a homely head? Why do the smurfs have so much clothes on? Does clothes = bad guys in this game? To be fair, maybe the publisher is trying to do everyone a favour by driving them away from this terrible, terrible game with a terrible, terrible cover.

This next one requires a little context to understand why it's so bad:
At first glance it seems pretty benign and harmless. Neat-looking dagger with a shadow... oh wait, that's not a shadow, it's some sort of weird plant thing. I guess that must be significant to the game somehow? Let me read a little. Okay, so the "wraeththu" are werewolf/vampire creatures that create more of their kind through a blood-based ritual. They have super powers like telepathy, psychokinesis, etc. They are hermaphrodites, possessing both male and female sexual organs and appearing androgynous in general outward appearance. They have genitals that are simultaneously both male and female (described as 'colorful' and 'flower-like' and 'like a sea-anemone'), able to fold flat and open or retract inwards or protrude, and thus reproduce and ... wait a minute. That's its sexual organ depicted on the cover? Eeewwwwwwwwww. No fair. I thought F.A.T.A.L. would be the only game on this list where your character's genitalia was an important part of your character creation.

Now it's time for more cock...
...I mean, Moorcock, as in, Elric of Melniboné. I really wish I had the original book so I could use a magnifying glass to determine exactly what the fuck is going on with Elric's arms in this picture. No matter how much I zoom in on the JPEG, I cannot for the life of me figure out how his hands are attached to his body. They SEEM to be connected to the batwings on his helmet, but that's an element of the elfin people of Melniboné's physiology that Moorcock must have glazed over in his books.

Next up, major props to Steve Jackson Games for putting out a book called "Scarlet Pimpernel:"
However that's got to be the laziest and lamest cover I've ever seen. Simple is usually good, but this is... not. This was 90 seconds of searching through Microsoft Word's clip art library. I imagine the design conversation went something like this:
"We need something that says 'France' and 'Swashbuckling.'"
"Okay cool, let me call up an artist..."
"We're due to the printer in five minutes."
"Ah fuck it. No one's going to buy a game called 'Scarlet Pimpernel' anyway."

Speaking of terrible and lazy...
You just knew a Palladium book had to end up here somewhere. Question 1: What the hell is that thing on the cover? Question 2: Who thought it was an interesting enough... whatever-the-hell it is to put it on the cover and define the game? Question 3: WHY IS IT THERE FOUR TIMES?

In all fairness most Palladium covers aren't bad (and a few are very good). It's usually the parts inside the cover that's the problem.

Okay, anyone familiar with bad RPG cover art knew the Avalanche OGL books were coming. Hold on your hats (and one of your lower appendages) because this is going to get rough...

Oh yeah, that captures the style and grandeur of ancient medieval China perfectly. Of course we can all agree the only problem with his cover is that she's holding a holding an obviously Japanese sword.

Let's see how they tackle fierce viking berserkers...

I'm not sure if historians agree on what sort of clothes and armour the Norsemen wore (though there are some who suggest that the vikings were very concerned about their appearance - recent archaeological finds include tweezers, nail clippers, ear cleaners and so on), but for some reason I question the protective qualities provided by electrical tape.  Does it protect against the fierce cold of Scandinavian winter as well as it turns away the blades and arrows of your enemies? Could you even buy electrical tape in 1000 A.D.? Is that why they traveled to North America 500 years before Columbus? Were they looking for a Home Depot to pillage for supplies for their kinky sex costumes?

How about the Aztecs? All those bloody human sacrifice ceremonies should provide kick-ass, if gory material for a cover...

Or, you know. You could go another route and use Pocahontas' half-sister who was disowned for her questionable life style choices.

How about the Middle East?
No. Just no.

On the plus side, I bet J.J. Abrams would cream all over that bitchin' lens flare.

Without question though, here is hands-down the worst Avalanche cover, and ergo one of the worst RPG covers of all time:

I know I only took an introductory archery course, but even I could tell you that's really not the way to hold a bow. And what is that sword on her back attached to? Is it pierced through her spine? Is that why she looks so pissed off? Or is she angry because she was attacked right in the middle of taking a dump?

Yeah, I don't know who was working in Avalanche's design department, but he must have had a big stack of dirty magazines and a lot of tracing paper...

Here's a great cover from a super-heroes game:

Unfortunately, HeroQuest is not a super-heroes game. I guess no one told that to Ram Man and Fire Girl up there.

This one really pisses me off:
There are certainly some way uglier and/or offensive covers on this list, but this is a STEAMPUNK game for crying out loud. There is so, so, so much awesome steam punk artwork out there, there is no excuse to use something so bland and unimaginative on your friggin' cover. Seriously, go do a Google Image search for "Steampunk Art." I'll be waiting here when you get back in a day or two after you're done searching through thousands upon thousands of pages of beautiful, wonderful Steampunk. I'm sure they could have found hundreds of starving artists who would have worked dirt cheap (hell, or paid THEM) to do this cover. Instead we got the Cowardly Lion and one-legged goggle-lady standing on a pile of garbage.

Finally here it is, probably one of the worst RPG covers of all time:

I want to you look at that cover for a moment. I mean really look at it:
Figure 23a: Detail for your benefit.

Exalted is supposed to be a high fantasy RPG, but I could understand your confusion if you thought this was some sort of gynecological textbook. Now, this is not like TSR when they didn't know any better and were slapping naked chicks on its covers back in the day. This is not even a case of Avalanche using cheap porn art for its covers. White Wolf is an established, respected gaming company that really should have fucking known better than putting a snatch with a doily on it front and centre on their goddamn cover (not to mention those inhuman boobs above it). This is entirely an example of them using the most offensive art they could find in a desperate attempt to drum up interest around their book.

Please, White Wolf. Stick to vampires and werewolves. Make a True Blood licensed game or something.

What about you, oh loyal readers? What are your favourite terrible RPG covers? I'm sure we missed some goodies, and I'm also sure someone is itching to step forward to defend one of more of these monstrosities.

Come on, do it. I know you want to.

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Published on 5/24/2014 Written by 5 comments

If You're Going to Fail, Might As Well Do It Spectacularly

My players were tasked with protecting a particularly sleazy and obnoxious actor to get him to (and through) an important performance. If the show did not go off according to plan it would bring great shame and dishonour to several important and powerful nobles. People might even die if this performance was ruined.

Unfortunately the actor owed many evil people large sums of money, not to mention pissed off several unsavory organizations, so he and the players have been hounded by assassins at every step. They eventually made it to the theatre and were trying to come up with a plan to protect the actor through the performance when I mentioned - repeatedly - that there were a number of veiled and masked priestesses performing rituals to cleanse the theatre of evil spirits. I also mentioned - repeatedly - that the priestesses faces were hidden and that they seemed a little suspicious. Two of the player characters even found and killed another assassin, and discovered one of the priestess' masks on the body.

Of course, they did absolutely nothing to investigate the potential threat from the masked vestal virgins. It should come as no surprise to anyone reading that two of the priestesses eventually attacked the actor and stabbed him with a poisoned dagger.

The other priestesses began chanting a prayer, and I guess at least one of the players assumed they were casting a spell because he immediately declared he was going to shoot them. All of them. And then proceeded to mow down ten innocent women. Of course, the priestesses were the only people who may have been able to cure the dying actor of the poison.

I can't tell you how it ended because we haven't finished the adventure yet. Despite the blunders and horrific slaughter, I think we all had a good laugh at it. It's been quite a ride so far - what I had planned to be a simple adventure where the PCs would have to take part in a play while trying to fight off assassins to protect the lead actor has dragged out for weeks. The party has had to fight their way to the theatre, befriend wild barbarians, foil terrorist suicide bombers. One of the PCs encountered a long-lost relative, another may have a princess falling in love with him, another has blindly walked into and around a secret plot to overthrow the government and hasn't even realized it.  And the curtain still hasn't risen to start the show!

The best part? I didn't plan any of this. I'm either a much better game master than I thought, or I fucking suck because this adventure should have been finished weeks ago...

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Published on 5/23/2014 Written by 3 comments

Game Mechanics Part 3

Today's post is about a mechanic I really enjoy: Simultaneous Action Selection.  You know, I'm not quite sure why I just capitalized that...  Anyway, there are a bunch of games that use this mechanic, but I'll stick to just 2 as examples, and the slightly different strategies they evoke.
B-Wing movement options
The wheels when assembled
The first is a game I've talked about before; Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game.  You can read about the basic premise here.  Today I'll focus specifically on the movement and initiative portion of the game.  Each pilot / ship has an initiative number.  The lower initiative moves first, but shoots last. This is something really important to keep in mind as the main point of the game is to get other ships in range within your firing arc, or to get out of range or firing arc of the enemy (typical dog-fight tactics).  The way movement works in this game is that all players lock in their chosen movement for each of their ships secretly.  Once all are set, they are all revealed at the same time, and then movement commences in the ascending order of initiative.  Movements are chosen on clever 2-layer cardboard wheels, and each type of ship may have different movements available based on the performance of their ship.
As the initiative order never changes, the strategy remains fairly constant throughout the game; shoot as much as you can, try not to get shot at. Within this strategy is the need to anticipate what moves the other player will make and choose your own accordingly.  If this were a turn based game, the higher initiative ships would have a huge advantage and game play would be very unbalanced, but as a simultaneous action, it works beautifully.

The second game has more than one instance of simultaneous action.  A Game of Thrones, the board game uses this mechanic often. The main use is in the "set orders" phase of each round.  Players all assign orders: March (attack), defend, raid, support, or consolidate power, one order to each force or
"Are you done yet?"
army they have.  These are placed face-down on the board, and all revealed at the same time.  There are so many possibilities of what you can and will do, and you must try to anticipate what the other players will do.  Do they have enough strength to beat you if you attack them?  Will they get support from another player?  Can I consolidate my power safely and have a stronger position later? The depth of strategy in this phase of each round is daunting, but also a big part of what makes the game so enjoyable.  Due to the sheer amount of calculation needed, I have found it beneficial to set a time limit for each round, usually around 5 minutes.

Everyone clear on what they are doing? Good!

What is beautiful about this mechanic is that it simulates real battles where the generals don't know what the opposing forces will do, and must make their decisions ahead of time.  As in real life, once you see what your opponent plans on the battle field, it is usually too late to  change your tactics.

The other place the mechanic is used is in bidding.  First is bidding for the "tracks".  There are 3 tracks of influence in Westeros: 1) The Iron Throne.  Whoever controls this resolves their actions first, and breaks ties in many situations. 2) The Valaryan Blade. Whoever controls this has an extra point in 1 combat per turn, and always wins combat ties. 3) The Messenger Raven.  This person gets to change 1 order after they have been revealed each round, and also has a larger selection of orders to choose from. 

"I'll pay $50 for one!"
Occasionally players are called to use some of the power they have collected using the "consolidate power" order to bid on these tracks, in the form of a secret bid.  All players must announce how much power they have available before the first of the 3 bids.  After that, each puts the amount they want to bid in to a closed hand, and all are revealed at the same time, and this is done for each track.  Because the Throne can change hands, the order of play changes.  This relates back to the first part of placing orders.  Often if you move first you can be more aggressive in your attacks as the other player won't be able to reinforce.  Or if you move last, you can walk in to somewhere another player has left weakened after they have made their own moves.  So being able to change which advantages you have can then change the rest of your play throughout the game.

I need some feedback.  Are you enjoying my game mechanics posts?  Want to give me suggestions of games using Simultaneous Action I should give a try?  Let me know in the comments!

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Published on 5/21/2014 Written by 2 comments

Game Mechanics Part 2

On May 12th I had the pleasure of joining a great conversation about cooperative games run by
@boardgamehour on twitter.  It got me thinking about how many co-op games I've played recently and just how much I enjoy them.

First, let's see what can fall in to the co-op category.  There are true co-op games where everyone plays together to beat the game, like Castle Panic, Pandemic, and Forbidden Island / Desert.  Then there are "traitor" games where everyone works together until someone turns on the others, like Battle Star Galactica and Betrayal at House on the Hill.  Finally there are team games like The Resistance, MTG Two-Headed Giant, or 1812: The Invasion of Canada. Today I will focus on the true co-op games, because I think the Traitor mechanic deserves a post of its own. 
We'll talk about this some other time.
Co-ops can be great fun. With everyone working together they can be a great way to introduce new gamers to the fun of table top gaming.  Without the pressure to win, or the awkwardness of trying to help the new player without harming your own chances of winning, the new player and the teacher can often have a more fun and relaxed game.
While board games are a social activity already, co-op play tends to emphasise that even more.  When the whole group has to make decisions together, there tends to be more discussion and more interaction than when you're all just out to be #1.
This happens a lot in games like Castle Panic where everyone is equal and the cards and options available are visible to everyone. Similarly in Forbidden Desert / Forbidden Island there is a lot of interaction as you have to coordinate each character's special ability to help the team win. 

Don't be this guy.
Where this becomes a drawback is if your group has an "Alpha Player".  This is a person who takes control of the game and directs everyone else in what they should do. Alpha's can ruin the fun for everyone else, if the other players feel like they are just pawns and have no contribution to the win (or loss).  As one of the more experienced players in some of the groups I play in I am always wary that I can fall in to that Alpha roll, and have to make a conscious effort not to.
There are some games that remove the Alpha problem by assigning different tasks or roles to each player, so that one person can't dictate move to the other.  A good example of this is Space Cadets, where everyone has to perform a different task simultaneously, with a real time limit.  They then compare their successes and failures to help further the team towards victory (or defeat).
Losing turned out OK for these guys.
You may notice I keep mentioning losing... That's because most co-op games are intentionally designed to be quite difficult. If a co-op game can be won every time, a lot of the challenge disappears and it will be abandoned quite quickly.  Based on a completely unscientific survey, most people want co-op games that they only win about 30% of the time.  This keeps the challenge up in the game, and allows for multiple replays before the game gets boring. Publishers know this, and that is why expansions for co-ops tend to be even harder than the original, like the Wizard's Tower add on for Castle Panic.

Favourite co-op game?  Some pro's or con's you think I should have mentioned?  Let me know in the comments.
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Published on 5/20/2014 Written by 1 comment

The Worst RPG Covers of All-Time (Part 1)

(In honour of my Tenth Wedding Anniversary, my lovely wife helped co-author this post. She wrote all the funny jokes.)

With the recent deaths of HR Giger and David Trampier, I've been looking closely at the artwork in games. Sadly, I've found that a lot of it is not very good.
Failed proportion? Check. Perplexingly mismatched arms?  Check.  
Defies dimensional physics? Check...

Moreover, the one place where game companies should strive to put their best art is on the covers of their books. I mean, this is the first thing the audience is going to see. It should convince them to buy the damn book. Instead, I've found that it compels them to run away screaming.

 Exhibit A: The very first D&D cover:

That "Fighting Man" looks like some kind of badass hobbit. My wife thought it was Axl Rose.  I suppose Axl Rose kind of looks like a hobbit.  I guess they could be excused on the grounds that this was the first RPG book ever published so they didn't exactly have a lot of experience with this kind of thing.  Surely their next attempt would be bet--

What the fuck is that thing?  Is that a beholder?  That is the most harmless and pathetic creature I have ever seen.  Is it...is it wearing lipstick?  Is it a goth? It's like the Robert Smith of beholders. Does it want to fight me or read me the poem it wrote about a dead bird that it found?

All that said, I think a Goth Beholder would be an awesome monster to add to the next version of D&D.

Other attempts at putting monsters on their covers did not fare much better...

I thought this was a pegasus, but the longer I look at it, the less sense it makes. It's like a M.C. Escher painting. Is it some kind of griffon? A hippogriff? Why does it's neck run directly into its beak? How does it see? Since it's shaped like a horse I assume it must walk on four legs, but how the hell does it walk on those weird arthritic chicken feet? Is it in pain?  This is not something to be defeated. This is something to be euthanized by a vet for large animals. 

Because their monsters turned out so shitty, the good folks at TSR decided to give up on scary creatures and instead see if they could just slap porn on their covers:

Were they planning to sell their books on the top shelf of magazine racks at gas stations? I know fantasy pulp fiction has a long history of gracing their covers with sexy ladies, but this doesn't even pretend to be anything but gratuitous nudity. There's no evil wizards, no dragons, no hero trying to rescue the damsel -- just a straight-up naked woman laying on a rock. I wouldn't be surprised if THIS is what agitated the bible-thumpers. Its hard to defend the relevance of this cover to role playing.  Apart from the enduring relevance of boobies, obviously. 

Let's jump ahead a few years to a different gaming company and a different genre. How did Fantasy Games Unlimited handle an epic sci-fi game?


Poorly.They handled it poorly. I don't know which of these covers came first and frankly I don't think it matters. Neither is an improvement on the other. The one on the left went for a Star Wars-kinda theme and failed miserably. That bug alien looks like a dog that got run over a truck, while the chick is obviously a little soft in the head. The buttons of her shirt just busted, but instead of trying to hide her boobs she's covering her crotch for some reason. Those spaceships look like the plastic doohicky I use to cook my eggs in the microwave. As for the black & white cover, dude in the centre's head is obviously exploding and the rest of the crew just shat their pants.

Here's another sci-fi gem:
I don't know what's more offensive about this cover: The fact that it was obviously drawn with colouring leads by a 9th-grader (and I actually know 9th-graders who can draw WAY better than this), or the fact that the title of the book is impossible to read. Anyone up for a game of Space Infanmry?

Here's a fantasy game that I've never heard of:
Overall the cover is meh (except for those weird piercings holding Satan's sex slave's wings together - those are stupid). The thing that really pisses me off about this cover is that the sex slave doesn't have any feet! They're not obscured by debris (Rob Liefeld, how you doin'?), or chopped off and bleeding, they're just... gone. His right leg literally just fades out as if the artist got bored and forgot to finish his foot. You spent all that time detailing those rippling muscles in both dudes' arms and chests, but you couldn't handle a goddamn foot? (Actually, neither guy in the photo has feet. Maybe the artist really does suffer from Rob Liefeld-itis).

Here's Barbarians of Lemuria, which has several different covers due to going through numerous PDF and print versions in the last few years. A couple of the covers are actually pretty good...

...this one, however, is not. It appears that a big blue demon is interrupting a lesbian orgy and... something is coming to their rescue? Maybe? I have no idea what that thing is with the sword. It may be the Ultimate Warrior, but I don't know why his calf  muscle is bigger than his head. Fuck, I'm a big wrestling fan and I've seen a lot of muscleheads, but I've never seen anyone who puts so much work into pumping his calves up to the size of Cooper Minis while remaining satisfied that he has the arms of a little girl.

Finally, I'm going to stab a sacred cow...

Don't get me wrong, Ravenloft was an important and influential game. But have you ever really looked closely at that cover art?What is going on with that vampire dude? He doesn't look angry, or ecstatic, or even scary. He looks like he's wailing out the high note in a hair metal power ballad. Seriously, the dude was jamming to "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" and his fucking guitar turned into a passed out drunk chick.

I could keep going, but I'm going to have to stop for today and leave you hanging for Part 2. Trust me, there are plenty more terrible, awful covers to come. Are there any particularly bad ones you'd like to see included? Don't worry, the Avalanche d20 covers will definitely be making an appearance.

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Published on 5/16/2014 Written by 5 comments

Game Mechanics Part 1

I've decided to write a series of  posts that deal with some of my favourite table top game mechanics.  To start, I'm going to go back to one of my favourite things about DnD: The dice.
They're just so sexy!
There's always been something thrilling about rolling polyhedral dice other than d6's.  Maybe it was my little rebellious streak as a kid, or just a fascination with shapes other than cubes, but I really like funky dice.  So this leads to the first game mechanic to discuss: Custom dice.

There have been a lot of games in the last few years that have custom dice.  While these games could be played with regular d6, and then have you convert the number to some other meaning, the games tend to be... slicker with the customized ones.

My first example is King of Tokyo. The dice are rolled three times each turn . After each throw you choose whether to keep or discard each of the six special dice (a la Yahtzee).  Triples of the numbers score victory points.  The claw is an attack to other players, the heart regenerates health (duh!) and the lighting generates energy that can be spent on creature upgrades / powers. Whatever you have at the end of the third roll, you allocate damage, collect your energy and take any victory points.  It's a great game, especially with 4 players (can be played by 2 to 6).

Next is Betrayal at House on the Hill. This game will probably show up in a few other game mechanics posts, because it has a lot of innovative stuff going on.  For the dice portion, what is interesting is that they are d6, but only go to 2.  How does that work? Glad you asked.  There are two sides with 1 pip, two sides with 2 pips, and two sides that are blank.  These are the first d6 you can roll a 0 on that I've ever seen.  The dice are used as skill checks and for combat.  Your characters stats range from 1 to 8 plus any modifiers from items you have, and you roll the corresponding number of dice.

A game I've mentioned is a previous post is Star Wars: X-wing miniatures game.  The dice in this game have no numbers, just symbols. The attacker rolls the red d8, the defender rolls the green. Both explosion symbols (hits and critical hits) are countered by the swerve arrow symbol (dodge).  The eye symbol (focus) allows the player to change one result, provided they chose focus as an action earlier in the round.  The number of dice rolled is dependant on the character and ship stats, as well as their position in relation to the other ship.

"99 is on top!" "No, 36 is on top!"
There are a bunch of other games, like Cthulhu Dice, Zombie Dice, 12 rounds, First and Goal, 303, Alba Longa, and the list can go on and on.  Plus good ol' Dungeons and Dragons.  I do remember getting in to fights as a teenager because our GM had a real d100.
But then that was half the fun - teenagers love to argue, just ask any parent.

Any custom dice games you love?  Suggestions of what other game mechanics you want to see discussed?  Let me know in the comments!

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Published on 5/14/2014 Written by 2 comments

What Makes a Good Game?

How do you get people to play games with you?  Something I have discovered recently, is that a great game is essential to getting people to go along with you.

There are so many board games these days, it's hard to narrow down a choice of what one to play.  If I'm with a small group of hard-core gamers, we'll look through the pile and just pick something we all like.  But if I'm with a larger group, or we're trying to pick a game that not everyone has played, the game mechanic is usually the deciding factor.
So what makes a good mechanic?  One of the first things to stand out to me is how simple it is to set up and explain. 

Okay, pg.8 of the rules done, and the board is set up.  Now what?

The next thing I look for much strategy is required.  Can I master this game by the second playing?  Last is re-playability.  I don't want a game that has the same result time after time.  What can help here is creativity.  A game that involves some imagination will go a lot further. 
To illustrate I'm going to use a few games, and show where I think they succeed and where I think they fail.
1. Zombie Dice:  It's a nice, simple game.  I can explain the rules in about 15 seconds, so that makes it easy to get others in to the game.  There is a little bit of strategy.  The game consist of rolling some custom d6.  If you take the time to know what dice have been rolled, and what are still left, it helps inform your decision of when to push your luck.  Where this game falls short is re-playability.  After a couple of games, just rolling dice gets pretty boring.

2. Dixit: The basic premise takes about 2 minutes to explain, so it's not hard to get new players involved.  The scoring is a bit funky, so that's usually about 90 seconds worth of the 2 minutes. Strategy is where this game is slightly lacklustre.  To play the game, you describe a piece of art you are holding, others put in pieces they are holding that could also match your description, then everyone tries to guess which was yours.  Unless you know the people you are playing with fairly well, it is hard to have a defined strategy for describing your artwork.  Never the less, the game is still a ton of fun, and the main reason why is the re-playability factor.  With different people, you can get different results with the same cards.  After you've played 6 or 8 times with the same group, the artwork can get repetitive, but the publisher has released 3 expansions that can stave off the repeat factor for a long long time.

3. Ticket to Ride: The rules can be explained in about 3 minutes.  What this game has, and a lot of the other German style games have, is a mechanic with "do either this or this or this on your turn".  With these limited options, you can devise deep strategies of when to do what, but getting new players in is a breeze as there is little to try to remember.  Game setup is fast and the action starts within the first 2 or 3 rounds.  The game is played by choosing (from a randomized deck) train routes to complete. Then you collect coloured cards, and when you have enough of the correct colour, you can trade them in for trains and connect cities within your route.  Scoring is based on the routes you complete, and points are lost for incomplete ones.  There is a myriad of strategies at play, in which routes you go for, which colour trains to collect, and when to give up on your route and instead try to block someone else's.  The game is imminently re-playable as the routes are different every time, and every player will have a different strategy.

Even these guys look like they are having fun

The one thing that I haven't mentioned yet, but is just as important as the other factors in any game, is the social aspect.   To me, the best part of playing games is hanging out with friends and making new friends.  Unless you're having fun with the people you're playing with, there's no point to playing.

Have any great games to get new players in to?  Let me know in the comments!
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