Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

And now for something completely different – Music

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Jan 052017
 

A long time ago, in a galaxy somewhere up in New Hampshire, I used to play in a band. I’ve always loved music and have always fooled around a bit with musical production. Over the past year or so I’ve very much gotten into electronic and dubstep music – mostly because I love having something trance-like on while I’m thinking, writing and creating. Over the past month, I was given the opportunity (free time) and the tools (Garage Band, electronic instruments) to actually create something of my own. So I did.

Musivational is what I’m calling it. The concept behind the music is a re-imaging of my childhood in the 80’s. It’s influenced strongly by my own memories, awesome 80’s flicks, shows like Stranger Things and the artwork of Simon Stålenhag www.theverge.com/2013/8/27/466484…i-tech-were-real which you should really check out if you’ve not already.

This is a complete, 100% experiment on my part. The neat thing is – I’m actually launching an album which will be available from just about all electronic music distribution formats. iTunes, Play, Amazon and the rest. Here are links to two songs if you’d like to check them out. The actual album drops January 23rd. This will be the first, and possibly the only time I’ve ever tried to make money from music. We’ll see how it goes. It cost me very little to do this. I can make back what I’m spending to keep this album in circulation (which is approximately the cost of a nice dinner) for a year, I’ll keep going with projects like these. If I can’t? Well, at least I’ll have done this!

Please let me know what you think. Constructive criticism always welcome!

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

The Climbers – wonderfully wooden abstract about climbing, with real (tiny) ladders

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Dec 132016
 

climbers

I was recently introduced to the abstract game The Climbers at the Granite Game Summit. I was immediately taken with the components and the game play. Nice, chunky wooden components and decent strategy! Let’s take a look at The Climbers and see what it has to offer. Climbers is a game for 2-5 people, ages 8+ and plays in anywhere from 15-45 minutes. Players pick a figure of a specific color and can only climb on blocks with that color, or grey facing upwards. Blocks can be moved and turned to facilitate climbing.

How to Play

When you first open the box, you’ll see it’s packed tightly with all of the components. 35 wooden blocks of varying sizes, 5 short ladders, 5 long ladders, 5 colored figures and 5 colored blocking stones. Two of these wooden blocks, the largest, are solid grey while the rest of all of the varying five colors on them. The wooden blocks come in 1?, 2? and 4? sizes.

Setup: To set the game up, the two large, grey blocks are placed upright next to each other. This forms the core of the climbing structure. Next all of the colored blocks are placed around the two grey blocks so that the grey blocks are completely obscured. This is done randomly and can be a fun little exercise if everyone starts grabbing and placing blocks rapidly. They can be placed horizontally or vertically. All of the blocks must be placed so that they are entirely on other blocks (or the table) but they can be placed offset of each other. Each player chooses a color. They take the pawn and blocking token of that color and both a long and a short ladder.

The blocks are all configured so that Red is opposite Yellow, light Blue is opposite dark Blue and Purple is opposite Grey.

Play: At the start of the game, all of the pawns are simply hanging about on the table. Here’s how a turn works.

First, a player may move an empty block to a new location or rotate it. The blocks must end up connected to another block, with at least 1/4 of the surface touching that other block. They cannot overhand, nor can holes be created. Blocks can be placed on other ‘occupied’ blocks (with a pawn or pawns on it) provided that there is still enough room for those pawns. Each pawn takes up 1/4 of the surface of a block. Blocks can’t be loose, inclined (tilted) or skewed. And you can’t move the same block someone just moved on the prior turn.

Next, that player may move their pawn (called the “climber”). You can move the pawn up, down, horizontally or in any combination of those. Your pawn may only move upwards or downwards 1? without the assistance of a ladder. They may use the short ladders to climb up the equivalent of a 2? block or the long ladder to move the equivalent of a 4? block (so that could be 4 1? blocks or any other combo). Once the ladders are used, they’re discarded – you only get one shot with them! Also, your pawns may only move onto a block of your color or a grey block.

Lastly, you may place a blocking stone on any unoccupied block. No players may move onto this until the start of your next turn, when the blocking stone is removed from the game. Again, you only get one shot with the blocking stone!

Winning: If no players can move higher during their turn, the fist player who couldn’t move their pawn higher gets one more shot. If they somehow contrive to legally move higher, the game continues. If not, the highest pawn wins! If two or more pawns are the highest, whoever arrived first is the winner.

Why you should play

There’s a few rules to digest in this one, but I assure you that once you’ve played a few turns, you’ll get it. From there on in, it’s a fun, fairly quick little puzzler of a game that will have people up out of their seats, wandering around the table to look at it from all angles. There can be a bit of a take-that aspect of the game, but there can also be a surprising bit of cooperation – nothing forbids players from working together to attain greater heights.

This game could I think best be described as absolutely charming. Even when you’re doing a bit of a take-that move, it doesn’t feel like you’re denying other players so much as settling on a very decent strategy for yourself. Lots of people love playing games that give you the feeling of having built something at the end – a decent card engine, an engaging and interesting city, a massive army. This not only gives you that feeling but collectively all of the players are building a colorful, if abstract tower while also climbing that same structure.

The game is completely random at the start in that the tower was built with no plan. From there on out though every single factor of the game depends on how the blocks are moved by the players and where they place their ladders and blocking stones. The strategy in this game lies not only in getting your pawn to climb higher, but doing so in a way that makes it harder for others to do the same while they only move or rotate one block.

I very much enjoyed my time playing this game and am looking forward to adding it to my collection. The components are nice, chunky wood, the game is simple to explain, easy to teach and very fun to play. It’s also pretty quick for a 2-5 player game – after the first play I think most games could be played out in 20-30 minutes tops, even with five players. If this sounds like the kind of abstract game you’d enjoy, you can pick it up at the Strategic Space site in the US or at your FLGS.

 

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

As some of you may have noticed, the site died for a bit

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Dec 132016
 

Yup – the database shrugged it’s virtual shoulders, and jumped right into a hole.

Unfortunately the last uncorrupted backup of the DB I was able to get was from Nov 25th. So we lost a few posts and about 3 weeks of traffic. All was not lost however, for which I’m grateful! Off to do some better backups (again) and see what happens from here. Hopefully we’ll stay afloat another 8 years!

-Ben

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

 Posted by on December 13, 2016  Tagged with:

Happy Thanksgiving folks!

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Nov 242016
 

gobble

To those who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m hoping to get a few casual games in with various family members this Thanksgiving, along with a copious amount of time lazing about. Hope you can do the same!

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

A quick break on the reviews to design a new game and polish up an existing prototype.

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Nov 182016
 

Hey all! A few of you, perhaps 30 or 40 people out there, may have noticed that we were reviewing on average about 1.3 games per week! That’s pretty rad and I’m happy to be back in the saddle with that. However, I’ve got to take a quick break from it because we have these holidays here like Thanksgiving that take up a lot of cycles in the most fun way possible. Also, I’m working on a new, small design that has me pretty excited. Like many new designs, it may amount to nothing or it may be the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s too early to tell right now!

I can say that for the first time since I had my shoulder rebuilt and then shortly after that my Mom passed away, I really feel like I’m back. Back reviewing, back creating and pretty much on a more even keel creatively. I honestly had no idea it would take me this long – but these things just have to happen naturally. Oh and then when I was starting to feel my old self again I stayed up for 25 hours play board games. Every year it takes me just a little longer to recover from that!

On the few times I’ve talked about designing games with folks who aren’t into designing themselves, I get asked what a new game design looks like. I think people are naturally curious as to how the whole process goes. For me, it looks like this:

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That’s a bit of it. Right now it’s entirely on paper. I won’t be able to do much in the way of prototyping until perhaps Sunday morning as I’ve got family commitments between then and now. But once I do have time I’m going to break out those 400 blank playing cards I bought a year ago, my kid’s markers, and I’m going to go to town! This will be my first game about trading. Sure there will be conflict too but primarily it’s all about the Benjamins in this game, which tickles me to no end. I’m working in a pretty small design space, which means there are some interesting problems I don’t encounter when I can use things like say… anything other than a card.

I’ve gotten perhaps 35-40 games to real, playable prototype status. Of those, I’m still actively working on 4, (5 once I get this puppy real) and have abandoned or openly shunned the rest. Why am I excited by this one? Well, it’s small, it’s got a bit of complexity, lots of player choice and very little luck. All things I enjoy – but it also just feels right. As someone who’s played over 200 different game titles and churned out 30 or 40 of them himself, a lot of them feel like they’re good but need work. This one feels like a nicely oiled machine even on paper.

Which means that instead of going through a hundred little and big iterations before it’s a real, polished game, it may only need 80. Still, it’s a good feeling. Whether this one works out or not, I’m still pretty excited by it – if by nothing else than I feel like I’m back. The piece of me that was missing for a while has returned to fill that little game design/creative hole in my soul. That’s priceless.

I’m also paring down one of my existing prototypes to fit into the realm of the nano – a 9 card version of a dexterity game I mucked about with before. Fish Pitch is the game and with a few rules changes and a bit more playing about I think I have a very workable, tiny little version of this.

 

For those interested, the next review I’m working on is a fun, entirely wooden game called The Climbers, which I hope to have published next week.

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

Extra Life 2016 Recap

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Nov 062016
 

Session Report: Extra Life 2016 – we played a lot of games.

Here’s the (mostly) whole list of games we played. I may have missed a few as a couple of smaller spin-off games may have sprung up.

Star Realms (phone)
Friday (solo) x2
Star Realms (phone) x5
Forbidden Desert x2
Firefly nope
Seasons
What were you thinking?
DC Deck Builder
Codenames x2
Animal upon Animal
Codenames x2
Camel Cup
Bang Dice
Tsuro
King of Tokyo
Truth or Dare
Funemployed
Cutthroat Caverns
Scythe
DC Deck Builder
Bohnanza
Monopoly Deal x2
Sentinels of the Multiverse (phone)

As with the past five years, I promised that if I made my goal (I did), I’d shave off my beard. This year I went from right to left rather than to mutton chops or whatnot. That was interesting.

At this second, I’ve raised $1833 by myself (with a few offline donations I have to add in). Team Troll met and beat our goal of $4500 with $4,951!

Here’s a whole bunch of pictures of the night! I’ve also included the link to the campaign should you want to pop in a last minute donation.

http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=217085

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

EXTRA LIFE 2016 IS HERE – Live updates all day long!

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Nov 052016
 

Scroll down for LIVE updates! 

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For my fifth year, I’m taking part in Extra Life! We’ll be playing games with a bunch of awesome people all day today right through to tomorrow (25 hours, yikes!) to raise money for Children’s Hospitals. Join us via this live stream to see what we’re doing!

Extra Life is a 403(b) Charitable Organization dedicated to healing sick and injured kids. This will be my 5th year supporting this awesome charity. Here’s how it works. Once a year, folks like you join my team, create their own, or sponsor us as we play games for 24 hours straight. All of the money raised – 100% – goes to children’s hospitals around the country and the world. And any donations are tax deductible! If you want to donate – please do so here!

Also, since I’ve met my goal, the beard goes! Here’s one of the last pictures of this year’s EL beard.

beardy

Also, don’t forget that at 2AM this Sunday – it’s Daylight Savings Thing Time!

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We got a few extra games in the night-of – Started with the silly Animal upon Animal and then some deck building fun with Dominion and DC.

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Right, off to play some solo games and get that coffee going!

 

 

Universal Rule – A 4x game in a tiny package that gets the job done

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Nov 022016
 

ur

Note: Universal Rule is on Kickstarter now through November 12!

4X – eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. These are games that I really love! You get out there, build an empire, try to take out the other players while also finding new things and managing resources. I love them on computers, I love them in cardboard and really I only have one problem with this genre as a whole. It takes to darned long to play these games! I wish I still had hours to dedicated to them (and sometimes I make the time) but most often I just don’t. Then along came Universal Rule.

Universal Rule plays with 2-5 people, in about 45 minutes for ages 12+. It’s designed by Chip Beauvais and published by Button Shy Games. And it does all this with eighteen freaking cards as part of the Button Shy Games’ wallet series. I’ve played the prototype and pre-Kickstarter print and play versions. There may be some changes to the production version of the game.

Editor’s Note: Button Shy Games are the publishers of my game Ninja – Silent but Deadly.

How to play

In Universal Rule, players are competing to colonize new worlds, exploit them for money or military power and by either cunning or force be the first player to reach the winning number of victory points. 15 points for three players, 13 for four players and 11 for five players.

To start off, there are 17 Planet cards and 1 Universal Rule card. The Universal Rule card is put aside and the 17 planet cards shuffled. Each player is dealt three Planet cards and will choose two to start the game with. The remaining cards, including those discarded by the players are then shuffled into the main deck.

Players will have to provide their own money counters (called Credits) for this game. There’s a hard limit of 25 credits per player. This can be taken care of by providing 1 dime, 2 nickels and 8 pennies per player. Or use something else. I prefer original M&M’s as you can eat them at game’s end.

Each of the 17 different planet cards have an ability that can be used when they are colonized (when they are played to the table). They also have a cost in credits (gold number), a military power (red number, which includes their fleet) and an income (green number) which shows how many credits they could potentially generate. Every non-upgraded planet is also worth 1 victory point, as shown by the star just under the name. When upgraded, the number of stars increases, increasing the total victory points that planet is worth. In addition to this, each Planet card can be rotated 180 degrees to be upgraded – offering generally larger numbers. There’s a cost to upgrading though. From these planet cards each player can determine everything they need to know about their galactic empire. The first player to reach or exceed the winning victory point number on their turn immediately declares themselves the winner.

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On a player’s turn, they can select one of five different actions. Other players can also follow all but one of these actions, for a cost. In a neat twist to other games that feature a similar role mechanic, the role doesn’t vanish when it’s selected (so that other players can also select it) and the players themselves determine the cost of following. To follow, the player sets the cost at a minimum of 1 and a maximum of however many planets they currently have colonized. They set this before they themselves take their action.  If a player decides not to follow, they take 1 credit from the bank. And what are these actions?

Explore: Here players can pay one credit to the bank and choose to draw a card (if any are available) from the deck and add it to their hand. You have a hard limit of 3 cards for your hand.

Colonize: Take a card from your hand and place it on the table. Pay the cost as indicated on the card and that planet is now colonized and in play. If you can afford the more expensive, upgraded side of the planet, you can put a planet directly into play, already upgraded. Other players may follow and pay your follow cost to you, and the cost of colonizing their planet to the bank.

Upgrade: Pay the difference in their planets initial colonize cost and the upgraded cost, then flip their planet card 180 degrees. They now use the upgraded military power and income numbers. When following, other players pay the follow cost in addition to the planet’s upgrade cost. You cannot downgrade a planet.

Produce: The player takes the credits generated by all of the planets colonized and in play. If other players choose to follow this action, they gain their planetary income before they must pay the follow cost – so it is possible to follow this action if you have no cash on hand to start with.

Attack: The one action that cannot be followed. Players select one of their planets to attack with. Let’s go more in depth with this action as combat involves all of the players.

The player doing the attacking picks another player’s planet to attack and then selects one of their planets to lead the attack. Those planet’s military value is where this attack will start. The winner is the one with the most military value, defenders winning all ties. Now comes the neat bit. Each player, starting with the attacker and going in turn order, can add their fleet and as many cards from their hands as they would like to add. To add cards, it’s always the fleet value of that card (signified by the little wings on the Military Power icon) and each card is played face down.

Next, players can add funds to the battle. Each player takes tokens into their hand equal to the number of fleets they possess on planets that aren’t currently the attacking planet or the defending planet. They secretly separate these tokens into funds they want to spend (their right hand) and funds they don’t want to spend (their left hand). Those numbers can be zero.

Now the reveal! At the same time (count to three) all players will reveal their credit support and also point to the player they are supporting – either the defender or the attacker. Now it’s time to total up and see who won. The attack value is the attacking planet’s military power plus all coins revealed by those siding with the attacker plus the fleet value of all cards contributed (played face down above).

The defense value is calculated the same way – the defending planet’s military power plus all coins revealed by those siding with the defender plus the fleet value of all cards contributed.

In this example, almost all of the other players, including my own daughter are siding with my attacker.

In this example, almost all of the other players, including my own daughter are siding with my attacker.

If the attack was successful, the defending planet is downgraded. If it can’t be downgraded, it’s destroyed (and added back into the main deck). The player who contributed the most (in coins, cards and planet’s military power) then takes the Universal Rule card, which is worth 6 victory points. If unsuccessful, each player that supported the defender and contributed at least 1 credit or played 1 card gets a free Explore action, in turn order. If the attacker had the Universal Rule card, it’s returned to the center of the table. Either way, all coins spent in an attack go to the bank and all cards played are discarded to the main deck.

And that is the game – play continues around the table until someone hits or exceeds the vp total needed to win. Quite a bit going on for a little game like this!

Why you should play

4x games can be a bit on the complicated side. While that’s certainly ameliorated by having only 18 cards in play, Universal Rule is not a simple little card game. There’s a lot going on here! Thankfully the graphic design choices put everything you’ll ever need about each world right on the card. That makes playing this game a lot simpler when everything you could possibly want to know is right in front of you on the table or in your hand. I love that this game turns an hours long 4x experience into less than an hour play time even with five players! I still feel like I’ve gotten my 4x experience in as well, which is gratifying.

I love the inclusion of following on other players actions (or at least earning a credit) as it keeps all of the players, even in a five player game, on their toes and thinking during each player’s turn. Everyone’s engaged – and if there’s combat? Woo boy, then everyone’s really engaged.

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Metal tokens do not come with this game.

There are a lot of interesting, sometimes stressful decisions to be made at any point in the game as well. The need to explore to have more cards (and potential colonized worlds) in your hand balances with the need to actually get some planets on the table and generate income. Do you add these worlds to your budding empire? Save the cards so you can properly defend or attack another player? Maybe you just need to expand your base so you can generate more cash. More cash means the ability to follow more often, so you can get more done! But then that depletes your ability to add money into an attack and grab the Universal Rule card for six victory points!

The special powers, unique military and credit values and the differing victory point values (once upgraded) of each planet mean that even after many plays of this game there’s still a good deal of replayability built right in.

Really, the most telling thing I can say about Universal Rule is that five minutes after getting soundly thumped in my first game I was thinking about different paths I could have taken and itching to get another play in as soon as possible. Chip and Button Shy Games have really hit this one out of the park – this could be the most game I’ve ever seen squeezed onto 18 cards. I’m saying that as someone who loves to play and collect tiny games. The ability to sit down and pull a legitimate 4x game out of my pocket, and I mean literally out of my jean’s pocket, is pretty amazing. Yes, you do have to add your own counters for the in-game cash, but that’s a trivial thing. A bag of M&M’s costs about eighty cents and two rolls of pennies costs exactly one dollar and each are just as portable as the game itself.

Universal Rule is currently on Kickstarter and can be had for $10. This is Button Shy’s 21st project on Kickstarter and they have a very solid track record of delivering good games on time.

urule1

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.