Jan 212015
 
Total Confusion 29

Total Confusion 29

It’s Total Confusion time again! This is New England’s largest convention geared totally towards gaming and it’s always a fantastic time! This year I’ll be spending a bit more time at the convention (arriving Thursday, yay!) The convention runs Thursday, February 19th through Sunday, February 22. They offer single day or all weekend passes and for my board game peeps, there’s a special board game pass that gets you into the board game room, vendors hall and panels and let’s you play all weekend long. You can find TotalCon at the Holiday Inn in Mansfield, MA. While the hotel is sold out for the weekend, if you’re nearby I’d highly suggest dropping in for a day or two!

If you’re going to be at the convention, please come say hello! I love meeting fellow gamers! Just a quick note on names though. I have a wife and two daughters – I concentrate on remember their names and that’s generally about as good as I get at conventions. Please don’t take offense if I don’t remember your name, or you see me trying to sneak a glance at your probably backwards Total Con badge. It’s not you, it’s me.

TotalCon has been kind enough to have me as a guest for the last four years. This year I’ll be participating in a number of panels, running four different board game sessions, helping out with a Prototype Pitch event for board and card games and overall up to my eyeballs in games! I cannot wait!

Here’s my schedule as it stands right now:

Thursday – February 19

6:00pm – 7:00pm & 9:00pm to 10:00pm Sal’s Traveling Market of Curiosities – the TC Flea.

This is, I believe, a new thing for Total Con. A flea market of wondrous, cash-only gaming stuff for sale! I’m helping to run it, so if you’re there on Thursday and want to find me, this is the place.

7:00pm – 9:00pm Small Board and Card Games – Big Fun!

I love small box games. Cards and board that can almost fit into your pockets make for a great experience in quick games. Many people call these filler games but sometimes what you really want is to get 3-4 games into a two hour period. If you’re curious to check out some smaller games, from Love Letter to Diamonds, Eight Minute Empire to My Happy Farm and more – this event is for you! I’ll be bringing a bunch of my favorites.

Friday – February 20

10:00am – 12:00pm Hit People with Clubs! It’s Ugg-Tectugg

Have you ever wanted to construct a fabulous monument that will stand the test of time, while being directed by a slobbering, pre-literate, club wielding task-master with zero language skills? This is the game for you! In this Friday morning event, you can begin your day with a bash! Ugg-Tect is a game of construction, where teams work to build simple structures, directed only by a made up language and being hit by inflatable clubs.

7:00pm – 11:00pmCurse of the Weaver Queen run by the amazing Tim Kask

Saturday – February 21

argyl11:00am – 12:00pm Kids and Gaming (Panel Event in the Amphitheater)

A discussion of kid friendly RPGs and board games to get your whole family gaming.

1:00pm – 3:00pm Heat Wave and the Bio-Freak (some G-Core goodness with the always awesome Jay Libby). 

7:00pm – 11:00pm Talisman, 4th Editiontalisman

Tonight, we dine in…uh… well, whatever random ending gets picked! Talisman is the classic roll and move quest game that brings players together so they can all kill each other. In this version, we’ll include an expansion or three and have one house rule – The +1 rule! Every character gets one extra Strength and Craft, turning this 5 hour game into a 3-4 hour game. Join us! Or not!

11:59pmPrivate Event

Sunday – February 22

10:00am – 12:00pm  Prototype Pitch (Panel Event in the Amphitheater)

Bring in your card and board game prototype and give us a 15 minute pitch! We’ll give you a 15 minute review in turn! First come, first serve! Last year’s event was a big hit so stop by and say hello. Please limit one prototype per person.

proto

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 path that led to Vow of Honor

 Role Playing Games  Comments Off on The path that led to Vow of Honor
Nov 122014
 

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post authored by Ben Dutter who’s RPG Vow of Honor is currently on Kickstarter.

I’ve always been intrigued by the honorable warrior. When I was about four or five years old, I was sitting on  the couch while my older brother was flipping through the channels (he was about twelve at the time), and then he stopped. “Oh cool, Star Wars,” he said and flipped the remote into the basket stuffed full of TV Guides.

Battle_of_Hoth

I’d never seen Star Wars before, I was too little to really comprehend any aspect of it before this point anyway. But on that old tube TV on a Saturday morning, I saw an epic duel between good and evil, a father and son, right and wrong. I saw the pain and horror on Luke’s face when he was confronted with the horrible truth, and decided to leap to his death rather than betray his principles.

luke vs vader ep 5

I’ll never forget that moment – seeing something so visceral and clear. One guy was a hero, one guy was a villain, and even though the hero lost, he did the right thing. The honorable thing. My brother later remarked that he’d never seen me sit so still and quiet for so long, and that weekend we marathoned through all three of the original trilogy. Pretty much ever since that moment – Luke and Vader’s sabers crossing in the misty chambers of Bespin – I was enthralled with the concept of good vs evil, honor vs oppression. It undoubtedly shaped my life, encouraged me to become an avid reader, science fiction and fantasy fan, and eventually play roleplaying games.

When I was about seven, after months of begging and pleading and annoying him, my brother agreed to DM a game of D&D for me. My first character was a Cleric, the closest thing I could get to a Jedi (so I thought at the time). By then, I was quite enamored with all manner of scifi and fantasy, but Star Wars was always my favorite. That first session of rolling dice and saving the village (playing a good guy) got me hooked, and I’ve been playing RPGs ever since. Fast forward fifteen years, and I was designing my first RPG system – a hack of D&D (of course.) Like most fantasy heartbreakers, it was naive and quaint and tried to “fix” too many things. It was just for my friends, and we loved it and worked on it together for hours and hours, right up until D&D 4e came out. That was what caused me to go looking into new games, and what opened the indie RPG world to me. I tried my hand at a few new game designs, new mechanics, unique settings, that sort of thing, but nothing ever really clicked for me. The closest I got was during my development of Forge of Valor, a game that I tried to Kickstart earlier in 2014 (which was unsuccessful.) I learned from FoV’s failure that my attempts up to that point were too broad, too amateurish, too generic to really entice anyone.

forge of valor kickstarter page

I started from scratch, built a game from the ground up to achieve one thing: play as a good guy. I wanted a system that was laser focused on that struggle between good vs evil, honor vs dishonor. I’d matured over two decades, but that image of Luke and Vader’s duel in Episode V struck too deep of a chord for me to let go. And so, I converted one of my favorite settings I’d been developing for a comic series, and hammered away on the system. That game became Vow of Honor. In Vow of Honor, you play as an Arbiter – a member of the Order of Fasann – sworn to uphold the Tenets of Honor. Part Jedi, part knight, part Samurai, and part Watchdog from Dogs in the Vineyard, Arbiters are the amalgamation of everything that I think defines someone who’s good and noble and just.

nayakan feeds child

I’d always been disenfranchised with the various alignment systems in other games (except for a few exceptions), and knew I had to fully integrate the concept of honor into every aspect of the game’s design rather than tack it on. Enter the Honor Dice system. Essentially, the core of Vow of Honor is pretty simple – a d6 dice pool (like so many other games) with a success target number based on the character’s Skill (the better your skill, the lower your TN). What made it unique and integrated with the game’s theme and concept was that the number of dice rolled was dependent on the character’s alignment to their code of ethics. Behave honorably – you get more dice. Behave dishonorably – you lose dice. Those dice can be spent (the player’s choice, not the GM) to improve any roll, converting a potentially winless scenario into one in which the hero triumphs. Everything else added to the system is layered and interlocked with this principle, there to support and refine the experience (and to differentiate the characters.)

nayakan vs dishonorable

Defining what “honor” meant took some time, but I was ravenous in my research and writing. Eventually I’d codified and simplified every fictional, historical, or mythological honor code I could find, and came up with these five simple Tenets: Commitment, Compassion, Purity, Righteousness, and Understanding. It was these Tenets that Arbiters were bound to – and what I could use as mechanical leverage for the GM and players to determine what was “good” and what was “bad.” In order to create the tone and theme I was aiming for – I had to design a setting that would make sense for this type of Order to have evolved naturally, and to become an important symbol to the locals. Sasara had already formed in my mind for some time (a massive space station planet, the third era of society after a major cataclysmic event, long forgotten technology reverted to medieval uses, cold pragmatism, dangerous beasts, etc) – but when coming up with what the characters could be, Arbiters were the clear answer.

wide setting voh

The setting’s focus on reacting to and forming the Arbiters, and their Order of Fasann, flowed naturally from there. Before I knew it, I’d written tens of thousands of words on the setting, the Order, the Tenets of Honor, the Doctrine of Fasann, on and on. After sacrificing a lot of elements that I loved (but just didn’t fit with the game) I had a first “final” draft of Vow of Honor. That draft can be read here.

And now it is about 50% funded in the first few days of its Kickstarter campaign – I have people excited and enthralled with the concept of Arbiters – and I’ll get to make that very personal and very deep experience real for a lot of players. I couldn’t be more proud or excited.

nayakan voh shield 4x3

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.

Holiday Gift Guide 2014 with Aaron Bostian – Wargaming Recon #125

 PC, Podcast, Reviews, Role Playing Games, Table Top, Technology, Wargaming Recon  Comments Off on Holiday Gift Guide 2014 with Aaron Bostian – Wargaming Recon #125
Nov 102014
 

Wargaming-Compendium

Holiday Gift Guide 2014 with Aaron Bostian

The Holiday Gift Guide 2014 aims to make it easier to shop for the special wargamers in our lives. In general shopping can be stressful and doubly so for wargamers.

Special guest Aaron Bostian returns to the show to join Jonathan in creating this year’s list. If you’re unfamiliar with the Holiday Gift Guide we hope you will enjoy this episode. Don’t hesitate to peruse the gift guides for past years at: Holiday Gift Guides.

Under $20
Jonathan’s List

Aaron’s List

Under $50
Jonathan’s List

Aaron’s List

$100 and up
Jonathan’s List

Aaron’s List

Mailbag
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Do you have questions, comments, or constructive feedback? Then please share it with us on Facebook, Twitter, or via e-mail at cwfgamecast@wargamingforums.com.

iTunes Reviews
iTunes-Available

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We’re up to 10 ratings with an average score of 4.3 stars! Please take the time to REVIEW the show on iTunes. It helps others to find our show and it also helps to grow the hobby. Thank you to those who have rated and reviewed us.

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iTunes is one of the most popular ways for listeners to find podcasts. Why not help a potential new listener find our show and help grow the hobby?

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Announcements
Extra-Life-GameaThon

On October 25, 2014 Jonathan participated in the Extra Life 24 hour game-a-thon to raise money for Boston Children’s Hospital. This fundraiser provides the money so that no child is turned away regardless of their family’s financial situation.

Children’s Hospital has done so much for my little cousin Gracie in her battle against CF. She is routinely admitted to the hospital to get her lungs cleaned out. It isn’t a pleasant experience for anyone nevermind a young kid. But Children’s has always gone above and beyond to turn this scary disease into something less frightening for my cousin.

My heart broke when I found out how many kids don’t get treatment because their families cannot afford to pay. Thankfully Extra Life helps those kids in need.

PLEASE consider making a DONATION

WR-Guest-COllage

Over the years I’ve had a variety of guests on the show. Now I need to know who YOU want me to have on the show. Please CONTACT ME with who you want me to get on the show. If you can share their contact information or an introduction that is even better.

Episode Guide Tells You What’s in the Pipe

  • Ep 126: Extra Life 24hr Game-a-Thon 2014 coverage.
  • Ep 127: Looking Back on 2014.
  • 2 Best of episodes release Dec 22, 2014 (my birthday) & Jan 5, 2015.
  • 2015 PODCAST SEASON BEGINS JAN 19, 2015 with Ep 128.

Some Reminders:


Troll in the Corner Podcast Network

Wargaming Recon belongs to the Troll in the Corner Podcast Network (TCPN). You may like some of the other shows on the network.

Indie Talks – bi-monthly on Wednesdays covering independent games, film, television. Includes many interviews. Hosted by Trollitc owner Ben Gerber.

Monsters of the Shattered World – monthly on the last Saturday. Story of a young scholar encountering strange animals on another world.

Promos for the TCPN podcasts appear at the end of the show. Many thanks to Jeremy Kostiew, Troll ITC’s logo designer, for the amazing logos. Check out his portfolio at MightyNightGaunt.com


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Penny for Your Thoughts

We hope you enjoy this episode of Wargaming Recon and welcome your feedback. Send it all to:

Our Theme Song
Matthew-Ebel-Logo

Our intro song is “Downtown” by Matthew Ebel. Please give his other music a listen at www.matthewebel.com.

This recording is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 license.


About Jonathan J. Reinhart

Jonathan J. Reinhart is an editor of Troll in the Corner where he writes about wargaming. Jonathan also is the owner of the Wargaming Recon podcast. He has been gaming with miniatures since 2000 and playing board games from a young age. He's played a myriad of games such as: Warhammer 40k, Warhammer Fantasy, Warmachine, Starship Troopers, Axis & Allies: War at Sea, Flames of War and Warlord Games' Black Powder rules. War at Sea and the Black Powder rules are his current go-to games. Jonathan enjoys casual, fast, fun, and group board games. Sitting Ducks Gallery, Zombie Dice, Guillotine, Pandemic, and Carcassonne rank high on his list. He is a retired local politician with a B.A. in Politics & History, which provides a useful background for historical gaming. A casual World of Warcraft player, he became a Kingslayer as Viktrious the Blood Elf on 4/23/11 and followed that up by slaying Deathwing on 5/9/12.

Guest Post from Marco Leon, Creator of Enter the Shadowside: Number Crunching – My There and Back Again.

 Role Playing Games  Comments Off on Guest Post from Marco Leon, Creator of Enter the Shadowside: Number Crunching – My There and Back Again.
Nov 062014
 
cover

Editor’s Note: A few years ago, Marco contacted me through Reddit (I believe) because he had an idea for a new roleplaying game, Enter the Shadowside. He asked me a few questions about how to go about publishing something like this and as I’d had some limited experience myself in this arena, I answered as best I could. The game came out and was both beautiful and well received in the Indie RPG community! Fast forward to today, right now, this very second and Marco’s back at it, with a new edition currently on Kickstarter. Marco and I chatted briefly about it and without hesitation I offered him a guest post here on Troll. As he tends to do, he went above and beyond, writing this wonderful piece you have before you. Enjoy! 

I suspect that every designer’s first game is possibly a reaction to Dungeons & Dragons -and I mean this in the most complimentary of ways. There’s a certain charm to old-school DnD that makes many of us think “Well, I could do that too! And better!”. And some of us try.

Some of us, in fact, try over and over for more than a decade and through many iterations of games, and in 2012 when I published the first edition of Enter The Shadowside, I thought I had finally *got it*. The secret sauce, the formula. The system where number crunching was fair and accurate and easy… and many more things which tend to instantly vanish when you first lay eyes on the quirky monster my lab had conceived:

Meet 2012’s Jacob’s Ladder.

JacobFinal
I’ll give you a minute to read through the instructions. Basically, you need a ruler -a physical plastic ruler, or any other similarly straight-edged object to place against the screen. First you need to add up all the things in favor of you passing the trait-check (call that Might), and then add up all the things against it (call that Difficulty). Then you use your ruler and connect the two, from left to right, Might to Difficulty. Wherever your ruler crosses the middle diagonal line tells you how much you need to roll on a d20 to succeed. Try it, it’s fun. At least sometimes.And it has fun properties. As you can see there are multiple scales on both sides -this is because the ladder deals with *proportionality*. In other words, matching a Might of 5 versus a Difficulty of 10 gives you the same odds (the exact same odds) as matching a Might of 50 vs 100, or 1 bajillion vs 2 bajillions (roll 16 or better on the d20, if you’re curious). The fact that you can pack anything you want into either helping you win (Might) or lose (Difficulty) means that you can simply throw bonuses and penalties with wild abandon. Items, skills? Sure. Scene bonuses? Bennies? Throw them all right in. Toss all your numbers into the Mr. Fusion machine, grab your ruler, and get instant proportional odds on a d20. Nifty, right?Nope. Not at all, and this took me a while to realize.You see, I really do think Jacob’s Ladder is the best number cruncher ever. It’s pin-point accurate, it scales forever, it near-always allows the possibility of failure and almost-never guarantees success, it accounts for all possible circumstances, etc etc. It’s like the best horse-saddle ever built… for an era where nobody rides horses anymore.

From the beginning I wanted Enter The Shadowside to focus on the story, first and foremost. In my philosophy, rules and mechanics are needed simply to focus multiple possible visions into one single vision for the whole table. I may think I hit the orc, and he may think I miss, but then we roll some dice within the framework of some agreed upon rules and the quantum possibilities congeal to a single outcome and we move on together from there. Rules are good. But do we really need to interrupt the flow of the story to look up Traits in one or two character sheets, and do we really need to do some math in our heads adding up numbers for skills and items and circumstantial bonuses and penalties, and pull arbitrary difficulty out of thin air in 30-range and then slide a ruler over a chart in the table, then roll dice, then see if the dice are bigger than the number, and count by how much are they bigger, or by how much are they shorter, and then translate that number into a narrative outcome, sometimes subtracting points from Traits or “HP” for “Damage”, which we’ll have to take into account the next action? Specifically for the first version of EtS, did we really need 14 different Traits, where 7 of them were the average of the other 7, and did we really need to have points in Skills too, and did we really need to look up the different rules of each Skill, some of which required accounting over multiple turns? All we care about is the story, right? So why all this noise? Well, you may say, because the story needs fairness, too. Wins and losses matter because they make the story different, so we owe to ourselves some due diligence. I agree. But is there an easier way?

That’s what was on my mind when I started DESTINY.

Imagine there are four decks of cards on the table, “Combat”, “Magic”, “Influence” and literally “Everything Else” -not kidding about that last one.

If you are playing, say, a chatty socialite with an interest in the occult (EtS is all about the occult, if you didn’t know), your stats could be-

Combat: Weak
Magic: Average
Influence: Strong
Everything Else: Average

-for instance. This means you get 3 cards from the Influence deck, because that’s your strenght, but just 1 card from the Combat deck, because that’s your weakness -and the other two traits, the average ones, get 2 cards each. So far so good?

Okay. Now what’s in those cards?

On one side, nothing; just a pretty picture for each trait -swords for Combat, crowns for Influence, that sort of thing. Like in poker, it adds to the fun if you keep your cards secret.

DESTINYmagic-copy

But printed on the other side there is a message in big giant words. This message can be one of the following possible six:

No, And
No
No, But
Yes, But
Yes
Yes, And

EEnoBut-copy

That’s it. So if you’re trying to fast-talk your way past a nightclub bouncer, eventually the StoryHost will ask you “can you do it?” -and that’s your cue: you look down at your three Influence cards in your hands. Is either one of those a “Yes”? Say, for instance, that one card is a “Yes, But”. You lay it on the table. The StoryHost sees it -and he knows that you succeeded -but there’s a “but”. He goes: “Okay. The bouncer nods his head when you say you’re friends with the owner -you look the type. He motions for you to get in, but right as you go past him you see him pull out his cellphone -he’s gonna double check with the boss.”. That’s it. Done. You got your “Yes”, you got your “But”, and there was no math involved. Your card is spent; it goes back to the deck and now you only have two left.

Let’s stop here for a minute. What if you didn’t really care that much about convicing that bouncer? If you can afford to lose then you’re better off turning in a “No” card, if you have one, because, well, what if later on that “No” is the only card you have left and you’re in a much tighter spot? Better to fail voluntarily now, better to manage the timing of your failures, than to blindly trust luck, right? And realize this: you *will* fail. A whole fourth of the deck is composed of “No”s. Can you weave failure into your story? Because the point of Enter the Shadowside is not to *win*; it’s to tell a story.

Now what if the task isn’t about convincing a bouncer to let you in, but something much trickier? What if it’s about explaining to the very nervous young cop who has *just* climbed down his police car and is already unholstering his gun that no, you actually *didn’t* kill that guy lying face down in a pool of blood by your feet, oh, and that bloody knife you’re holding is something you *just* picked up too, because you were searching for clues? Or what if the task is super easy, what if all you have to do is act natural in the middle of a crowd of rabid cultist while their leader whips them into a frenzy from the pulpit?

Well, each deck, at a minimum, has 12 cards in it. This means there are 4 “sets” of answers in each deck: “No, And”, “No” and “No, But” are the first set, but the other three are different *levels* of “Yes, And”, “Yes” and “Yes, But”. We can make these three sets match three difficulties: “Easy”, “Not-So-Easy” and “Hard”. So now when the SH asks you whether you can knock-out the burly body-guard of Don Camilo with a rusty shovel, he can also tell you that doing so will be Hard. Or Easy, depending on the shovel? And then you answer with a “Yes” from the specified difficulty -if you have one! Don’t have one? Then it’s a “No”, sorry. Deal with failure, and make the story grow out of it.

Of course, some tasks will be Harder than Hard, and a good StoryHost will make sure to break them up into multiple stages. Equally important, a StoryHost will only take cards when they actually matter: if a player is trying to get trait-checked on something that is ultimately inconsequential it probably means he’s just trying to burn a “No” out of his hands. Grant him an automatic pass instead and move on, but don’t take his card.

What about Skills? What about Items?

Well, think about them in real life. How hard would it be for you to recite lines from Macbeth? Well, if you’re a professional actor (that’s a Skill!) it would be Easier. Or maybe driving a nail through a piece of wood. Got a hammer? (that’s an Item!) then it’s Easy. Don’t have one? Then it’s Hard. Skills and Items merely lower the Difficulty if the StoryHost thinks it makes sense for them to do so -and they don’t always make sense. Say you’re trying to answer a very difficult Biochemistry test question. Would it help if someone plopped the Big Musty Tome of Biochemistry on your desk? Well, it depends: if you’re a biochemist, then yes, maybe that’s just the reference you were looking for: it *does* help and Difficulty goes down. But if you’re not a biochemist and the book reads like mumbo-jumbo to you, then no, it doesn’t help and it doesn’t lower the Difficulty at all -some Items only help if you have the right Skill to use them. Likewise, some Skills help more than others, and trade off usefulness for frequency. Say, First Aid feels like it could be useful pretty often, but how much, really? Maybe turn a Not-So-Easy bandage job into Easy now and then? But Neurosurgery? Friend, if what you *actually need* is neurosurgery, then having a Neurosurgey skill is the difference between Harder-than-Hard and Easy -just hopefully you won’t need something that specific very often.

And so on. I could go on and on with examples like this but what I hope you appreciate is that we haven’t had to consult a single table so far. Not a single arithmetic operation, not a single chart -nor ruler- to be found. Just language.

How good are you at Influencing people? I’m Strong.
Can you convince the bouncer to let you in? Yes, but.
How hard is it to pick this lock? Hard. But do you have a bunch of tools and have you been picking locks since you were 14? Then it’s Easy.

No numbers. And no dice -you hold your future successes and failures literally in your hands; hence DESTINY.

It’s 2014, and once again I feel like I finally *got it*. I was wrong once. Stay tuned and see what I come up with for 2016. But for now, if you’re interested in learning more, please support our Kickstarter.

mag

May all your journeys be awesome.

Marco Leon
blacksmith@fableforge.org

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.

Three Ring Circus: Moor or Less

 Board and Card Games, Reviews  Comments Off on Three Ring Circus: Moor or Less
Aug 252014
 

Growing up in East Yorkshire in the 1970s there were certain things I held to be true: trousers were flared, Hull City were poor, Granada was a TV company in Manchester and the Alhambra was a theatre in Bradford.  Dear reader, imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was wrong: the Alhambra is actually a Moorish palace in Granada,Spain, Hull City are a successful football team and, um well, I still wear flares, (they hide my oversized ankles) *

Being a lover of all things Spanish, I have started on a journey to discover board games with an Iberian theme.  My first stop: Alhambra, produced by Queen Games and designed by Dirk Henn.

Alhambra

Alhambra challenges 2-6 players to build the most successful palace in a shade under an hour.  How is success measured?  Well, this is a Euro game, so there is a scoring track.  Scores are awarded based on who has the most tiles of various types over three, (increasingly more valuable), scoring rounds.  Points are also awarded for the length of your palace walls.  The highest score wins.

P1020673

Contents

Queen Games produce a couple of different versions of Alhambra.  This review is based on the basic set.  A big box edition is available, which comes with a bigger board and some expansions thrown in.  The game comes with 60 tiles for building your Alhambra, a score-board, a market place board, some wooden scoring tokens, a thick wad of card money and a natty draw-string bag to pull the tiles from.  All the components are top quality.

Setup

Setup couldn’t be easier:

  • Pick out the fountain tiles that will form the core of your palace.
  • Put all the tiles in the bag.
  • Deal out money to a value just exceeding 20 to each player.
  • Place the two scoring cards into the remaining pile of money.
  • Lay four tiles on the market board.
  • Lay four money cards out.
  • Vamos a jugar!

P1020666

Play

There are six types of tiles, blue (pavilions), red (seraglios), brown (arcades), green (gardens), white (chambers), and purple (towers).  In scoring, the tiles are worth more ranging from blue to purple.

Money comes in four colours, (orange, blue, yellow and green), ranging in value from 1 to 9.  These colours represent different currencies which can be used to buy tiles.

There are four spots on the market place, representing builders from around the Mediterranean and Europe that will help build your palace.  For the purposes of the game, they have to be paid in their own currency.  Each building tile has a value on it, but the currency paid depends upon which market spot it is placed.  This means that a Gardens tile on the Orange spot can only be bought with orange money (Ducats).

At the start of each turn, you have three options:

  • Buy a tile and add it to your palace.
  • Take some money.
  • Remodel your palace.

Play continues around the table, tiles and money are refreshed as required at the end of a turn until the first scoring card pops up in the money deck, then the second scoring card.  When the tile bag is empty and the market cannot be filled, the remaining tiles are auctioned to the highest bidder and final scoring takes place.

So far so good, but I’ve missed some stuff out:

Exact change:- You can overpay for a tile, but if you pay the right money you get another go.

Money:-You can pick up one card, of any value, or as many as you like if they total 5 or less.

Walls:-Most of the tiles have walls on one or more sides.  Linking the walls can push you to the winner’s enclosure.

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Planning regulations:- As a vizier you are picky with your palace.  You want to be able to visit your whole palace by walking from the fountain, this means no walking on empty spaces or climbing over walls.  Also those walls?  Building regulations dictate that where tiles touch they must be ‘wall to wall’ or have no walls.

These four tweaks are like whisky in your porridge: flavour and danger lurk beneath the surface.  They turn what should be a nice game about building a nice palace into a brain-burner.  A game where you will discover a pressing need to crush the hopes of your fellow players.

How does this happen?  Lets assume a basic winning plan: place one more tile of each colour than anyone else.  That’s not going to happen, but working out which colours to back and which to drop is key to maximising points.  So you’ll be keeping a close eye on what everyone else has bought, as well as what is in the market and working out how many gardens are left to come out.  While you are at it, why not watch what colour cash people are buying?  Or sneak a peek at the shape of their palace?  The shape of their walls could hint at the next tile they want.

This will lead you to your next decision tree: when do I pick up money, what money do I pick up, or do I overpay to snag a vital tile?  Exact money is great, buy a tile and get another go.  Pay with exact change and you could buy another tile, or fill your coffers with more cash for the next corporate raid.  So, decisions, decisions – do you pick up cash to buy for the right money and risk losing a tile, when one colour is tight, do you pick it up just to spite the others?  Also it’s not just about the colour, it’s about the walls.   You need to put your palace together in a progressive way to encourage further growth.  Tiles that don’t fit can be bought to stymie your opponents, but if you can’t place them in the palace, they don’t go towards your majority.  That’s fine, you might be able to squeeze them in later, or swap them in to your tactical advantage.

Playing with Three

Alhambra plays up to 6.  Playing with three is just great.  Turns come around quickly and with a good chance that the tiles you were after are still on the board.  Playing with 2 uses a dummy player and I usually shy away from that sort of thing, but here it works rather well.  The dummy player gets a fistful of tiles at three points in the game and you can buy tiles for them to mess with your opponent.

How easy is it to teach the game?

The rules are well laid out and pretty straight forward.  A couple of trial rounds and and building an example palace should cement the deal.  The need to place walls against walls, (and open sides against open sides), can be initially confusing, but it is well covered in the instructions as is remodelling.

Can complexity be scaled?

The game doesn’t feel like it needs to have its complexity drip fed.    More complexity comes with the expansions.

Can you handicap other players? Do you need to?

I’m experimenting with an extra turn at the beginning for my son.  At 11 he understands the rules, but is struggling to work out how to win.  We have an understanding in games that he can call in a strategy consultant, (mum or dad), for advice.

How likely is your child to flip the table half way through?

In my case, there is an increasing chance of child flippage.  Playing without handicapping has left him placing third in most games, to his growing frustration.

Beyond the game

We researched the Alhambra and the Lion Fountain.  We have started our collection of Spanish themed games, our next purchase is El Grande. I have also spotted a tile laying game called Don Quixote.

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What do I think?

Let me start by saying that Alhambra is a game that hits a lot of my sweet spots.  It is fairly simple game, it plays in under an hour and, most importantly, there are tiles that can be laid. In fact the first time I played, I had sense of deja vu such was its resonance with me. What more can anyone want?

I’m a huge fan of games that let you build something.  Coming out of a game with a graphic representation of your efforts is a reward in itself, win or lose.  Alhambra gives you that, along with demanding you process a chunk of information in order to play and win.

I do have a couple of minor criticisms.  The black marker pen lines that represent the walls are ugly.  I can see that there is a need to make them clear so that they can be seen from across the table, but I think they could have been done better.  Something that looked like a wall and in keeping with the art style would have been nice.  I also think that each tile could have been individually drawn, it would make no difference to the game, but it would make each palace unique

In conclusion, I highly recommend Alhambra as a family game.  Just remember not to crush the dreams of your opponents too much, or they may not want to play with you.

*Actually, my ankles are of fairly normal proportions.

 

About Neil Robinson

Some say Neil spends too much time thinking about board games. I disagree. What is true, is that I moved to the coldest and wettest part of England, guaranteeing plenty of chances to play games with my family.

GE51: Tristan Tarwater Fantasy Author

 Comics, Geeks Explicitly, Interview, Podcast  Comments Off on GE51: Tristan Tarwater Fantasy Author
Aug 212014
 

shamsee-kickstarter

 

Tristan J. Tarwater is kickstarting her debut graphic novel illustrated by Adrian Ricker.  Shamsee: A Fistful of Lunars is set in the world of Valley of Ten Crescents containing Tristan’s novels Thieves at Heart (FREE eBook from Amazon), Self-Made Scoundrel, and Red Moon Rising found at Back That Elf Up.

Jonathan is proud to be a backer of the Kickstarter project.  The Shamsee: A Fistful of Lunars project is fully funded but needs YOU to reach its important stretch goals:

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 7.38.29 PM

 

You can stay up to date with Tristan on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog.  Don’t forget one new page of Shamsee is released every Wednesday at ShamseeComic from now until all 100+ pages are posted.

shamsee-comic

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About Jonathan J. Reinhart

Jonathan J. Reinhart is an editor of Troll in the Corner where he writes about wargaming. Jonathan also is the owner of the Wargaming Recon podcast. He has been gaming with miniatures since 2000 and playing board games from a young age. He's played a myriad of games such as: Warhammer 40k, Warhammer Fantasy, Warmachine, Starship Troopers, Axis & Allies: War at Sea, Flames of War and Warlord Games' Black Powder rules. War at Sea and the Black Powder rules are his current go-to games. Jonathan enjoys casual, fast, fun, and group board games. Sitting Ducks Gallery, Zombie Dice, Guillotine, Pandemic, and Carcassonne rank high on his list. He is a retired local politician with a B.A. in Politics & History, which provides a useful background for historical gaming. A casual World of Warcraft player, he became a Kingslayer as Viktrious the Blood Elf on 4/23/11 and followed that up by slaying Deathwing on 5/9/12.

Snow White RPG now available on Kickstarter!

 Role Playing Games  Comments Off on Snow White RPG now available on Kickstarter!
Jul 092014
 
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Now on Kickstarter!

Nowadays fairy tales are very much considered stories for children, with simplistic characters and morals that steer the reader (as well as the main heroines and heroes) toward the right-and-proper “happy ending”.

It hasn’t always been so—European “faerie tales” have historically been grounded in literal truths, considered legendary and as such potentially very real! They were designed to reveal the failings and foibles of the weak and gullible, the tribulations and triumphs of the downtrodden but hardworking, the fleeting nature of riches won without effort, and the value of dedication to a cause coupled with determination to achieve virtuous ends at all costs.

Snow White—classified by Aarne-Thompson as tale 709, “Other story of the supernatural,” and Grimms’ Fairy Tale number 53—draws on many of the themes associated with what we expect from such a story. There are plenty of magic items that do much more than expected: the mirror conceals much whilst revealing just enough, the apple (usually associated with health) is there to cause harm, an above ground coffin made of glass rather than a timber box below. The main players act in contradictory ways: the huntsman doesn’t kill, the queen and mother (in the original version) is out to do bloody murder, and the strangers hidden away in the woods are the heroes of the hour. And there are the faerie-like settings, the triumph over long-term adversity, the redemption of the heroine, and the punishment of the perpetrator of wickedness by the good all to consider within the tale.

Here at AAW Games we decided to use the Grimms’ version as our inspiration. Sure, we could’ve gone with the Albanian tale (where the heroine lives with her 40 dragons), the Armenian story where the moon took the place of the mirror, the Russian yarn where knights replace the dwarves, or the epic Indian poem where a parrot talks to the queen, but any of them might’ve been too much to believe in! And anyway, there is more than enough material in the German folklore to keep an adventure running for hours. So we took that final Grimms’ tale from 1854, with its faerie folklore and medieval motifs, and wove our own variation of the story into a glorious, adventurous romp.

Pathfinder is designed to allow players to develop sophisticated and thoughtful characters at the same time as leaving plenty of room for “muscle-bound meatheads”, and Snow White draws on this to great effect. Being able to crash your way through every encounter thanks to waving your greataxe around won’t necessarily get PCs through this adventure, but then again, a good, honest fight is never far away. However, cunning and guile, foresight and preparation, as well as at least one keen investigator, all means that players can approach Snow White with the required toolkit to hand. What could be more fun than pitching yourself against the warped familiarity of the fantastic, the phantasmagorical, the magical, and the mystical?

Our story takes all the key components from the original tale and shapes them into an expansive, immersive adventure, one where the next thrilling encounter, the next thought-provoking challenge, and the next caught-you-unawares twist are always on hand. In order to win the day, and even potentially win the hand of Snow White herself, the PCs must be stout of heart, quick of brain and hand, and wear a charming smile. Its no simple task to protect the princess from harm as the players will find out; their own lives are in great peril once they begin to put themselves between the heroine and harm, and yet they must readily do this to ensure the wedding of the year goes ahead—just as Morsain has panned. Is the party up for this challenge, capable of fulfilling the task, or just so much fodder for the monsters of the woods around the city?

As a source of both fascination of what is “beautiful and good” as well as events viewed as “grim and forbidding”, fairy tales have fascinated both the old and young over the centuries. Whether a cautionary tale about avoiding wrong-doing, the triumph of right over wrong, the worth and value of perseverance and endeavor, or any other series of extraordinary events in an unreal world, there is good reason why they are known as “wonder tales.” From all of these ideas, “Snow White” is one of the very best examples, with its ebb and flow of who has the upper hand, the most cruel of villainess, the stoutest of defenders, and the wished-for happy ending, this tale offers intrigue, devious plot twists, cheer-out-loud moments, and a chance to immerse yourself in a faerie world of rich content. Here at AAW Games, we look to bring you all this and more as Aventyr experiences its very first folkloric fantasy!
For more information, check out Indie Talks episode 45 with Jonathan Nelson and Jen Page!

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.

Great Wargamer Destinations – Wargaming Recon #117

 Podcast, review, Reviews, Table Top, Wargaming Recon  Comments Off on Great Wargamer Destinations – Wargaming Recon #117
Jul 092014
 

Yorktown battlefield sign

Great Wargamer Destinations

Summer is a time to relax and go on vacation. Why not also gather some inspiration for wargaming to boot?

Jonathan shares a few of his favorite wargamer destinations. If we didn’t cover one of your’s, then please share it with us on Facebook, Twitter, or via e-mail at cwfgamecast@wargamingforums.com.

Scale Military Modeller International
The June 2014 issue is briefly, very briefly, reviewed. It is worth picking up if you can. The cost is 4.25 GBP. Visit Scale Military Modeller International for more information.

Continue reading »

About Jonathan J. Reinhart

Jonathan J. Reinhart is an editor of Troll in the Corner where he writes about wargaming. Jonathan also is the owner of the Wargaming Recon podcast. He has been gaming with miniatures since 2000 and playing board games from a young age. He's played a myriad of games such as: Warhammer 40k, Warhammer Fantasy, Warmachine, Starship Troopers, Axis & Allies: War at Sea, Flames of War and Warlord Games' Black Powder rules. War at Sea and the Black Powder rules are his current go-to games. Jonathan enjoys casual, fast, fun, and group board games. Sitting Ducks Gallery, Zombie Dice, Guillotine, Pandemic, and Carcassonne rank high on his list. He is a retired local politician with a B.A. in Politics & History, which provides a useful background for historical gaming. A casual World of Warcraft player, he became a Kingslayer as Viktrious the Blood Elf on 4/23/11 and followed that up by slaying Deathwing on 5/9/12.