[Tuesday Night Board Games] Death Angels and Dixit

After a very long stretch of replaying the same games, however fun they might be, I went to Tuesday night board games this week with nothing in hand. My plan was to play at least one new title, Death Angel, the card gameification of Space Hulk, which Josh brought. When I perused Quarterstaff Games’ open play library, I grabbed Back to the Future, Straw and Dixit, just to further prompt myself to play something new.

Death Angel

After a bit of Tales of the Arabian Nights, in which Scheherazade was lost in Leon and got totally rooked by a charlatan posing as a beggar, I jumped over to try out Death Angel. In it, space marines run through a ship infested with genestealers, trying to achieve an objective — killing the biggest, baddest ooglies of the lot, namely — before they’re all ganked. Unsurprisingly for a cooperative game, it’s tough to beat. Each player gets some number of marines to control, who move in formation through four locations. The formation is represented by a line of cards, with terrain features like doors and control panels on either side of the line. Genestealers boil out of the shadows and vents, swarming the marines. It seems like more than a bit of a crap shoot whether any marine will be in a position to attack or properly defend against the teeming hordes of monsters.

I’d definitely like to try this one again, especially now that I have some idea of how it can go. Taking advantage of the door control, for example, seems to do wonders for reducing the number of genestealers on one’s six, for example.

Back to the Future

I hate to say it, but every time I play Back to the Future, I like it a little bit less. I think of Chrononauts and can’t help but see Back to the Future as the clunkercated offspring of an already quirky — but still lovable game. Which is sad, because I love the Back to the Future films.

Dixit

Dixit is a game I resisted playing for a long time. The rules made it sound like just another comparisons non-game in the vein of Apples to Apples, only with artwork. Only . . . it’s a bit more. And just “a bit” in a nice way.

Instead of just picking a random noun from a hand of them and hoping the leader of the rounder choose it, as in Apples to Apples, players in Dixit choose a picture to go with a word, phrase, sound or story declared by the round leader. That’s the first difference: the players are engaged more than throwing cards on the table by being asked to conjure clues and interpret them. The second difference is there’s art. And it’s surreal, storybook-like art, which I dig, having gotten a good look at some of it. Flip through the pictures at Boardgamegeek and see what I mean.

So there’s a creative component in Dixit that I hadn’t expected to find. There’s also a bit of game play: trying to gauge just how obvious a round leader is being with their clue. Because the leader gets points if some players guess, but none if they all guess correctly. Plus, there’s incentive for others to play cards that fit the clue, because they’ll get some points as well for offering a suitable fit to the clue.

The drought of repetition has — briefly, perhaps — ended. Looking forward to next week.

[Scions of Time] Pilot

We met Monday evening for the pilot episode of Scions of Time, the Doctor Who-based campaign that has been the end result of me getting off my duff and doing things I’ve only idly considered before.

It was not super-orchestrated on my part, because my personal experiences have confirmed that while spending time on a strong set-up to a role-playing adventure pays off, giving any thought to conclusions does not. In fact, I’ve been frustrated in the past trying to tie what the player characters are doing to my own preconceptions about how things “should” end.

This time, I went ultra-loose, deciding to rely on the players taking most of the initiative. I chose a very bare bones set-up of people being snatched from various points in the history of Earth. They awake to find themselves in a curious metal room with a window . . . overlooking the Earth. From there, the players interacted for a bit — a situation that, in retrospect, probably wasn’t wise to force, because this was the first outing for everyone. But it worked all right. Meanwhile, Victor, Nonny’s runaway Time Lord scientist, first appears in intercut scenes of fleeing Gallifrey during the climax of “The End of Time,” breaking through the transduction barriers and triggering a systems overload that knocks him out for the count, prompting disquieting dreams of pain and fire, of flights of Daleks blotting out the sun and darker creatures Victor knows are his.

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Exploring Gamma World

Two months ago, about mid-November, I got a funny bug in my brain. See, Held Action has had a Twitter account for a while — @heldaction — which for the most part just relays notifications of when new posts go up here. But ever since I discovered my favorite instant messaging client, Adium, had Twitter functionality, I’ve been much more predisposed to watch the tweets go by. And since most of the people I follow are somehow involved in role-playing games, it’s not surprising one hears about new games and supplements as they hit the market.

What does surprise me is that tweets about playing Gamma World at Labyrinth Games & Puzzles in Washington, D.C. got me to look at some reviews for it, like Dave Chalker’s, which then got me to want to try it. At first this was going to be a private one-shot thing, but with the holiday season underway that seemed infeasible. The next opening was the Winter Weirdness game day in Barre, so I leaped on that as the place to try it. I think this was mostly me trying to justify a purchase of a new shiny with the excuse that it was in the name of a good cause: building the role-playing scene at the Green Mountain Game Days.

As things actually happened, and lucky for me they did, I got in a test run well before Winter Weirdness with a different group of people. We played through the adventure included in the core box set, “Steading of the Iron King.” And that was for the best, because this was my first substantive encounter with the fourth edition rules of Dungeons & Dragons — and that’s an interesting thing about this new version of Gamma World, in full it’s branded as D&D Gamma World Roleplaying Game, the implication to me being it’s positioned as a short-term alternative or supplement for full-bore Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. Continue reading

[Scions of Time] Character Creation

Photo by Josh Burker.

Monday evening, I fell asleep still buzzing with excitement. Earlier in the evening, we newly-minted Scions of Time met to create characters for this campaign. As promised, I’m turning my thoughts into actions and finally getting a campaign off the ground.

The main gimmick of Scions of Time borrows from Ars Magica‘s troupe play model. There’s a pool of characters that are drawn from for individual story arcs. This way, every player has their own personalized incarnation of the Time Lord, as well as companion characters to play alongside other player’s Time Lord personas. Also coming from Ars Magica are the power level tiers: the Time Lord’s abilities and knowledge makes him analogous to magi. Then there are the competent companions, your Marthas and Captain Jacks. Then you’ve got your Mickeys and Jackies, who rough out to match grogs, the servants and comic relief in a Hermetic covenant. And yes, characters can move between the tiers. Mickey eventually became a very competent companion, once he socked away enough experience points. Donna broke through to the Time Lord tier, albeit temporarily.

So on Monday evening, we got together to make characters. We’d had some conversation online beforehand, as I wanted to make this as collective a process as possible. The players are going to share the lives of a Time Lord, so the basic essence of the character had to be something they all wanted to play; my own primary concern was that the character kept to the basic spirit of Doctor Who: having mad adventures and generally doing good.

After a lot of discussion and throwing ideas out on the table, the group landed on someone who escaped from Gallifrey during the few moments it hung in the sky over Earth during “The End of Time.” He’s some sort of veteran soldier or weapons researcher scarred by what he saw happen in the Time War, so he has a motivation to work to prevent any more atrocities like that. Specifically how he escaped or what he did in the war are questions we’ll let be answered through the course of play. His TARDIS is young and immature, taken straight from the creche. Still forming, it behaves unpredictably and lacks some of the abilities of a fully-cultured time ship. The idea reminds me of Talyn from Farscape, of all things. He struck me as an impetuous, hot-headed ship, though that might have been Crais’ influence as much as anything.

Our Time Lord’s going to be the traditional roving renegade, I think. The companions are a somewhat more varied lot. On Monday, everyone made two: a competent companion and a tin dog, as the slang emerged. Concepts included: a starfighter pilot, a 19th century physics professor, a post-apocalyptic junker, a Sudanese lost boy, a 50s rollerskating waitress, a hair metal wanna-be rock star, a 1920s rum runner and a game show host with exceptional hair. Additionally, I have some ideas for pick-up characters that I’ll create over the weekend, in case anyone wants to drop for a week and help those players who couldn’t make character creation catch up.

Next Monday is our big pilot episode, bringing together a number of disparate companions and a mysterious alien fleeing a world on fire, discovering that the universe isn’t like he remembers it at all.

This should be good! I’ll keep you updated as we play, natch.

Demonground

Sometimes paying attention to the Hotness column over at RPG Geek pays off. That’s where I was reminded of Demonground, a horror and weirdness role-playing zine that published fifteen issues between 1998 and 2002. The keeper of the files seems to have redesigned the site a bit, but the issues themselves are the same as they ever were.

Demonground‘s a handy resource for GMs looking for a bit of inspiration, like monsters, artifacts of interest and all that. And it covers many of the horror games of note at the time, including Dark Conspiracy, Call of Cthulhu and my personal favorite WitchCraft, in addition to non-setting specific material. Now admittedly, this can be a mixed blessing. I’m of the variety where I zero in on what’s specific to my preferred properties, ignoring the rest. Fortunately, the later issues of Demonground are conveniently labeled so as to help such picky consumers find the content relevant to their pursuits. For the rest of you, gorge away.

And since Demonground‘s material is timeless, you can merrily mine away regardless of the fact there hasn’t been a new issue since 2002. And if that’s a concern, go check out Protodimension.

Looking Back at 2010 Through a Board Game Lens

Possibly my number one use for Boardgamegeek is recording my game plays. It’s not everything, as I keep noticing on playing a game its all time play number can’t possibly be that low, but it gives a good picture. Go behind the jump to see the numbers and my commentary.
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Global Game Jam 2011

Global Game Jam is a yearly event in which participants have forty-eight hours to design a game. These are most typically electronic games, I think, but there’s a movement to promote board game design as well, particularly by Scott Nicholson, a professor of information studies at Syracuse University, which is participating in the game jam this year. In short:

Main goal of Global Game Jam is to bring people together to create digital and non-digital games during a weekend long event. You will be working in groups to quickly draft an idea, design it, create rapid prototypes, and develop the game.  There will be a common theme provided by GGJ on the day of the event. The time given to you may sound short but it is enough to encourage creation of innovative and small games. Some of the games developed in last year’s event became world-wide realized.

Sadly, there are no participating locations in Vermont this year, or I’d ponder taking advantage of the resources available there, both in computers and people. As it is, I’m thinking about taking the initiative to do some board game design that’s been on the back burner since visiting Border Board Games in November. During the drive back, Alex, Rachel and I talked about what a modern Doctor Who board game might look like, taking its inspiration from titles like Battlestar Galactica and Pandemic.

If you were heading out to spend a day designing a game, what would you pack in your tool kit? I’m thinking index cards, markers, dice, scotch tape and lots of tokens.

Doctor Who Fluxx

Now this is badass. Blogtor Who posted pictures of a homemade Doctor Who version of Fluxx made by a fan named William Cuthbertson. It’s two great tastes that taste great together.

At the very least, it’s another Doctor Who card game. I just wish some of these would break out of the homebrew sector and become commercially available. If Cubicle 7 can pull it off with their role-playing game, so can others.

What a Wearying Wonderful Winter Weirdness Whirlwind

Nicole and John (left and right) explore the irradiated splendor of Gamma World while Mariah (center) observes.

All the ramp-up and preparation came to a head on Saturday, as we hosted our first Winter Weirdness game day in a church undercroft in Barre. It was, by any metric, a smash hit. Forty-odd people came in out of the cold and snow to spend their day playing games and making new acquaintances — I love watching the activity stream over at Green Mountain Gamers and on Facebook as people who meet up at these game days connect there.

My day consisted of getting to Barre early enough to set the room up, stashing soda and supplies in the kitchen and greeting the first arrivals until there was critical mass to play something and realizing that the way into the church basement wasn’t as clearly marked as it might have been. In the rush, the big friendly meeples that usually adorn sidewalks and doors to signal the location of a game day didn’t make the trip down the interstate.

As the day got underway and more people rolled in, a couple people came to me wanting to play Gamma World, which was pretty cool. I’d had the opportunity to try out the adventure in the back of the book previously with a different group of people, so I had an idea of how it might go. However, I’d forgotten there’s a critter in the second encounter that can easily lay waste to the entire party. The first time, I fudged it to keep the adventure moving forward. This time, however, I played it straight, mostly because it was a game day and I don’t think anyone wanted to spend the rest of the day playing through even an abbreviated version; that first run through took five hours to get through four encounters with fudging, as I was very aware of how much time would be involved in playing all the way through to the end, even if I skipped portions of the scenario.

By then it was 2:00 in the afternoon, so a group of us trooped over to Ladder 1 Grill, which is maybe fifty feet from the back door of the church, where I had an awesome turkey and bacon melt sandwich. Unlike the last two venues for the Green Mountain Game Days, downtown Barre has ample opportunities for sit-down and take-out food; Montpelier has even more, fancier options if you’re willing to take the drive and lose time at the tables.

After lunch, I wound up in games of Betrayal at House on the Hill and Dominion. My rule of thumb has become play new stuff at game days and conventions or play old games with new people. Plus the copy of Betrayal at House on the Hill belonged to Joe and it needed breaking in. Really, it pined for its dice to be torn out of their packaging and rolled. So we obliged. Dominion I got to play with my friend Kaye, Rick from the Book Garden and two old time gamers who were encountering the game for the first time that day. That was a cool experience to watch them pick up the mechanics.

Later, I tried out Elasund: The First City with Sarah, Andrew and Rod. It’s very Eurogamey. That’s all I want to say on the topic.

Accusations fly hot and heavy in Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game.

Elsewhere, Carlo, Munk and Rachel played Battlestar Galactica for what must have been ten or eleven hours. Not all in one game, but two with other players. I am deeply impressed by their commitment to fostering uncertainty, mistrust and paranoia.

In short, it was a huge day of gaming with people playing their brains out. I don’t know if the lousy morning weather worked for us — making people stircrazy and antsy to play games or against us — by penning them in their homes — but overall Winter Weirdness was an absolute success. And I think we found a great venue in the Church of the Good Shepherd’s basement. It’s cozy, has an very well equipped kitchen, a secondary space upstairs that’s idea for quieter role-playing games and is in easy walking distance to plenty of places to eat. Plus Barre is marginally central to three population centers: Burlington, the capitol district and the Upper Valley; sadly, when it comes to the Northeast Kingdom and southwestern Vermont, there’s still no way to get ther from here. Regardless, I think Green Mountain Gamers has found a second home in Barre.