TimeLine in progress.

We had  the chance to try TimeLine this weekend, one of the Cheapass Games titles that made the leap to print and play licensed under Creative Commons.

The upshot is all the players have time machines. And, being sensible owners of time machines, they rocket up and down the timestreams, buying up cheap commodities and trying to offload them at financially advantageous moments in time.

The board starts out as a line of cards that trace four interweaving paths that represent the value of commodities: oilpetrol, milkbread, beetcandy and nucleons. These paths also have waypoints, which each hold one token representing one of the commodities scattered along them. Players move around by traveling in time, left or right along the path their pawn is on, or locally, up or down a column of cards.

That’s where the design of TimeLine gets interesting. The board is theoretically infinite along that up-down axis, but only ever a set number of cards wide, which depends on the number of players. Pawns can move up or down a column of cards as far as they like, constrained only by the number of turns the game lasts, the size of the playing surface and the size of the deck. The markets at the right side of the timeline extend infinitely in each direction as well, but they’re worthless unless they somehow connect with the leftmost card showing the commodities in question.

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Cheapass Games’ TimeLine Up for Ransom

Speaking of print on demand, I’ve mentioned previously Cheapass Games’ move towards ransoming Creative Commons licensed, print and play revisions of their library. Since then, they’ve rereleased a half dozen or so titles. This weekend, James Ernest put TimeLine up for ransom at $136 in donations. Earlier this morning, he posted that the ransom was halfway done; I hope that has to do with conducting the ransom on a holiday weekend, rather than disinterest in the game itself.

Conveniently, demand printer ArtsCow is holding a sale until July 7th: $2.99 for a 54 deck of cards, which neatly encompasses the materials for TimeLine. In addition to donating for the release of the game, I ordered a deck this morning. At $3 for a deck of cards, it’s like a return to the Cheapass days of yore, only these cards are full color and on — probably, from what I saw of a friend’s print and play copy of The Thing — better stock.

Role-Playing and Board Game Garage Sale

The time has come to weed the game library. Behind the jump you will find role-playing games, board games and card games I would like very much for someone else to own. Generally speaking, it’s all older stuff, so if you’re looking for titles from the 90s and early 00s, this might be the sale for you.

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Cheapass Games Goes Print and Play

Back when I got into hobby games, roundabout early 2002, Cheapass Games in particular caught my eye because a number of the company’s titles were on the shelf of games I encountered in the student lounge and their business model at the time. Cheapass made a selling point out of being just that; not only were the components printed on low cost cardstock, but they were the absolute bare minimum: boards, cards and rule sheets. It was on the owner to supply the generic bits: pawns, dice, cubes or whatever might be needed. I thought it was rather clever — and still do; I’d rather haul one tackle box and an assortment of games with a slim form factor than two or three of the typical mid-sized Eurogame boxes. Unfortunately, that benefit all depends on multiple publishers buying into the design model, which I don’t think really happened, beyond a few labels like Placebo Press.1

Anyway, Cheapass Games has been on hiatus for a few years now. Until a few weeks ago, when a revised website launched with one of their Hip Pocket titles, Agora, available for free download under a Creative Commons license, specifically the Attribution – Non Commercial – NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. This means the work can be freely distributed, so long as attribution is given to the creator, it’s not sold and the contents not remixed — so one couldn’t take the artwork and reuse it elsewhere.

I’ve written about Agora before. It’s a fun, deceptively light game that I don’t think gets enough credit because it doesn’t have a snazzy graphic design to catch the eye. So not only is this new version free to download, it’s also more visually stimulating, with color art that resembles elements of a marketplace, in contrast to the austere walls and pillars of the Hip Pocket edition. As with many things released for free, there’s also a section encouraging people who enjoy it to donate some amount of money in recognition of the entertainment they received.

This got me to thinking. I like Agora a lot and I want Cheapass Games to know that. I showed that by buying it originally, but it’s a very indirect form of doing so, as the store I bought it from had it on the shelf so long, they were probably more glad to see the back of it than interested in restocking. Given that I already had already bought the original printed version, how much more should I give them?

Happily, last week Cheapass published two more things. They ransomed2 a chess variant called Tishai that — which I feel like I’ve seen before somewhere in their catalogs and other publications — and a matrix showing suggested amounts to donate based on the intersection of a person’s economic means and enjoyment of a game. So an astronaut who thinks Agora is so-so and a student who loves it can feel okay about donating different amounts.

I will be interested to see where Cheapass goes with the print and play model. If they’re republishing old titles, I’m going to keep facing the question “Should I donate, having already bought the print version?” And typically, the answer will be “no.” Overall, I would much rather dig around and buy the old print editions, purely out of laziness of not wanting to deal with printing, gluing, cutting and so forth. Something like Agora‘s the exception, where I like it so much, I’d like to give the company a bit more than I did in the first place.

For the games well-spoken of that I can’t easily find in print, them showing up in this new download and donate model would be quite nice. I’ve always wanted to give Starbase Jeff a try.

1 I have read criticisms of the system suggesting that it’s a case of selling a playtest copy of the game, then using feedback to create a fully marketable version. Aside from the fact that there are role-playing designers doing that with their ashcan editions, I can see the logic, particularly since Kill Doctor Lucky got the fancy-pants treatment around 2006. On the other hand, that was almost ten years after that game first hit the stores, so that’s quite a long playtest cycle, if the supposition is true.

2 “Ransom” as in the sense a monetary goal is stated and people pledge various amounts. Once the pledges meet or exceed the goal, the item becomes available to everyone — typically; I imagine there must be a ransom variant where only pledgers get the content.

[Tuesday Night Board Games] Aye, Dark Overlord

For Tuesday night board games this week, I grabbed a hodge-podge of smaller, less frequently played games. Of them, I wound up playing Captain Park’s Imaginary Polar Expedition and Chrononauts. The latter was fun as always, particularly in contrast to last week’s Back to the Future.

Captain Park’s Imaginary Polar Expedition is one I’ve played a few times before, in a sort of perfunctory way. We play it, and people don’t actively dislike it and then someone wins. This time was kind of like that in that someone abruptly won with a whopping ninety point fabrication. But people also said they liked it, so that was good. I should probably bring the Cheapass stuff more often. I still have games from that company I’ve never played; or game, at least, by the name of Spree!

Oh, Your Munificent Horribleness

After that, Jon and Nonny wanted to try out Aye, Dark Overlord, an improvisational storytelling game. It’s been in Quarterstaff’s demo library for years now, but never actually made it to the play area of the table, down to it not being much of a mechanical game. Jon and Nonny have always been the theme-driven types, though, so I figured they were the best ones with whom to try this one out.

It was . . . confusing. Players cycle through two types of cards, cues that they draw on to weave a story of why they failed to do the dark overlord’s bidding, as well as cards used to shift the blame and duty of story-spinning over to another player. But how and when those cards are drawn, I have no clue. Nonny usually prompted me to pull some more. And that worked out pretty well.

What really confused me was how the stories we concocted frolicked all over the place. They jumped from cue to cue, frequently without weaving those cues together. I think that’s where the player in the role of the dark overlord comes in. Someone who gets the flow of the game would jump in and demand more clarification and poke holes in things more than either of our overlords did.

In short, Aye, Dark Overlord is more of an exercise in collaborative improvisational storytelling than it is a game in the hobbyist sense of the word. It’s very similar to Once Upon a Time in that regard: best played in a group of friends sitting around the living room.

It Always Was Going to Have Been This Way

While I think it plays much more smoothly than Back to the Future, Chrononauts still has its own issues. Like that mini-expansion that came out a couple years ago, The Gore Years. It doesn’t do a whole lot, because so few of the identities in the mix have anything to do with the four or five events it adds to the timeline. Having Lost Identities permanently added to the pile doesn’t help, of course, because that must have doubled the number in the pool, so those added by The Gore Years are more or less drowned out.

It’s still fun to play, though, and a mostly immaterial addition in Chrononauts takes up significantly less room than, say, a dud Arkham Horror expansion.

[Tuesday Night Board Games] Save Doctor Lucky in Spaaace!

Baron Samedi. With the chainsword. In the Crew Mess.

After several months of getting distracted by other game-related endeavors, I picked the “play every game I own” mantle back up this past Tuesday at Quarterstaff Games. This time it was Save Doctor Lucky, the decidedly more benevolent prequel to Kill Doctor Lucky. In the past, whenever I’ve brought a pile of Cheapass titles and the choice was to save or kill the good doctor, the vote’s always gone to murder the bastard — a perfectly understandable sentiment, but it does get in the way of ever finding out how Save Doctor Lucky plays.

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[Tuesday Night Board Games] The Beginning of the “Play Everything” Quest

Settlers, seafarers, knights and the cities in which they dwell.

Following on from Wednesday’s post, wherein I realized there are games I own I have yet to play, The first step to rectify this situation was to bring a sampling of those to Quarterstaff Games this past Tuesday night; in particular: Fence & Fenceability, Save Doctor Lucky and the Doctor Lucky Ambivalence Pack, in addition to the more usual suspects.

Waiting for everyone to appear, I roped some folks into trying out Fence & Fenceability, a pseudo-Cheapass game in that it provided a rules sheet and unique cards, while requiring a deck of playing cards. Fortunately, that’s just the kind of thing I have in my Cheapass gaming kit: a pair of playing card decks retired from the Flamingo Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, as made occultly famous by Tim Powers’ novel about mystic poker, Last Call.

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[Tuesday Night Board Games] Killing the King in Yellow and Doctor Lucky

It was a relatively quiet night at Quarterstaff this week. While Brennan demoed the new Agricola expansion Farmers of the Moor, I found myself — completely unexpectedly, I assure you, as Elliott was the one who asked — pulling out the store copy of no frills, basic set Arkham Horror. It’d been a while since I played plain jane Arkham, using the same copy, in fact, at Northeast Wars last April.

All told, it was not a very challenging game. We were up against Hastur, the force behind the King in Yellow. That Ancient One makes it much tougher to seal gates, but we were tempted into the six seal strategy by starting off with two Elder Signs in the possession of players, and my investigator, the affluent Jenny Barnes, finding the third of four in her first trip to the Curiositie Shoppe.

Even with that many Elder Signs in hand, we should have been arming for bear from the beginning, partly to keep the monster population down and, by extension, preventing Hastur’s combat modifier from becoming any worse. At eight tokens per seal, the odds of scrounging enough clue tokens to close even two gates if we rustled up the fourth Elder Sign were vanishingly small. It took Nonnie, running Carolyn the psychologist, something like two and a half hours of play to pull together eight for a single seal. Given that we barely kept ahead of the gate limit, it didn’t seem wise to continue pursuing that strategy.

In the end, it was the fortune of having good gear that saved, as we only had another few turns after reaching the decision to try other tactics before Hastur erupted on the scene. We lost two or three investigators in the final battle, as you do, but never really seemed in danger of losing. It was my own character, Jenny, who dealt the death blow dual-wielding twin enchanted blades. The win itself was satisfying — trying out the Innsmouth board, I’d been on a very long Arkham Horror losing streak until recently — but as I said, the play itself was run of the mill, though it remained entertaining to watch everyone else engaging with the game.

After that, I pulled out the stash of Cheapass Games titles I’d brought, thinking they would be how we led off the evening. We got off a small game of Kill Doctor Lucky, which is usually how it goes with a pile of Cheapass titles. Someday I hope to have taught the game to enough people that I may actually get to try the one of the Ambivalence Pack boards — kill him on an ocean liner! save him from a burning hotel! — or even just everyday Save Doctor Lucky.

Next week, I hope more people start trickling back from holiday travels and parties, as I’d like the opportunity to have more people playing and moving around from table to table.