Monday 19 January 2015

Rich Dad, Poor Dad and the un-game of Cashflow

A close friend of mine and long time gamer has embarked on a new career as a property developer and has become a fan of the work of business guru Robert Kiyosaki author of the well known book Rich Dad Poor Dad.

Diversification and Passive Income are the mantra of many of these self help millionaires and Kiyosaki has branched out into the realm of games design.  Yes, you heard right.  He's a Games Designer, that's his BGG entry for the boardgame Cashflow, he designed back in 1996.

Now doesn't that look exciting

Recently I was invited to play this little gem of a game and boy does it suck!! 

It's a game of two halves, but both are roll and move.  In part one you travel around the center circle trying to avoid the here you travel around a very small 25 space center board landing on various "investment opportunities" either stocks and shares or property which you can purchase with your savings.  You also have the chance of landing on one of the "bad" spaces which may result in you losing your job and missing a couple of turns, having a baby (aka a joyous bundle of unplanned overhead) or landing on a luxury space and having to buy a suit or repair your car.  These "bad" spaces are so few and far between that they have little impact on the outcome of the game in fact the distribution is arranged in such a way that it is a statistical impossibility.

Once you've amassed a passive income which equals your salary you have essentially "left the rat race" and can now move on to stage two.  In which you basically do exactly the same but instead buy established businesses with even less chance of risk.  There's so little risk or consequence to the game and your decisions have so little effect that a game of snakes and ladders looks appealing by comparison.

There's a mild form of game balancing via the drawing of "career cards" which control what your starting cashflow stats are, but there's no game here.  No deep decision making, no evaluation of risk (it's all laid out on each card in bold text), no balancing of resources, nothing.  I'm speculating but I think that there's an educational reason for this, Kiyosaki wants to teach you that becoming a self sufficient is easy and in the game of cashflow it is in fact there's no way to lose.  I think he needs to listen to the wise words of real plutocrat Nick Hanauer.

A quick google reveals that the game retails for in excess of £100 shipped to the UK, so I guess the secret of cashflow is to author an incredibly lame game and charge the absolutely earth for it.  Apparently there are cashflow clubs where this pile of shite is played on a regular basis, probably because they're too ashamed to play it outside of those select gatherings. 

Someone needs to give them a copy of Monopoly or The Game of Life it will blow their freaking minds.

Friday 16 January 2015

Lindybeige - A Youtube Channel about History

I'm a late convert, but I've recently become a fan of Lindybeige's YouTube channel.  It's an excellent resource for explaining the realities of medieval living and fighting in a simple and fun way. 

Lloyd is a natural presenter and his content is engaging and well scripted. 

One to put on your YouTube subscriptions list.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Doctor Who vs The Librarians - AKA How not to Deal with Santa

One of the annual festive traditions is watching the Dr Who Christmas special, but in 2014 the eponymous time traveller had competition in the form of US fantasy history adventure series The Librarians. 

Santa: Bruce Campbell vs Nick Frost

Nick Frost channels the late Sir Dicky Attenborough while Bruce Campbell channels Norse God Odin
Both shows picked capable comic actors for the role of Santa.  Bruce Campbell was The Librarians sophisticated Saint Nick, a gestalt mortal avatar capable of switching between all his various incarnations throughout history, each with their own individual powers.  Santa delivering all his dialogue in the third person was a great touch, how else would a mortal "possessed" by a mythical construct with God like powers refer to himself.

Nick Frost's bearded fat man was merely a comic foil to Peter Capaldi's dark hero, an anachronistic mnemonic to remind you that you were still in the dream and still being facehugged by a Dream Spider.  Irritatingly his dialogue didn't help much in trying to work out what the heck was going on, being confusing and

Story: Timey Wimey Dreamy Weamy vs Globe Trotting Extravaganza

The essential aim of the Dr Who Christmas Special was to revitalise the association between the Doctor and Clara.  It didn't reveal anything new other than the Dream Spider which was a fairly lack lustre and pedestrian knock-off of a facehugger (they even resorted to referencing "Alien" in the dialogue... maybe it was a legal requirement?).  There was no real peril and frankly the inception dream within a dream was overplayed too heavily in my opinion and the idea that the shared dream space appeared to ignore it's victims relative times and locations made it even more hard to follow.  In the end the show gave up trying to make sense of itself and put it all down to timey wimey wibbly wobbly nonsense.  A reoccurring feature of New Who which I'd rather like to see the back of thank you very much.

The Librarians on the other hand had to deal with the possibility of Santa being assassinated and its global spiritual ramifications.  There were several moments of mild peril for all the cast (despite the low budget plane effects) and the subtext of everyone getting their Christmas wish whether they wanted it or not was a nice touch.  Despite the extremely low budget the action trotted the globe from America to London to Canada to the Arctic Circle with a bit of multi-faith mental projection to the China, and the Middle East to illustrate Santas gift to everyone.

Santa's Ride: Chocolate Box vs Citroen Box Van

Of course Santa gets nowhere without his Sleigh and both shows covered it in different ways.  Dr Who had a full blown digital sleigh and reindeer complete with central locking nose flash.  The Librarians went down a more interesting route of having Santa's sleigh stolen and replaced with a small red french farmers van.  The real sleigh makes a later appearance as a self powered sans reindeer rocket ride capable of busting into a cargo plane.

Ridic-YULE-ssness: Mental vs Mythical

To be honest you have to buy into the huge helping of cheese that goes along with the premise of The Librarians as a low budget, light hearted, family orientated adventure show.  It's not trying to scare you, just take you on a theme park ride in the same vein as Indiana Jones and National Treasure but without the Nazis or dark occult overtones.  It manages to get away with a lot thanks to it's visual jokes, excellent dialogue and lots of running about.  I left the show feeling good about the characters, good about humanity and warmth towardsmy fellow man (and woman)

Sadly I feel Doctor Who is struggling to keep up these days, overburdened as it is by the weight of public expectation thanks to it's "National Treasure" status and the absolute lack of decent writing talent.  In fact it's forgotten exactly what made it good in the first place, snappy dialogue and a lot of being chased about.  I left the show feeling cheated and dissapointed, like when you're left with just the unpopular toffee fingers at the bottom of the Quality Street tin.

Where this special Christmas themed episode is concerned, I'm afraid I have to give it to the newcomer... The Librarians and Santa's Midnight Run.

UGS - A Chronic Illness that only affects Gamers

I suffer from a little know chronic illness that specifically targets gamers...

UGS or more commonly referred to as Unplayed Game Syndrome is a form of addiction which largely goes unnoticed until your wife, girlfriend or significant other suddenly decides to have...

An Intervention

That moment when you are faced with the true scale of your problem.  Namely that you have too many games in your collection some of which, for various reasons, you've never played.  Heck, some of them still have their shrinkwrap.

Just 5 of my Unplayed Games
Tigris & Euphrates, La Citta, Sylla, Outrider and Warcraft The Board Game
My immediate response was denial, then I said

"If I've played it, I can keep it, right?", to which my missus replied,

"No, you have to choose some games to keep and some to get rid of!"

Faced with an ultimatum I used my powers of indefatigable man logic.

"But how do I know what to keep?  I have to play them first to know if they're any good and if I should keep them!". 

In the cold harsh world of decluttering this plea fell on deaf ears, suffice to say I have a few weeks grace in which to decide what to do with some of these potential gems:

Tigris & Euphates - A pre-loved Hans Im Gluck version of this Reiner Knizia classic given to me a couple of years ago by a club member on the grounds that I will play it more than he does.  I feel really guilty that I've never played it and so will definitely add it to my New Years Resolution list.  He also gave me his much played copy of RA (also by Knizia) and I absolutely love playing it, so this is something I have to have a go at.

Outrider - A tabletop car combat game using playing cards.  This was also my first experience of Print on Demand and Drive Thru Cards, but I haven't found the courage or energy to clip out the tokens and print off the road tiles PDF.  I'm a massive car combat game fan, so really can't understand why I haven't played this yet.  To be honest I might just be sneaky and hide this and some other card games inside other games.

Sylla - This years christmas gift from my step daughter.  It's a semi co-op civilisation building game set in Rome and is highly likely to get played in an upcoming boardgame night.

Warcraft: The Boardgame - I picked up this fantasy wargame for some ludicrous price like 99p or something, a total no brainer really.  It has a lot going for it; nice components, hex based map, 4 different races and it's by my favourite boardgames company Fantasy Flight.   I confess I've never played a single minute of World of Warcraft on any computer or console so I don't really have any preconceptions about the IP other than that the box art looks a bit Warhammery.

La Citta - Another 2014 Christmas pressie, this time from my missus, La Citta (pr: LA CHEETA) is yet another civilization building game set in the Italian Rennaissance.  Lots of components and it looks like this might have the potential to turn into a long game even with its 120 minute estimated play time. 

I'd love to hear from any readers who also suffer from unplayed game syndrome.  Do you have any experience with any of these games? Which of them do you think I should keep or play first?  Do you have any boardgame gems in your cupboard which you're too embarrased to play or you've just not got round to playing?  Leave your comments in the box below.

Sunday 11 January 2015

In Response - Venger's GMing Questions

Today +Venger Satanis asked some General GMing Questions on his Old School Gaming Blog

Everyone has to get eaten by a
Gelatinous Cube ONCE in their life
Here's my response:
  • On average, how satisfied do you feel about your GMing?  Does that feeling or your perception change when you're at the table running (in the moment), hours after, days after, months or years after? - I feel pretty satisfied with my GMing.  I tend to be flexible with the rules in favour of a cinematic feel and I only become dissatisfied if the players aren't having fun.  It's especially nice when a player reminises about something that happened in one of your games several months or even years later. 
  • Have you ever had a (you assumed) moderately satisfied player from the past come up to you months or years later and tell you how much he appreciated your GMing or that you were a great GM compared to what he encountered later?  Ever had a player tell you how much you sucked? - Yes I've been complimented many times, only occasionally told that I suck and it's been a few years since the last time that happened.  I usually give my players what they want, action and memorable encounters.
  • Does grumbling, complaining, whining, etc. bother you when it comes to either house rules or a particular ruling vs. book rules (RAW)? - I don't normally suffer rules lawyers but my opening statement to anyone playing my games is that the rules are only a guide and I will interpret them as I see fit.  After that I try to keep the action going as fast as possible so they don't get the time to consider the rules too much.  That said, I'm open to suggestion so if the player gives me a plausible reason why they might do x then I say let them do it.
  • Do you ever feel that you don't receive enough credit, recognition, accolades, understanding, or appreciation for your GMing? - As long as everyone's having fun that's accolade enough.
  • As a GM, do you feel the need to "entertain" players beyond your usual GM duties? - I feel my GMing is entertaining, but I do go to the extra effort sometimes of making props, floorplans and physical puzzles if I have the time and the game deserves it.
  • Do you think it's best to keep yourself separate or apart from the group to some degree, similar to an employer around his employees?  Or are you just "one of the guys" and completely informal and chummy with the players when you're not actually GMing?  What about when you are GMing? - At the end of the day (sic session) these are still my friends and I treat them as such.  I do not like an adversarial GM, It is not the GMs job to beat the players but they should challenge them.  A game which ends in a TPK is a failure on the part of the GM (unless you're playing FIASCO, Paranoia or Call of Cthulhu of course). 

  • How often do you get one or more players in your group asking if he (or she) can GM soon?  How do you feel about that?  Do you generally take it as a compliment because obviously you make it look easy and fun?  Or do you take it as an insult for encroaching upon your turf? - At my club we have a games rota where GMs can put themselves up to run a game in any free slot at anytime.  I usually GM for a year and then have a year off.  Seems to work at the moment.  I'm not precious about GMing, I love it, but GMing all the time can be bad for you, you have to be on the other side of the table as a player as well.
  • How often (if ever) do you wonder how much players are enjoying the game, each session, the campaign, and your GMing?  Do you regularly ask for feedback?  If you do, are changes ever implemented? - They're my friends I would hope that they'd tell me that I suck.  Generally I don't ask for feedback because I can tell if they're not engaged or having fun.  IMHO when a player is not having fun, it's because their character isn't panning out with what they originally envisioned or they aren't gelling with the rest of the party.  This is fixable in most cases with a little bit of between encounter roleplay or by the player doing something that endears their character to the rest of the PCs. 
  • What are the three most important qualities for a GM to have? - 1. An open mind, you do not have all the answers most of the time players will come up with a solution that you never thought of.  2. Patience, some players are more forthcoming than others and you might need to coax something out of a player who wants to take a back seat.  3. Energy and Enthusiasm, if you can't spread your enthusiasm for the game to your players then you need to stop GMing.
  • Do you have a particular word, phrase, question, or statement that you frequently employ during the adventures you run?  What is it? - Only that I remind myself to say "Yes" to players.  The GM is a conduit, not a player.  The players will often do things that seem pretty stupid, in the name of heroism, as long as you point out all the things that might go horribly wrong and they still want to do it fine, it's their character let them do it, just make sure that they realise that it's their choice.
  • How long, generally, before you start to feel GM burnout?  - See above, I usually GM for 1 game and then recharge.  If I'm running my campaign a game may last for a year (upto 52 weeks) and players may come and go and switch games during that period.

Dragonmeet 2014 Review - The changing face of gaming?

A bit late in the day, but here never the less here's my review of Dragonmeet 2014.

My christmas wish list for Dragonmeet 2014 like the best laid plans of mice and men... went to hell in a handbasket, meaning I didn't get to play half as many games as I would like, but did get to experience:

Castellan (Steve Jackson Games) - A 2 player abstract area control game, which is a bit pricey, but the gorgeous plastic castle pieces make it total eye candy on top of what is a solid fun game.  I also witnessed their Mars Attacks Dice Game which looked like a lot of fun for all ages.  I hope SJG make iOS/Android implementations of both these games soon as they are a lot of fun and more people need to play them.

Always / Never / Now is Will Hindmarch's hack of the one shot Lady Blackbird game by John Harper, set in a non-specific cyberpunk future.  It's got a very simple rules light system which rewards cinematic play and is perfect for a convention session.  Our awesome GM (a member of the London Indie RPG group) taught us the system basics and we were up and running very quickly, hacking, cracking and generally blowing things up in a style which John Woo and Michael Bay can only dream off.  It was hands down the most fun I've had at a con in years.

Drooling over the Sons of Anarchy boardgame at the 247 Toys stand, I played a few rounds of the UK edition of the Firefly boardgame (The one with the extra "Artful Dodger" ship).  It's definitely a long game with plenty of complexity and variety and whilst not as impressive as their demo tabletop (See photo) it will still end up on my BGG wishlist.

Firefly The Boardgame (UK Edition) includes 5th player ship "The Artful Dodger"

Chessex brought their usual truckload of dice (and a big jug to scoop them up with).

I love dice but they sometimes don't love me, they key...
...change them regularly and discipline the naughty ones

Small indie publishers were in evidence all over the show, along with a crop of new micro armour sci-fi miniature wargames fresh from their dropships like Firestorm Planetfall. travelled across the channel from belgium to show off their beautiful crokinole boards (I'll own one one day)

YAY Games UK put on a fine show with their fabulously grisly Frankenstein's Bodies game funded via Kickstarter and Chief Creative Andrew Harman was suitably kitted out in his blood stained butcher's apron.

Oakbound Games were showing off their War of the Worlds homage Tripods! in which players try to escape the Martian invasion of London and avoid the encroaching "Red Weed" which begins to cover the board.

Money is always in short supply and so my purchases were limited to a copy of Housing Crisis by Rack & Pinion Games, a tiny 2 player micro game about placing tenants in different sized housing developments.  It was reminiscent of some of my first games from the 70s/80s which also came in small zip-lock bags and I fell in love.

Housing Crisis Rack and Pinion Games, This much fun in a little bag is usually illegal!!
A couple of friends bought some of the award winning and wonderful All Rolled Up dice bags, a beauty to behold especially with the little hand grenade toggles. 

Free swag was minimal (Curse you global recession!) but I did get a promo Munchkin silver coin and "Official cheesy promotional bookmark of power!" from the SJG demo table.  Thumbing through the very glossy Dragonmeet programme you will also find "The Star Fish" a creature for use in Modiphius's WW2 Achtung! Cthulhu setting and "Ornery Octal" a magic item for Cubicle 7s The Laundry RPG.

Overall it was an enjoyable day but there were a few organisational snags, namely:
  • Travel around the trade hall and more importantly between trade hall and gaming rooms felt more of a struggle than usual with what seemed like narrower aisles.  Attendance also seemed higher than at previous years events but this might have just been my perception as the venue felt smaller and more cramped than previous years.  (Organiser Chris Birch has confirmed that attendance was 1600 twice that of previous years)
  • Locating the bring and buy stall and signup boards so close to the entrance/reception may have been a logistical necessity but it caused a bottleneck for people trying to get into/out of the trade hall all day long.
  • Whilst I applaud the sentiment behind the charitable pre-booking of game seats, in reality it just meant lots of game sheets going up on the board were all pre-booked before the show opened its doors.  With seats in such short supply anyway, I'm not sure how much extra this raised for CLIC Sergeant and Vision Rescue, it didn't paint a very inclusive or open picture which is something that I've always liked about Dragonmeet.  Perhaps next year just take a £1 of the ticket price as a donation for these worthy causes and go back to the old system of first come first served, or at least limit the number of pre-bookings per game to 50%.
  • Cloakroom facility was a neat idea which I wish I had used as the venue got hotter and hotter requiring frequent trips outdoors to cool off.
  • A lack of game information in the days leading up to the event makes it harder to plan your day and you end up missing the seminars you want to attend.
  • I didn't see any cosplayers, were they put off by the cold weather?  This may have been a blessing in disguise as they really need their own display space so people can fully appreciate the hard work that they put into their outfits, and space was at most definitely at a premium this year. 
As for the "Changing Face of Gaming" you can see some more photos from the show and attendees tell me "What it means to be a gamer" in this short video.

Saturday 10 January 2015

Semantic Spell Casting in Video Games.

Shorty C over at Noobist Magazine brought this cool video game idea to my attention

Runes: The Forgotten Path is a kickstarter project with a unique semantic spellcasting mode.

Clockwise from 12 - FIRE, AIR, WATER, EARTH
+ 10 ARCHETYPE RUNES from the video  
Essentially the game is designed to use either wiimote style nunchucks, or the analogue sticks of your joypad to "air write" semantic gestures in order to cast spells.  Each Rune begins with an orthogonal movement of each joystick from the center resting position and continues with a circular gesture.  These shapes drawn with left and right hand are combined to create a rune. 

There are 4 basic element runes, 6 combination runes and 10 archetypal runes offering at least a  hundred potential combinations and apparently options to create your own.

Semantic spell components have been around for a long time in tabletop games, I checked... they're in my AD&D PHB published back in 1980.  And it's one of the things I've recommended that my players do for ages (along with creating a physical spell book prop) to add depth and drama to their spell casting characters and increase their level of immersion.

In addition to the added dramatic element, as a DM I can use the characters physical situation to challenge them.

For example a mage is crossing a rope bridge, when it snaps.  Do they resist the urge to grab the bridge and cast a feather fall spell in mid air as they plummet to their death, or do they grap the remains of the rope bridge and wait for the rest of the party to save them?

Similarly what happens if a mage gets injured (or is restrained) and they can't cast because they don't have full use of their hands/arms.  How does the party cope?