1
Feb

Other D&D Items of Note

   Posted by: Jim   in Role-playing games

To follow up from my previous post, a few more D&D anniversary items of note that I’ve run across in the past few days (if you haven’t seen them already):

First, Jon Peterson (author of Playing at the World) presents a video called A History of D&D in 12 Treasures, in which he lays out the game’s pre-history via 12 rare or unpublished objects.

Another video is a trailer for a documentary about D&D called The Great Kingdom, which looks like it could be interesting (warning: Zeppelin soundtrack).

Finally, a couple of great posts reminiscing about D&D: the first from Matt Forbeck, the second from Ethan Gilsdorf.

For more thorough coverage of the web’s thoughts on D&D’s 40 anniversary, you might also check out this post on Dungeons and Dreamers, in which I’m honored to be included.

D&D

When Gary Gygax died, I considered doing a podcast covering Dungeons and Dragons, but then I got busy and the moment passed.

A year or so later, when Dave Arneson died, I considered the same, but work was eating up all of my time, and again it didn’t happen.

So now, here it is the 40th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons. And I am once again utterly unprepared with any sort of recording. But despite that, I can’t let this moment go by with notice.

I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons in 1977. I had loved games up to that point — my family regularly played traditional (i.e. Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley) board games and card games, but nothing beyond that. My mother bought it for me (possibly due to my interest in Tolkien) and introduced me to a new world. I quickly shared it with my friends, and our regular lunchtime games of penny hockey and paper football became dungeon crawlers. We role-played at lunch for years, quickly upgrading to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, then expanding to other games such as Dragonquest, Runequest, Villains and Vigilantes, Traveller and Top Secret (some of which I’ve covered as podcasts). The friendships I built there carried me through some of the worst of middle school, and through high school.

The new world of games I discovered was broader than role-playing games. In seeking other players and shops that sold D&D modules, I discovered wargames, and some of the hobby games that were becoming more available to the broader public at that time. I slowly became hooked on games in general.

Love of video games was even driven by love of D&D. Just down the street from me, an early form of gaming cafe opened. The owner had bought a set of Apple IIs, and would let people rent floppy discs (for the save files) and come play the games he had available. I, of course, would go play Wizardry for hours on end. The cafe eventually closed, and I, in desperation to play a computer RPG, wrote my own based on the random encounter and room placement tables in the Dungeon Master’s guide (I did, however, rewrite armor class increase in number as it increased in strength, and to absorb damage).

D&D even inspired me to buy my first copy of National Lampoon (scandalous, I know). After school one day, I took a long bus trip to the west side of Buffalo, seeking a small shop which sold crystal dice and various other role-playing paraphernalia. After getting the dice — and come to think of it, my copy of Top Secret — I stopped into a convenience store and saw the Sword and Sorcery issue. Fate, I figured, so I bought it. I still have that magazine, stashed in my Basic D&D box.

I stopped role-playing for the most part after high school, taking it up again briefly with my co-workers when I entered the game industry (Shadowrun and Mage) and continuing up to the point when D&D 3rd Edition came out. But our group petered out and so I returned my dice back to their bags, with only occasional one-off adventures. But as you can see from the above, despite my leaving role-playing, D&D has never really left me.

So what would have that podcast included? Well, the plan was to do a revised history of D&D, covering David Wesely as the originator of proto-roleplaying games, and speculating on the actual contributions of Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax to what eventually got published as D&D. However, since my itch to do that, the book Playing at the World by Jon Peterson has come out. It discusses the early days of miniature wargaming and reportedly has excellent coverage of the history of D&D, with much better documentation than I could have dug up (if you’re not already aware of it, Peterson is also the one pushing January 26th as the publication date of D&D, based on his research). You can also check out his blog, with treatment beyond the book. Fred Hicks, of Evil Hat fame, also has a good history of D&D as well — you can read a portion of it here. So read those books, and whenever you throw the dice, think of Arneson and Gygax, the ones who started it all.

(Oh, and before I go, let me tell you about my character. His name is Manthridor, and he’s a half-elven fighter-mage… wait, come back… I haven’t told you the best part…)

Designer: Daniel Clark, Tim Uren
Artists: Anders Finér, Héctor Ortiz
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Players: 1-8
Playing time: 240 minutes
Age range: 12+

We’ve played a lot of Arkham Horror in our day. At one point, we were playing it at least once a month, or perhaps more. So it’s only natural that eventually we got sick of it. It’s since been relegated to special occasions, and only then with a handful of players to keep it from bogging down too much. Hence when a friend gave us a copy of The Lurker at the Threshold Expansion when it first came out, we just never got around to playing it. Until this past game night, when we brought up Arkham Horror to celebrate Halloween, and tossed this in to see how it plays. The theme of this expansion is that there is a mysterious eldrich being that is opening gates to other worlds, and offering power with a terrible price.
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27
Oct

Review – Smash Up

   Posted by: Jim   in Card games, Reviews

Designer: Paul Peterson
Artists: Dave Allsop, Bruno Balixa, Conceptopolis, Francisco Rico Torres
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Players: 2-4
Playing time: 45 minutes
Age range: 12+ (can be played by 10+)


(Image courtesy of thatmadgirl@BoardGameGeek)

There are two kinds of classic geek debates: the first is who would win within a single subgenre (e.g. could the Death Star beat the Enterprise); the second is which subgenres could beat the other (e.g. zombies vs. ninjas). Smash Up provides you with a testing group for the second, with an additional twist: you can combine two subgenres together and battle them head to head by trying to take over bases and score victory points.
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24
Oct

Review – PitchCar

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Reviews

Designer: Jean du Poël
Artists: Jean du Poël
Publisher: Ferti
Players: 2-8
Playing time: 30 minutes
Age range: 6+


(Image courtesy of Firepigeon@BoardGameGeek)

Finger flicking games have been around for a while, with the best example being Crokinole, but the most thematic is probably PitchCar (previously released as Carabande). Here the discs you flick represent cars, racing each other along a masonite track.

The rules are as simple as you’d expect. Players start by placing their discs at the start line of the track, and in turn flick the discs forward with one finger. The first trip around the track is a qualifying heat to determine the start order for the finals, then players send their discs around the track three times to determine the winner.
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22
Oct

Review – Quarriors! Rise of the Demons

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Reviews

Designer: Mike Elliot and Eric Lang
Artists: J. Lonnee
Publisher: WizKids Games
Players: 2-4
Playing time: 30 minutes
Age range: 14+ (10+ could probably handle it)


(Image courtesy of blueknight7@BoardGameGeek)

The first released expansion to Quarriors! (beyond just promos) was Quarriors! Rise of the Demons. This is a small box expansion with a new basic die, a new spell die and a new creature die. There are also cards for all these dice, and some new cards for the creature dice in the main set. How you add all of these into the game is up to the players — you could shuffle them into the main decks, or deal them out separately first and then fill in the rest with the original cards, or do something in between.
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20
Oct

Review – Quarriors!

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Reviews

Designer: Mike Elliot and Eric Lang
Artists: J. Lonnee and Chris Raimo
Publisher: WizKids Games
Players: 2-4
Playing time: 30 minutes
Age range: 14+ (10+ could probably handle it)


(Image courtesy of ZoRDoK@BoardGameGeek)

Where Dominion created the idea of the deck-building game, Quarriors! cheerfully took that and applied it almost directly to dice. You start with a basic set of custom 6-sided dice, and draw a “hand” out of a bag every turn and roll them. Depending on what you roll, you can put out creatures to attack your opponents, cast spells to enhance them, and/or buy a new creature or spell from the wilds (much like the supply piles in Dominion). All of these are represented by dice. If you can keep your creatures out for an entire round, you score points; the first player to a certain point value — based on the number of players — wins.
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20
Oct

Review – Dominion and Dominion: Intrigue

   Posted by: Jim   in Card games, Reviews

Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
Artists: Various
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Players: 2-4
Playing time: 30 minutes
Age range: 10+


(Image courtesy of endou_kenji@BoardGameGeek)

I first got a chance to play Dominion as a prototype at Origins and even then knew it was going to be something big. I have to say, though, I didn’t realize that it would start off an entirely new genre of games: the deck-building game. Since I’m going to be covering other deck-building games soon, I thought it would be best to start from the very beginning.

For those not familiar with them, deck-building games are related to collectible card games and “living” card games: each player has their own deck of cards with abilities that are reasonably simple, but can be combined together to create much more powerful effects. However, with those other games you pre-build your deck up front, and play from and add to your hand incrementally. The new mechanic that deck-building games bring is that you start with a very simple and small (usually around 10 cards) deck, draw an entire hand each turn, play what you can, and discard the rest. As the game progresses, you buy new cards which are added to your deck, making it progressively more powerful. These cards are limited, so you’d best buy them while you can…
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17
Oct

Review: Zombie Dice

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Computer games, Reviews

Designer: Steve Jackson
Artists: Alex Fernandez
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Players: 2-99
Playing time: 10 minutes
Age range: 10+


(Image courtesy of mbrna@BoardGameGeek)

I’d first heard of Zombie Dice around the time it came out, but avoided the game because it has two marks against it: a) it’s a zombie game and b) it’s a recent Steve Jackson game. However, I got roped into had a chance to play it at Balticon 2012, and at gaming events since then, and I have to admit I was wrong about it.

The rules are very simple. There are 13 green, red and yellow dice, each with varying amounts of brains, running feet and shotgun symbols on their faces. The green dice have more brains, the red more shotgun blasts, and the yellow are neutral. Your goal is to roll as many brains as possible. First person to collect 13 brains (and survive the shotgun blasts), wins the game.

The turn begins by drawing three dice at random and rolling them. Brains and shotguns are set aside. If you have 3 shotgun blasts, then your turn is over, and you lose any brains you’ve rolled. Assuming you’ve survived, you can choose to re-roll, or you can score the brains you have. If you choose to re-roll, you take any dice with running feet, draw new dice at random to bring your total up to 3, and roll again. You can continue doing this until you get 3 shotgun blasts, or you choose to stop.

Zombie Dice is a nice little push-your-luck game, another one of those good fillers to have around. Admittedly the decisions aren’t all that difficult: prefer to re-roll green dice over red dice; stop if you have two shotgun blasts unless you’re behind. But it scales well to many players and it’s a good filler or beer-and-pretzel game. And if you prefer to drink alone, there’s also an iOS app for Zombie Dice, which is initially free for a 1-on-1 single player version, but only $.99 to upgrade to 10-player multiplayer. It’s fairly low frills but it gets the job done.

Verdict: Buy

15
Oct

Board Game Review: Carcassonne: The City

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Reviews

Designer: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
Artists: Oliver Freudenreich and Marco Morte
Publisher: Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games
Players: 2-4
Playing time: 45 minutes
Age range: 10+


(Image courtesy of blakstar@BoardGameGeek)

In 2004, Klaus-Jürgen Wrede created another standalone game in the Carcassonne universe, this time called Carcassonne: The City. As you might expect, this time the theme is building a single walled city, rather than multiple cities and surrounding countryside.

The overall rules for Carcassonne: The City are again very similar to the original game (see yesterday’s post for a more detailed overview): place tiles, place meeples on features (if not already controlled), score and remove them for completed features and and score any remaining meeples at the end of the game. Components are simple and again mostly familiar: each player starts with 8 meeples and 3 towers, and there are shared piles of city tiles and wall segments.

The features in the city are familiar, yet different. Markets, designated by a green area on a tile, are similar to the cities in the original game. One difference is that you don’t need to match the edges of markets exactly — you can put a side with a market up against a side with a residential area. The second difference is that each market area has a colored good in it: the more different kinds of goods in the market, the greater score you get (there’s a similar mechanic in the Traders and Builders expansion, but these goods are printed on the tiles).

Streets wind through the residential areas, and any tile with a street on it must match a street on any tile it’s placed next to. Streets of length 1-3 tiles are 1 point per tile like the original game; streets longer than that get 2 points per tile.

The final feature on the tiles are residential areas (marked as brown areas), which act like farms in the original game, and score 2 points for every market (completed or not) adjacent to them at the end.

And then there are the walls. The game has three stages, controlled by breaking the tile set into three piles. Once the first pile is used up, the first player who completes a controlled feature (i.e. so it scores) after that point gets to place the city gate. Then all the other players in turn go around and place a wall segment, extending the city wall in either direction. At this time players can also place a meeple on top of their wall segment to act as a guard, as long as there isn’t another meeple on an opposite wall. Once all the walls are placed, the player who completed the feature now has the choice whether to add a tower. This will score 1 point for every wall segment up to the next tower or the city gate. This will happen every time a feature is scored until the second pile of tiles is used up, after which any placed tile that leads to a score will allow the placement of 2 wall segments by each player.

The game ends when you run out of tiles, or out of wall segments, or the ends of the wall are close enough together. At this point you score the residential areas. In addition, each guard scores points for each grey building in a line from its wall — unnamed ones are 1 point and named ones are 2 points. Again, the player with the most points wins.

Once again, just by tweaking a few rules, Wrede has a created a completely different feel for his signature game. The guards may be a borrowed mechanic from Knizia’s Carcassonne: The Castle (it’s unclear as they’re both listed as designers) — but whereas in The Castle they didn’t quite work, here they just feel right. By allowing the market edges to not have to match, you get a more compact board, which allows the walls a chance to surround it. And this one ends up being more of a brain-burner as well — do you place the tile that allows another player to score, so you have the opportunity to place the first wall and hence a tower, or do you try to improve the scoring potential for your guards? Or do you add that extra good that gives your big market just a little more value? Lots of tough decisions, and a lot more long-term strategy than the original game.

If that’s not enough, the real reason to get this (and the main reason I bought it when it first came out) is just because it’s just so darn pretty. In the original printing, the tiles are made of thick foamboard instead of cardboard, the walls and towers are nice wooden pieces, and the gameboard when you’re done really looks like a miniature walled city. And the whole thing comes in a big wooden box which looks great on the shelf. Even if you can’t find the original version, my understanding is that while you lose the foamboard and the wooden box, you do get the wooden wall pieces and towers, so it still looks pretty sweet on the table.

I can’t recommend Carcassonne: The City enough — it addresses many of the issues with the original game, adds some new elements that provide new challenges, and is absolutely gorgeous to boot. . It is, unfortunately, out of print (which I suppose makes it a Vintage Game), but you can find copies of it on eBay and BoardGameGeek for reasonable prices. It’s well worth tracking down.

Verdict: Buy.