Apr 25 2017
“Starz loves c**k.”
Those were co-developer Bryan Fuller’s words as he explained the eye-popping abundance of full-frontal male nudity in the upcoming Starz series American Gods, based on Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel.
The eight-episode first season, which stars Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Orlando Jones, Crispin Glover, Yetide Bedake, Pablo Schreiber, and Ricky Whittle as protagonist Shadow Moon, is a unusual road trip—emphasis on the “trip.” It takes us on a frequently surreal journey with an ex-convict and a disgruntled god who is in search of allies. They meet quite a few characters. Sometimes they’re naked.
As co-developer Michael Green pointed out, “Starz said up front they encouraged male nudity, because they didn’t want to take a hit with this show having [only] female nudity.”
American Gods isn’t about sex. American Gods isn’t about gore either, even though there’s some serious bloodletting in the first and fourth episodes.
No. It’s about America and Neil Gaiman trying to quantify of all three thousand+ miles and three hundred years+ of it. As befits a book about the gods of America, Gaiman was inspired by something uniquely American: A roadside attraction of a cheese wheel.
Gaiman said, “Near Stevens Point, Wisconsin, there is still a huge tractor trailer with a glass side, inside of which is a full-sized yellow polystyrene replica of what was the largest block of cheese in the world [from] the 1961 World’s Fair.” (It recently closed.)
He looked at the pseudo-cheese and said, “I have to make sense of this place.”
He came to the conclusion that America was composed of immigrants…some of whom brought their old-time religion with them. But new gods sprang into being. Now the old and new gods are on the verge of war.
The book coalesces into one of the most unique pieces of television I’ve ever seen. Viewers will say, “Welp, I’ve never seen anything like that before” at least half a dozen times.
That was a deliberate choice on the part of Fuller, whose other work includes Hannibal and Pushing Daisies. “We were chasing things that were fresh to us, just to keep excited,” Fuller said.
It wasn’t just Fuller who was excited. After one blistering speech about slavery, given by Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy, the show’s extras stood up and applauded him.
The scene—you’ll know it when it happens—should earn Jones a nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, if not the award itself.
But he won’t be the only contender. The show is filled with strong performances, from the unapologetically sexual/murderous Bilquis, to Laura, who only loses her self-centeredness after she’s dead, to the rage-filled, overly large leprechaun Mad Sweeney. Many of the characters here aren’t likable. You will love them anyway.
I could see it nominated for writing and production awards as well. American Gods is often weird, at times off-putting, and always compelling.
That’s not surprising, considering the source material. In the past, producers had approached Gaiman about turning his novel into a movie and asked him for ideas. “I would say to them, ‘I have no idea. It’s not movie shaped.’”
But it wasn’t until Gaiman met Bryan Fuller that he realized his book was in the right hands. “Bryan [said], “I love [American Gods], I bought it when it came out. I’m a fan of yours. I don’t know how we turn it into a TV series.’ And that I found, weirdly, more inspiring of confidence than I would a kind of smart slick person saying, ‘Okay, this is how we’re going to do it.’”
According to Gaiman, the first season of the show covers the first third of the novel. If Media and the new gods are good, Starz will give us three seasons. Or more.
Oh, and if you’re thinking about a spin-off or sequel series based on Gaiman’s tangentially related book Anansi Boys, you can stop right there. The rights to Anansi Boys are owned by the UK Red Production Company; the book may be adapted for the BBC, but Gaiman said, “It remains to be seen.”
American Gods airs weekly, beginning April 30. See it. The gods command you.
Will you be watching the show? Have you read the book? Share your thoughts on the book and show in the comments!
Image Credits: Starz.com
Apr 25 2017
With International Tabletop Day around the corner, we’re counting down the days to the big celebration by highlighting friendly local gaming stores, their owners, and their awesome stories. Be sure to find an ITTD event near you so you can enjoy the festivities in your community.
Mindi Rogers Green’s story is perhaps a familiar one to those of us with go-to local shops. She turned a part-time job into owning Jupiter Games, a specialty gaming store and event center in Johnson City, NY.
“I first started working at Jupiter Games in 2010, as a part-time sales clerk. My background was in technology and sales, so it felt natural for me to put those skills to work. I started by designing systems to better track Magic singles inventory and pricing, and later leveraged that work to build a custom online sales platform. Over the years I took on responsibility for technology, marketing, and store management. In 2012, after a significant restructuring of the company, I was offered a partnership. The business has grown a lot in these last five years and as General Manager I now oversee all business operations, two managers, and nine total staff.”
She believes the resurgence of tabletop gaming popularity is helped by the evolution of the games themselves, which keeps people interested and coming back for more. “What I like the most about the board game market right now is the variety. No matter the niche, there are so many games to choose from. You aren’t stuck playing the same game over and over again. You have so many options!”
While she has played before, Mindi admits it took awhile to get fully invested. “Board games never ‘clicked’ with me until 2005-2006. That’s when I discovered Runebound, Descent, World of Warcraft, and Twilight Imperium. I was hooked. My favorite game is probably Ingenious, but there are so many great games on the market right now! While it’s also a bit dated, my husband and I are really enjoying the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. It’s been a date night staple for the last couple of years.”
Getting into gaming can be daunting for a lot of people, especially those with trouble socializing for various reasons. But Mindi can speak to how it can have positive effects on players. “I’m an introvert and I get very uncomfortable in social situations. For me, board games provide social interaction, but with a reassuring structure. This allows me to relax and have a genuine social experience. I guess it’s not quite a skill that’s learned from a particular board game experience, rather an opportunity to practice that skill.”
If you are trying to get more friends to play, particularly those with little to no previous experience, Mindi has some tips for you. “Acknowledge that even the simplest game can be overwhelming for someone new to the hobby. Start with something light and go slow, then build on that as they gain confidence. Don’t let your excitement take away from their experience. That first demo or play-through needs to be fun and engaging. Remember that it’s not about you, or about making a sale. It’s about igniting that spark.”
Speaking of new players, if she were to recommend a board game for aliens to play, what would she recommend? “I would have to go with Ingenious. There’s a reason it’s my favorite game. It’s a simple game on the surface but it has depth. It is somewhat self-explanatory, so the aliens don’t need to read our earth-based languages to figure out how to play. And it would tell the aliens that we are creatures who value logic and reason.”
Does your friendly local gaming store have a staff member that makes your visit that much more special? Tell us about them in the comments!
Images: Jupiter Games
Apr 25 2017
Transmission incoming! Signal Boost! is our weekly love letter to all fandoms, be it books, podcasts, indie games, Etsy shops, soundtracks, websites, or events. Come see what wonderful, crazy stuff is out there and connect with a community of fans who knows what it’s like to like the wonderful, crazy, and unknown.
Class is in session. Your professor, Liam O’Brien, will be leading the lecture as you dive into Boostology 101. Now pay attention class. There will be a quiz at the end of the film. This week we get to learn about a king of the screen, explore an invaluable tool for actors everywhere, and find out how home can break your heart. If you ever wanted to be an actor or just had an inkling to take on the craft, you won’t want to skip this class. Welcome to Signal Boost Academy!
Check out Liam’s Recommendations this week:
What things would you want to Signal Boost? Let us know in the comments below and tune in every Tuesday to find out what’s hot and potentially unheard of in the land of geekdom.
Apr 25 2017
Earlier this month, Nintendo disappointed classic gaming fans with the news that the NES Mini is being discontinued. Ever since its launch last fall, the NES Mini has been perpetually out-of-stock and in high demand. That’s not likely to change after Nintendo’s latest move, but there could be something even better waiting for gamers this fall.
Eurogamer is reporting that Nintendo is already planning a SNES Mini for this fall, which would bring many of the classic 16-bit Super Nintendo games together. The report even notes that the plans for the SNES Mini may have played a role in the demise of the NES Mini because Nintendo can’t focus on both at the same time. Considering that the Nintendo Switch launched earlier this year, an argument could be made that Nintendo should focus on the future of gaming rather than rely on nostalgia for sales. But the Super Nintendo era is fondly remembered precisely because it had so many great games. And they deserve to be rediscovered by a new generation of gamers.
Assuming the report is accurate, the SNES Mini would probably include the iconic Nintendo titles Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, Star Fox, and Super Metroid. We’d also be very happy to see Super Mario RPG, Axelay, Chrono Trigger, Super Star Wars Trilogy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, Super Punch Out, F-Zero, Super Castlevania IV, and Contra III make the cut. There is even a complete version of Star Fox 2 that was never released for the SNES, and we’d love to see it finally escape from development hell.
One of the key downsides of the NES Mini is that it only came with 30 games and it didn’t have a legal or easily accessible option to add more titles to its library. That may be one of the reasons that Nintendo ultimately abandoned the NES Mini. Without that online component and the ability to continually make money from it, there may not have been as great an incentive to keep the NES Mini around. Hopefully the SNES Mini will give players an option to buy additional games from the Virtual Console store. It’s a very exciting thought if the SNES Mini really does come become a reality.
Which games would you want to see in a SNES Mini? Let us know in the comment section below!
Image Credit: Nintendo
Apr 25 2017
Voyages of Marco Polo from Z-Man Games is a 2-to 4-player dice placement strategy game where– you know what? What’s the point? This game has been out of print since 2015. Sure, I could tell you all about how it ranks amongst the top 40 board games of all time, or how it’s asymmetric characters and diverse city bonuses make it an excellent and highly replayable experience… but that would just be bragging, wouldn’t it? I have this game and you don’t. And you never will. I could tell you how planning your route across the continent to set up trading posts in key cities gives you the thrill of exploration, or how bartering at the bazaar for exotic silks and spices and using them to fulfill lucrative contracts makes you feel like a master trader. But the fact of the matter is Z-Man doesn’t want you to have it. And that’s all there is to it.
However, for you, perhaps I could be persuaded to make a trade for the game. Do you happen to have a pound of black pepper and a gold bar? I’m this close to completing this last contract…
After being whisked away to 13th century Venice, the ITB crew must retrace the steps of famed explorer Marco Polo and embark on a voyage into the orient. Adventure turns to misadventure as Jack is hired by a ambitious merchant, and George meets a spoiled and demanding princess. Meanwhile, Brandon stumbles on an assassination plot while Hana is beleaguered by an obsessive stalker. The first to make it to Beijing gains all the riches of Kublai Khan’s court!
Inside the Box is a comedy tabletop game review series. Watch as they bring their favorite board games to life with a mix of visual FX, cinematic presentation, and an alarmingly immature sense of humor.
Apr 24 2017
When you can’t find a partner to sit down with you at the table at 2AM on a sleepless night, or you’re facing a cramped cross-country flight or long road trip, board game apps can come to your rescue. And, unlike their physical counterparts, you don’t have to worry about feeling around the grimy airplane carpet for fallen pieces.
Here are five more digital board games for those times when you don’t actually have a table but can still experience the fun of the tabletop.
Even the smallest of smart devices can pull off huge train robberies thanks to the Colt Express app. Packed with personality and a Western theme, you’ll feel like you’re right in the dusty action as you plot and scheme your way into stealing the most loot.
Play solo in story mode or multiplayer with other players worldwide, but either way, you’ll have to outsmart your fellow bandits. On each turn, you’ll plot your next move, whether it’s jumping from train car to train car or picking a passenger to rob. But your competitors are picking their next moves, too… Who will get rich quick, and who will get caught?
Onirim is a solitaire card game in which you attempt to discover doors to escape a dreamlike labyrinth. Match the card colors and the correct symbols to discover a door, and pay close attention to the cards you have left in your deck. If you don’t play your cards right and the deck runs out before you find all eight doors, you could be doomed to wander the labyrinth forever.
And be careful, because your dream is also plagued by nightmares. Decide how to best get rid of the nightmare, but make sure your choices don’t leave you trapped in a dream for eternity.
In this intense cooperative game, you and your team are racing against time to stop four diseases from ravaging the populace. Players can select a character with specific abilities, and then choose where best to spend their efforts: Treating a diseased area, traveling to a city, and more. Even if you’ve never played the board game before, a robust tutorial and the ability to set the difficulty can ease you into learning the ropes.
You can play solo, online, or pass and play with the friends you trust with saving humanity. As the outbreak spreads to cities across the globe and an epidemic looms, you’ll have to work together to eradicate it. Pandemic is a slightly stressful and completely enjoyable board game app.
Small World 2
Master Glandulf is ready to give you a lesson in world domination in the fantasy-themed Small World 2. Begin by choosing an available race and special ability combination, selected randomly at the start of the game. Then it’s up to you to begin taking over the world by traveling from adjacent region to region and distributing your troops to claim them. If your enemies overwhelm your troops and occupied areas, you can abandon them, choose another combo, and begin your march to conquer again.
Earn the most victory coins by conquering regions on the map and spending wisely to win it all.
Collect gems to earn prestige points in this digital version of the hit game Splendor. In this set collection game, you’re a rich merchant looking to acquire gems to create desirable goods. Spend your gems wisely on development cards and win nobles’ favors to earn prestige. You must win the most prestige among your fellow merchants to be the victor.
On your turn you can take gem tokens, reserve a development card, or purchase a card with the gems you’ve acquired. Cards you’ve bought give you a bonus on future purchases. Bonuses can also be used to earn a Noble tile card. With enough gems, assets, and nobles on your side, you’ll to outwit and outmaneuver your fellow merchants to win. Solo, pass and play, and multiplayer modes are available, along with an exclusive challenge system just for the digital app.
Which apps do you play in a pinch? Tell us in the comments.
All Images: Asmodee Digital
This is a sponsored post for Asomodee Digital.
Apr 24 2017
Liam takes control once again, as we follow our cast through the darkest timeline.
Apr 24 2017
With International Tabletop Day around the corner, we’re counting down the days to the big celebration by highlighting friendly local gaming stores, their owners, and their awesome stories. Be sure to find an ITTD event near you so you can enjoy the festivities in your community.
Eclectic Games in Reading is currently enjoying a premium location, “Right in the town centre just off the main shopping street,” according to Darrell Ottery who owns Eclectic Games with his partner Becky. They’ve been in their current location for around 18 months and if their history is anything to go by, they might not be calling this space home for long, until they outgrow it again. Since opening in March of 2006, Eclectic’s current location is their fourth. But don’t worry, every time they outgrow a location, they look for more space in a new location that is nearby. You won’t have to go on a scavenger hunt around Reading to find them.
The current location is quite impressive, “It’s about 3000 square feet as I recall, with approximately 1200 as retail shop floor and stock room/staff room/kitchen, and about 1800 as gaming space, all upstairs above the shop floor.” If you’re curious about the layout of this store in the heart of Reading, check out this great virtual tour from Google Streetview.
To get the full story of Eclectic Games, you need to look at their beginnings and the approach Darrell and Becky take to running the store. “We were regulars at the local game store and after mentioning that she’d been made redundant again, the owners offered her a job running the store as they were looking to replace the current manager. Becky had never done retail before so was a little apprehensive, but, with nothing to lose, dived straight in. She began to turn the business around within a few weeks, but sadly, not quickly enough to delay the fate of many small stores – creditors calling in their debts, and the store closed. Almost immediately afterwards, we decided that we knew the town could support a store, she now had some experience, I was working sufficiently to be able bring in a salary to cover all the household bills, and we had a couple of other offers of assistance, be that in labour, some small startup capital, or just goodwill, to be able to put a proper business plan together and open up a new store. This was December 2005 – in March 2006 we opened on a shoestring budget, with a range of stock on the shelves, in an old pub on the edge of the town centre.”
“The pub had been gutted by previous tenants, leaving only the bar, which we used as a counter. We riffed off the ‘friendly local’ and put a couple of bar stools at the end where parents could sit while their kids shopped. We ran events in the landlord flat above the shop floor, starting with board games, roleplaying, and CCGs, originally only opening a couple of evenings a week, with bigger events on Sundays when we closed the shop and could make use of that space as well. Less than a year later we were running out of space with events running nearly every evening, and we moved to bigger premises all of about 20 yards away after 18 months or so. Most of this period was spent growing the business by, ploughing the profits back into stock. At this point I was ill and stopped working IT and came in more to help run the shop.”
“We stayed in that location for a bit over 3 years until the owners sold the building and wanted to get rid of all the tenants – we had the chance to stay at triple rent, but opted not to do so, and moved again, this time to the end of the two main town centre streets. We settled in there for over 5 years, and other than growing to be open 7 days a week and every weekday evening, just to try and have calendar space to fit an ever-increasing schedule of events to support all the games we offer. About 18 months ago we moved to our current location, right in the town centre just off the main shopping street, with a doubling or more of retail space and tripling of our games room event space – we can now run multiple events concurrently and are still struggling for event space sometimes. The growth in organised play over the past couple of years means we try to fit in as much as we can, but some smaller games that do not have the local player base to support them, unfortunately, have to go by the wayside.”
In addition to continually outgrowing their space, Eclectic Games has one multiple awards including Retailer of the Year from the local Business Improvement District and two different Independent Retailer of the Year awards. Keep in mind that all of these awards were recognition from the Reading community and their store was competing against all manner of businesses in Reading, not just game stores.
To give back to their community, they ran a one-off event called EclectiCon which went over so well it’s now become an annual event. “We held a 10th birthday mini-convention in store last year where we invited over international designers Matt Leacock, Zev Shlasinger and Ignacy Trzewiczek to come visit, hang out, play some games, chat to the customers, and so on.” The event was such a huge success, and as Darell put it, “[W]e were not so much requested as told by the customers that ‘you’re doing this again next year, yes?'”
Not to say no to their customers, a second EclectiCon was held, with game industry celebrities like Rob Daviau making appearances. It seems to now be an annual event, with Eclecticon II already in the planning stages. “I can’t yet say exactly who we are aiming to get over for that just yet, but it will be guests of similar status and calibre.”
Who do you want to see at EclectiCon III? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credits: Eclectic Games
Apr 24 2017
Dungeon Masters: Would you like to know something that may change the way you think about creating adventures, and will also help eliminate a great amount of doubt, fear, and worry about that process? I thought you might. Here it is: it’s not the size of your adventure that really counts. And there’s no better example of this than the one-page dungeon concept.
One-page dungeons are exactly that – short, precise encounters or adventures written and mapped out on a single page. Sound impossible? Far from it. The concept went public in 2009, and has become quite popular since then. One page dungeons offer many benefits for DMs and players, most notably in that they are ready to play almost immediately, and because they can be found all over the Internet.
The first and best one-page dungeon site to visit is Dungeon Contest, home of the One Page Dungeon Contest (OPDC). The OPDC has been running since 2009, and was created by several popular online D&D players: Michael Curtis, Philippe A. Ménard, Michael Shorten, and Dave Bowman, along with continued community support by Alex Schroeder and Random Wizard.
Every year, the OPDC opens up for RPG content creators to plan and design an encounter, adventure, or entire game on one side of one standard A4 page. The creation must be engaging enough to have people wanting to play it, of course, but it also must be soundly original and legal. Creators may then submit their creations to OPDC for a chance to win a host of prizes, including a monetary prize, and any available sponsor prizes.
Qualifying entries are collected into a single compendium, formatted into pdf and print versions, and published online by RPG publisher Shattered Pike Studio. The compendiums are put up on the OPDC website store, as well as the RPGNow and DriveThruRPG sites. In essence, if you create a compelling adventure, submit it to OPDC, and it gets selected for the compendium, the printing and publishing of your adventure is done for you, and made available for a world of RPG players to play.
As of this writing, there are eleven days left to submit your 2017 OPDC entry. According to the Dungeon Contest website, “Submission Deadline is May 1st, 2017 23:59 UTC(Monday evening before Midnight Greenwich England time”. But don’t hurry or worry! If you don’t feel you can submit an entry in time for this year, that only means you have a full year to work on an entry for next year.
The OPDC isn’t the only place to find one-page dungeons. Type ‘one-page dungeons’ into your favorite search engine and you’ll find many that were included in one of the OPDC compendiums and many more that weren’t. If you have one of those rare days when you find time for yourself, search through the multitude of one-page dungeons online to find ones you like. Better yet, click on this Sage Advice D&D link that hosts more links to over 550 one page dungeons ready for you to download and use.
As mentioned earlier, one-page dungeons have plenty of benefits, such as saving Dungeon Masters hours of prep time. By design, the OPDC submission are system neutral, but that doesn’t mean all one-page dungeons are, or have to be. You can find or create one-page dungeons designed specifically for your favorite RPG, and assemble them in a folder bank so you always have a store of ready-to-play adventures.
Another advantage of one-page dungeons, chiefly the ones that are system neutral, is that they occur at or in a single location. So, take multiple one-page dungeons that happen at various places, imaginatively link them together, and you suddenly have a whole story arc, and possibly an entire campaign.
If you’re interested in creating and submitting a one-page dungeon to the OPDC, the One Page Dungeon Contest Submission Guide explains the details of how to do it. For whatever reasons you have for wanting to create your own one-page dungeon, click over to ChicagoWiz’s RPG Blog and download the handy One Page Dungeon Level and One Page Wilderness Level templates to get you started on the right track.
So, Dungeon Masters, if your players aren’t overly concerned with the size of your adventures, or you don’t particularly want to spend hours upon hours creating them, then one-page dungeons may be what you’re looking for. You may even like them enough to create your own!
Have you ever DM’d or played a one-page dungeon? Have you created a one-page dungeon? Share with us in the Comments!
Header image credit: Wizards of the Coast; article screenshots by Jim Moreno
Apr 24 2017
International Tabletop Day (April 29th) is almost here! On the big day, we’ll be playing games, laughing along with our special guests, and you can be there along for the ride on Twitch. Keep a screen up while you’re playing games this year or play along with us thanks of Asmodee Digital. You can even help kids in need by joining our Extra Life Team.
Roll dice, play nice, and tune into our Twitch 18-hour live stream on April 29th. There will be more than a few surprises. Check out our schedule below. All times are PST and they are subject to change – because, you know, it’s a live show.
What are you playing on Tabletop Day? Let us know in the comment section below.
Apr 24 2017
We could say that breaking down the play of Catan into algorithms and probability charts takes all the fun out. Then again, we’re discussing a game that’s about managing supplies of wool and grain. Bean counting has always been at its heart.
“Player One” at Board Game Analysis has deduced that there are precisely 143 unique ways to win the game, all of them being different combinations of the five means to score points on the board. For those who need a refresher, those ways include building the biggest road, assembling the biggest army, and accumulating cities, settlements, and victory points.
The particulars of how these measures are accrued relate to an algorithm called “the Knapsack Problem,” which uses the example of a bag to illustrate how people have incentives to maximize two different variables in a given situation. First, and obviously, they want to fill the bag to its fullest. However, what they want to fill it with can vary depending on their interests and the situation. Should the contents have the highest cash value? Or the lowest weight? Scrutinize the parameters long enough, and you’ll find there are a finite number of values, and a finite number of ways to balance them.
For Catan, those values are the five types of scoring, and there are only 114 winning combinations that can go into your “bag” when playing. The added wrinkle here is that player needs ten points to win at the game, but can win with eleven, depending on how a turn goes. If it’s unclear how these observations relate, practically, to gaming the system with Catan, then well… there’s a reason it takes a whole complete study to explain it. Player One even offers Java Code to support the interpretation this data.
What’s the cheapest way to win, though? Surely, that’s all anybody cares to know. Well, it comes down to getting two settlements at the start, having the longest road (at five segments), having the biggest army special card (from playing three knight cards), and collecting four of the Victory point development cards. As it happens, you could get to that combo with just 23 resource cards. If that doesn’t sound especially easy, then perhaps you’ll need to keep some code handy at the next game night.
There’s a whole host of criteria beyond that to analyze, strategize for, and of course maximize. There’s actually a whole section, for instance, on road optimization; and it’s even been updated a bit since the initial publication. Yes, Player One really is treating this like a proper statistical study and has amended the initial article to address peer review. Indeed, the number of unique ways to win Catan was at first tallied at 104 before insights in the comments section prompted a revision of that tally to 114, and then the most-recent 143. A second part has been promised, but it seems like the first part continues to be a living document that will be continually updated to reflect what’s been turning into something of an open-source game study.
Will you be applying this strategy to your game? Knowing all this, does Catan seem more fun, or less fun, now? Share everything in the comments.
Featured Image Credit: Catan.com
Image Credits: Board Game Analysis
Apr 24 2017
Don’t worry; Joe Francis’ esteemed video series has not jumped the shark. The only people Vikings Gone Wild exploits are those coming to the table expecting this card game to be sub-par. That outcome is actually somewhat ludicrous given all the factors working against this release from the get-go. You have a video game based IP, a cheesy title, and a set of mechanisms wholly cribbed from other in-genre standouts. Surprisingly enough, this game is actually very enjoyable.
When you sit down to the table you and the bearded deckbuilder may get off on the wrong foot. Thanks to the cutesy app it’s derived from, the illustrations are a little garish and possibly a turnoff. The cards are flimsy and not quite up to par. The board that serves as a play-mat in the center of the table is quite sound and a huge boon, but it looks messy and can have new players reeling with a barrel of options.
Once you push past those initial obstacles Vikings Gone Wild meets you halfway with a round of frothy deliciousness. What you’ll notice quite quickly is that there’s not a great deal of innovation here. Rather, this design is all about combining many disparate philosophies into an amalgam that somehow works.
You have an Ascension-like row of shifting cards to buy from at the top of the board. In the middle sections, Dominion’s rocking out as you have static piles of attack, defense, and building cards. Two types of currency grease the wheels as you’re looking for beer and gold to acquire your troupe of drunken warriors. There’s even a little bit of attacking similar to Imperial Settlers, although it’s a little less restricted and not too punitive to the recipient.
Like its forebearers, each turn you work your way through a hand of cards drawn from your deck in order to make purchases and build your card engine. Most cards you acquire go to your discard pile, but buildings head to a play area in front of you conferring long-term benefits. When you attack, you can go after other players who have not been targeted yet or the occasional neutral monster that pops out on the board. The more successful attacks you can chain in a turn the more points you will score.
While the core of Vikings Gone Wild is dead simple–[in a bearded war-boy accent] we buy, we build, we buy again!–there really is a lot going on. There are 20 or so card options for purchase each turn, multiple attackable targets, and end game goals to keep in mind. There is a direct risk of analysis paralysis taking hold and choking the life out of the game, especially at larger player counts. Fortunately, the game’s strongest mechanism does a great deal to rein that in.
Each player has two personal goals that they can work towards each round. These are generally accomplish-able in just a couple of actions, although later stage directives can be a little more demanding. When confused or faltering, you merely need to look to your goals and follow that path. The balance here is stellar as they manage to not feel too restrictive. If you ignore your goals for a turn or two while you pick up some really powerful combos on offer, it never feels like you’ve fallen too far behind. Managing that delicate suite of choices is much of the meat of the game as it leans on that deckbuilding aspect and adds weight to the core engine building.
The second standout mechanism here is the conflict. I’m down with the embracing of interaction and I do appreciate that attacking some buildings steals an occasional resource. I am slightly disappointed that the majority of conflicts are pretty soft, however, inflicting no damage or repercussions to the receiver. This does confer a more friendly personality to the design and fits in with the cartoonish visual presentation, but the game could benefit from just a little more bite.
Despite that minor quibble, Vikings Gone Wild brings many gangly limbs together into a workable whole. It can feel a little chaotic and incoherent at times, but the core simplicity of the engine is so smooth that it never stumbles. While variety is an asset, it must be noted that three expansions are arriving at retail alongside the base game to mix things up. One even looks to offer a cooperative mode where you fight back an undead horde. With a bright future and a smooth delivery, you can feel secure in tearing off your clothes and living it up on this Scandinavian spring break.
Have you played the Vikings Gone Wild app or table top game? Give us a shout in the comments!
Cover Image Credit: EVERYDAYiPlay
Image Credits: Lucky Duck Games
Apr 23 2017
Alright you salty sea dogs, it’s time to hoist anchor and use an excessive amount of popularized nautical slang. It’s undeniably fun to dip your toe into the romanticized version of pirates – a version that promotes light-hearted plunder, the freedom of the seas, and barrels of rum and downplays the more realistic scurvy-infested cutthroats.
And what better time to get acquainted with the best pirate games than International Tabletop Day? But pirate games aren’t all created equal. While there are some phenomenal titles, there are more than a few mediocre or poor games with a buccaneer theme slapped on. But if you want solid piracy on ITTD, you can’t go wrong with these titles.
Appetizer: Port Royal
In Port Royal, the players compete to gain the most influence by attacking ships and going on expeditions. But it’s also about money. Filling up your treasure chest will only help your influence acquisition.
Each turn, a player can flip over cards from the deck. He might flip over a person which grants certain bonuses, a ship which can be attacked and looted, an expedition which can be completed, or a tax which forces the richest player to discard. Keep flipping cards and you can have a big turn. But if two of the same ship show up, your turn is over and you get nothing.
That aspect is one of the more enjoyable about Port Royal. It has this push-your-luck feel where you want to push forward, but every flip could be your last. You are constantly thinking, “Well, the next card might be the one I need to take over that ship … but what if it is the card that ends everything?” It’s a fun place to be and a great opener to a day of gaming.
Main Course: Merchants and Marauders
For the main course, perhaps something with a grand, sandbox style game. The kind where you can really explore the life of a pirate, dodging the authorities and raiding merchants. Or, if you choose, where you can be respectable and make an honest living trading goods. Of course, you can also follow up on rumors, complete missions, upgrade your ship, and amass huge wealth for greater glory.
In Merchants and Marauders, each player starts with a unique Captain randomly dealt to them. The Captains have various skills and special abilities that might make them more suited to a life of piracy or toward honest work. You get to choose a starting ship and then you’re out on your own. The goal of the game is to reach 10 glory. And you can do that by selling goods, raiding ships, ferreting out rumors or by taking several other actions. The board features the Caribbean and you can basically sail wherever you want. Each port grants a special ability.
The best part of Merchants and Marauders is the completely open world. You decide the path you want your character to take. You can play it peaceful, or strike out against other players directly. Heck, if two countries declare a war, you can theoretically board and take over one of their warships and be the most dangerous privateer at sea. Of course, raiding and plundering does tend to result in higher bounties on your head – which the other players may want to collect.
Better yet, players who just want to trade and players who focus on raiding have a very different but roughly equal path toward victory. One doesn’t necessarily overpower the other. Which further gives players the ability to strike out in the sandbox as they see fit.
With the big game complete, its time for a little cooldown. Something that stimulates while being lighter on the rules. And that something is Libertalia. Even though its mostly an auction game, this title feels more piratey than most other pirate games with full boards and sails.
Players each have an identical deck of cards, numbered 1 through 30. Each has a special power. First, a random assortment of nine is selected and all players use the same nine. Then six auctions are held. After that, a new random selection of six is taken and added to the three each player already holds. In that way, the players start the same, but start to diverge as different cards are held back each round.
In general, the player who played the highest number gets first pick of the goods. But there are tons of special powers that change that up. And it’s not a very friendly ship since there are several abilities that let you kill the other players’ pirates.
Still, it’s good fun and the artwork is extremely evocative. Your inner pirate (or at least your inner pirate accent) will undoubtedly shine as you try to acquire treasure and jewels by outthinking your opponents and bidding in a way that counters their likely plays.
What are your favorite pirate games? Tell us about them in the comments.
Image Credits: Pegasus Spiele, Z-Man Games, and Asmodee Games
Featured Image Credit: Z-Man Games
Apr 23 2017
With International Tabletop Day around the corner, we’re counting down the days to the big celebration by highlighting friendly local gaming stores, their owners, and their awesome stories. Be sure to find an ITTD event near you so you can enjoy the festivities in your community.
Rebecca Clark is a remarkable woman. She owns Break From Reality Games, a self-described “geek and game shop” in Johnstown, Colorado, and after chatting with her and hearing her story of building the store and its community, she’s become a personal inspiration to me.
Hers is one that starts like many others. “I had always been a board gamer, throughout my childhood the one thing I remember most strongly is playing games.” She’s a mother of five boys, aged 18, 16 14, 2.5 and 7 months old, and spent seven years raising her then 3 children as a single mom. She used games to help connect with them. “When I became a single mother I wanted there to be a night for my sons that they could always know I would be home with them and engaging with them. So I started Monday night game night. In 7 years of being a single mother, I only missed 2 game nights and we still have them now even though they are older.”
Rebecca did eventually meet, as she describes, “a hot geek” and grew her family with him. But in so having another child, she grew more aware of how some gaming stores and spaces weren’t exactly amenable to her family. “After our fourth son was born realized that they weren’t very child-friendly. When we would go play at our local game store we didn’t really feel welcome and felt like we were bothering them with our family size…4 boys at this point. I played in a couple of tournaments where my opponent would be cussing up a storm with my sons sitting mere feet away. The bathrooms were grungy and I couldn’t let my baby crawl around. Eventually, I just started sending my sons and husband and I’d stay at home.”
It was in facing these challenges that the idea of creating a game store and community she and her family, and those like her, came to be. ” We wanted to create a place where everyone, especially families, would feel comfortable and welcome.” And she did just that.
“From the beginning I wanted it to be as welcoming as possible to everyone that comes in. Teenagers in our town need a place to congregate free from outside pressures where their parents can be assured they are safe. Our store is such a place. We offer free after school clubs, video gaming, and board gaming. We have a microwave and toaster oven so that anyone can use them. I found half size cookie sheets and most days of the week can be found pulling fresh cookies out of the toaster oven for anyone to enjoy. We go through A LOT of cookies!” Beyond the cookies (which are more than enough to win me over), there’s a level of connection with customers that Rebecca prides herself in. “A big thing that makes everyone feel welcome is the fact that I know almost every customer by name.”
Rebecca also thoughtfully has tailored the store’s space to be inclusive. The aisles, for example, are intentionally wide enough for a wheelchair to comfortably pass through them. And in terms of creating a space where families are comfortable? Rebecca herself has made the store the family’s second home, and has made it as comfortable for other families with younger ones so they can do so as well. “We have a children’s play area complete with toys, books and their own kid-size table. My own children work in the store and the younger one can be found rampaging around. He loves to get into the game library and will set up his own games on the kids table. My infant is almost always with me at the store and has been since I went back to work after his birth.”
Rebecca is a true hobby champion, opening the world of gaming, and letting that world make her community better, and more connected. “I have received countless emails from customers and parents thanking us for creating such a great place. We have seen gaming positively change the lives of so many around us. One of the local middle school teachers told me that a student of hers started getting better grades and behaving better in school after he started gaming with me.” It’s pretty clear Rebecca is a paragon for the kind of good gaming in a community can do, and how creating welcoming, inclusive and safe space for gaming has positive effects all around.
You can visit Break from Reality Games at 10 South Parish Avenue in Johnstown, Colorado and find them online.
Do you have memories of childhood or teenage gaming? Share it in the comments below!
Image Credits: Rebecca Clark
Apr 23 2017
If you’ve ever played an online game head-to-head against another player, then chances are you good that you’ve experienced taunting while gaming. In one form or another, taunting has been a part of human nature long before video games came around. And as much as we may not like it, taunting in gaming isn’t going away any time soon. If anything, gamers may find new ways to taunt each other for a very simple and compelling reason: it works.
Core-A-Gaming has released video that examines video game taunting from a psychological perspective. Along the way, the narrator points out an interesting fact that often goes unnoticed. “T-bagging” may be allowed in gaming, but during a real war it would be considered a violation of the Geneva Conventions of civilized warfare. The issue at hand is dignity. Even nations at war with one another are still expected to observe basic rules of conduct. Yet in video games, and in e-sports tournaments, almost anything goes.
Some of the more competitive players openly use taunting to humiliate their opponents even when they could easily gain an advantage by continuing to inflict damage upon their characters. In that way, the taunting player is conditioning their opponent to change the way that they play or simply trying to make them angry and careless. It’s surprisingly effective, and it has even led to some heated moments between players in real life, as seen in the footage within this video.
To a certain extent, the taunting is even encouraged in the tournaments, provided certain lines aren’t crossed. Many titles, like Street Fighter V even have taunts built into the games themselves, but nothing quite as extreme as T-bagging. But as long as players believe that the taunts give them the psychological edge, then the taunts will only continue to be a part of their reality.
How do you feel about taunting in video games? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!
Image Credit: Capcom
Apr 22 2017
Sometimes, our schedules are so hectic or weird—or we live so far away from other gamers with similar playstyles—that getting a good tabletop group together seems impossible. Other times, we are looking to roleplay in a specific kind of fantasy or sci-fi world, or within a TV/book/anime fandom that really inspires us. Perhaps writing a detailed character backstory is one of your favorite parts of the process. Or maybe you’ve felt that roleplaying would be so much easier if you didn’t have to fumble through speaking in-character but could instead take the time to write it out, penning your character’s actions, dialogue, and feelings with a novelist’s flair.
If this describes you, you might be the perfect target audience for freeform play-by-post roleplay, another type of roleplaying inspired by its tabletop RPG counterparts plus a hefty dose of fiction writing.
What is Freeform Play-By-Post Roleplay?
Play-by-post roleplay (PBP RP) typically uses web forums software to host a roleplaying game campaign, although Tumblr and other platforms are also used. Each thread is its own scene or episode in the greater story. Different players participate by describing what their characters think, say, and do in response to the other characters in one or more posts or replies. Unlike chat rooms, forums are designed to be asynchronous, so you can post whenever you have the time, and the other participants post their characters’ reactions whenever works for them, too.
An example of forum-based roleplay from UNBOUND, a writing-intensive Dragon Age roleplay that focuses on the events post-Trespasser.
Each character has their own account on the forum, so players know who is participating even if one player has multiple characters. An application process is typically required before a player can begin posting as a specific character, which results in a character sheet that contains important narrative information such as the character’s history, physical description, personal strengths and weaknesses, as well as the character’s relatives, rivals, and allies, many of whom are also player characters.
Over a series of threads, an overarching narrative emerges, similar to how a tabletop RPG adventure module or campaign does. Unlike tabletop RPGs, however, there are no dice rolled: players advance the story by consensus, or they use diceless mechanics like comparing relative stat values to determine who would win in a conflict. This is why it’s considered “freeform” roleplay. (Forum adaptations of tabletop RPGs exist—go check out Myth-Weavers for examples if you’re curious.)
Freeform PBP RP also differs from tabletop RPGs in that there is usually no game master. The players decide how the story will broadly unfold among themselves, and then they write out what happens, leaving room to be surprised by their own inspiration while writing. If non-player characters as needed for a given scene, the players will play an NPC for a time, all in the service of advancing each other’s stories. Since they aren’t tasked with narrating dice results, the forum’s admins and moderators usually determine and enforce the forum’s rules, while plot leaders are tasked with creating and initiating plotlines that will involve multiple players in a compelling conflict.
How Do I Sign Up?
You can try a Google search for concepts that interest you (just add “forum rpg” to your query), but you best bet are resources in the PBP community itself, including the many directories and collectives. Some active ones include RPG-Directory, Distant Fantasies, and FYRA’s Group Search, which specializes in Tumblr-based roleplaying.
When you’ve found a forum that interests you, begin by reading through the rules and character application process. Follow the site’s specific directions for creating a forum account and submitting your first character application. Many sites have a new-player guide that covers exactly that in addition to providing additional information about the setting and its assumptions. You can make an out-of-character (often abbreviated to “OOC”) account and introduce yourself in the general or introductions sub-forum. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the forum’s cbox (short for chatbox) if they have one, or you can private message one of the moderators or admins for help.
Once you’ve gotten an idea of the expectations for the forum, such as whether there are word count minimums or content restrictions, involve yourself in one of the many plots taking place on the board! Many forums have “wanted ads” for specific types of characters that come with their own plot hooks, or “plotting” subforums where players can discuss possible storylines for their characters using their OOC accounts. Finally, it will be time to take the plunge and make your first post! Read some of the other threads to see what the style is like on this board. Find an open thread—or begin your own—and end your post on a cliffhanger that allows another character to react or respond.
You’ll have the most success on the forums if you can get to know the other players and begin collaborating with them on character concepts, ways to connect those characters, and epic plots! You might even forge new friendships in the process.
Have you ever done freeform play-by-post roleplaying before? Share your advice for people new to the format in the comments below!
Featured Image Credit: Canva
Image Credits: UNBOUND and RPG-Directory (screenshots by Katrina Ostrander)
Apr 22 2017
Paul Butler is the newly-minted owner of Games and Stuff, but make no mistake: he’s no industry rookie. Paul has been involved in managing this miniature and tabletop gaming mecca for years, and is fortified with more previous experience in specialty retail which has allowed him to create brilliantly crafted events and spaces for people who are passionate fans. We got to chat with Paul about his journey to becoming a store owner, and the things that make his store and the community within it unique.
When Paul moved to Baltimore in 2009, he discovered Games and Stuff, and at the time they didn’t have a board game nerd on staff. He stepped in part-time as their “board game guy”, providing recommendations, running events, and helping the owners decide what board games to stock. Around a year later, he became the store manager and continued to bring his experience with specialty retail to the culture of the store. This culture is one of the things that make Games and Stuff special, “It’s a combination of product knowledge and customer knowledge. Not every member of the staff can know how to play every game but they need to have a passing familiarity of each area of the store. Often, board games are driven by current hot titles. If you don’t have somebody on staff who is your resident ‘board game guru’ who is aware of that title and talks to your regulars, whether or not the game is even out yet, you need to have somebody tapped into that to present yourself as legitimate.”
Paul feels that there are very real consequences to the customer experience for not maintaining great staff and keeping the culture of the store intact, “Look at Magic cards, if you are going to be a Magic shop, you better have somebody on staff who can talk about the current state of magic decks in standard tournaments or the fluctuating cost of ‘card X’. Those customers are really only interested in Magic and if they come in and talk to somebody at the counter and there is nobody to talk to them about Magic, they’re going to feel like you are just a salesperson and you are not passionate about what you are selling. The same applies to boardgames. Part of the experience is the conversations, whether or not there’s a transaction happening at the cash register. Having at least one and ideally more than that, on staff is huge. Realize who your regulars are. Knowing them and their tastes. This can personalize the recommendation process. You are sharing your enthusiasm.”
While the staff at Games and Stuff are what make the store stand out, you can’t ignore the wow factor of walking through the door. The store itself is 7700 square feet, split almost down the middle. The back half of the store is a game room and it is massive. It can legally seat 170 people and is capable of running multiple events simultaneously. The front half is equally impressive and what makes the store feel like a Mecca for miniature and tabletop gamers. “We’re a full-service games store. We have 4 different quadrants. Board games, role playing games, miniature wargames, and Magic and collectible card games. We have a community painting table where you can come in and paint, we have an airbrush hood so you can airbrush in the store. We do sell airbrushes and we carry a lot of unusual painting accessories that we import from Europe.”
I know what my first stop is going to be the next time I find myself in the Baltimore region.
What weird gaming supply do you wish your FLGS carried? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credits: Games and Stuff
Apr 22 2017
“Do not, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence!” – Immortan Joe
The Earth has dried out, civilization shaping into a crippled husk of its glory days. Survivors glide across the cracked ocean floor in handmade land-sails, pushed by the wind and the shriveled vestiges of ambition. When the raiders arrive upon their guzzling motorized vehicles, terror clings upon their wings. This is Saltlands.
If the concept doesn’t grab you, that hot-damn art definitely will. This post-apocalyptic adventure game is many things. It’s a cooperative game, it’s a competitive game, and it’s also something in between. Players take on a unique character, traversing the torn landscape to unearth rumors of an exit to this forsaken land. The idea is to get the hell out of dodge just as Lord Humungus and his crew show up to throw a party (that’s a Road Warrior reference for you youngins).
The game plays mostly the same whether you engage cooperative or competitive mode. In the former, you are simply more likely to trade supplies and help a brother out, in the latter you can attack each other to steal victory cards which are needed to escape once the map exit is determined. Classic mode is the preferred method of play where more than one player can win if you all hit the door simultaneously and you can’t harass or impede each other’s progress. Typically, player conflict would add a great deal of oomph to such a title, but here the 2+ hour game can occasionally overstay its welcome as-is, so throwing in PVP-style attacking merely slows things down for little comparative gain.
Saltlands is relatively streamlined for a big box adventure title. On your turn you travel around the modular map, spending actions to pick up tiles or vanquish AI-controlled enemies. Raiders travel around in a variety of cars and all-terrain vehicles, taking every opportunity to gut you in between player activations. The difficulty here is kind of wobbly, as you can die somewhat easily if you don’t possess defensive cards in hand. But with enough care and tactical decisiveness, it can occasionally feel a cakewalk. Luckily there are options to nudge the challenge level up or down.
The problem with Saltlands is that it comes across as somewhat mundane. At its worst, it can feel as though it lacks drama and fails to offer surprise or tension. There’s no event card system or unexpected shakeups in the environment, so it’s mostly about efficiently managing your hand and action allotment. It can feel repetitive and the inclusion of additional scenarios beyond the standard setup would have helped alleviate this.
But it certainly has its moments. The concept of including a huge variety of equipment is pulled off very well. Many items give the option of sustained low-proficiency use, or permanent expenditure for a one-time large effect. This allows satisfying elements such as chucking your spear at the semi-truck smashing into your side or discarding a shotgun to blast a garbage pail kid in the dome.
Combine the item manipulation and hand management with the interesting crew based action system and you have compelling moments. To perform many actions in the game you need to exhaust a crew member. You will hopefully gain more throughout play which will increase your effectiveness. When you’re wheeling around with multiple passengers and a solid hand of cards, you can hit moments of strong synergy where you fly through some combos to eliminate a couple of raiders and pick up some nifty loot. It can feel very satisfying.
The single most tantalizing mechanism of Saltlands is the handling of wind. Players begin with land-sails and their movement is heavily influenced by wind direction. The angle and strength of the air currents will change over time, affecting how you move and travel across the board. It’s a simple thing but it’s very neat and is pulled off in a thematic and exemplary way. The only problem with this mechanic is that it is undercut occasionally by players ditching their land-sails and occupying raider vehicles. While this is not often strategically rewarded as the land-sails can travel much faster in certain directions, it can still feel disheartening at times when no one is flying around on the currents and instead burning guzzoline.
Due to Kickstarter overfunding, Saltlands has hit the market with an expansion. Lost in the Desert features new tiles, new equipment, and new characters. This is certainly not a mandatory addition, but the increased variety is appreciated. The largest benefit here is the inclusion of more characters which helps add a bit of spice to play. Archetypes like the mysterious Shaman, katana-wielding Soldier, and double-mint Twins add a new approach to play.
The expansion also features a new epic mode for the clinically insane. This adds another turn to the game with additional raider AI cards, but most will not make use of this feature as Saltlands is plenty lengthy as-is. For those who want to stretch out their play to as long as possible, the option is there.
Oh what a day…what a lovely day!
Saltlands may not be spectacular as a whole, but it’s certainly a decent entry into the Mad Max inspired post-apocalyptic genre. It has powerful moments and is visually inspiring. If you want to retire on a yacht in the blistering desert, trading blows with motherless heathens as you make the sign of the V8, then Saltlands may be your cardboard poison.
Are you a fan of post-apocalyptic games? Have you tried Saltlands? Let us know in the comments!
Featured Image Credit: Antler Games
Image Credits: Antler Games, Charlie Theel
Apr 21 2017
One of the most enduring economic games in the boardgaming world is Brass. First published in 2007, it has consistently found itself near the top of boardgaming rankings for the past decade. And with good reason. The game is an economic slugfest where you push your income and your victory through fierce competition and opportunism over various industries. And now, it’s getting a slick new version which is currently up on Kickstarter.
Brass is getting a bit of a name change with the new publication. It will now be Brass: Lancashire. Partly this is to reference the part of England you’ll be competing in, but also its to distinguish it from a brand new title – Brass: Birmingham. Using a very similar engine, Birmingham brings a ton of new changes to the game.
But let’s talk about Lancashire first. For the most part, the game mechanics are a faithful recreation of the original. More impressive are the visuals which are getting a stunning new update. The cover is getting a far more realistic and gritty depiction that really drives the sense of harsh capitalism. It is far more evocative of the gritty competition that the players will experience than the somewhat more enthusiastic and hopeful cover of the original. But, in an obvious callback, the new cover still features the well-dressed man holding his contraption.
But it isn’t just the outside of the box, the inside is getting a revamp as well. The board uses darker tones and conveys more of a countryside theme. Whereas the old board was much cleaner with minimal artwork. Plus, the cards have all new art. As always, depending on the success of the campaign, there are a number of stretch goals that will provide component upgrades.
Although it’s mostly a faithful recreation, a few tweaks have been made to the rules. Mostly they seem quite positive. For instance, the “virtual link” is gone. That thing was so infrequently used and so confusing to new players that its removal was highly justified. Also adjusted are the rules for two and three players to bring it more in line with the awesome four-player experience.
One of Brass’s strongest points is the way that quasi-alliances arise organically as port players and cotton players work together – not by agreement, but simply by self-interest. They need each other to really succeed and you can make a whole lot more points by focusing on one or the other than trying to do both for yourself. Finding a way to preserve that tenuous and economically motivated cooperation at lower player counts will be a great achievement.
If you are looking for something new, though, that’s where Brass: Birmingham comes into the picture. It’s quite different from the original. So different, in fact, that while it draws obvious inspiration from its predecessor, it changes fundamental mechanisms to create something wholly new.
In Birmingham, you sell to various markets around the board – each wanting different types of goods. And that’s important because Birmingham involves more than cotton. There is also manufacturing and pottery. And, of course, beer. In fact, the breweries can be quite critical to getting your goods sold at all. Think of it as a way to lubricate sales.
Birmingham takes the basics of Brass and really tweaks the incentives. Previous strategies become less powerful while new ones can be discovered. For long-time fans of the original, this will surely be an intriguing way to explore a new system even while it operates on a familiar core set of principles.
As of this writing, the Kickstarter has already blown past it’s funding goal. So head on over and check it out.
Are you looking forward to the new Brass? Tell us about it in the comments.
All Image Credits: Roxley Games
Apr 21 2017
Sam de Leve is a performer and a host on Geek and Sundry’s Twitch. They can be found playing RPGs, lifting weights, and avoiding long walks on the beach at all costs. Find Sam on Twitter @ChaiKovsky
Warning: The following article contains spoilers for VAST: Season 1 .
RPGs are a wonderful medium to explore gender and sexuality. They are near-universally run in speculative settings, allowing gamemasters to build new worlds where our society’s rules don’t apply, and players to get inside the minds of people with different life experiences.
These experiences can be a safe space to explore queer and trans identities, and in fact, it is rather common for role-players to play characters with a different gender than one’s own, although we have seen surprisingly little of that in many of the most popular live play RPG shows. VAST, though, brings us some of the best queer moments and queer worldbuilding we’ve seen from a live play RPG show.
Lulu and Sira
You want adorable queer relationships in your RPG? VAST has got your back. In a series of small moments that culminate in a bloom of love, Louvin Yikjaal Muur and Sira the Unbidden create one of the sweetest, achingly perfect romances in RPG.
From the show’s premiere, where Sira rescues the injured and burned Louvin, Lulu and Sira share a bond that could easily be read as supportive crewmates, or a budding friendship. Their intimacy grows in subtle ways episode-by-episode, and at Episode 9, Lulu and Sira arrive at a payoff of unmistakeable love that surprises even the Gamemaster—until he looks back and realizes that the groundwork has been laid all along. The slow burn (if you’ll pardon the pun) between the Flame and Kiraeyi creates a sense of authenticity to their relationship, further drawing us into their love.
It all too bittersweet, then, that the episode where Lulu and Sira’s love becomes clear is the same episode that Sira leaves: we feel the pain of romantic potential unfulfilled. VAST allows us this delicious agony, but without the accompanying frustration of a Bury Your Gays trope.
Instead of letting Sira die and reinforcing the societal notion that LGBTQ+ romance is inextricably linked to death, Sira ascends, leaving with Lulu’s blessing to become something greater than herself. It hurts, yes; it is the right love at the wrong time. But it illustrates the strength of Louvin’s character, and indeed the depth of her love for Sira, that she encourages the person she loves to follow her goals and to make the most of her time in this world.
Louvin and Sira have the only explicit romance of Season One of VAST, and it is absolutely beautiful. Here’s hoping we haven’t seen the last of these two together!
Beyond the Gender and Sexual Binary on VAST
Even on Earth, binary gender and sexual dimorphism are far from universal; how much more so, then, that a galaxy of diverse species presents myriad sexual biologies and societal relationships to gender? Season One gave us sixteen species, and just as each has a unique culture, they also have their own idiosyncratic relationship to gender and sexuality. Many species are nonbinary, and VAST gives us an abundance of information on how gender informs those cultures.
The RPG immediately grasps the distinction between biology, reproduction, and gender. For instance, the show features multiple species with asexual reproduction, some of whom present themselves with binary genders, others of whom do not. Until Sira the Unbidden, for instance, Flame had a strictly asexual means of reproduction, and yet the Flame we meet on Season One of VAST have thus far used binary pronouns and indicate some relationship to binary gender identity.
By contrast, the Ilatim are also an asexually reproductive species, but their gender is indisputably nonbinary: the Ilatim use a set of neopronouns based in part on first-person plural (we/our/ourself), but paired with third-person singular verb conjugation. Throughout the Ilatim-focused episode, navigating pronouns and grammar proves difficult, but the cast perseveres in good faith, normalizing the process of adapting to and respecting others’ gendered language. In our own world, where nonbinary language is so often derided, it is gratifying to see an alternative based on mutual respect.
Other species in VAST have been canonically identified as nonbinary or nonconforming, such as Cyryn, whose ability to adapt to new environments means that Cyryn enjoy a variety of relationships to sex and gender, and even the Ta’al Klee, who seem to have binary sexes, but who claim to have “transcended” gender as a social construct.
A nonbinary species whose gender dynamics are explored in depth is the Dieikae. Their society includes a third gender, antigender, who are among the most active participants in Dieikae civic society; excellent worldbuilding ensures that their social structure organically integrates the implications of three genders in a species with a dramatically different reproductive strategy from our own.
As of Season One, we have been privy only to a limited view of Dieikae society, which may give us a misleadingly utopian view of their culture: are reproductive members truly equal participants in society who happen to opt for childrearing in large numbers, or have antigender Dieikae constructed a form of nonbinary patriarchy by which reproduction acts as a barrier to career? The rich worldbuilding on VAST invites so many questions about the galaxy’s inhabitants, with respect to gender just as anything else.
VAST Gets Trans
What’s novel about VAST, though, is a story of a character who is trasngender in a way that we might understand it: someone who was assigned a sex and gender at birth, but who ultimately transitions away from that assigned role, in this case both hormonally and socially. This offers trans people an opportunity to see more than just alternately-gendered societies, but also a reflection of our own experiences: the struggles of transition, the lack of acceptance from others, the journey to accept oneself. Those stories can only be told when a character diverges from their society’s notions of gender, and it is a story highlighted by no less than a captain of one of the two ships.
And seriously, Visionary Destroyer may have my single favorite trans storyline of all time.
Visionary Destroyer sees an opportunity to hormonally transition, and she immediately gravitates toward it (we later learn that she has wanted this for a long time—or at least her player has). At the first opportunity, she takes it, and we can see how she, although always confident, reaches a new level of satisfaction and sense of self. After so long feeling as though she doesn’t measure up to what is expected of her, she defies expectations and in so doing, becomes who she was meant to be.
Her reunion with her brother could have shattered that nascent sense of self. Noble Defender doesn’t accept her, at first, and we see him going through stages of denial (“That can’t be our ship if it’s captained by a woman!”) and bargaining (“I just need my brother back”). Meanwhile, we see Visionary Destroyer is totally serene in the face of her brother’s reaction, asserting herself (“Call me your sister”) and letting Noble come to her, rather than minimizing her identity in any way for his comfort. Just as discomfort with trans people is something that cis people have to process, rather than something that is incumbent on trans people to resolve, Visionary Destroyer sets out her terms, and Noble Defender needs to get on the party bus, so to speak.
But the culmination of this conflict arrives when the Screaming Valor comes to Pupil for Visionary Destroyer to confront the Mother and the Fathers, who are disgusted by her new form. Visionary Destroyer’s new body earns her the name “Horrifying Monstrosity” from the Mother and rejection from her Father in a scene that has harsh, painful resonance for all the trans people who have dealt with unsupportive, hostile parents and transphobic society at large. And what does Visionary Destroyer do?
She demands that they look upon her, that they accept her. And when she is refused, Visionary Destroyer kills her god and eats that god’s face.
It is a moment of magnificent catharsis, not just for Visionary Destroyer, but for anyone who has been called a monster for being different. It is a sequence with grand ramifications on the scale of galactic politics, but intensely personal ones as well: even after This Might Be A Good Idea is freed from the loyalty switch that compels him to support Visionary Destroyer and the Brightest Eye at large, Good Idea still fervently speaks up in favor of Visionary Destroyer and her “magnificent transformation.”
Despite all the conflict between the two characters throughout the show, Good Idea supports Visionary Destroyer in this pivotal moment, even when he doesn’t have to. It is a sweet instance of comradeship that stands in stark contrast against a backdrop of savage rejection by the Mother and Fathers, and it is just as welcome as any show of support and respect for a trans friend.
Certainly, Visionary Destroyer’s story is uniquely Brightest Eye, but again and again, her story touches on trans themes and experiences that resonate far beyond its giant space-cockroach origins.
VAST shows us a galaxy greater than ourselves, and its fundamental message is that there is more than just one perspective. The queer and trans themes of VAST reinforce that message by revealing so many ways life in our galaxy might defy our limited perspective.
VAST is here, it is queer, and I am into it.
You can watch VAST every Monday at 7PM only on ALPHA. If you don’t already have ALPHA, sign-up today to start over at Project ALPHA right now to catch up on past episodes after they air or watch the show live.
Apr 21 2017
We’ve already looked at starting Wizards, so today we’re going to talk about Druids. Just like last time, we suggest you check out great tips for new RPG players to help setup your character and those articles are a great place to start as they will help you get the most out of your new roleplay experience and get you thinking about your back story and how you want your Druid to play. This article is going to focus on filling in your stat sheet and deciding what spells you should take, instead of your backstory (which is REALLY important).
LET’S GET STARTED!
Before jumping into the meat, I want to take a moment to describe what a Druid in D&D actually is. I would rather you choose the Druid with a full understanding of what that means, and not expect to have some crazy forest ninja who leads from the front (those are Rangers) like I did the first time I played. Don’t let the armour fool you!
At their core, Druids are nature wizards. They have the same amount and breakdown of spell slots as a Wizard does, with the only exception being that wizards learn one additional cantrip and have a much larger pool of spells to choose. What do druids get? All of their magic is focused on nature and life. Unlike wizards, druids can learn healing spells, can wear up to medium armour, carry a shield and even have some pretty cool weapon proficiencies (despite the fact they will not wear armour or use shields that are made of metal).
Statistics in D&D represent how your character interacts with the world and what they can (and cannot) accomplish. Work with your DM to ensure you are generating your statistics the same as the rest of your group and whatever method chosen, you will generate 6 different numbers; 1 for each attribute. When you have your numbers, it’s important to prioritize your statistics to get the most out of them. First, take the highest statistic and use it for your Wisdom score. As you are able to wear medium armour, you want to make sure you are maxing your AC (how hard it is for creatures to hit you in combat) at a +2, which means giving it a 14 or 15, if you have it available. Finally, constitution should be one of your higher stats. This gives you more hit points every time you level and makes it harder for your character to die. Follow this as a good how to:
Wisdom -> Dexterity (max 15) -> Constitution -> Charisma (trust me) -> Intelligence -> Strength
At level 1, a Druid knows 2 cantrips and a number of level 1 spells equal to their level (1) + their Wisdom modifier. For the purpose of this article, let’s assume you have 5 spells and we’ll walk through some great choices.
For your starting cantrips, I recommend Shillelagh and Thorn Whip. I like Shillelagh at early levels because you can turn the club or quarterstaff (one of the starting weapons you should choose) into a magical weapon that does D8 damage. This is why you can treat Strength as a dump stat. The spell allows you to use your spell attack modifier for melee attacks and does a blanket D8. Keep in mind that you still add your spellcasting ability to damage rolls so as you level and that as it gets better, it will start adding some more damage. Thorn Whip is a typical ranged attack cantrip that has the bonus of being able to pull the affected target towards you, so make sure you are always hanging out at your maximum 30 feet (you are still a somewhat squishy nature Wizard).
You have healing spells, so ALWAYS take them. Your two first spells should be Healing Word and Cure Wounds. This gives you versatility to heal a target at range with Healing Word, or use the much more powerful Cure Wounds if you are close enough to touch the target. Do not run past the big angry melee monster to heal a party member unless you don’t mind getting punched but trust me when I say that you absolutely do mind being punched. Cure Wounds when it is safe to do so, Healing Word the rest of the time. Next you should look for a combat focused spell and unfortunately Druids only have Thunderwave to choose. Remember, Thunderwave can hurt your friends, so don’t kill the ox pulling your party’s wagon, like I did. I recommend Entangle next as it allows you to restrain an enemy, making all of the fighters in your group have advantage when attacking the target.
The last thing I will mention about Druid spells is that, unlike a Wizard’s spellbook, you’re not stuck knowing these spells forever (except cantrips, you break it, you bought it). During any long rest, a Druid can swap out their spells, so feel free to play around with all of them and see what you like.
Playing with only the Player’s Handbook (as there are additional options in supplements and Unearthed Arcanas), you have two choices; Circle of the Land or Circle of the Moon. Druids of the Circle of the Land embrace spellcasting and truly become nature Wizards. You learn a new cantrip, bringing your totals in line with those of Wizards, and at different levels you will learn new spells that do not count towards your limit and you always have prepared. The lists in the Player’s Handbook are cumulative so at 9th level, you will know all of them, all the time.
Druids of the Circle of the Moon focus on their shape shifting abilities. They can transform into larger creatures and at a much earlier level. Eventually, their beast attacks will count as magical and you can even turn into an elemental. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a brown bear all the time and you can still provide a lot of use to the party in your non-Beast form by casting spells and using cantrips. Of course, it never hurts to have an emergency bear on stand by. No one expects an emergency bear.
Do you have any tips for new Druids? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credits: Wizards of the Coast
Apr 21 2017
Over 10 years ago Cody Dame was the owner of a small video business that filmed weddings and other local events in his hometown of McCook, Nebraska. A gamer at heart, Dame occasionally sold Magic The Gathering cards to his gaming buddies who stopped by his shop.
A contest in 2007 made Magic the focus of his business after Dame won the Hormel Business Plan Competition with his proposal for a gaming and comic book store. The grand prize was a $25,000 investment into his new business: Game on Games.
“Winning the contest jump started Game on Games and by June we were open for business,” Dam said. “It was nice having people behind us that had experience in opening businesses. One of the founders of the competition is still on our board of directors today, offering wonderful advice on lots of things. We feel fortunate to be able to start something and be able to have that kind of network built in right away.”
As Game on Games’ 10th anniversary draws closer, Dame fondly recalls his initial foray into hobby gaming. “When I was 12 years old I’d ride my bike to a small card shop in downtown McCook and they specialized in sports cards, but they also had a small section with Magic The Gathering,” he said. “One day I was buying sports cards and thought, ‘Oh, I’ll buy Magic and see what it’s about’ and I’ve been playing ever since.”
As his passion for collectible card games grew, Dame began exploring a new world of board games. “I bought Robo Rally soon after, knowing that Richard Garfield designed Magic,” he said.
Unfortunately, the card shop closed a few years after he’d discovered his love of gaming. “There was no other game store in the area for me. It was hard for a couple of years,” he said. “We really didn’t have anything to do so we played at each other’s houses while keeping the friendships alive that I’d made at that card shop.”
After he opened his video business, Dame recalled that, “all my friends that I played Magic and board games with would come in and I said, ‘There’s no reason why I shouldn’t have some Magic here in the store.’” Winning the $25,000 contest gave him a chance to pursue his passion full time and after almost 10 years in business and three additional stores, Dame still enjoys playing the game that brought him into the hobby.
“Every Friday night I have a good time at the store playing Magic,” he said. “Once we opened the store I’ve really been into tons of different board games because I’ve seen how awesome it is to bring them to people that have never heard about it. Then you all have a great time and all of a sudden they’re like, ‘I didn’t know board games were like this!’ It opens up such a new world for different people. Being at the store I get to show first-hand tons of these awesome board games to people.”
The satisfaction of sharing games with new players is surpassed only by the feeling of seeing a familiar face at the store. “Kids that started 10 years ago I’ve seen graduate and move on to college and have careers,” he said. “They still come back and hang out and play games with us after they’ve moved away. It’s nice; there’s no other word for it. It’s nice to see them come back and it’s nice to see old friends and play a board game with them.
“Tabletop gaming means my life. I’ve built everything I do around tabletop gaming. It means the world to me. There is nothing that I do that is more important in my daily life than hanging out playing games and teaching new people how to play them.”
Game On Games is located at 220 Westview Plaza in McCook, Nebraska. Visit their Facebook page here.
Have you won a contest at your FLGS? Tell us in the comments!
Image Credits: Game On Games
Ruel Gaviola is a writer and educator based in Southern California. He loves board games, books, cooking, traveling, date nights with his wife, and Star Wars. He reviews games and reports news for iSlaytheDragon.com and his name rhymes with Superman’s Kryptonian name. Follow him on Twitter.
Apr 21 2017
One of the great things about playing Dungeons & Dragons is the variety of choices available for solving problems. Fighting can be a good way to do that, but not always. When you can roleplay your character’s knowledge, skills, and abilities to creatively handle a situation, without resorting to combat, those are the moments that show the true essence of the game.
I recently combined a couple of gameplay elements that I think are going to work well together to do just such a thing. By taking the Sowing Rumors tactic and pairing it with the Heart of Darkness, I’ve created a way to fight without fighting. Let me tell you how.
Sowing Rumors (DMG pg 131) is listed as a downtime activity in “Chapter 6: Between Adventures” in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. It details the process by which a character can create and spread rumors as “an effective way to bring down a villain or elevate a friend.” The technique involves a variable amount of time and gold depending on the size of the settlement where you’re sowing the rumors.
The Heart of Darkness is a feature that comes with the Haunted One background, which was released with the Curse of Strahd adventure module.
“Those who look into your eyes can see that you have faced unimaginable horror and that you are no stranger to darkness. Though they might fear you, commoners will extend you every courtesy and do their utmost to help you. Unless you have shown yourself to be a danger to them, they will even take up arms to fight alongside you, should you find yourself facing an enemy alone.”
Locorai Grim is my character venturing through CoS, a Neutral Evil tiefling warlock with The Fiend patron and Pact of the Blade. CoS is his first adventure, and I took the Haunted One background immediately, as it looked like a perfect fit for Grim’s personality.
One night, my group slept at the Blue Water Inn in Vallaki. My patron visited me in a dream, and told me Vallaki’s mayor, Baron Vargas Vallakovich, needs to be eliminated. If I do so, I will be granted a special boon. That’s all I needed to know to see to it I do what my patron commands of me.
There are way too many people, and guards, in Vallaki to just go and pick a direct fight with the mayor, especially for a squishy and non-stealthy warlock. So, I decided to employ my 14 INT and 17 CHA to play upon the citizen’s firmly established fears of missing persons, doppelgangers, and mistrust that abounds in Vallaki.
I consulted with my DM, and we worked out my plan of action. I began telling everyone I talked to in Vallaki about my party’s discovery of a doppelganger (true), and how it had taken on the form of the mayor (not true) and tried to kill us. I visited the inn and a couple of shops to tell this rumor to anyone who would listen.
And they are listening! My high CHA and favorable die rolls have allowed me to get the attention I want, along with passing a few gold coins around. The Heart of Darkness feature is giving me advantage on conveying the right emotions, and on increasing the believability factor of my rumor, despite my tiefling appearance and evil alignment.
I’m hoping to stir enough negative public sentiment against the mayor that the citizens confront him directly. Perhaps they’ll get angry enough to seek his death, either by their own hands, or by hiring a group of adventurers who just happen to be in town to do the task for them. Or if I were to call out the mayor myself, perhaps the citizens would rally around me and assist me in bringing about his end. As long as my patron deems the mayor’s ending fitting, I’m good either way.
Roughly guessing, but I think we may only be about halfway through CoS. So I think there’s plenty of time for me to monger these rumors and accomplish my patron’s task. Aside from taking on Strahd, this sowing rumors operation is the most exciting and challenging encounter I think I’ll have in this adventure. And who knows? I may even be able to use this tactic to help take down Strahd himself!
So, that’s how I’m engaging in the art of fighting without fighting in my D&D game. I hope you check out the Sowing Rumors tactic and Heart of Darkness feature for yourself, and think of how you can craftily use them in your own games.
Are you using these two elements in your D&D sessions? Tell us how in the Comments below!
Image credits: Wizards of the Coast; Vallaki map art by Mike Schley
Apr 21 2017
This week’s Unearthed Arcana is really interesting. It presents 18 Feats, corresponding with the 18 skills found on your character sheet. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, Feats are special talents or interests that give your character special abilities. The rules for Feats (which are optional, check with your DM first), allow you to select a Feat in place of improving your Ability Scores when you hit certain levels. The Feat list found in the Player’s Handbook is extensive and contains a lot of potential options for your character. The only things these Feats do not represent is a true mastery of the skills found on the character sheet. Before I get into the list, I want to mention one thing that every Feat does. It grants proficiency in its corresponding skill. If you are already proficient in that skill when you select the Feat, you add your proficiency bonus twice, instead of just once (which is how normal proficiency works).
Brawny is the Feat associated with Athletics. It increases your Strength score by 1 (to a maximum of 20) and counts you as being one size larger for the purpose of determining carrying capacity. Now on its surface, this doesn’t sound that incredible as you kind of have to be a hoarder to run into issues with your carrying capacity, but the first thing I thought of was Fezzik from the Princess Bride. You never know when you’ll have to scale the Cliffs of Insanity with your entire party hanging from you and cheering you on.
Historian is the Feat associated with History. It increases your Intelligence score by 1 and allows you to improve your Help action. As long as the creature you are helping can understand you and you pass a DC 15 check (with potentially double your proficiency + your INT modifier, this check should be a cake walk), that creature can then add your proficiency bonus, in addition to the advantage it makes on the check. The Feat talks about how you provide historical examples and give pertinent advice but I would like to imagine that your character is droning on about everything they know on the subject, relevant or not, all while boring the rest of your party.
Empathic is the Feat associated with Insight. It increases your Wisdom score by 1 and allows you to try and use your uncanny insight on a humanoid within 30 feet. You make a contested Insight roll (remember to add double your proficiency if you were already proficient in Insight when you selected this Feat) against their Deception and if you are successful, you gain advantage on attack rolls and skill checks against that target, until the end of your next turn. This ability is taken as an action, so you won’t get two rounds of attacks against it, barring a class feature (like Action Surge).
Theologian is the Feat associated with Religion. It increases your Intelligence score by 1 and gives you both the Thaumaturgy cantrip and the Detect Evil and Good spell that can be cast at level 1 without using a spell slot (once per long rest). The Thaumaturgy cantrip is a fun one that allows you to manifest a minor wonder within 30 feet of you. Combined with your knowledge of Religion, it might be enough to convince some simple townsfolk of your divinity and make them eager to assist your quest. Detect Evil and Good is a neat spell that allows you to sense the presence of evil and good creatures within 30 feet of you. No word on whether you have to go door-to-door with your newfound excellence in religion.
Stealthy is the Feat associated with Stealth. It increases your Dexterity score by 1 and levels up your stealth. In addition to the double proficiency, if you are hidden, you can move up to 10 feet in the open without revealing yourself, provided you end your move in a position where you are not clearly visible. The Rogue in your group is going to love this one for almost guaranteeing their Sneak Attack.
What are your favourite Feats? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credits: Wizards of the Coast