Sunday, May 01, 2016

International Tabletop Day 2016

Last year at this time I had my hands full with a newborn, so I missed out on Tabletop Day. In the past, we've hosted Tabletop Day in our own place, but with Ada, it's difficult for me to focus on a game, so, with Claire's permission, I headed out for a day of board games.

After spending the morning at Family Place with Ada, Claire picked us up from the park before dropping me over to Players Wanted Games on Victoria Drive, and then heading out for lunch with Ada and a friend. I had packed a few games I hoped to play, but nothing too crazy. I stuck to a few small, fast, fun card games, and box games chosen for their ease of teaching and speed of play, as well as repeated success for me in introducing them to new players in the past.

On arriving, I spent a short time browsing the shelves and bumped into a lovely couple who had just randomly wandered into the store while visiting the area. Although big board gamers themselves, George and Jenn hadn't known about the Tabletop Day event, and were just lucky enough to stop by. After bonding over a copy of Mysterium on the shelves, I offered to play a game or two before they had to leave, so, along with the Rubin, a local and regular, I started my Tabletop Day teaching Gravwell, the fantastic space race game of plotting, luck and hilarity.

After Gravwell, George and Jenn were short on time, but I managed to convince them to try one round of Rhino Hero. It was an easy sell, and turned out to be the most tense game of the day, filled with laugh-out-loud moments. Everyone played a stormer, and the apartment grew to an astonishing 14 floors! Rubin and Jenn were standing on chairs toward the end just to play their turn! I ended up playing Rhino Hero three times over the course of the day, with a bunch of different folks, and it was amazing every time, drawing plenty of attention from everyone in the room. Reaching 14 floors successfully might have been the day's highlight, but for sheer hilarity, I don't think I'll ever forget watching Rubin attempt to place a wall, dropping it twice and having to retrieve it before trying again, finally succeeding without knocking the tower! That man has steady hands!

After a quick break to stretch my legs, I was excited to finally get the chance to see and play Pandemic creator Matt Leacock's new game, Knit Wit. This is a fun game of word association, presented in an absolutely beautiful fashion. Everything from the components to the box itself is gorgeous, with tiny, loving details cropping up throughout. This was another game filed with laughter and more than a little head-scratching. We ended up playing two games of Knit Wit before packing it back into it's amazing box.

I'm delighted to have had the chance to teach a bunch of folks Council of Verona, one of my favourite little bluffing games around. It was a chaotic game that ended with just a single card scoring, and poor Romeo wasn't even in the game to have a chance of getting together with his Juliet.

A 6pm approached, I pulled out Quantum. Quantum is always an easy sell, with its beautiful bright dice, colourful planets and great player board, so it was a joy for me to be able to play not only a four-player game, but also a wonderful, fast two-player one right after. They both felt so different, the first full of deals and friendly advice to attack other players, the other a fast head-to-head of landing colonies and retaliation strikes.

Finally, sandwiched between those two games of Quantum were a few games of No Thanks, which got unusually competitive, but in an always friendly fashion.

And that was my International Tabletop Day at Players Wanted Games. Full of great games, lots of laughter and meeting new people. So how did I do? Well, anyone who reads my blog regularly might know that I have a terrible record of repeatedly loosing games I own and often winning games I'm playing for the first time. This started a bit differently, with, if I remember correctly, me winning Gravwell, before quickly returning to business as usual, as I lost Council of Verona and both games of Quantum, but won one of the games of Knit Wit with a maximum possible score.

Rubin won the second game of Rhino Hero by playing his last card, but I don't think we even checked who won the other two, as we were all having too much fun laughing at the tower falling. While Rhino Hero does have rules for deciding who wins when the tower falls, in my experience, people rarely bother to check. The game is fun enough that declaring a winner isn't always necessary.

Lastly, I just want to mention the venue. Players Wanted Games is one of the newer game stores in Vancouver. Before Ada arrived I dropped in a few times to game. The store has a small retail space, but is packed with a great selection of games in all shapes and sizes. They have a huge play space in the back, with plenty of room for a big number of people to game. Yesterday there was board gaming, HeroClix and Magic all going on, with video gaming joining in later in the day!

But what makes Players Wanted special is the staff and regulars. Like I said, I dropped in a few times before Ada arrived, but pretty much disappeared for the last year. Yet I turned up yesterday, was welcomed in like an old friend and I felt like one of the regulars right away, with everyone chatting and having fun. The atmosphere is bright and cheery, and people seems happy to strike up conversations about all sorts of games.

It's a great store, and I look forward to actually becoming one of the regulars over the next few months and beyond.

Related: Board Game Review Master List

Monday, April 25, 2016

I <3 2P

A good two player game pits you against an opponent in a battle of cunning and wits. A great two player game is one I can grasp in a few minutes, and feel competent at after a game or two. So that's chess right out then.

Starting out at the top, Quoridor is my all-time favourite two player game, and easily one of my top board games ever. I've played it with other hard core gamers, and six year olds, and it's great every time. That's not because there's a high element of randomness or something. In fact, it's pure strategy, with zero randomness. Instead, it's so simple to teach and learn, anyone can play. I find that older gamers will over think a series of turns, planning well ahead, while younger gamers just spot the weak link and destroy all those plans. At least, that's what happens to me.

Quoridor is played on a 9x9 grid. Players have to get from the their side of the board to the opponents, either moving one space, or placing one of their ten wall pieces anywhere on the board. You can never corner in your opponent, so the trick is to make their journey to your side longer than your journey to theirs. It's wonderfully simple, elegant and fun. I highly, highly recommended trying it. Gigamic publishes a beautiful wooden edition of the game that might seem a bit pricey, but based on play value, it's worth every cent.

There is a four player varient for Quoridor, which I didn't like for the longest time. But playing it with the school age kids I work with, I saw the value in it as well. It's a completely different strategy, and fun in it's own right, but I still mostly love this game for the one-on-one version.

I picked up RESISTOR_ from Cardboard Fortress through Kickstarter based entirely on the visual design. Luckily, it plays as wonderfully as it looks. RESISTOR_ is about two Cold War supercomputers battling each other, atempting to lull the opposition into a false sense of security, dropping its DEFCON level before launching a nuclear attack without the chance of retaliation. The game is played with cards lined up, each one looking like a big microchip. You have to connect to the opponents computer to drop its security level, which dealing with resistor chips that dramatically reduce the playing field. It's a crazy fast, fun, and funny game, that is easy to play and beautifully presented.

Kickstarter is a godsend for two player games, it seems. I guess big publishers are hesitant to finance games that are restricted to such a small number of players. I've been told that even games designed for four players see pressure to expand to six players for retail. But thanks to Kickstarter, I have two more two-player games coming to me, hopefully by the end of the year, if things go according to plan.

Santorini is a stunningly beautiful game that has been under development since 1986 by designer and mathematician Dr. Gordon Hamilton. This is merely the most recent edition, and looks stunning, adding in a whole bunch of new player powers and a few new elements thanks to the massive success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is a two player abstract strategy game, building the town of Santorini and trying to reach the top of a tower while blocking your opponent from doing the same.

I can't wait to get my hands on this game. The rules are all online, and it would be easy to replicate with Lego, blocks or other components, so hopefully I can play it before this beautiful edition arrives. It's still available to back on Kickstarter for a few more days if you're interested.

Also on Kickstarter right now, but with more time left on the clock at time of writing is Tak, a game from James Ernest and Cheapass Games, based on a game described in the fantasy novel series, The Kingkiller Chronicles, written by Patrick Rothfuss. In Tak, you place pieces on a square gridded board, attempting to build a continuous, straight road from one side of the board to the other. It looks lovely, with wooden components and the promise of a wooden board coming soon as part of a stretch goal add-on, which I will definitely be getting.

I haven't even mentioned Patchwork here, which I have but haven't gotten to play yet. Do you have any two player games you enjoy? I'd love to hear about them! Let me know in the comments to this post.

Early Bird Gets The Worm

I've backed a lot of Kickstarters in my day, though I haven't ran any, so take this post with a huge pinch of salt and with the understanding that this all comes from one point of view.

There are a lot of ways to get your product moving on Kickstarter. Interesting Stretch goals are the obvious main feature, slowly unlocking new features or improved components over the course of the campaign as more and more funding is achieved. I also like something that I saw Evil Hat Productions[1] do first, unlocking additional content based on number of Backers, rather than funding. This nicely encouraged people to share and promote the campaign to friends, spreading the footprint wider.

But some Kickstarters use Early Bird offers to encourage people to back their product early, and I have an issue with this. A Kickstarter is a marathon, not a sprint. They last four weeks, or more in some cases, Bu Early Bird offers rarely last past the first day, if not the first few minutes. The Game Canopy campaign had two Early Bird levels, a regular one and a Super Early Bird level. Both were gone within the first 10 seconds. I know. I was there.

Ultimately, Early Bird offers are supposed to reward supporters that have been following the creator since before the Kickstarter, but they're usually restricted to an extremely limited number, as they are often zero profit, or even loss-taking pledge levels. This results in a mad dash to grab them by a much larger number of Backers, resulting in a lottery system based on luck, connectivity, and even proximity to the Kickstarter servers. This incentive harms more supporters than it rewards, and leaves a lot of people with a bad taste in their mouth toward the campaign.

A way around this is to have a timed Early Bird offer, a cheaper than normal level only available for the first 24 hours, or something similar. This is better, but still leaves people who stumble on to your campaign at a later date cold, knowing they're paying more for the same product than those in-the-know. You could argue that this is to reward long-time supporters who will know about your camping before it starts, but the flip side is that Kickstarter is designed to bring in new supporters, to broaden your reach into new communities, and seeing a closed off early, cheap pledge level can turn away potential new Backers.

As a regular Kickstarter supporter, I'd advise any campaign to avoid any form of special discount that is only available to people who find your campaign early. Focus on unlockables that are available to all, either as automatically included upgrades or add-ons. Aim to spread knowledge of your campaign, treating Backers who find you in the last hour as just as valuable to your success as those who have been supporting you for years.

Because a lot of them will be there to support you the next time.

[1]- Evil Hat are currently running their own newest Kickstarter, The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game. Well worth checking out, it's a fast, fun game based in the universe of wizard Private Investigator Harry Dresden.

Game Canopy

I love board games, that much is obvious. I also love sharing my board games, and teaching folks my favourite games. I love broadening my hobby by introducing people to this amazing social activity. But transporting my games to local conventions has always been an issue.

In the past, I've employed IKEA reusable bags and other tote bags, as well as my backpack, like so many other gamers through the years. However, it rains a lot in Vancouver during certain times of the year, and this has caused issues. I've damaged more than one game box from having it out in the rain, even while it was in my backpack. I can sometimes plan ahead and wrap them in a plastic bag first, but all that is just awkward and messy.

Which was why I got so excited when I saw the Game Canopy from Level 3B on Watch It Played. It looked ideal for my needs. Sealed, safe, and water resistant, and it holds the boxes flat! No more opening up a game to teach and spending the first ten minutes sorting out a pile of cards and tokens that got knocked loose in the box.

I followed Level 3B on Twitter and via mailing list, and anxiously awaited the start of the Kickstarter. I was there the second it went live, and grabbed the Adventurer Level, which includes the Game Canopy, the shoulder strap and the all important rain cover. It's more expensive than a duffle bag, but far safer for my games. It also looks amazing! Like any hobby that isn't a sport, board gaming regularly gets dismissed as a childish, or geeky pastime, so I love having accessories like the Game Canopy that just elevates our hobby to a new level, showing it off in a professional, smart light.

The Kickstarter has only just begun and is already a huge success. It's got over 1,000 Backers, and is about to break $150k in funding at time of writing. There are some odd features of the campaign that I hope get fixed soon. The reward levels are fixed, trying to cover ass many bases as possible with different levels, but still don't suit everyone's needs. The Level 3B team seem hesitant to allow add-ons of the Canopy bag or the smaller Vanguard to pledges, and I noticed that this has resulted in some pledge levels seeing vastly more popular than others. The worst is Game Knight Lite, with no Backers at all. Allowing add-ons would have avoided this, having less Reward Levels, but ultimately more options for Backers. I'm happy with the my level, but would definitely consider adding a Vanguard as well if it was an option. There is one with everything I have, plus a Vanguard and a second shoulder strap, but I really don't want the second strap.

The only other issue I have is that the delivery date is in the far distant future of April 2017. I'd love to have it for Terminal City Tabletop Convention 2017 in March.

It's going to be a long wait.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Dark Knight Rises Is A Bad Movie

With Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice due out this week, and early reviews slamming it already, I feel it's time to post my thoughts on Batman's last appearance on the big screen. This was originally written as an email to a friend shortly after the movie originally came out. I've just cleaned it up a bit to post here.

When I first voiced my dislike of the third Christopher Nolan Batman movie, I annoyed some of my friends, who were so sure The Dark Knight Rises was a perfect movie walking out of the theatre. I remember review sites were getting threats from readers if they gave it a less-than-perfect rating. But it doesn't deserve a perfect rating. It doesn't even deserve a good one.

Firstly, I want to say that I did enjoy parts of the movie. I thought the cameo from Liam Neeson was well done, and I squeed loudly when Cillian Murphy appeared. I also enjoyed seeing the ridiculous Batpod doing it's spinning wheel sideways thing. But, there are massive problems with this movie. This is my list, and only my list. It's the things that I noticed personally. I've tried to avoid including things that I've read online since. This is about my issues.

1- It's a movie where we see Batman recover and return TWICE! The first time, he goes from being a cripple for 8 years to being A-okay in a matter of days, if not hours. A high-tech leg brace gives him back all his agility and strength. The second time he recovers from a broken back by having his spine PUNCHED back into line!?!? I would actually have given either one of the recoveries as part of the suspension of disbelief that movies, especially comic book movies, require, but the second made both stand out as stupid.

2- Even more than previous movies, the inconsistency of Batman's belief in not using guns was more evident. He uses guns and missiles on the Tumbler, Batpod and the Bat. While you can argue that they're only used on scenery, that gets thrown out the window at the end when he fires directly at the cab of Talia's truck. Batman has always been known for his gadgets over guns, but here "gadgets" just means bigger guns. Where's his super-epoxy truck sticking foam, or bat-EMP truck disabling beam, or just tire-destroying bat-caltrops?

3- While on the subject of missiles- I loved the magic missiles that Selina used on the Batpod to unblock the tunnel. A few shots into several tonnes of wrecked cars and a perfect V-shaped hole appears to be cut right through.

4- Those cops were down there in the tunnels for 3 months. Hundreds of them. Where did they shit? Where did they clean their uniforms? Where did they maintain their guns? How did the resistance get that much food down to them to keep them not only alive, but able to stay in shape?

5- How did one opening rescue them all? Were they all trapped conveniently together in one chamber? That's not how it looked when the bombs went off.

6- They were just below street level, as seen several times. Could they not have just dug down through a nearby building floor? I'd accept that just blowing the street open might be enough to let the trigger-man hit the button and detonate the bomb, but they weren't a million miles underground, and they had THREE MONTHS to rescue them! They could have done it in secret in a building!

7- What was with that 3 month time-limit anyway? The bomb was always going to go off. Everyone was always going to die. It made no sense. There was no redemption, no chance to become better, to take back the city. They were all just dead, they just didn't know it. Clearly, Talia failed to read the Evil Overlords Handbook.

8- Batman recovers from a broken spine in THREE MONTHS! Yes, I covered this earlier, but what if the bomb only had energy for 2.5 months. They'd all be fucked. It was a weak plot device. I mean, seriously, he gets back into Gotham with hours to spare, from where-ever he was abandoned in the world. And how did he afford to fly back to the US, not to mention get into the country WITHOUT A PASSPORT!

9- The bomb is referred to differently during the movie, the worst of all was when it is called a "Neutron bomb"... which doesn't even explode with the classical nuclear mushroom cloud devastation. It just emits a neutron burst, which wouldn't affect buildings!

10- Let's look at the bomb a bit more: It was originally a clean-energy fussion device until Bruce mothballed it because it could be used as a weapon, and he hates weapons. Except, as previously noted, on his vehicles. How did he get so far into the project that he spent billions of dollars without anyone pointing out that any form of fussion reaction could, potentially be used as a weapon? How is there only one person on the planet capable of deactivating the bomb? He must have been involved with the fussion reactors creation, but did he work entirely alone, with no team, no colleagues, no documented paperwork?!?

11- Wayne Industries is broke because Bruce has gone underground. What kind of company literally cannot function without one man? If that's the case, Apple would have been fucked without Steve (it might still be, to be honest)! What was that board of directors doing for the last 8 years? What of all the other parts of the company? Were they all shut down to finance the mothballed fussion reactor?

12- Joseph Gordon Levitt was the best thing in that movie. He spoke clearly, unlike almost everyone else, had valid character motivations, and stuck to his convictions throughout, but he was woefully underused. Bruce should have stayed broken, he should have been The Batman in the finale.

13- How could the police not find Bane's construction underground. Yes, there are miles of tunnels under there, but don't start at random man-holes around the city. Start at the fucking water tunnel where all the bodies keep appearing and follow the water back along. It's not that hard, dumb-asses.

14- Why is there a rope sitting at the top of The Pit when Bruce gets out? Does no-one in there have families, friends, evil organisation co-workers, or anyone willing to just walk out there and throw the rope down to rescue them? There are NO GUARDS! EVER! Just walk out of that enormous city we see, throw down the rope that is right there and walk away. And why does Bruce throw it down? Are they all just political prisoners, white-collar criminals that won't get out and return to a life of raping, murdering and pillaging? Or does he just trust that their time in The Pit has reformed them all into good citizens?

15- "Welcome back Mister Wayne. Sure hope you remembered where you parked the Bat because I don't have access to any others that I plan to sell to the military at the end of all this after you're dead." "Yup. On a rooftop that no-one in the last three months has gone up to. No one. Not one single per- FUCK! IT'S GONE! Also: What?"

16- "The bomb is ticking down it's last minutes. Let's all stop to listen to Talia's dieing ranting. Man, I hope those injuries are enough to kill her in the next 30 seconds, or we're all dead."

17- "Only 1 minute 57 seconds left on the bomb. I'll just stop to give everyone a pep-talk, kiss this cat burglar who everyone has avoided calling Catwoman for the last three hours and reveal to Gordon who I really am under the mask, by making a reference to an event decades ago that he only ever could have done once, because I'm the only person that Gordon has probably ever comforted in his entire career in the service."

18- "Aw. Batman died saving everybody. Well, better get back to selling these high-tech batwings to the military. You two random techies, fix the auto-pilot in this thing that looks kind of like the thing Batman used to fly, but it's not, because this one is in military camo and his was black. Also, I totally don't work for Batman. What's that you say? The auto pilot is fixed? By Bruce Wayne? Three months ago? Why the fuck would Bruce fix the auto-pilot in the model he's not even using? And when did Bruce learn to program complex auto-pilot routines for experimental helicopter designs? And when or how did he test this? And OH MY GOD HE'S ALIVE!" Dun-dun-duuuuuunnnnn.

19- "Nice of Master Bruce to give the house to the orphans. Sure hope none of them mess around with that piano."

20- "Wow! All this cool shit. Look at that. I get to be the new Batman! Woo-hoo! Now, how do I afford to repair any of this when it gets damaged, or even fuel the Tumbler. In fact, how do I adjust any of these suits to fit my clearly very different stature. Fuckit. I'll just go home."

21- The movie was far too long. I felt the set-up scenes were poorly played, and I actually got confused because I lost focus on what was happening. I thought it was Selina that Bruce sleeps with in the mansion during the rain-storm and the power-outage. That was the plot-point I missed entirely for the end of the movie when Batman seems so focused on saving what-ever her name is that turns out to be Talia. I kept thinking "Why does he seem to give such a shit about this board-member? Why is she important?"

22- This final one is something that I disliked, but others didn't seem to mind: There was no fan-service, nothing only for the comic readers. Like in Avengers, we had the Thanos reveal, or in Thor, we had the artifacts in Odin's museum and the Cosmic Cube in the after-credits scene. Even as far back as Iron Man, we had the Nick Fury reveal. Stuff that left the long-time fans whooping and cheering, but left the casual fan that just turned up for the movie intrigued about what they just saw, but not feeling lost or missing a key plot-point. The little extras to reward the nerds. Batman never had that. Everything was clearly explained. There was nothing only for the comic reader. And there was opportunity! Right at the end: "Something for John Blake?... Oh, maybe my full name: Robin." As subtle as a brick, and unconnected to the comics in every way apart from the use of those 5 letters in that order. Why not "Something for John Blake?... Oh, maybe my birth name, Tim Drake?" There. Better! The fans get the "Woot!" moment, the rest get, "Oh, he's someone he didn't appear to be, but it's not as important as learning he's becoming the new Batman."

That's it. That's my teardown of The Dark Knight Rises. Don't expect one on Batman V Superman anytime soon. I do not plan on seeing it.

You shouldn't either.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Not My Baby

My little girl turns one today. In fact, if I've done it right, she turned one at exactly the moment this post went live, at 2:35pm, Pacific Standard Time, or 10:35pm Irish time. Here's a look at her first year.

Edit: I screwed up. I forgot to account for the difference between Canada being on Summer Time and Ireland not, so it should have gone live at 9:35 Irish time, and my blog ids still sete to that as it's home timezone. I must change that. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Building WALL·E

Last week I took Ada to the mall to get out of the house on a wet March day in Vancouver. We went tot Oakridge, as it's easiest to reach on transit. While there, I stopped into the LEGO Store and discovered to my amazement that they had the LEGO Ideas WALL·E in stock! In fact, they only had one left!

I grabbed it right away.

On Saturday, I took Ada to Family Place as usual in the morning, and when I got home, Claire and I cleaned off the table, set up my Canon G12, and built WALL·E together over about two hours, photographing the entire process in time lapse. Ada joined us after her nap and played with her own LEGO, Duplo, of course, beside us in her chair.

It was a great experience, and one I hope we do again. Sometimes it's easy to get distracted by everything in life, and forget that Claire and I need to stop and enjoy each other's company together, working on a shared project. This is definitely something I'd like to make into a regular occasion, and would recommend to others as well. There really is something deeply satisfying about building LEGO together.

Here's the finished time lapse. I don't like the framing. The camera is pointed too far down, and it's hard to see our hands working on the parts, while also keeping all those bright, distracting bowls in view. Still, it works.

A quick trip to IKEA and I have the perfect display case.