2016 pop culture overview

Because I don’t really want to get personal as far as a 2016 look-back, I’m going completely superficial with an entertainment/hobby year in review.

I’ve been keeping track of movies, books and board games for the last little while on various websites so I can take a look back at my pop culture consumption habits at year-end. My mind is useless, so I’d truly forget the finer details, which is why I like to record these things. The only things I haven’t really figured out how to track yet are TV (which i arguably consume more of than much of anything else except board games) and video games (those are far fewer in number than everything else so it’s a lot easier to have a think back about those experiences). Anyhow, here’s some cool stuff that I enjoyed in 2016 (even if it wasn’t from 2016)!

43 movies watched – top 5 are probably Rogue One, Hidden Figures, Spotlight, Arrival & Train to Busan. Honourable mentions to the Lobster and Don’t Breathe.

378 plays of board games (178 unique titles, plus unpublished prototypes) – Compared to my 600+ plays of last year.. oof. 2016 was a rough one, okay? My top games – Honshu, Isle of Skye, Grand Austria Hotel, Kanagawa & Roll Player.

And of notable mention for board-game related stuff, I loved writing for the Daily Worker Placement, starting up the Games on the Rocks stream with Suz, Steph & Mags, and also starting the Greatway Games podcast with Erin & Adrienne. Can’t wait to keep that up in 2017.

42 books and comics read – my faves were finishing up the Ancillary trilogy, and also reading A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet & A Closed & Common Orbit from Becky Chambers. Mmmm space. Honorable mentions to the Doomsday Book & Three Moments of an Explosion. Comics-wise, Paper Girls was definitely a fave, followed by Midas Flesh.

12-ish video games played? Of which I remember Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Chariot, Stardew Valley, Skyrim, Gone Home, Firewatch, Virginia, the Stanley Parable, Sorcery pts 1 & 2, The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Brown. And I have a Steam library full of goodies I haven’t gotten to, yet. But out of it all, I think Stardew Valley has been the one I’ve gotten the most time in on, and Gone Home & Firewatch made the most impact on me.

A bunch of television watched – among my favourites were Stranger Things, the new X-Files episodes, Black Mirror, Crazyhead, Westworld, Bojack Horseman and as always my faves Steven Universe, Adventure Time, and Brooklyn 99. ❤ Surprisingly disappointed overall with the new Gilmore Girls.

I’m going to up my reading challenge for 2017 (I smashed through my lowball 25 for 2016!) and I almost made it to 52 films watched in 2016, so I’ll try for that in 2017. Not gonna make any goals for the rest, as they just seem to happen 🙂

Anything you loved in particular from last year?

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BGGcon 2016 – the games!

[This is quite after the fact, but it was about time I finished the few blurbs that needed doing and just get this off my plate!]

The big part of going to BGGcon is the games, obviously. BGG’s library is massive, they have a couple of dozen hot games tables on the go for the whole con, plus people bring games of their own for play. A veritable cornucopia of cardboard and chits. While I didn’t hit the pinnacle of personal achievement – aka trying all the games on my ‘want to play’ list – I did play a decent amount of games, about 78% of which were new to me. That’s pretty heckin’ great. I’d like to give a little blurb about each game, even those I’ve played before, because.. I wanna tell you about games! Here we go.

I’ve played The Game before, and I really love the cooperative and communicative way it plays. It’s not high strategy or anything, but it’s a nice bit of a puzzle to play. Plus, my new friend & fantastic board game artist Beth Sobel gifted me a deck of her beautiful textile reskin, and it’s so pretty to play! This one was perfect for some last game of the night action at the con.

A social bluffing and deduction game, Dead Last was interesting to me, but it’s one of those ones that depends on the group of people you have playing at the table with you. The idea is for all players to vote on a player to attack, and try to collude with other players about this without getting found out – a quick flash of a card, darting of a look, hinting at a player colour by lightly touching an item of clothing, etc. At a 7 player table, this got pretty hectic and clues were missed often – but when it worked, it worked well and was a fun time. I think I’d rather play One Night Ultimate Werewolf in the end, though. Way less to worry about!

A classic light card game, this was a perfect one for the early morning registration line hangout, and a great game for a larger group. I don’t feel like there’s too much strategy or even tactics involved in this despite the ‘hand management’ aspect, because you can never really anticipate the cards others will play, or where yours will end up. But somehow I ended up winning. Magical.

Completely wacky dexterity game that is an enormous amount of fun. As penguin students in an icy high school (icecool GET IT?), you’re trying to flick your wobbly-bottomed player pieces around the halls to grab fish and avoid being caught by the hall monitor. It took a little while to get into the swing of this, and how best to flick my pieces, but it was super fun. I love how the nested box pulls out and is pieced together to form the play area. That everyone gets one chance as the hall monitor, then the rest of their turns are to zoom and fly around to grab fish, makes it super fun. Highly recommend this one for some silly fun at game day.

This new Feld was quite a melange of stuff – pick up & deliver, dice rolling/manipulation, some card powers / punishments. Overall, the idea is to finish your 12 goals before any other player does. Each player has a special power dealt out at the start of the game – mine was getting to toss a goal, which made it a little easier on me to finish up first. While there was a lot to juggle (hello, it’s a Feld!) it was enjoyable. My only complaints were to do with the physical game itself – the red and pink on the board look almost identical, and some of the pieces on the board share colours with player pieces which can be a little confusing at first. I’d love to give this one another try!

A new one from Oink Games, masters of the tiny box, big fun. This is sorta 20 Questions meets Spyfall. There’s a master (knowing what the thing/person etc is), the insider (who also knows what the thing/person etc is, but nobody knows who they are) and the rest of the players. Once the round starts, the players ask yes/no questions of the master – along with the insider, who is trying to guide the questioning to get the answer correct without getting caught. Gosh it is FUN. A really good late night con game, too. Between this and A Fake Artist Goes to New York, I don’t know I’ll need Spyfall again.

This is a mish mash of social deduction and clue giving, sort of like Clue meets Concept. Two players secretly have the roles of murderer and accomplice and know the selections of “key evidence” and “means of murder” cards in front of the murderer. One player is a “forensic scientist” who knows the solutions and tries to give clues by placing markers on scene tiles to attempt to guide the other players (investigators) to guess the correct cards. All the while, the murderer and accomplice are trying to secretly lead the investigators astray with bogus suggestions. This is SUPER FUN. We played with a large group, and the process of discussion about the forensic scientist’s clues were raucous. A fresh twist on a social deduction game.

Quick asymmetric card game – one player is Jack, trying to scale the beanstalk and grab treasures, while the other is the giant trying to thwart Jack and “fee fi fo fum” his way to victory. I got a demo of this at the Renegade Booth from designer Dan Cassar who explained things well and maybe also let me win.. 😀 Good fun, I’d pick this up as a 2p filler.

One of my favourite all-time games is Tokaido. Kanagawa has the same vibe to me – it’s pleasant to play, and looks gorgeous. There’s even a little overlap with the creation of landscapes in Tokaido – because in Kanagawa, you’re aiming to gain skills in the master’s studio and also create a print with various features to gain points and, of course, win the game. Each round consists of a card being dealt per player – and players can either pick a card or pass in turn order. Those who pass then get another card to each column to choose from, and can pick or pass. A delicate balance between settling and hoping for something great continues throughout the game as you try to create a great print and build knowledge in your studio to gain points – and also diplomas (generally for sets of things or certain achievements), giving you more points. I am delighted by this game and everything it offers – it’s going to have a space on my shelf now for sure!

I didn’t really enjoy this. Too much haphazard switcheroo and luck to really try and track what’s going on. It was kinda fun while playing, but I felt like I had little to no control over the gameplay.

Brilliant new quick card game that’s great for about 4+ people (maxes out at 8). From your hand of cards, play one – if anyone else on the table has played it too, then the face value is cumulative. E.g if I play a 2 when there’s another on the table from another player, they’re now each worth 4! And if you play a value higher than others at the table, you’ll flush their cards and they need to draw another into their hand. If you can get rid of all your cards (if your card played is still in front of you when it’s your turn again, you get to discard it and not draw!), you win. Ridiculous, super quick fun. Just don’t drop it on the stairs, the lid’s not super tight and.. yeah :O

One of my absolute fave push your luck/mild bluffing/hand management games! Had a lot of fun getting a few games of this in with friends on Day 0. Tough to get it to the table more, due to its exact player requirement of 3 people.

Another old favourite – a fantastic game for a large group to have some great bluffing card game fun. We had a full (well, overfull) group for this at the Plaid Hat Games HQ on the Friday of the con and it was a great laugh (even while at the height of my sickness!).

I’d had such high hopes for this game – the theme especially piqued my interest, and being a fan of games like Scotland Yard and Letters From Whitechapel, I was intrigued. 5 of us sat down to play the introductory scenario and it really fell flat for us. It wasn’t that the game itself played poorly (movement seems fine, the map is really cool, and the players have lots of neat special powers/moves) – but it almost felt like the intro was for people who’d never played a game before. In about 20 minutes we’d succeeded in beating the killer and all kinda went “oh, that’s it…?” – we’d expected a meatier, more thrilling first scenario. So, one day I’ll get back to this to try the follow-up scenarios – but it’s no longer on my to-buy list.

  • Arc RPG

Unique storytelling RPG currently in development by Chris Rowlands of One Thousand XP games. This was a fantastic experience – we started by drafting characters and fleshing out their place in the village (iron age-ish setting) by drafting a relationship to another character, as well as a motivation and with a little roleplaying. The story then unfolded by working our way through “episodes” of the story through roleplay and the outcomes pushed us certain ways through the story branches (represented by keywords on a pyramid of cards). This  wasn’t like any other RPG experience I’ve had, and it could be so interesting applied to a variety of settings! I hope Chris gets it out into the world soon.

I quite enjoy Broom Service as a board game, but feel like i’ll get the card game to the table more often. It’s boiled down to the fun, interactive aspect of pushing your luck to be the “brave” type of witch each round, which – if successful – wins you potions. You’re hoping to create sets of like potions for points, and also sets of various potions for the chance to win shared goals. So simple and fun, and great for a group.

All the fun of a city builder packed into a tidy little card game. Honshu is a simple game with great depth – a little bit of trick taking, and a lot of tile-laying tinkering to get you to your best 12-card city. I’ve enjoyed my plays of this, and cannot wait to try the modified 2 player game (which balances out the trick taking for the low player count), as well as starting to introduce some of the “advanced” elements to mix up scoring. Import only now, this will be coming from Renegade Games in February to the North American market and beyond. This is most likely my game of 2016! It’s so good, y’all.

Fiona and I were taking a look around one of the vendor halls and stumbled across the WizKids booth with Canadian-brewed Rock, Paper Wizard all set up for demo – and ended up playing through the whole game it was so fun. We were there maybe 15-20 minutes including learning and playing and chatting, so it’s definitely a family-friendly title. Essentially a fun variant of rock/paper/scissors, on the count of three all players reveal a hand gesture matching one of the shared spell cards on display. In player order these are resolved, and players win loot as well as possibly towards the treasure, or away towards the cave exit.

A friend of mine described Lotus as “a beautiful knife fight”. Don’t let the pleasant art fool you (as gorgeous as it is) – you’ll be in there sniping flowers from people and piling your insect guardians on left, right and centre. Your tactical petal placements to amass points are combined with some great supporting actions to make this game a delight to play over once you’ve got the taste for it. I thought I’d get this to the table more at BGGcon, but played just the once – I was able to teach it though, which is a great sign in a game for me 🙂 Simple, clear actions and once you’ve got the ball rolling it’s quite easy to know what you’re doing.

Oh my, what a wonderful little package of a game! Not only is the art gorgeous, but the gameplay is a delight – a melange of card drafting, hand management and controlling majorities with cards in your tableau. It’s so easy to pick up – there are just a few actions you can take, and only 4 card types with particular affects – yet every play will take you in a different direction, trying new tactics and hoping for the cards to go your way. I really really want this to come out in North America soon!

You know how awesome it is to create characters for RPGs? Putting together all the fun and interesting parts to create the whole? Roll Player is basically that. Starting with a character race and class, and an alignment, you roll a lotta dice, apply them to stats, and as you go through the game also assemble a stock of weapons and a laundry list of traits that can be quite a fun combination. I am so keen to get my hands on this once a reprint happens!

Ooh my old favourite, Spyfall Pictionary! A semi-cooperative drawing game where all but one player is in the know about what the drawing’s supposed to be, and the rest of the people are trying to figure out who that is (while the Fake Artist tries to hide, and figure out what everyone is supposed to be drawing!). So good.

I have never played any of the major CCGs, and barely dipped my toe in LCGs – so I don’t have a lot to compare this to! However, it didn’t take me long to get into the swing of things with this game. The starting deck I played was funny, it had some nice little tie-ins thematically with weapons, locations and helpers to my Warrior! I enjoyed that it takes the humour and pun-filled fun of Munchkin, ramps it up, and slaps it on a light game. Not sure it’s a game for me, but it was fun to try.

More tetris-y goodness from Uwe Rosenberg. This leans heavily toward the Patchwork type of gameplay, but it’s quite an interesting twist. There’s a grid of tiles available to take from, and there’s not a lot of crossover between where players take from (much less interaction in that way than Patchwork). You’re also trying to churn through as many garden plots as you can for points by game-end. Delightful, pleasant, and not a steep learning curve as far as a strategy game goes.

There’s not much to Strike – it’s a fun push-your-luck dice rolling game that’s great fun for a few rounds between other games. I had a good time with it 🙂

Not being much into bicycle racing I was not one with the hype on this one, but enough friends had tried and enjoyed it, so I got to try it with a group of folks and really dug it! Gameplay is straightforward – select a card for each of your two riders that designates the amount of spaces they’ll travel – if you end up just behind someone, the slipstream is in your favour. If you’re too behind – or ahead! – you are penalized with a filler card to mess with your deck (and you only look at a few each turn to make your choice). Similarly to Camel Up, I don’t anticipate the way these sorts of races will go (even if this is in some way trackable if you count cards like a savant) – despite that flailing around, I felt there was a good level of excitement and tension in the game that lent itself to an enthusiastic and close finish. I’d love to try this again.

Ohhhh how I wanted to like this game. But we learnt and played it (at 6 players) so late at night that it was impossible to remain engaged with the game. Definitely requires 100% of your attention and enthusiasm or the game feels like going through some strange motions. Comparisons to BSG are fair, but I feel like I connected more with BSG. Both are way too long for my liking, however. I’ll have to give this a go another time when I and more present, and invested.

So – when all compared to my original “I want to play these things at BGGcon!” list (see below), I didn’t do so well. But considering how unwell I was for a chunk of time, I’m happy with what I did get to play. And a lot of the games that were new to me are solid faves now (Kanagawa, Honshu, Roll Player for instance).

Onitama
Kanagawa
Nippon
Mansions of Madness 2nd ed
Fold It
Cottage Garden
Great Western Trail
Strike
Roll Player
Fuji Flush
La Granja: No Siesta
Papà Paolo
Islebound
The Bloody Inn
Bucket King
New York Slice
Herbaceous
Curse you, Robin Hood
Linkee
Ponzi Scheme
Honshu
Ice Cool
Terraforming Mars
Key to the City: London
Port Royal
Clank
Yokohama
One Deck Dungeon
Oracle of Delphi
Gloomhaven
Farmageddon
Fabled Fruit
Villages of Valeria
Aeon’s End
All the giant dexterity games!!!!

 

A more personal BGGcon write-up

I know I wrote up my con experience for the Daily Worker Placement, but overall it wasn’t super casual, didn’t mention a lot of folks or my personal experiences, and definitely not all the games I played. I love this con, it’s got such a great sense of community and friends and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was pretty upset at getting sick and missing almost the entirety of Friday (and even then being fairly useless at the gatherings I attended that evening). One whole day of friends and games missed means a lot when it’s only really 4 full days of the con. I slept and dosed up on meds and tried to soldier through the rest of the weekend, but it definitely put a dent in my experience.

I had some lovely Day 0 experiences – I love getting in the day before the con to get settled, and ease into everything. There’s a little gaming here and there, and a lot of running into and meeting people! I was so happy to turn up with Fiona (I dragged her down for her first BGG!!) to find our roomies Maggi and Kimberly. Best roomies, babetown roomies. After that, my con brother Andrew (or Ace) had rounded up some plans for a (now traditional?) dinner out at the fantastic Spiral Diner! I love that place, and having a nice meal before the hectic con is such a great way to start the week – plus, look at these wonderful people ❤

spiral

After a grocery stock-up and a little late night The Game, I hit the hay. Because it was up bright and shiningly early on Wednesday for a registration line party! It’s not really necessary to get in line heckin’ early as the BGG Team Geek crew do a great job of getting everyone their badges and wristbands and shuffled off to pick up their free games. It’s nice to get first pick of the games, but it’s even nicer to be hanging out with a whole lotta other nerds playing games in groups as we wait for the con to officially kick off. I got to try Broom Service: the card game, which ended up being a fave of the con! Also, it was the first time I’d seen a lot of other friends, so it was a  nice energizing morning.

tailgait

And then it was con time! Despite the sickness, I played a bunch of games (including a lot from my “want to try” list!) and ultimately wasn’t disappointed – although I kinda wish I’d spent the time I spent playing New Angeles playing something else, it was an interesting experience. However, I’m going to leave more comments on games for a follow-up post. This is about my folks. My gaming fam. (Even though it was tough knowing I was missing out on seeing some great friends who weren’t able to make this year’s con.) A great deal of people that I saw were folks I met for the first time last BGGcon and it was almost like no time had passed – the terrific Plaid Hat folks, Chris, Niki & Donald from Board with Life, Ian, the Nikolas & Ai dream team, Ace & JR (part of the DFW Nerd Nighters), the Dukes of Dice lovelies, the Dog & Thimble goons (hey Hil, hey Chris!!), Hunter, Matt E, Paul, Michael & Erin (they are best) and lots of wonderful Twitter folks (Patrick, Travis, Rich, Bill, Rodney, Marty, Bebo, Zee and all y’all because there’s too many to list!). And then I get to see a lot of folks who also attend the Gathering in April, and it’s so wonderful to see them and know it’s not gonna be too long til we game again.

This year was an EXPLOSION of meeting excellent Twitter friends though!! Oh holy wow. SO MANY PEOPLE. It was kind of amazing 🙂 Like the folks listed above, I might not have had a chance to game with all of them, but I said hi and chatted, and it was so great to put faces to names (or voices, for those whose podcasts I listen to!) – there are so many of you to list, honestly it was great to pass like ships in the night, or push cubes with you. It was seriously great meeting some other gaming ladies I’ve been chatting with on Twitter such as Annette, Kathleen & Mandi, too. And speaking of more rad ladies – I was lucky enough to make connections with folks I didn’t know at all before and managed to meet some cool women like Elena, Cynthia, Beth, Milena, Lindsay, Jayme, Amber, Alycen & Phoebe.  And speaking of amazing women, how about my Games on the Rocks ladies Mags, Steph & Suz? These friends of mine who I’m lucky to know, and keep in touch with all year – and then I get to see them at BGGcon for big ol’ squishy hugs, games and even making a little livestream from the hotel bar happen. One of my highlights for sure. (And yeah, we did get crashed by these loons. It was the best.)

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After the long last night (gotta squeeze out those last gaming hours) and checking out of the hotel, there were quite a few of us still around for most of the last day on Sunday. Comparing notes, getting in last plays of things, and having a lot of (s o m a n y) goodbyes. Yeah, I got weepy saying goodbye to my closer friends. I mostly held it together, but still – through our hobbies we meet people who become close to us and important and I felt that while saying farewells. Fiona and I got some extended time with a few folks whose flight was pretty close time-wise to ours, and that was great too (who doesn’t love a little shuttle party and airport food dinner?) – and I gotta say, I love Fiona for coming and having a blast like I knew she would, and I’m glad all my folks know her now, too.

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If I saw you at the con, know that I wish I’d played more, eaten more and drank more with you. Don’t be afraid to ask me, I might just be floating about and not spotting anyone. Next year I’m gonna be at 100% and fighting fit, and nothing’s going to stop me! Thank you to each one of you who took a moment alone with me too – Rob, Zee, Ace, Maggi, Fiona, especially – because I know those are few and far between.

Until next year! (Unless you’re here for the games, in which case – until next blog post sometime in the next couple of days!)

Adventures in video games

I grew up in the 80s, so my introduction to gaming was pretty lo-fi back then. Atari, Commodore 64 (oh my god the tapes, THE TAPES), and even some little handheld video games (like my prized Ms Pac-Man tabletop arcade game). I gamed a little on our home PC once we got that – some SimCity, Dune, Lemmings and the like, loading from 3.5 inch floppy drives and CDs, having to enter a code every time from the booklet to ensure you weren’t playing a pirated copy (those halcyon days). Eventually, I got myself a Sega Mega Drive (when I was still young enough that staying up all night to play Robocop vs Terminator only gave me weird dreams) and progressed onto various Playstation consoles. I’ve always loved video games, but it’s never been up there as my main hobby – and since board games came on the scene, even less so! I’ve slowly gotten back into it over the last 5 – 6 years with the WiiU, PS4 and a Nintendo 3DS living with me. What I hadn’t delved back into was the PC gaming I’d loved in the 90s, primarily due to my lack of a desktop in the last 10 years, and the cross-platform availability of a lot of games; but I figured, why not try out some of the lower scale games (as far as hardware requirements) available on Steam on my laptop?

I created a Steam account and started browsing around some of the indie games available, and also asked my friends on social media for recommendations – and the recommendations (plus Steam keys because people are wonderful) really rolled in! Hilariously, the game near the top of my wishlist was something my other half had downloaded for free on our PS4 a while ago and I hadn’t realized – the atmospheric Gone Home. (Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the Steam games in a bit!) I didn’t know anything about this game before going in, and was completely delighted from the 90’s PNW setting to the seemingly infinite amount of investigating and exploring the environment allows. The game gently guides you along with a journal-based narration as you discover more and more around the house – the rest is up to you and how in-depth you want to explore. There’s a sort of creepy feel to the game, as you’re essentially roaming around an abandoned home in a thunderstorm – and I was suitably spooked at times! – but it slowly starts to feel like more of a narrative about family, love and life choices, exploring someone’s life. I interacted and wandered as much as I could, finding little easter eggs like X-Files VHS tapes and posters and audio tapes of various 90s Riot Grrl musicians, feeling like this game was almost made just for me. It’s not high-action or necessarily fast paced – but that’s why it works. I’m so pleased to have played it through.

Screenshot of the lobby of the house from Gone Home.

Gone Home

Not long after I had finished Gone Home, a friend recommended Virginia to me, which was due to release shortly. From reading some pre-release articles and watching the trailer, I was on board. Also set in 90s PNW (yeah, I know) and having a Twin Peaks/X-Files vibe to it grabbed me – in addition, it looked like there was a great diversity of characters including the player character, a freshly minted FBI agent who is not only a women, but also a POC. I was hoping it would be as open for exploration as Gone Home was, but it had much more of a guiding hand to progress you through the narrative of the game. What’s interesting are the jumps that the narrative takes back and forth through time, and how that starts to drop little clues as to what’s going on. Without dialogue, the game leaves quite a bit open to interpretation – and with the Twin-Peaksy vibe, that only adds to the mystery of it all. The experience was intriguing, even though it wasn’t quite as extensive as Gone Home was for ticking the exploration boxes. Metaphor and vibes drive the game rather than the action and urgency that the stories of other games have – and this is not a bad thing.. Virginia is one that will wash over you, and you’ll be puzzling about for a little while after finishing.

Character from Virginia - hands holding an FBI badge over a sink

Virginia

If these two games are any indication, it seems that – overwhelmingly – adventure and discovery are enriching rewards in games for me, and that’s the sort of thing that will keep me going back for more. Don’t get me wrong, I love lap after lap of Mario Kart 8 – but playing games like Gone Home and Virginia are reawakening my excitement for exploration in games. Increasingly I want to be able to take things at my own pace, ponder the meaning of a game’s progression and narrative, and puzzle out its story. I’ve definitely gotten this feeling, albeit on a much larger scale, with Skyrim – while there are structures and quests to that narrative, it has a lot of give as far as letting you roam the landscape. Although not as great as Skyrim, Witcher 3 has scratched that itch a little bit for me, but the storyline feels much narrower. Let me out there to collect flowers and talk to dragons and stare out into boundless, beautifully rendered landscapes!

Anyhow, yes.. back to the PC. I’ve started to work my way into the little library of games I’ve built up on Steam, with more adventuresome titles to begin with. Sorcery 1 & 2 were a simple yet enjoyable D&Dish romp which ended up being like a fun on-screen choose your own adventure; The Stanley Parable, a strange and surreal game that gets very meta and is really all about exploration and what could be real or not (do you follow the narrator’s prompts, or just go where you want to?); and a simple yet touching playthrough of The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne, an exploration of what it means to experience social anxiety (by its nature a small game with limited choices, but was eye-opening). I still have over a dozen games in my Steam library to get to. Next up on my list to explore are Undertale and Her Story – each an excursion into dark places in their own way, but with their own unique interface and way of storytelling. Although having just started Stardew Valley, I fear it’ll be tough to wrest myself out of that intriguing little world. Gotta plant some parsnips!

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Attempted Design – Update #2

Satin Bowerbird

Satin Bowerbird and nest [BBC]

After sharing my last update, I got great feedback and responses from friends. In particular, my friend Ace gave me thoughtful questions to ask myself as a designer creating a new game. So, figuring this will be the next great step in me thinking more about the game before starting to put it to paper/cardboard, here we go! And a note more to myself than anything else – this isn’t how the game will be forever. This is brainstorming and throwing stuff down to see what sticks. It’s always going to be changeable, malleable.

  • What would be the basic turn structure?

My basic idea would be for players to spend (x) time (on the track) foraging for food (sort of the currency of the game) until each player passes. Then, spending food values, players can bid on a selection of treasure (nest) tiles – once a player wins a bid to pick a tile, they pay and the auction round goes to the other players (or once one player is left they pay minimum bid of one food for the tile left).

  • What, if any, ways could a player interact or affect another player?

Bidding highest to get the first take of a tile, mostly. And making it to a public bonus goal first.

  • Why are the objectives secret if you’re fighting over the same mate?

Each player would have a unique mate hidden in their hand – possibly more, if it would work out like tickets in Ticket to Ride where you could possibly take more mates and score some of their points later in the game? But yeah, there’d be a chance to have different mates each time you play, anyhow.

  • How can you use the secret objectives to create tension?

This is a tough one. Tension in the auction, and the race to succeed at the public goals? (i.e. who makes X shape first, who hits 7×7 filled nest spots first, for example?)

  • What information is hidden?

The goals you’re aiming at for your mates to successfully lure them.

  • How does that hidden information inform game play?

Definitely directs what tiles you’re bidding for, and also the patterns/size of the nest you’re decorating.

  • Can you move tiles/remove tiles after being played?

Perhaps if I allowed during-game scoring of mates? But that doesn’t seem quite as thematic (that also leads to the thought of does having multiple mates to score mean it isn’t as thematic? But the male birds have many females come by to inspect their nests before one chooses, so…) So I’m guessing most likely no, once they’re played they stay.

  • Are/is the tile pool/s singular or player specific?

The tile pool (nest treasures) would be shared – drawn from a bag (perhaps each auction round would have player number +2 tiles as a range to bid on?).

  • Where, if any, would you incorporate randomness?

The bag draw for the nest treasure tiles for sure, and I suppose the allocation of the hidden mates (even if they’re drafted to start the game, and especially if more come out during the game). I know a game like Patchwork has everything visible to start the game, but I think that might be a bit much for this? Maybe to mitigate the randomness of the bag draw, the tiles would be visible during the food collection phase.

  • Where would you say the interesting decisions are?

This is the tough part as I don’t have the game quite fully realized. I want the public and hidden goals to be challenging, but not so random they’re not obtainable. I want players to take their goals and use those as their guide on how to bid, when to let other players win certain phases and the like in order to most efficiently gather together what you need.

  • What type of experience would you like this game to invoke?

A feeling of making the best puzzle, collecting sets to maximize points and having fun making something pretty!

-::-

Following on from this, I need to make a firm decision on the structure of the game, most importantly:

  • Will players draft mate cards?
  • Will there be opportunities to partially score mate cards throughout the game? (Or in drawing new ones, perhaps take 3, keep 1 for instance)
  • How the timing track/food collection will affect the phases/progress/length of the game, and if that makes a difference for player turn order
  • How many treasure tiles, what their shapes and types will be, as well as point values if that’s necessary (for public goals perhaps?)
  • Draft up some shared goals for shapes, sizes, and set collections for treasure types

I’m sure more will come up, but I believe this little brainstorm and following up on those particular points will help direct me further into this game and the process.

Attempted Design – Update #1

Most of you are aware that I’m super into board games. I love playing them, talking about them, and even writing about them sometimes. In the past few years I’ve gotten to try game prototypes at various stages of design, and it’s a fascinating process to gain insight into. I’ve become intrigued with ideas for games, myself – but I wouldn’t fancy myself a game designer. The first game I had an idea for was all about running a museum (and I still have ideas and notes for that, but it’s a really big idea that’s a bit much to tackle right now). One day at work I was randomly chatting with a colleague about a game jam coming up, and how it might be fun to make a natural history-themed game somehow and my brain started percolating.

My first idea was pretty simple, because I’d thought I might approach it at a game jam – it was basically to reskin the 2 player tile-placement game Patchwork as a game where you played a male Bowerbird, laying tiles down to decorate your nest. (I even went to the library at work to read a bit about Bowerbirds, folks!) As time went on, the idea was still there in the back of my head and on the drive home from a convention earlier this year I was chatting with friends about it. We threw ideas about left, right and centre; I tried to hold on to as much of that brainstorming as possible, and one evening while chatting with my other half, threw some more brainstorming notes down on paper. A little while ago I found them while looking through a notebook and figured I should start more work on this!

Oh god why didn't I make sense of this months ago when I wrote it. >.<

A post shared by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

 

I was able to decipher most of the notes, and as I typed things out I fleshed out ideas and organized things a little better. The idea has come a long way from just the blatant reskinning of another game – while I’d still be using a tile-laying element, the game itself has taken on a little more of a life of its own. What do I do now, though? I have a bunch of ideas that seem to go together, but little idea of how to start executing them physically to try them out. So, I’m going to try and take it a little at a time – parcel out little pieces of it to figure them out, and see how that goes. And I figured writing about it might motivate me to get my shit together, too! Haha.

So, you wanna see what I have so far for the summary? I think I need to work on how the rounds of the game might progress, and then think about developing a series of the secret goal (mate) cards first up!

You are a male Satin bowerbird (P. violaceus) living in the Eucalypt forests of eastern Australia. Nesting season is approaching, and you need to attract a mate to your bower. Your bower begins as a structure of stones and sticks – you will, over (x) rounds, collect (hopefully) beautiful blue objects to decorate your bower with. The more beautiful your bower is to female Satin bowerbirds, the better you will do!

How to get points

  • Sets of objects – either same or different
  • Size of nest (have penalties for empty spaces, or bonuses for certain sizes met?)
  • Optical illusion patterns (Bowerbirds lay out objects in patterns to make optical illusions to look extra amazing to potential mates)
  • Dancing bonus, sound bonus (these could come up as cards among food resources, perhaps?) – not sure where these would come in!
  • Leftover resources (food, objects etc.)

If you have met the (secret) conditions of what your mate is looking for, you perform a courtship dance and are successful in attracting your mate. Check the conditions of your mate cards, and any bonus goal points you may have attained – whoever has the most points has made the best bower and pleased their mate above all other birds.


I’d love to hear your thoughts – leave a comment, or ping me over on Twitter at @iheartmuseums

Spiel ’16 – games I’m looking forward to!

I don’t have preorders or anything right now, but here’s what I’ve got my eye on to play once they’re released after this year’s Spiel board game event in Essen, Germany! And if you don’t feel like reading, here’s my rambles in a video.

What’s on my hot list to try:

Key to the City: London – R&D Games: I love Keyflower, but I think the game could do with a better setting (a not so generic one) so I’m looking forward to seeing what this game does!
Cottage Garden – Spielwiese: Uwe Rosenberg’s riding the tile placement train and so far what I’ve tried of it has been great, so it’s no surprise I’m looking forward to this one. I wonder how it’ll compare to Patchwork, being 2 – 4 players!
Great Western Trail – Stronghold Games: To be honest, not super stoked on the theme of this one, but I love love LOVE the designer Alexander Pfister.
Terraforming Mars – Stronghold Games: I’ve heard many great things about this game, so it’s on my list to try for BGGcon (plus, someone posted a pic of a card that’s got a puppy, so I’m on board!)
Mystic Vale expansion – AEG: I loved Mystic Vale but, like many others, felt it needed more. Can’t wait to see what’s going on in this expansion.
Oh My Goods expansion – Mayfair/Lookout: An expansion for another Alexander Pfister gem. One of my fave releases from the last year, Oh My Goods is a great small Euro in a card game package. Excited to see what the expansion will do.
Clank! – Renegade Games: I always love trying fun dungeon raiding types of games (Welcome to the Dungeon, Dungeon Raiders, Claustrophobia to name a few) and I’ve  heard fun things about this, so now it’s on my list to seek out.
The Last Friday – Ares Games: I am still kicking myself for missing out on this at Gen Con! I have a preorder, and even if the disappointment I’ve heard about the game is warranted, I still can’t wait to see what it’s like!

Games i’m interested in but could wait: 

Dragon & Flagon – Stronghold Games: Heard many good things out of Gen Con and want to try it, but I am not sure about picking this one up
Pandemic Iberia – Z-Man Games: I haven’t even finished my Pandemic: Legacy campaign yet, so the other Pandemic flavours have to wait 😦
La Granja the Dice Game – No Siesta! – Stronghold Games: Loved La Granja, but the time investment means it’s hard to get to the table. Intrigued by this, wonder if it could make it more accessible.
Jorvik! – Eggertspiele: I mostly want to see how the new theme’s been implemented over the Speicherstadt! Curious if it’d be a better play than I had of the original.
Inis – Matagot: Having tried Kemet & Cyclades, and hearing this is similar, it makes me a little hesitant (I like Kemet for sure but don’t like it enough to own it) – but it does sound interesting. Plus, the art looks really neat.
Pandemic the Cure: Experimental Meds – Z-Man Games: I got to try a prototype of this a while back, so I’m excited it’s finally coming out! MORE THE CURE! One of the best dice implementations of a board game ever ever ever.

Finally, what I’ve tried and recommend:

7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon – Repos Productions: 7 Wonders Duel is one of the best 2 player games out there, and this adds some cool unique player abilities in the form of God cards players can obtain. Very awesome addition.
Adrenaline – Czech Games Edition: A first person shooter Euro! Truly fantastic fun. Move around a board to attack your opponents, but also try to make the most of those attacks by taking up the most area on their damage tracker. Looking forward to grabbing this one.
Feast for Odin – Z-Man Games: This is a hefty game. The box is almost the size of my 15lb dog. It’s a great Euro worker placement/tile placement game that has so much complex strategy I haven’t scratched the surface in even a few plays. Love it so far though!
Colony – Bezier Games: A lovely twist on a city building game with tableau-building and the use of dice as resources! BONUS: post-apocalyptic setting. Woo!
Cry Havoc – Portal Games: If you hadn’t guessed from my Inis blurb above, i’m not too much of a fan of “dude on map” games, but this invasion/area control combat game has a really fresh approach with the ‘factions’ you play and the unique combat resolution. I actually had fun playing a combat game! Best.
Captain Sonar – Matagot Games: Real-time Battleship with dry-erase sheets. Get in.
Networks – Formal Ferret Games: I love this game – medium strategy card playing and a hell of a fun sense of humour. Make sure to preorder if you’re going to Essen!
Oceanos – Iello Games: Everything about this game is wonderful. It’s pretty, it’s light and fun, and you have a submarine. Just get it.
Vanuatu 2nd ed – Quined Games: We have an older version, and the game’s terrific (role selection, interesting decisions to kinda maximize for yourself and block other players). If they’ve updated the art, that’s great!

If you’re looking for a great tool to help make sense of and sort through all of the releases for Spiel, head to Tabletop Together’s “Spiel Together” tool. (Which couldn’t be useful at all without the amazing work that is put in over at BGG by W. Eric Martin on the BGG Spiel Preview!)