Sunday, December 17, 2017

this week in gaming

 

This week I absorbed the rules for four new games: Gloomhaven (cunning boardgame dungeon-crawler and Kickstarter darling) Magic Maze (unique co-op game getting in and out of a delightfully illustrated fantasy shopping mall), Wild Blue Yonder (the new version of Dan Verssen’s Down in Flames WWII air combat card game from GMT), and Centerville (Chad Jensen’s new Euro-style urban planning status and prestige game). So far the only one of the four we’ve played was Magic Maze, which was hilarious fun but demonstrated again that I’m a turn-based gamer and a real-time bumbler.

In the world of playtesting, we played a great session of one of my new card game designs that the publisher has not announced yet. The game has gone well enough for long enough that I’m going to finish up its rulebook and call it done as soon as I can carve out two focused days.

Also in the world of playtesting, Lisa and I played a friend’s new card game a number of times on a couple of nights, but that’s not announced either so I can’t write details.

And the Wednesday night RPG group enjoyed another session of the Over the Edge 25 campaign that Jonathan has been running for a while now. The campaign doesn’t have a name yet. Our other OTE campaigns seem to acquire a name when things go horribly wrong, names like “Ann Thunder Escapes,” when Ann Thunder was our nemesis. So far, so nameless.

Meanwhile in the world of actual work I’ve been acting as editor/layout overseer for the Book of Demons for Pelgrane. And getting art orders ready for three other Pelgrane books. And cobbling together the credits and appendices for 13th Age Glorantha, which Chris Huth is busy laying out the final chapter of. I’ve also been dealing with art direction on two other game-projects we’re not talking about yet, which raises the point that I’m often working as the art director for games I design or develop. That was something I leaned towards at the end of my WotC shift, when I was writing art orders for books I hadn’t worked on. But WotC had excellent art directors, trained for the job. In the world beyond WotC my untrained aptitude has frequently put me in the director’s chair.

When I get through the art direction, I’ll be back to developing Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s Book of Ages, a fun 13th Age project with three different takes on . Which means that this week, my only effort that qualifies as actual game design was a lunch time conversation with Logan Bonner about two in-progress card games. Extremely worthwhile, but I haven’t even have time to follow up on his thoughts. We’ll see if I can get back to design next week. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Winter update

This weekend: I'll be at Dragonmeet in London on Saturday with the Pelgrane crew. I love visiting London, and Wednesday I got to attend Arsenal's 5-0 tonking of Huddersfield, so all is well.

Work in progress....
The first five books mentioned on this list are Pelgrane projects for 13th Age. After that the list moves to other companies and other games.

[[cover art by Jessica Chung Ti Lee]]
Fire & Faith:  The third of the battlescenes books by Cal Moore, with ready-to-run mini-adventures for the icons who rely at least partly on faith: Diabolist, Crusader, Priestess, Great Gold Wyrm. The book didn't quite make it into print in time for Dragonmeet. Printed copies are showing up later in December, for now you can pre-order at the Pelgrane store and get the PDF.

[[cover art by Melissa Gay]]
Book of Demons: This one is in layout. Among the reasons the book will be notable is that it contains a rarity: a new 13th Age character class, the demonologist, something I put together after initial work by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and another early draft from Paul Fanning. Elsewhere in the book, the six hellholes Gareth created are wild. He'd written art suggestions that I said were not-doable, "tone it down, a lot, this is just too convoluted, no artist is going to want to handle this," I said. And then Cat Tobin went and proved me very wrong, finding an artist named Agathe PitiĆ© who pulled a full Hieronymus Bosch. 

Book of Ages: I'm midway through developing Gareth's wonderful combo of DIY chronicling and sample ages, full of monsters and magic and spells from the ancients. Not sure of publication date yet but it's next in the pipeline.

Shards of the Broken Sky: I've got a bit of final devwork to handle on ASH LAW's big adventure. Art is midway. Maps are still needing to be arranged.

Loot Harder: ASH's new book of treasure, with bits from a few couple other writers. To be published in 2018, either just before or just after Shards I believe.

13th Age Glorantha: It will be a 400+ page book from Moon Design. We recently shared Chapter 3: Playing in Glorantha with KickStarter backers. Six of the book's eight chapters have been laid out by Chris Huth. Layout finishes soon. I'll be handling indexing and other final bits when I'm back from Dragonmeet. I'm amazed by the final layout. Jonathan prefers not to see our books as they're in progress, he likes to wait until they are done--he's in for a treat!

Wrestlenomicon: A two-player card game from Arc Dream Publishing, presently in open playtesting, aiming to be on Kickstarter sometime in 2018 since its art by Kurt Komoda is complete and we're just getting the mechanics right. (See the previous post in this blog.)

Dragonfire: I didn't work on Catalyst's new Dragonfire game of D&D deckbuilding directly, but my business partner Jay Schneider did, and it's pretty much a second edition of the Shadowrun: Crossfire game our Fire Opal design group created, which is why Mike Elliot and Greg Marques and the rest of us are credited as designers. As a second edition, I think Dragonfire is an improvement over our Crossfire mechanics. I believe Crossfire may be getting an update soon to match some of the improvements, and I'm excited to see Dragonfire's progress in the months to come.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Wrestlenomicon!

[Hyades Head Slam, by Kurt Komoda]

Dennis Detwiller & Shane Ivey of Arc Dream Publishing came up with the idea of pitting Cthulhu vs. Hastur in a cosmic cage fight. They came up with dozens of funny card names and Kurt Komoda supplied wonderful illustrations. But the rules they started with didn’t live up to the concept and the art. Dennis & Shane decided they didn’t really have a viable game. And that’s when I got involved, meeting Dennis at a convention, hearing that they had a fully-illustrated game with no mechanics, and jumping at the chance to join the team.

I designed a couple systems that had interesting pieces but weren’t fun. Then I hit on the idea of presenting the fight as a battle between great slow-moving cosmic entities who launch attacks that unfold over time and space, arriving after the enemy has had a chance to see them coming and figure out what they might do in response. If it’s not actually a unique game mechanic, I don’t know other games that used the idea first. I’m sure I’ll hear whether the mechanics have unknown ancestors during this next piece of the process, a wide open-playtest.

If you’d like to be part of the playtest, you can sign up at Wrestlenomicon.com. This first (and perhaps only) playtest is going to run for something like five weeks. Assuming it goes well, the game’s developer, Sean McCarthy, and I will process the playtest feedback and get the game ready to roll. At some point thereafter, when they’ve recovered from other Kickstarter heroics, Arc Dream will run a KS for Wrestlenomicon . . . . since there’s definitely more that can be accomplished in this cosmic ring!
[[Fistful of Cultists, also by Kurt Komoda]]

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Dream-Quest, Dreamlands cards


Here’s why I love Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe:
a)     Kij Johnson is one of my favorite writers, and the fact that I haven’t read all her books yet is a symptom of deliberately rationing her work over time—next up: Fudoki.
b)     The Dreamlands are my favorite part of Lovecraft’s mythos.
c)      Vellit Boe’s dreamquest works as mythos journey, perspective-shift social commentary, and a trip into the lives of real people in a surreal world.
d)    Brutal mid-paragraph shifts from normality to deadly violence. They remind me of the non-transitions in the movie version of No Country for Old Men. This is how violence slams into real life, not with musical cues.

Here’s why I love Heather Hudson’s Dreamlands Christmas Cards that are on Kickstarter for the next couple days, and can be found here:
a)     Hilarious use of the mythos' brightest corners.
b)    Cards that translate both in and out of fandom.
c)     Homage to Calvin & Hobbes. 
d)     At least one card that requires a scenario: (Santa Claus vs.) The Black Galley!



Monday, October 30, 2017

Design notes from Operation Dauntless

I love design notes in games. When I’m working full-time on my own games, I admit there are times that I end up reading the designer’s notes in new games in more detail than their rules, particularly with wargames that I’m not likely to play in the next few months.

The design notes I’ve enjoyed most recently appeared as a 48-page booklet in the GMT game Operation Dauntless, designed by Mark Mokszycki. It’s a grand-tactical simulation of battles in June 1944, during the British offensives in Normandy. Not the same cup of tea (or even the same meal!) as the roleplaying games and card games I’m usually involved with as a designer, but this is work I appreciate as both stellar design and as a thoughtfully-described process.


The game’s mechanics are deceptively simple. Let’s call them elegant! They’re adapted from an earlier game by Mokszycki about the Finnish/Soviet war, Red Winter. In fact, Mokszycki’s design notes mention that he originally expected Operation Dauntless to be a simple conversion of mechanics from the earlier game. Eight years of design and development work later, that was patently not true, but it was too late to turn back the tanks, he was committed to this labor of love.

I’m sure that’s part of why I enjoy these notes so much. Hearing about multiple detailed and heavily playtested approaches to a close assault system, over a period of years, certainly reminds me of game mechanics conundrums we faced during 13th Age in Glorantha, when a system we thought would easily flow into a different world had to be revised to do the new world justice. 

But the appeal of these notes goes beyond my own process-identification and my fondness for WW2 grognardia. If you’re any type of wargamer, or a game designer, there’s a lot to learn from Mokszycki’s detailed discussions of iterative attempts to simulate specific elements of historical battles. What makes these process notes pay off in the end are elegant and approximately-correct abstractions that both solve his historical-simulation problems and help create a gameable experience.

I may end up playing Red Winter before I play Operation Dauntless, especially since a member of my gaming group has married into the Finnish way of life! If there’s more to say about how the game mechanics match the design goals, I’ll speak up after rolling the dice.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Red Base Yellow Base

Walking our dog Roo early this morning in the fog, outside the Rainier Arts Center, I found myself standing on what felt like an art project, or perhaps a section of a game board, one base red, one base yellow.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Crazy Boss Monster

A couple years ago there was a pivotal moment when a close friend of ours had started a job that immediately looked like it was going to be a disaster. My wife Lisa helped save us all, saying “I’m sorry, I just don’t have the energy to spend the rest of the year being surprised by how crazy your boss is. You need to quit. There’s no mystery here, it’s just going to happen again and again.”

That’s how I feel about mass shootings in America. We can’t be surprised. The pieces are all set up and the shooting will begin. As the Gun Violence Archive indicates, nine days out of ten, it’s only a question of who and where.

Our friend quit her crazy job. Then she chose a path that was four times more sane. Judging by American political history and our current president and Congress, I don’t have hopes for a similarly rapid shift to a sane approach to gun ownership. But first steps are important. A gun lobby that fights against background checks for gun owners, restrictions against mass-murder-certified assault weapons, and against keeping silencers more-illegal-than-not is no one’s friend. It’s a crazy boss monster, and it’s time it was opposed by our elected officials, even the ones whose campaigns were bankrolled by gun money.