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.